Let’s start by taking some of the fear out of the interview process
I’m an experienced programmer, but my company’s been sold, and I’m back in the job market. I’m naturally more of a quiet guy, and I find that I’m not coming across well in interviews. When I got my first job, I had a personal connection with the company’s owner and didn’t have a formal interview, so I can’t draw on that experience. Any advice?
Let’s start by taking some of the fear out of the interview process.
Think of an interview like this: Both you and the interviewer are characters onstage, and you each have a role to play. The interviewer’s role is to ascertain if you have the skills and experience to do the job well. Your role is to show that you do. They’ll ask you questions to try and figure that out, you’ll prepare answers that showcase your abilities. While you won’t know in advance the specific questions you’ll be asked, the best way to prepare is by determining what your main skills are, and coming up with stories — yes, stories — that highlight you using them.
Start by creating a simple list of things you’ve done at work that you’re proud of. You might decide to spend an hour or more of focused time doing this, or you can start a list and jot down one thought a day over a week or two. The goal is to come up with five to ten scenarios that came up at work that highlight your skills. This list can include anything from major challenging situations, to small detailed things that you took pride in. From the changes you’ve made to a system, to your relationships with coworkers. The magic in this method is that we often do things that we don’t think of as stories, and likely have never talked about. Actually writing them down helps them become active stories that you can share in an interview.
To ensure that your stories do their job of showing off your skills in a memorable way, be sure to follow the S.O.A.R. method: Situation, Obstacle, Action, and Result.
Here’s an example:
Situation: What happened?
I was working as a programmer on a team of five people.
Obstacle: The opportunity
The project manager had to take emergency leave.
Action: What you did. This is the important part. Share in detail how you dealt with the situation in a way that spotlights your skills.
I realized that the project I was working on was going to go way off schedule without the manager. I approached my boss and offered to be in touch with everyone on the team regularly, keeping him updated on progress, and keeping the team to a timeline.
Result: What happened?
The project stayed on schedule, and I was asked to keep some of the management responsibilities.
You’ve managed to show off a few things: You’re the type to take initiative, you’ve got great programming and management skills, and you put yourself out there for the team.
A story like this one is memorable, makes an impression, and tells the interviewer so much more than you could have by just listing your skills.
If you’re like most people, you don’t perform well under pressure or in front of strangers, which is exactly what an interview is. But by having your stories prepared, you’re ready for any interview question that comes your way. It becomes a matter of choosing the story that you feel highlights the skill you’d like to show.
I do recommend reviewing common interview questions and what they’re really asking (see sidebar). Don’t be afraid to practice out loud in front of a mirror, or role play with someone you’re comfortable with. An interview is a performance, albeit with an audience of one, and, like with any stage appearance, you want to come properly prepared.
Common Interview Questions and What The Interviewers Are Really Asking
Tell me about yourself = What is your relevant work experience?
What is your greatest strength and weakness? = Are you humble and honest? This answer shows self-awareness (or lack thereof).
Why do you want to work at this company? = Tell us something you like about us. Preferably, give a specific compliment.
Why are you interested in this job? = Do you understand the job responsibilities? What’s your real motivation? (Money? Location? The job itself?)
Why should we hire you? =Why are you the best fit for this job? Make your sales pitch.
Do you have any questions for us? =Have you done your research? Are you curious? If you have a question about the company or job, do ask.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 920)
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