Your Best Foot Forward: a Job Interview Strategy Guide

What’s the purpose of a job interview?

First, let’s talk about what it isn’t:

The purpose of a job interview is NOT to get the job. It’s also NOT to provide answers to your interviewer’s questions.

Your sole purpose in a job interview is to present the best version of yourself to the interviewer.

When you go to the store, you’re more likely to be drawn to the product that’s presented the best. Great packaging, great displays, and great marketing all come together and get your attention.

A job interview is really not very different. In an interview process, YOU are the product and you need to strategically articulate your strongest “features” to showcase the best version of yourself.  In order to present this best version of yourself, you must first understand yourself, what you’ve done, why you’ve done it and how you’ve done it; both what works and what doesn’t.

Now, something you need to realize is that most interviewers are not trained in interviewing and they may not realize the purpose or the science of the interview questions. There’s a good chance they haven’t put much thought at all into the questions they’re asking. Often times, interview questions are googled  directly prior to the interview. Even if they don’t understand the real purpose behind a question, you have to give them the “right” answer. This is where being prepared in knowing yourself is critical.

Many candidates drill and prepare canned responses for common interview questions. If you do this, you’re gambling, because you have no idea what kinds of questions are going to be asked before you walk into the interview room.

So, what IS your ultimate goal in a job interview? What do you want the interview to do after he or she says goodbye? Let’s break it down:

  1. You want the interviewer to meet and remember the best version of you.  
  2. You want the interviewer to understand the big picture of how you’ll fit into the company. Again, connect the dots for them.
  3.  You want the interviewer to know you and how you will fit into the role you are interviewing for. Connect the dots for them.

You will hit all of these targets only by thoroughly knowing yourself, your core strengths, and your accomplishments. This means you have to undergo a very thorough analysis and inventory of yourself in order to properly prepare for an interview, because you have to be able to articulate and define the best version of yourself and how you will fit into the position. THAT is the goal, even though many intervieweees don’t realize that’s the goal.

It’s important to understand yourself and your accomplishments, as well as the way you think.  You don’t think of questions – you think of your accomplishments and work backwards.

A great tool for this is a spreadsheet. I’d recommend creating a list of accomplishments / projects that make you proud. Then, create several categories of core strengths that you utilized to achieve these accomplishments, such as “Communication,” “Leadership,” “Project Management,” etc…. and define examples.

Often we miss opportunities to show communication and provide context: ? Don’t assume the interviewer understands the dynamics of your previous role. Were you the leader of the team? Frame the response with a high-level summary before you dig into examples. Were you a member of the team? How many people were on the team? What was your team responsible for? Then be extremely specific of YOUR strengths and how YOU fit into the big picture to carry things forward. Don’t be afraid to say “I”.

Remember that anyone can claim to be successful. You need to illustrate examples of success in action. The proof is in the pudding. Demonstrate how YOU achieved success through your actions, or through the reactions of those around you. For example: Instead of saying “I’m well respected,” give an example: “My organization flew me to the headquarters for my five year anniversary.” This shows that you were well-respected in your organization without you having to spell it out. This seems a bit more modest and builds a story about who you are and how you fit into the big picture. It also enhances perceived credibility by showing how hsitorcially, colleagues respond to you.

Show the interviewer how you think. Make it very clear to them how you process things. For example: When interviewers ask you to discuss your greatest weakness, they’re not interested in your deficiencies – they’re interested in your thought process, how you deal with a weakness, and how you overcome it.

Study the job description prior to the interview. You have to be so familiar with the job description that you can provide examples and do the correlation FOR THEM. Your job is to connect the dots – you can’t assume they will connect them for you. This means you need to do your homework about yourself first!

Most candidates make the mistake to ask questions at the end of the interview– They miss the opportunity to engage the interviewer in conversation. Ask questions DURING the interview. Show that you’re interested in the company and you have questions of your own about how you’ll fit into the big picture. Most people who are interviewing like the opportunity to talk, not just listen. And remember: you’re interviewing the company, as well. This is as much about them as it is about you.

Take it slow. The first sentence is very important – take a moment to think before you speak instead of blurting something out or saying filler words. Interviews should be real, which means sometimes you may have to talk about a less than rosy situation…. But make sure you frame your answer so that it’s not personal and do not portray a victim mentality. Be objective and genuine. Pro tip: if you’re going to say a negative, use a personal transition word such as “honestly.” This humbles you and contributes to a human connection with the interviewer.

Look for an opportunity to show the interviewer how you think, and remember, above all else, it’s about how you make people feel. At the end of it, people are going to remember how you made them feel during an interview.

This is where a Career Coach can be extremely beneficial. It’s almost impossible to know for certain how you come across in conversation. Your perception is not necessarily the interviewer’s reality. A career coach will give you honest feedback and point out problems you might never realize exist. A professional coach will help you be true to yourself without giving the wrong impression. Most importantly, a coach will help you really know yourself, so you will know what’s really important to you.

Interviewing is primarily about knowing yourself. You really have to know yourself, know your accomplishments, know what you want, know how you’ve gotten what you wanted in the past. Again, the goal is not about getting the job… it might not be a job you want. Present the best version of yourself, and then the interviewer can make an educated decision as to whether or not you’d fit into the role and their organization. Happy interviewing!

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