Interview preparation can be daunting. And of course it is: doing it properly is a lot of work and unfortunately, it doesn’t always pay off. Interviews are stressful, especially for those of us who are shy or anxious. The best remedy for nerves is preparation: understanding the role properly and its place in the organization, understanding the organization and how your skillset will benefit it, workshopping your answers ahead of time, and addressing your weaker areas or areas of anxiety head on.
Interview Preparation ABCs
A) Organization research
To best prepare for your interview, it is vitally important to research the organization thoroughly.
- Look through their website, read their strategy reports, and any publicly available reports and information you can find. Take good notes and write down any questions that come up for you about the role and organization.
- LinkedIn is a great tool for looking up your hiring committee. Find out their role in the organization and whether you have any connections through shared history, interests, and whether you have any contacts in common.
- If you do have close contacts in common, reach out to get references on this organization and its management. It’s far easier to avoid a toxic workplace than it is to escape one.
The purpose of this research is twofold:
- To use your knowledge of the organization to prepare relevant examples from your work history that best supports your candidacy and to ask thoughtful questions.
- To determine whether this role and organization are a good fit for you. Google them, see what their reviews are on Glassdoor, read any articles about them and their leadership, and anything else you can find to get a sense of what the organization is like and whether it suits your preferences and goals.
Take a good look at the job description too. Make sure you understand its scope and requirements. See where the role fits in the organization chart. Look up people who hold similar roles and see what you can learn about people who are successful in this kind of role. Write down any questions you have about the role to bring to the interview.
B) Curating relevant examples
First, work on your answer to the most common introductory question: Tell us a bit about yourself. Base it off your profile section of your resume, a.k.a. your “elevator pitch.” Briefly sum up your experience and expertise in terms that highlight your suitability for the role. Tell them the parts of your background that paved the way for you to apply for this role, your expertise that is relevant to the role, and how this role fits in with your goals.
Using the main requirements and qualifications from the role description, come up with 1-3 examples for each from your work history that demonstrate your competency and expertise in that area. Choose the examples that best fit the requirements and are the most impressive.
Use the STAR Method to structure your examples. Keep it succinct but make sure you cover every point in the star.
“The STAR method is an interview technique that gives you a straightforward format you can use to tell a story by laying out the Situation, Task, Action, and Result.
- Situation: Set the scene and give the necessary details of your example.
- Task: Describe what your responsibility was in that situation.
- Action: Explain exactly what steps you took to address it.
- Result: Share what outcomes your actions achieved.”
Write down your examples in the STAR formatting and practice saying each one aloud. Bring these notes to your interview to refer to in case you get stuck.
C) Identify and resolve weaker areas
Chances are high that you won’t meet every single requirement of the role, and that’s okay! They already invited you to interview, which means they think you are suitable for the role, and moreover, they want you to do well and be the right candidate.
It’s best to meet any areas you feel less confident in head on. What are those areas? Where do you feel you fall short of the job description? What challenges have you had in past roles that are coming up for you now? What do you feel the most anxious or nervous about?
Write them all down. Is there a theme? Can you group any of them together to address as one area?
Consolidate your list into your main areas of stress and go through them. If there are areas you fall short of in the job description, are there any transferable skills or experiences that you can use to cover these points? Avoid saying that you’re a fast learner and instead identify the specific skills that will help you in this area. Be honest with the interviewers – they have already seen which requirements you don’t meet from your application materials and they invited you to interview anyway. Address the deficits, tell them which of your skills can be transferrable and reiterate any examples that are most closely related.
Ensure that you have covered all of your relevant skills, expertise, and achievements in your resume. If, in the course of your interview preparation, you remember something in your history that’s relevant to the roles you want, update your resume!
For those areas about which you feel generally anxious about or where past negative experiences are coming up, ask yourself: is this really something I need to worry about or is this anxiety? What facts about yourself can you use to disprove these thoughts? Go through your resume again and remind yourself of your strengths and achievements. Remember the positive feedback you’ve gotten from colleagues and friends (it helps to keep a folder of pick-me-ups for this exact scenario). Reach out to a friend or therapist if you have one and talk it through.
And remember: they want you to be successful! It makes the hiring committee’s job so much easier if you nail the interview. If they make you feel otherwise, here be dragons: it’s probably not an organization you want to work for.
Tips and Pointers
- Write everything down and bring the notes to your interview.
- Take notes in the interview: topics you’d like to ask questions about later, important facts and dates to remember, the names and job titles of your interviewers if you didn’t already know them, and etc.
- Interview them right back: ask good questions that you really want the answer to, so you can determine if this role is the right fit for you.
- Practice your answers out loud, whether it’s alone, to your pets, or to a friend. Practice them more than once. Things flow differently verbally than they do on paper. However you memorize things best, do that, but don’t over rehearse; it should flow like a conversation. Think party anecdote: short, well constructed, and punchy.
- If you get nervous during the interview, take a few deep breaths, drink some water, and look at your notes for guidance.
- Don’t be afraid to ask the interviewers for clarity on a question, so you know you’re covering the right topics. If you’re unsure after you’ve answered, ask them if you covered what they were looking for.
- Make sure they tell you or you ask what the next steps are and what timeframe you can expect a response in. If you don’t hear back in that timeframe – with a couple of days grace period, since hiring processes can be unpredictable – follow up with them ONCE. Don’t hound them.
- Send a brief, polite thank you note by email that reiterates your interest in the role and thanks them for their time.
- After the interview is over, reflect on how it went and what you feel went well or not, either on your own or with a friend/colleague. (Or me: I offer free interview post-mortems with my interview preparation services). Identify areas to work on for the next one, and then try to put it out of your mind and carry on with your job search.
- Pay attention to your gut feeling during the interview. Do you feel they are being truthful and genuine or do you get the sense they’re hiding some dysfunction from you? Are you more or less excited about this role than you were before the interview?
If you’d like extra support with your interview preparation, get in touch with me! I offer free 30-minute consultations on all my services.
Ask a Manager has great advice on all things work and job searching: https://www.askamanager.org/category/interviewing
City of Calgary Interview Preparation Guide: https://www.calgary.ca/careers/hiring/interview-preparation.html
International Development Interview Preparation: https://www.humanitarianinstitute.com/insights/international-development-interview-preparation-tips/
United Nations Interview Preparation: https://careers.un.org/lbw/
UN Agency Guide to Effective Job Interviewing: Effective-Job-Interviewing-for-Applicants-Participant-Guide.pdf
70 Nonprofit and International Development Questions: https://www.globalguideline.com/interview_questions/
Canadian Immigrant: Smart Answers to Behavioural Questions: https://canadianimmigrant.ca/careers-and-education/careers/smart-answers-to-behavioural-interview-questions