Acing your interview – part 2

JULIE CHASE | AUGUST 6, 2020

Last month I wrote about how to excel at interview screens in Acing your interview part 1. Hopefully, you applied some of the best practices, passed your screens with flying colors and have been invited to do an interview loop. Since most interviews are now via video calls, I recommend that you read our blog on Acing your video interview. In this article, I’ll share how to set yourself up for success with the interview loop.  “One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.”  — Arthur Ashe  The right preparation will absolutely help build confidence. But let’s be clear the right prep is not everything that you can think of or cramming it into a tight timeline. I’ll share some of the most effective ways to prep starting with a few that may be new to you. 

Setting up for success

  • Get into the right mindset. Henry Ford said it best: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right,” Ask yourself this question: Do you believe you deserve this job? Do you believe that you can do this job? If the answer is yes, then do things to reinforce it. If the answer is no, then do the same things until you believe in yourself.You can strengthen your belief by visualizing yourself at the interview (you’re poised, articulate and confident), receiving the offer and working at the company. Start each day with a short meditation (you can find great ones on YouTube), journal your thoughts and/or write affirmations to reinforce your visualization.   
  • Hold the feeling of gratitude and excitement as you prep. The way we feel about things when we do them is the way we’ll feel when we’re performing. So let go of any controlling or demanding energies (e.g., I have to get this job or I must read everything) and feel thankful to have this opportunity, for getting to learn more about the company and for meeting new people. 
  • Give yourself enough time and space to prepare. Being the first to interview is rarely an advantage. Make sure you choose a date that gives you ample time to prep and practice as well as remove obligations that detract from your efforts. Map out an action plan and block time on your calendar. 
  • Be fully present. One of our clients had trouble getting an offer because he wasn’t able to handle curveballs well. We finally got to the root of the problem, he was trying to prepare for every scenario and anticipate everyone’s move. Not only was this exhausting, but it was also impossible. Your focus should be on being fully present in every moment. That way you can truly hear the questions, understand what they’re looking for and give the best answer you can.

 In-depth research

The approach to prep and practice for your interview builds on the foundation you laid with the screens. This is the time to dig deeper on the company, products and services, mission and vision and core values.  
  • Watch the CEO’s keynote speech, watch employee videos — or better yet, talk to a couple of employees (leverage LinkedIn to get introduced to people at the company if you don’t have direct connections). 
  • Search for “interviewing at Company A” — you might find some good articles and tips from the company, past interviewees and publications. 
  • Check out the interviewers on LinkedIn. Take note of their background, tenure and roles at the company, mutual connections and their activity such as posts and articles they’ve published. Jot questions of anything that piques your interest. If you find personal information, don’t bring it up. One of our clients mentioned that he knew the interviewer was getting married and freaked them out. Even though it was a public post, it feels creepy to have a stranger share details about yourself. 

Practice, practice, practice! 

When prepping for questions, you should: 
  • Create a library of stories. Be generous with the “I” over the “we” (more details in the behavioral section). If you can’t remember exact numbers, then ballpark them. Demonstrate self awareness, especially around questions like “tell me about a mistake,” or “a time when you didn’t make a commitment.” Share what you learned and how you improved from that experience. 
  • Write the talking points. This helps to organize your thoughts and give a thorough, yet succinct answer. 
  • Practice saying them aloud. Saying them in your head is subpar. The interviewer will feel as comfortable as you. So if you’re saying the answer aloud for the first time in the interview, the chances are there’s going to be a good amount of discomfort on both sides. The best way to get comfortable is to record and listen to your answers. It’s grating at first, but it’s wholly revealing and surfaces the areas to work on. 
  • Perfect your close. Nothing is normal when it comes to interviewing, especially the close. With the exception of seasoned sales people, we don’t know how to close the deal. Here’s the easy part, be authentic: reinforce that you’re excited about this opportunity and that you’re confident you can make a big impact doing X and Y.Practice the closing question: “Do you think I’d be a good fit for this role?” or “Could you see me in this role?” or “Do you feel I’d be successful in this role?” Try out different ways to say it until you find something that is natural to you. By asking this question, you’ll get a sense for how they’re feeling and if they have concerns, you’ll have the opportunity to address them —  in a non-defensive way. For example, “I wasn’t very clear, but I have extensive experience in…”
  • Schedule mock interviews. You can definitely do a practice interview with friends and family, but some of the best ones are with people you don’t know well or at all. Ask an acquaintance who is a hiring manager or recruiter if they’d do a practice session with you. Send them a list of questions and ask them to throw in their own. Allow time to do a debrief and get candid feedback on what went well and what you can improve. Be sure to send them a thank you note and gift afterward!

