The Dreaded Interview – How to get prepared

The Dreaded Interview – How to get prepared.

No one likes interviewing. It’s tough to be put on the spot, trying to figure out how give the best response to a variety of questions. There never seems to be an end to those obscure questions that have no relevance to the job at hand – other than trying unnerve, derail, and confuse. They are a part of the process and sometimes no matter how hard you prepare a random question emerges. The only thing you can do is to take a deep breath, not get rattled, and keep your response brief. Unfortunately, too many candidates are unprepared to answer the simplest questions about how they view their career developing and why they want the role for which they are interviewing. The worst mistake you can make is to “wing-it”. If you present as overly nervous, stumble to find the right response, are unable to give concise and organized answers, and unable to provide examples of your claims, you are headed for interview disaster. If you are prepared you can use the interview to your advantage, drive the process in the direction you want to take, and separate yourself from the competition. It just takes some planning and practice.

Here are a variety of questions you must know how to answer:
To prepare for an interview you have to understand the basic and most commonly asked questions. Below is a list to get you started and some tips for crafting your responses.

1. Briefly walk me through your resume and tell me how you arrived at your current position.
Tip – In 10 min or less walk through your background. Highlight main job duties/responsibilities; provide a brief overview for career decisions; address why you want to shift your career direction, reasons for leaving various roles, and any gaps that might be on your resume. You are telling a story – set the stage with a great introduction.

2. Looks like you did well in school. What was your GPA? What courses were the easiest and which were the most difficult?
Tip – Use this question to highlight how your degree/courses led you to be interested and good at what you do now. You don’t want to have randomly fallen into a career – you want to show purpose and drive – and how this started in college.

3. How did you determine that being in your current role was where you wanted to drive your career?
Tip – Who was a mentor? What inspired you? How does your personality fit the role?

4. Tell us a bit more about yourself. What types of things do you enjoy doing on your own time? What have you been reading recently?
Tip – People want to know who you are – they want to like you – they want to know you can fit in culturally with their firm. If this question isn’t directly asked, try to weave in something about yourself during the interview. Be prepared for the reading questions – you want to have one fiction and one non-fiction book in your back pocket at all times, as well as a current periodical.

5. What’s prompting you to consider a career change/new position at this time?
Tip – Is your role stagnating? No promotional opportunities? Let the firm know what’s prompting the change. It’s ok to shift career directions, but you need a really solid answer for why. How will your prior experience allow you to be successful in this new role? If right out of school and your degree has no relevance to a position – there needs to be a story. You have to connect the dots during the interview.

6. What do you know about our firm?
Tip – Do your homework and get knowledgeable about the firm where you are interviewing. It’s surprising how many people don’t know how to pull up an ADV (if working in the financial services industry). Get digging beyond what’s published on a company’s website. You don’t have to throw out everything you know during the interview – hold back and save some information for when you have a chance to ask questions.

7. What is the next chapter? How do you want to evolve your career over the next 5-10 years?
Tip – Focus on skills vs. titles. You want to express a desire to grow your career by learning and being challenged without being too specific. For example if you are interviewing for a senior level operations role discus how that job will expand your skills and give you the ability to take on supervisory responsibilities. If you indicate that in the next five years you want to become a COO, your interview process will probably be over. The firm will see you as a flight risk because they know they won’t have this career path for you.

8. What are you looking for in a new position?
Tip – Address corporate culture, finding a long-term home, a firm that can utilize your skills, and some specific points about their role that match your goals.

9. How is your department structured at your firm? Who is your supervisor? How do your job duties and responsibilities differ from your team members/supervisors?
Tip – You want to make sure someone has the big picture for how your work/department is structured. It helps someone understand how much you work on your own, as part of a team, and how you work with senior management.

10. How are your evaluations conducted? What were your highest/lowest marks?
Tip – Everyone has strengths and areas where they can improve. Show how your evaluation/s improved over time. You want evaluations – these are important for promotional purposes.

11. Tell me more about how you allocate your time on a daily basis. How do your job duties differ daily/quarterly/and at year end?
Tip – this is a great time to show your organizational skills and how you manage your time around busy and slower times of the year, how you manage projects, and anticipate work flow.

12. What do you enjoy most about your current position? What has been the most difficult about your current role?
Tip – What is fun about your job – what makes you want to come to work? Don’t talk about how hard your job is, but talk about what has challenged you and how you loved meeting that challenge.

13. What do you feel in the greatest strength that you bring to your firm?
Tip – Why would your current firm not want to lose you – what value do you add? What personal characteristic do you value in yourself? What knowledge do you have that would benefit them?

