Preparing for Interviews

I had offered my cousin to help her prep for her university entry interviews and I thought that I might as well put together a blog entry for it. Like everything else, I’m not claiming to be an expert but rather that I just happen to have quite a bit of experience both interviewing and being interviewed for jobs so I thought I would do some quick sharing.

To start off, I often treat interviews as a two-way conversation. Most people focus so much on being evaluated that they fail to evaluate the other party as well. Interviews are a great opportunity to evaluate whether or not this is some place that I want to be at for a large chunk of the year and if this is some thing I truly want to do. Another thing to remember as well is that just like everything else in life, interviewing is a skill as well. Just because the other party is interviewing you, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re good at it. Most people are rather bad at it largely because they don’t do it often. Sometimes it’s just as important for the interviewee to try to put the interviewer at ease. It sounds ironic but it works. When being interviewed, I try as best as possible to try to engage the interviewer because it makes the process smoother. Sometimes humour works, sometimes they like to engage in idea exchanges and sometimes they like to be given the opportunity to talk about their work. It’s really not like any other conversation from that perspective.

Interviews are also very purposeful and because it is, there is much preparation to do. The most obvious one is to research about the subject. If you’re going to a school or program, research about the program. Talk to people who have been in it, see what they thought about it and try to understand what the goal of the program is. Also understand what kind of culture of the program is. It goes a long way in engaging in the conversation with the interviewer. If possible, always get the name of the interviewer before hand. If it’s someone more senior in the organization, perhaps they’ve written papers or spoken in conferences. Read up as much as possible about the interviewer. Last but not least, research the organization. Get to know simple things like their mission statement or mission statements.

Not so obvious is the self preparation piece. In general, I find most people are surprisingly unfamiliar with themselves and therefore uncomfortable with themselves. Questions like what are our strengths/weaknesses often cause us to stumble because we are often unprepared and that there are no right answers. I usually focus on “packaging” myself. We are generally multi-faceted; we have many strengths and experiences that make us ideal for what we are going to do. It takes time to focus on parts of our experiences to highlight those things. It takes a bit of prep to have certain strengths highlighted. Also, I tend to take inventory of those things and have them handy. Usually, I need key phrases to trigger my thoughts and that’s what I have. In general, my packaging is usually humility, experienced and interested. I tend to read about lots of things especially on the technology side but I also have to try to make sure that I don’t sound condescending.

A couple of other things that comes to mind are to attempt to answer all questions and ask lots of questions. I usually try to answer all questions. If I’m unsure, I will try to ask questions or try to ask for examples. If I still don’t know, I try to make an educated guess. When I’m guessing, I try to prefix it with “I’m not entirely sure but if I were to hazzard a guess, it would be…” Hopefully that shows a more thoughtful side of me and at the same time, I’m openly honest about the things that I don’t know. Always come prepared with a lot of questions. For one, it shows that you’re interested and prepared. Take notes during the interview because you’ll want to use that to answer questions. Ask questions that may pleasantly surprise the interviewer but don’t put them into a defensive position. If they can’t answer the question, give them an easy out. It’s key not to make the interviewer uncomfortable.

Do you have any other tips? If so, please do share!