Interview Prep Part 2: Creating Your Interview Strategy

Career Advice
Close-up of writing in notepad
Close-up of writing in notepad
minute read

Part 2 of our series on job interviews will focus on actual interview strategy and questions. It’s a good idea to enter a job interview with a strategy in mind. Going in cold can affect your chances of the interview going well and being considered for a position.

Here are some easy ways to strategize so that you can come prepared and confident for your next interview.

What is an Interview Strategy?

The biggest error that you can make in the interview process is not planning ahead. In our previous article we showed some easy ways to prepare for an interview, but that’s only a small piece of the strategy pie. It’s also important to consider how you will go about executing your interview. Make sure that you know the information you want to get out of the interview, do your prep work, and have the confidence to properly execute your plan.

As I’m sure you already know, the interview process is an exchange of information amongst two parties. So it’s important to ask questions! Interview time is limited, so strategize a way that you can be direct and intentional. Clear and concise conversation is key!

Ok great, so you know why it's important to have a strategy and you understand the importance of being direct and intentional, but how do you go about it? One of the easiest ways is to create an outline. Make a list of important points that you want to touch on in your interview. Study this outline and make sure you’re familiar with it. Don’t read off of it or memorize it and use it as a script!  Do some research on your interviewer and try to find something in common. Build rapport and be comfortable with the topics you want to discuss. Your interview should feel like a natural conversation. So relax and treat it as such.

Strategy Tips

Keep these tips in mind when you’re sitting down for your interview:

Engagement - Maintain eye contact! It’s the best way to communicate that you are actively listening and engaged. Nod when it’s appropriate and make sure you smile. Be sure not to interrupt but don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Listening - Be an active listener! Keep your mind sharp and focused. A wandering mind can be detrimental since it shows you are disinterested. It’s easy to try and think ahead on ways to answer certain questions. Don’t get in the habit of doing this! This is why interview prep is important.

Leading - Nobody is perfect, and that goes for your interviewer too. Sometimes people ramble and if you find your interviewer guilty of this, find a gap in the conversation and lead it in a new direction.

Restating - Show your interviewer that you are actively listening. After they have communicated important information, summarize it in your own words to solidify and show your understanding of that information.

The STAR Method

The STAR Method is a helpful technique that you can use whenever you’re asked behavioral questions during an interview. STAR stands for situation, task, action, and result. It will help you prepare quality answers by using real-life examples.

But first, what are behavioral questions? They are questions that an interviewer might ask you to help them determine whether or not you can handle certain aspects of a job. These types of questions will assess how you handle relevant situations. Interviewers want to know how you have and might perform under high-pressure situations or with challenging tasks.

Ok, so how do you use the STAR method? It’s fairly simple, check it out:

Situation - disclose details of the specific event.

Task - explain your responsibility in that situation.

Action - describe how you accomplished the task.

Result - Outline the impact of your actions.

Follow this method and you’ll be able to answer behavioral questions with ease!

Behavioral Interview Tips

It’s okay if you’re still intimidated by behavioral questions, even after learning the STAR Method. Try thinking about them as an opportunity to tell a story. Share a story with your interviewer like you would with a friend.

When you’re telling your interviewer a story, be sure to listen for the skill they are trying to assess for and take into account this skill in your story. If you can’t think of anything specific use your imagination but make sure it’s realistic.

A good story will make you memorable, so be passionate when telling them. Share your emotion and your personality during your interview! You’ll stand out.

Your intentions are key, so try and stay intentional. Use the STAR Method and stay away from generalized language like,“I think it’s important to remember that the customer is always right”.

Behavioral Question Examples

Behavioral questions come in handy when hiring for roles that require communication, problem-solving, decision-making, leadership, and teamwork. Interviewers use them to see how candidates have used these skills and if they can implement them correctly if hired.

Here’s an example of a question you might be asked and how to answer using the STAR Method:

Question: Tell me about a time you overcame a challenging situation at work.

Situation: “At my previous job, our senior graphic designer resigned without notice. Since she led the graphic design team, we didn’t know what to do in her absence.”

Task: “As the junior graphic designer, I decided to take it upon myself to make sure all of her work was completed on time and to the client’s standards.”