Behavioral questions

These are the questions that focus on how you handled certain situations. They provide insight into your skills, abilities, working style and personality. They usually start with something like “Tell me about a time…” or “Give me an example of…” 

STAR or CAR format

There’s an art and science to answering behavioral questions. You need to provide enough information, but not too much. Interviewers are looking for good communicators — and answers that provide depth in a succinct way.  The STAR and CAR format are very similar. I like to use CAR because it’s simplified. Here’s how it’s structured:  Context: describe the situation — the who, what, where, why, providing only relevant information. Things like what was the scenario/project, what was the objective, who were the key stakeholders and why it was important. Remember they don’t know anything about your company, team and work — think about it from their perspective. Action: share the how — what were you tasked to do and how did you do it. How did you approach and manage it, what decisions did you make, who did you work with. Be generous with the “I” — when you use “we” it’s unclear what you actually did. Even if it’s a group effort, you can say your role in the effort such as “I worked with X team/person,” “I collaborated with X team/person,” “I led X team,” etc.  Results: show the impact — the outcome and results. If they aren’t ROI based, then share the benefits and how it was determined to be a success such as “It’s still a model that’s still used today to make decisions,” “It was showcased in the quarterly earnings report,” etc.  Here’s an example of what it looks like.  Q: Tell me about a time when you had significant, unanticipated obstacles to overcome in achieving a key goal.  C: At Company A, I was responsible for all field and channel marketing and generating leads for our sales teams. We had 2 strategic Fortune 100 partners that generated leads and accounted for 30% of our pipeline. We noticed a dip in leads over a 2 month period and knew it would adversely affect our next quarter’s revenue goals. So my team needed to act fast to increase the pipeline.  I knew that digging into the root of the decline in leads would take longer than we could afford, although we would do so in tandem. My instinct was that the partner programs we ran for over a year were starting to lose effectiveness, so rather than double down on them, I decided to change direction. A: Historically, we saw a reciprocal lead flow. When a partner generated a lead for a rep, the rep would often generate a lead for the partner. So I shifted my team’s focus to run a campaign for our internal sales teams to generate leads for our partners. I concepted and proposed an internal campaign and secured support from our sales and marketing leaders. I led the execution of all activities including a kickoff event, presentation, sales tools and materials and an incentive program. We were able to launch the campaign within 2 weeks and saw immediate results. R: Our sales team not only created new opportunities for our partners, but they also helped closed co-sell deals which contributed directly to our revenue. And because of the increase of leads, we became top of mind again and our partners referred more leads to us. We got back on track and ended up exceeding our quarter revenue goals by 8%. It also created tighter alignment between our sales reps and the partner reps — generating a robust pipeline for the rest of the year. The internal campaign became part of our sales and marketing playbook that we used regularly.

Common behavioral questions

Here is a list of the most common behavioral questions from our clients’ interviews. 
  • Tell me about a time when you failed/made a mistake. 
  • Give me an example of a calculated risk that you have taken where speed was critical. 
  • Give me an example of when you went above and beyond for a customer. 
  • Tell me about a time when you had significant, unanticipated obstacles to overcome in achieving a key goal. 
  • Tell me about a time when you were trying to understand a complex problem on your team and you had to dig into data to figure it out. 
  • Give me an example of a time when you were not able to meet a commitment. 
  • Tell me about a time when your team’s goals were out of alignment with another team you relied on in order to meet your goal. 
  • Tell me about a time when you had a difficult interaction with a customer/colleague. 
  • Tell me about a time when you strongly disagreed with your manager or peer on something you considered very important to the business. (2 stories: one where you influenced them and one where you disagreed with a decision, but supported it). 
  • Tell me about a time when you were unsatisfied with the status quo. 
  • Give me an example of a complex problem you solved with a simple solution. 
  • Tell me about a time when you took on something significant outside your area of responsibility. 
  • Provide an example of how you made an improvement in a program or process.
  • Give me an example of a time when you were able to deliver an important project under a tight deadline. 
  • Tell me about a time when you made a hard decision to sacrifice short term gain for a long term win for your team or the business. 
  • Tell me about a time when you had to balance the needs of the customer with the needs of the business. 

Post interview 

This is very similar to the post screen process. 
  •  Write down the key points from the loop including information about the role, team and company, etc. Also list the questions they asked you and you asked them. Write what you did well and what you can improve on next time. Every interview is a good learning opportunity.
  • Write what you liked best about the company, team and people as well as concerns and questions you have. This will help you evaluate the opportunity when you get the offer. 
  • Write thank you emails to each of the interviewers and the recruiter and send the following day. Just like the prep, give yourself some time and space to write a thoughtful message — after you’ve had time to recharge.
Personalize each email by mentioning something from conversation. Reinforce your interest and why you’re a great fit for the role (as long as it’s genuine).  
  • Connect via LinkedIn. Many people will accept your invitation once they’ve met with you. 
Being strategic about your prep and practice will help you perform at your best in the interview loop!  Are you looking for help in your job search to land a job that you’ll love and thrive in?   If so, then watch our video and book a session with one of our job strategists. We’re excited to learn about your career goals and share insights.