14. Where do you feel you can add improvements? The dreaded, What is your “weakness” question?
• Tip – Focus on work related areas where you’d like to expand your skills. This is a place to say – “It’s on my list to expand my Excel skills… I’d like to add more compliance knowledge to my operations background… I need to further develop my network since I recently relocated to the area….I’m often working independently and would like to add/develop more team dynamics to my background.
• Tip – Reflect on your true personality – “I can get frustrated working with someone that looks for reasons why things can’t get done vs looking for solutions for getting things accomplished; I can get frustrated with inefficiencies and like to find ways to streamline processes; I tend to be someone that likes to accomplish goals and can get frustrated if a group isn’t organized in its ability to accomplish the tasks set; I like working with people that love to constantly learn as I can get frustrated with people who are set in their ways and don’t want to challenge themselves.”
• Do not say – my biggest weakness is I work too hard – it’s overused.

15. How do you feel your current knowledge and skills can benefit our team (this position)? This question might be phrased – What do you find most interesting about this role?
Tip – Always slim down a position description to 3 primary bullet points you feel best reflect the core duties/responsibilities of the role. Discuss how you feel your skills will be a match.

16. Why do you want to work here?
Tip – Address specifically what you like about the firm’s corporate culture/team dynamics, the firm’s reputation in the market, specific products or services they offer that are unique, and/or how your specific background would be a benefit.

17. How would your colleagues describe your working style? Do you work mostly on your own or do you work as part of a team?
Tip – You need to be able to demonstrate the ability to be a good individual worker as well as team player. Individual skills include being self-motivated, able to work independently, efficient, hardworking, organized and resourceful. Team skills include being cooperative, respectful, adaptable, broad-minded, problem solver, able to work with a variety of personalities, an active participant as well as a good listener.

18. Have you ever had the opportunity to lead a group project? If so, tell us how you went about doing this. How were you able to manage team dynamics and build consensus?
Tip – If you don’t have a work example, draw from personal experience. Show your ability to guide others, recognize/apply team member skills sets, teach, motivate, create measures of accountability, and create a successful outcome.

19. Have there been opportunities where you’ve brought a new idea to the table?
Tip – Provide an example of how you contributed to a team project and/or brought an individual idea to management. You can also show how your work enhanced processes and/or streamlined productivity.

20. Can you share an example when you brought an idea to the table that was not integrated? How did you handle this?
This is a great time to show you are trying to be a proactive team participant even if your ideas are not getting integrated at this time. You want to show adaptability by saying that while your ideas have not currently been implemented due to budget or timing issues, the concepts are in consideration for the future.

21. How do you manage your time when you have too much to do and not enough time to do everything?
Tip – You want to show how you prioritize tasks by reevaluating deadlines, finding extensions where they can be made, delegating work where appropriate, having open communication with supervisors/management, using weekly team meetings for review, and working extra hours when needed.

22. Has there been a time where you were unable to complete a project or major task on time?
• Tip – This depends on your type of job. In the IT world there are plenty of missed deadlines and these have come to be expected. Just deal with the question head on. Outline why a project took longer than anticipated and how the project was ultimately completed.
• You’ll never want to say that you missed a major deadline that resulted in loss of business for the firm. You can address where there were times where certain project deadlines needed to be moved to accommodate critical tasks.

23. Can you describe an example where you had to work under pressure to meet a deadline?
Tip – This is a great opportunity to show that you are able to work those extra hours and pitch in to meet project or quarterly deadlines. The question is really asking you to show how you deal with stress. Discuss how you have learned to create a personal plan for dealing with pressure – perhaps you draw inspiration from similar situations, think positively, organize the big picture and the details, take it one step at a time, and/or look for ways to work with others to create commodore.

24. Everyone occasionally makes a mistake, describe a time when this happened and how you resolved it.
Tip – Everyone makes mistakes. This question is not about the mistake itself but your ability to resolve a mistake, learn from your experience and move forward. Pick a simple example that seems reasonable. If in the reference stage process a material error will surface, you have to deal with it head on.

25. What is the most difficult issue you have had to deal with in the last year?
Tip – Keep it brief. Don’t get too dramatic in the answer. Most people that have gone through a challenge come out the other side more compassionate, empathic, better listeners and better teachers. Show how a personal struggle made you more emotionally intelligent.

26. What has been your most rewarding experience?
Tip – Reflect on a time where your work was acknowledged, where you put in the extra time and effort to compete an important task, met a difficult deadline that led to a sale, increased productivity, or created a positive outcome for the firm.

27. How do you define success?
Tip – Concentrate your answer on meeting measurable goals and objectives, meeting financial growth targets, client retention/satisfactions goals, enjoying what you do for a living, and success through integrity.

28. Describe a time when you had a disagreement/difference of option with a co-worker or boss and how you resolved this?
Tip – Your answer should reflect an understanding of someone else’s point of view, a respectful conversation of thoughts, finding consensus, and bringing someone around to another solution.

29. Tell us how you are staying on top of industry trends within your field?
Tip – Have a publication reference that allows you to show how you are staying informed. Have examples of sources you proactively contact to stay on top of your field. Show continuing education and/or progress toward licenses.

