A job interview is a conversation #PRadvice #JobAdvice

01 April 2009

I participated as a guest interviewer at the University of San Francisco’s Speed Mock Interviews 3 weeks ago. Think of it as speed dating but the goal is a find a job not a soul mate.  Candidates should prepare for a job interview; however, some candidates prepare a little too much.  A job interview is a conversation.  It is the opportunity not only for the interviewer but also for the candidate to find out if this is a suitable fit.  Think of it as a first date.  The conversation should flow both ways.   Preparing for the interview should entail recalling anecdotes that highlight your fit for the job opening.  It is not an open invitation to memorize and prepare a canned response.   A conversation with your soul mate will come naturally and unrehearsed.  Good chemistry with potential colleagues and managers may make the difference and help you land the job.  

Below are a few interview questions that I have personally encountered time and time again over the years.  I also find that they are flexible in that you can repurpose your anecdotes to answer other interview questions.  

Tell me about yourself?  

Think of this response as your 30-45 second elevator pitch. If the CEO of your dream company/dream job asked you this question in the elevator, what would you say?  This is your opportunity to describe your personal brand by providing a sentence or two that highlights your greatest strength including concrete example of your greatest success.   

Editing your elevator pitch to 1-2 minutes can help you answer other questions such as “What unique experience or qualifications separate you from other candidates?” or similar questions.

Describe a typical work day or typical work week.

The interviewer is trying to assess how much of your work experience relates to the job opportunity.  Review the job description and map it to your previous experience.  They are not asking for a minute by minute account of how you spend your work day or work week.  Describe the type tasks that you perform such, “As a public relations intern I compiled press kits, created media lists, organized events, conducted research, drafted media pitches etc.”  It is much better than saying, “I get in, make my coffee, check my email, etc.”  

If you are on the cusp between a staff position and a mangerial position, then this is the time to mention the more strategic components of your job.  This will give the interviewer a sense of scope of your responsibility.  

You can expand on some of the items that you described to answer questions such as, “In what ways do you raise the bar for yourself and others around you?” or “Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond to get a job done.

Tell me about a difficult/stressful situation and what you did to overcome it?

Keep your response professional and provide examples in the workplace.  If you are new to the workforce, then cite examples from school. There is no need to go into detail about the fight that you had with your frenemy or a flaky babysitter.  The interviewer is looking at your problem solving abilities in resolving conflict or stressful situations. Try to give concrete examples of your successes.  How much money did you save the company?  How much revenue did you generate? How many more people attended the event?  How much time did you save?  How many customers were you able to retain?  Do your research to try to come up with facts and figures.  It is much better to say “event participation increased by 300% as a result of my efforts” versus “there were a lot of people at the event”.  

Describe your greatest weakness.

The interviewer is looking at your ability to recognize your weakness and steps that you have taken to improve yourself.  Your ability to turn a negative into a positive also gives some insight into your creative thinking.  Everyone has a weakness.  A candidate who can not provide a response to this question will raise red flags.  

Describe your greatest strength/accomplishment.

Review the job description and describe an attribute that ties back to the job opportunity.  Try to provide an anecdote that emphasizes your strength.  This will demonstrate that you have the knowledge, skills and abilities to perform the job.  I would recommend that you come up with 1-2 more examples of your strengths/accomplishments.  The interviewer could ask you to give additional examples.  You could also recyle the response to answer other interview questions.  Items worth noting are your ability to work in a team, solve problems, handle conflict, motivate team members etc. 

If you think of a couple other examples of your greatest successes, then you can provide responses to questions such as “Why should we hire you?” ,”Explain how you would be an asset to this organization” or Why do you think you would do well at this job?”

Do you have any questions?

The interviewer asked you questions, now it is your time to ask questions.  It does not matter if you already asked the question to the previous interviewer(s).  Ask the question again because each interviewer will provide a different perspective.  Ask how you will interact with them when you get the job.  Find out what they like about the company.  Put some thought about what you want to find out about the job opening.  Candidates who do not ask questions send a message that they just do not care.  Ask meaningful questions that shows that you really thought about the opportunity and how you can add value.  It will also show that you truly understand the responsibilities for the position and can hit the ground running.   Using the speed dating analogy, would you go to a first date and not ask questions to find out more about your date?