Action: “To do this, I met with the creative director and asked him to train me in the areas of her job I wasn’t familiar with. Then, I worked through my lunch breaks for a week straight to get the work done. I delegated easier tasks to the interns.”

Result: “In the end, the client ended up loving the work. We were actually able to get the work done a day early. The creative director was so impressed by my efforts that he offered me a promotion as the senior graphic designer.”

This is a great example of sharing a topical story that shows the interviewer you possess the skills they are trying to assess for. Other examples of behavioral questions may look like the following:

Can you share a time you had to be flexible or adaptable.

Tell me about a time you had to learn quickly.

Tell me about a time you had to make a difficult decision.

Have you ever had to work with limited resources? How did you adapt?

Describe a situation where you made a mistake? What did you do to fix it?

Company Culture

You should try to make an effort to understand the culture of the company that you are interviewing with. Ask about big wins, how the company celebrates, find out if employees are often promoted, and look for signs on the walls. Active steps like these can help you feel out what to expect if you get a job.

However, be aware that interviewers will want to know if you are going to be able to adapt to the company culture. They’ll use behavioral questions to do this. Expect those questions to look something like this:

How would your colleagues describe you?

Describe yourself but be positive! Make sure that you fit the values of the company.

What motivates you?

Keep your audience in mind when it comes to this question - but be honest!

Do you prefer working alone or as part of a team?

There are positives to both answers. Don’t feel like you have to answer one way. Explain your preference but make sure to emphasize that you are flexible.

What Questions Should You Ask?

Your interview is coming to a close and just when you think it’s over, you’ll be asked if you have any questions. You can almost always count on this happening. It’s very important that you have at least two questions to ask. Some questions might already be covered in the interview so try and have 5-6 ones that you can draw from.

Depending on who you are interviewing with your questions might change. If you are interviewing with HR your questions might look like this:

How long have you been with the company?

Can you describe the company culture?

Can you outline your typical onboarding process for new hires?

What advice would you offer me in advance of interviewing with the hiring manager?

If you are interviewing with the hiring manager:

Can you share more about the day-to-day responsibilities of this role?

How would you describe the pace of a typical day?

How would you describe your management style?

What is the greatest challenge facing the company or your department?

Based on our conversation today do you have any concerns about my fit for this role?

Are there any qualifications you feel I am missing?

If I were hired for this role, what would you want me to achieve in my first 2 months?

Could you describe your expectations for me in the first 30 days, 90days, and 6 months?

What mechanisms are in place for performance reviews?

In your opinion, what is the single most important indicator of success in this role.

If you are interviewing with future colleagues:

How long have you been at the company?

Can you describe the company culture?

Can you share more about the day-to-day responsibilities of this role?

How would you describe the pace of a typical day?

How would you describe [Manager’s Name] management style?

In your opinion, what is the greatest challenge facing your department?

What are you looking for in a teammate?

In your opinion, what is the single most important indicator of success in this role?

The single most important process is to follow up these questions by asking for them to describe the next steps in the interview process! Do not forget to do this!

What Not to Ask

There are some questions you should avoid asking. Be sure to steer far, far away from these:

Salary related questions - do not bring up money until an offer is made.

Questions that start with “why?” - these questions often make people feel defensive.

“Who is your competition?” - this shows you have done zero research on the company.

“Do I get my own office?” or, “how soon do you promote employees?” -this sounds entitled.

“Will you monitor my social networking?” - this gives the impression you have something to hide.

Summing It All Up

When walking into an interview, having a game plan is extremely important. Be sure that you’ve done your research, you’ve got well thought out questions, and you’re comfortable with the STAR Method. If you take all these measures into account you will be well prepared and your interviewer will notice.

Don’t be intimidated by those behavioral questions. Stick to the STAR Method and you’ll be able to show that you have the skills they are inquiring about. Don’t forget to ask about the company culture and make sure to have questions to ask at the end of your interview. Don’t forget to ask about the next steps in the interview process! If you can remember to do all this you’ll be on track to nailing your interview and getting an offer.

For part 3 of our interview series we will discuss mock interviews and following up after an interview. Stay tuned!