30. Why do you think we should hire you?
Tip – This is a closing question – if not asked directly and the opportunity presents itself, consider closing the interview with at least 3 reasons why the firm should hire you.

Create a script – Interviewing is an acting job
You have to be able to deliver your responses in a logical organized manner, demonstrate confidence, deliver pace/tone/volume appropriately, adhere to time constraints, connect with your audience, incorporate some personality/humor, and tell your story. To get good at this, you have to create a script by writing out the answers to all the interviews questions. Create a small paragraph and list supporting bullet points for each answer. Interviewing is an acting job. You have to master and deliver your lines. You can’t be proficient at delivering those lines until you actually know the lines backwards/forwards. How many times does an actor practice lines before delivering to an audience? A lot – You have to read and practice those lines over, and over, and over again. Practicing will also allow you to get rid of bad practices – using strange body gestures: talking with your hands, shifting in your seat, losing your train of thought, and using distracting filler words (uhhh, like…).

Build your list of questions
Immediately following every interview, sit for a few minutes and write down every new question you can remember being asked and add them to your list.

Add those obscure questions : What song best describe you? What super hero would you be? What kind of animal would you be? If you had to live your life over again what would you change?

Add those questions related to your specific career. For example:

  • If you are a sales/marketing person you’ll get asked about meeting sales targets, developing a pipeline, and running a territory.
  • If you are an Analyst/PM you’ll be asked about sector focus, idea generation, how your ideas are implemented, % of portfolio you manage, winners/losers.
  • If a CEO you’ll get questions about setting strategy and vision, and building corporate culture. How you balance driving new business vs. overseeing operations. How you would allocate capital.
  • If a junior candidate questions are going to focus more around aptitude and proving capabilities – such as analytic abilities, technical skills, work ethic, meeting deadlines, organizational skills.

Examples, Examples, Examples
In crafting your answers to interview questions create one or two bullet points that show an example demonstrating proof for your answer. You have to be able to back up your claims.
• If you say you have great writing skills be prepared to discuss specific topics where you have written white papers, memos, marketing materials – be prepare to provide a writing sample.
• If you say you have good presentation skills – give an example where you created a Power Point presentation, organized a speech and presented to an audience.
• If you say you have advanced Excel skill be prepared to discuss where you have used tables/formatting/charting skills, worked on pivot tables, and/or used VBA and Macros to automate processes.
• If you say you have strong sales skills – be prepared to discuss how you cultivated a prospect, educated that prospect on services/products, and closed the sale.

Positive vs negative line of questioning
It can be human nature to look for the faults first as a way of weeding candidates. If you have something that could be perceived as a “weakness” – gaps in your resume, too many positions in a short period of time, sideways background for the role, the interviewer is going to hone in on these items. You want to drive the questioning around your successes not questions digging for your “failures”. Get on top of any perceived weaknesses and address them first and get them behind you quickly so you can focus on your strengths.

Adjusting the interview
• What happens if the interviewer is talking more about their firm and not asking you enough questions? Try to jump in with – “That’s an interesting comment, let me share my corresponding experience; I’m glad you brought that up, this is how I can help with that; I’m so glad you shared that with me, I feel my strengths can help with that issue”. Don’t leave the interview without addressing how your background will fit the role.
• What happens if you are answering all the questions, time is ticking and you are running out of opportunities to ask questions? Let the interviewer know that you hoped you were able to answer all their questions. Acknowledge that you ran out of time to learn more about the role and say that you hope to be asked back to continue the process. If they like you, you’ll have plenty of other opportunities in future rounds to ask questions.

Never ever talk negatively about anyone.
This is an important issue and a place where candidates struggle, especially if leaving a role where there were personality conflicts. If you suggest that “someone else was the problem” the only reaction someone has is to think you are unable to manage corporate politics and struggle to get along with a wide variety of people. It will kill your interview. If you had a horrible boss (most people in your industry will know of notoriously difficult managers), always keep a positive twist. You can say:
• I worked for someone that demanded a lot and expected results. The experience really challenged me, and I learned a lot, but I’m ultimately looking for a more collaborative position and team environment.
• I’ve love my team but a new manager was hired recently. Policy and direction has changed, and roles have shifted changing the team dynamic. It’s been suggested there might be additional changes coming so it’s a good time to look at options.
• When I started, little training was provided. I self-taught myself a lot in a short period of time, worked a lot of later hours to get up to speed, and learned a lot. Ultimately I’m looking for a place that has better resources and infrastructure to support my career growth.

Don’t give away corporate secrets
Sometimes a hiring firm might be interested in learning about best practices at your current firm. Proceed cautiously. You want to be able to discuss your role without disclosing proprietary information. Don’t specifically name clients unless this is public knowledge. Don’t discuss personality dynamics of team members, disclose confidential information, or give away marketing trade secrets.