How to stand out when Interviewing – Part 6: Practice Interviewing

So, you’ve picked a new position, gathered data about yourself and your work, crafted the narrative or theme you want to convey, written a base resume, compiled a portfolio, and you are wondering what’s next in this journey to sharpen your interviewing skills. This post begins the most important and impactful part when sharpening your interviewing skills: practicing interviewing as if you are in the room.

How do I actually practice interviewing in the hot seat?

Interviewing is one thing I wish I had practiced a lot more in college. I should have gotten a group of friends together and practiced questions we could find online, and when we were close to graduating, practicing questions we were getting in interviews. This is something I actively do now, even when I’m not interviewing with companies or going for a raise because it gives me a chance to be on the other side of the table when interviewing and preparing myself when I do have to interview candidates in the future.

I highly recommend to practice interviewing with friends, coworkers, or family even. However, the quality of the interviewer is something to take into consideration. It can be easier to deliver your theme when you are speaking with “birds of a feather”, so to speak, so practicing with people that have similar skills sets can prepare you for the technical aspects of your job and can help you figure out how to prepare and deliver your theme. If you are a software developer looking for a job and you have the option to practice interviewing with a member of HR, even if you don’t know the person, take it because this can get you out of the technical aspects and you’ll learn how to deliver your experience and theme to more people, especially people that don’t know exactly what you are talking about. Being able to convey your skillset, narrative, and background to more people can open up you to new opportunities you may not otherwise encounter when interviewing.

You can practice interviewing alone even, which is one thing that 99% people just don’t do, but can ultimately have some of the biggest impact. You practice alone by doing at least one of two things: Get in front of a mirror and answer questions and/or record a video of yourself answering questions. The reason I bring this up is because it is extremely unnatural and throws everyone for a loop the first few times they do it. Standing in front of a mirror is great because then you have a face to look at, and we are so used to talking with other people that seeing our face can set us on edge as well. Being uncomfortable is a pretty easy feeling to practice with and yet so few people do it. They say things like, “I’ll look stupid,” and “I can’t believe I’m doing this.” I used to say it myself but I’ve gotten over it. The only way to get better at interviewing is by practicing. I really like recording a video of answering questions and practicing interviewing because it’s a great way to see how you answered a question, where you weren’t clear, what you could do to make the answer stand out more, checking your timing to make sure you aren’t going to fast, and where you stumbled, adding words like “umm” and “uhh”.

Ok wise guy, you showed me how to practice, but how do I answer questions?

Sometimes, I wonder if people want me to spoon-feed it to them. I swear.

Before I go on to giving you some tips on how to answer questions, you need to promise me that you will practice this, otherwise you might as well close this browser tab right now and shotgun out your resume a few hundred more times. There’s nothing worse than giving people advice and them saying, “That’s nice, I’ll do that later.” If you don’t do this, you are simply wasting your time.

Pretty much every interview question will follow or be a variant of one of the questions listed below:

  1. “Tell me about yourself.”
  2. “Why do you want to work here?”
  3. “Why did you leave your last job?”
  4. “Why should I hire you?” OR “What would you bring to this position?”
  5. “Can you give me an example of when you used your X skills (optional: with outstanding results)?”
  6. “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
  7. “Tell me when something went wrong and you had to fix it.”
  8. “How do you deal with X situation?”

Before I dig into the meat of the guide to answer the questions above, I want you to remember a couple of “suggested” rules I have:

Rule #1: Remember your theme/narrative that you want to get across and make sure your answers follow that theme. People want to know your story and how you can provide value to them. There are at least a hundred different people that can give the same answer as you at this very moment, but they don’t have your story or theme/narrative. Your theme is one way of illustrating value.

Rule #2: Providing value is the whole point you want to get across. As you answer questions, you want the person sitting on the other side of the table to nod their head in agreement and think, “Hmm, yeah, that does sound exactly like what I need.” You also want to show how they are getting a great deal by hiring you over the next guy. A great deal in the sense that you provide 2/5/10/100 times more value than the other candidates because you not only do the work, but that you are a top performer and proactively bring solutions to their problems and you know how to implement them. However, because you are more valuable than the competition, you should be compensated more.

Back to the questions listed above. You’ll notice they fall in one of three categories: Tell me about your Experience, Why You, and How do you deal with X. A great way to prepare for these categories is to look at the data that you’ve gathered about yourself because you can come up with stories and experiences to answer the first category, the fact that you perform analysis and develop insight that sets you above the competition to deal with the second category, and because you take a data driven approach to deal with the third category, you can come up with better approaches and have the data to back up your viewpoint.

One thing that people routinely bring up is “How do I answer a question about my weaknesses?” People routinely get blindsided by this question even though they KNOW it’s coming in the interview. Not being prepared for this question is like walking into a minefield of mines YOU planted. Also, it helps to prepare for this question by coming up with a collection of weaknesses you have, that way you can prepare for each one. The reason I suggest this is so that you can rank them on severity (minimal impact to this-would-screw-the-project) and can use the least impactful one for the interview. For example, if you are going for a managerial position, the company may not care as much that you are not a detail-oriented person, so you could present the fact that you glaze over when someone presents you with a lot of details.

If you found value in this content, I encourage you to read the rest of the posts in this series about how to stand out when interviewing:

  1. Picking a new PositionOne of the biggest problems people encounter when they are looking for a new job is, “What do I look for now? Should I get the same job somewhere else? Should I try to move up? What if I’m not qualified?!” In this post, we discuss a couple of methods you can use to help you get clarity in which direction you should head with your career.
  2. Gather Data about YourselfThis post discusses some ways you can use to get concrete insight on information you can use to prove your skills and experience throughout your job search.
  3. Craft your Theme - Once you’ve gathered the data, you should either see or develop some sort of trend in your work. You should also try to craft this theme to fit into your overall career goals. Your theme should provide a narrative behind where your career has been and where you are proactively directing it.
  4. Writing your Base Resume - I recommend you write a base resume to help you get a solid grasp of the direction you want to head with your career. This post discusses an approach I take to doing this.
  5. Build your Portfolio - By providing a portfolio of your work, you not only tell the person or company you are interviewing with that you are awesome, but you give them examples of your work so that they can investigate it for themselves.
  6. (You are here) Practicing Interviewing - With this post, we talk about some methods you can use to practice interviewing.
  7. Picking the Companies to interview - In this post, we’ll talk about picking the right companies to interview with so that you know how to tailor your resume.
  8. How to prepare for an interview - While you are waiting for companies to respond back asking for interviews, you should be breaking apart the job descriptions even further and writing down examples of work you’ve done previously to satisfy each requirement that they are listing. You should be also boning up on the basics of your potential job and the theory behind it.
  9. Common Interview Questions and Answers - You’ve made it this far and you’re starting to interview with companies. During each interview, you want to ask 3 specific questions which I’ll cover later in this article.
  10. Accepting a Job Offer - At the end of the interview process with each company, one of two (obvious) things will happen: rejection or acceptance. I’ll discuss how to deal with each one of them and where to go from there.

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