How to ace an interview: 3 questions to focus on [Wise Wednesdays]
I was speaking with a friend yesterday. She loves her field and has applied for a great job. It could be the next step in her bigger vision of helping to put the care back into healthcare.
But she’s got quite a lot on her plate and froze during the interview preparation.
Now, I haven’t been to an interview for years. But there was a time where I was going through them like a marathon.
I had a good-looking CV and always got shortlisted. But when I got to the interview something went wrong…It was so disheartening.
I eventually figured it out but it took me 11 applications to get my second job – that was a tough time.
I learned a LOT and I never got stuck like that again. In fact, I got my ‘dream job’ or dream opportunities 4 times in a row after working it out and was eventually asked to sit on the other side of the table to help hire for a couple of big organisations.
I want to share what it was that got me through that bottleneck in the end. Because I did one thing that radically changed the outcome: I figured out exactly what the interviewers were looking for from me.
Of course, there’s no single answer or approach to use. What I’m sharing is based on my experience in a highly competitive field.
[Read on or watch the video]
Keep it simple by focusing on these 3 questions.
- Why do you want this job?
- Why should we hire you?
- What are your strengths?
Yes, they’re the questions that stuck the most fear in me at the time and just didn’t know how to articulate the answers. My thoughts were: I don’t have strengths, isn’t it obvious why I want the job?! and I don’t know why they should hire me…
But with some uncomfortable but honest reflection on these questions followed by rehearsal and practice with supportive people, it paid off.
You might notice that the questions overlap because they’re essentially answering the same question:
By the way, no matter how friendly your interviewers are, they’re trying to figure out one thing: are you a good investment?
Of course, they may already be on your side and want you as the candidate of choice. But you can’t rely on that. I’ve heard more than once how someone showed up thinking it was in the bag only to find out a last-minute candidate changed the odds, or they didn’t do as well as they’d hoped.
Of course, this kind of questioning will activate imposter-like thoughts that you must gently but firmly put aside! Give them a cup of tea and let them chat in the corner while you get on with your prep.
How to answer the big 3
First, you should realise there are two elements to any of your answers:
1) The information (e.g. what you’ve done and your experience)
2) The emotional component i.e. your confidence, your generosity of spirit, how you react under stress.
As I went through these questions over and over, I noticed that my confidence grew and any other question I could think of (e.g. tells us about a project you led, what are your weaknesses, what do you do to relax, etc.) became easy.
I created an interview Q&A sheet which became my go-to for subsequent interviews with appropriate changes.
The funny thing was that all my answers seemed to come back to the first 3 eventually because that’s ultimately what the interviewer is interested in.
By reading through the rest of this, I want you to feel that interviews are like confident dating where you know your worth and the truth becomes self-evident through the process. You can trust that the best outcome will occur for you.
Q1: Why do you want this job?
Here you have to start with some research. You see, it’s not really about you. It’s about what you can do for the organisation. So the real question you’re answering is: what do you know about the work we do and what problems are you going to help us solve/value are you going to help us create? Essentially, it’s a question about fit – like a date.
For example, you might say: “One of the most impressive/inspiring things I’ve read about recently in [industry journal X] was how [the organisation] achieved [impressive thing Y]. I’ve been passionate about [technically relevant thing that you’re good at i.e. a strength] since I entered the field. It’s been an aspiration of mine to deliver on [whatever aspect of the role you’re interested in = your bigger why]. I believe this job is the perfect opportunity to bring the skills and experience I’ve accumulated over X years to contribute to the organisation’s mission. (n.b. the more specific you are the more real, so don’t skimp on: 1) research (e.g. the company website, speaking to someone who was doing the role before); 2) matching your skills and experience to the role and organisation). This strategic reflection will pay off no matter what.
Q2: Why should we hire you?
The way I tackled this question was always to start by acknowledging that I want this job with reference to why it’s a great fit (see Q1) and then mention what makes me different/unique. Hint: it matters less what makes you different and more that you’re confident about it (although of course, it helps if you’re at the top of your game or have some impressive things under your belt. This is where to mention your big achievements – always in relation to how it helps the organisation. Never lose sight of this!)
Q3: What are your strengths
Don’t be stumped by this like me. You don’t need a personality test either although it might be interesting to do ones like the Big 5, MBTI or StrengthsFinder. Prepare by listing a few qualities you know you can stand by e.g. disciplined, loyal, conscientious, confident communicator, high in empathy. You can also ask others what they think your strengths are e.g. as a couple of friends: What’s missing when I’m not in the room? But again, and you may see it coming by now: the strengths to mention in the interview are what ultimately make you a great fit for the organisation!
So it’s pretty simple: by the end of the interview, they (and you) should be clear that you’re a great fit because: you know a lot about them, you want to provide value and you’ve told them how and why you’ll do that over and over again!
In summary, it’s not really about you, but about them and the work you can do together.
If you get stuck during the interview, just come back to one of these 3 questions and pick up from there. Of course, make sure you rehearse them so that they roll off your tongue and become your fallback. I learned my answers by heart and then improvised within the structure based on the context and tone, etc.
If it doesn’t work out, trust that there’s nothing you could have done, and it wasn’t meant to be. But if you’re this clear and confident, your odds are pretty high of getting a job even if it’s not a perfect fit because you’ll be doing more strategic preparation than most candidates.
A few extra tips:
· Use examples whenever you state a strength or skill
· Structure your examples to hit key points e.g. the STAR system (Situation, Task, Action, Result)
· Turn examples into stories
· If you led a project, don’t be shy. Say “I led on X”! (it’s not bragging if it’s true).
When I work with my coaching clients on career transformation (whether they want to grow in their current role or create a new one), we work on their mindset the most.
The key to an outstanding mindset in the current climate is to see yourself as an entrepreneur (even if you’re applying for a job).
You’re coming to the table as a Company of One, with unique assets, and partnering with the organisation interviewing you to solve problems and create value – this brings fulfilment and money. And watch out, if you prepare using this approach you may realise how much value you truly bring to the table and may well ditch the job and grow your own business!...