Preparing for a Job Interview – Yes, This is a Test, You Will Be Graded

Intelligence

Resume? Check. Interview? Check. Nice, conservative suit? Check. Studied the job, the organization, its mission, vision, and values? Check. Prepared some general responses to interview questions they’ll probably ask you? Check. Prepared some solid questions you can ask the interviewer? Trouble. If you haven’t prepared, when the interviewer asks, “Well, Ed, what questions do you have for me?” you freeze. Then, you either demonstrate how you’ve really not thought this through very well by saying, “No, I’m good!” Or, you ask some inane question like, “Uh, well, how do you like working here?” Doom.

THE TEST

Like it or not, the interview is a test, and there are any number of ways the interviewer may choose to test you. He or she could throw some job-related hypothetical situations your way. You could be asked to talk about some of the more difficult projects you’ve handled—which isn’t, by the way, you opportunity to necessarily look like a hero: it’s most likely an opportunity to communicate some messages about your management style, values, professional principles, or demonstrate you’re familiar with the complexity of challenges you’ll face there at the new company. These are the sorts of scenarios for which you can prepare yourself fairly well, if you’ve done your research.

Here’s one more way to apply what you’ve learned about the company through research: shape some really intriguing questions you will ask the interviewer. When the interviewer turns the table and says, “Well, what can I tell you about ClearanceJobs.com?” that’s the not-so-subtle signal: you’re on. The interviewer could launch this strategy early in the interview: “Well, before we start, tell what questions you have for us?” The interviewer could use the tactic to begin to wind things down: “Well, Ed, thanks for spending some time with us this morning. What questions do you have?” Or, the interviewer could launch a sneak attack right in the middle of things: “Let’s take a break. I’ve asked about you. What do you want to know about me?”

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You’re ready. You’re ready, as Forbes contributor Liz Ryan puts it, “to turn your interview into an organic conversation about the job.”

OFF SCRIPT

To respond to this huge opportunity in your interview, you could rely on some questions you were provided at some excellent transition training: “Tell me how you see the organization’s corporate values play out day to day.” Or, you could capitalize on your own good research on the people and company combined with some personal reflection, you know, some questions from the heart, “questions,” Ryan writes about her subject, “that spring from her curiosity about the job and the conversation she’s in.” Powerful stuff, really. Questions that genuinely reflect her interest in the job and that continue—or being—a relevant, insightful conversation: “an organic conversation about the job.” In other words, apparently going off script.

SUPER PROMPTS

Begin with what’s really important to you, or of interest to you. Indeed, you’re approaching a moment when you could be offered the opportunity to spend forty to fifty hours a week (or more) working with this interviewer and his or her colleagues. So management style is important. But instead of asking, “Hey, what’s your management style?” Ryan suggests you “ask them to tell you stories—stories that show them in action doing their management thing!” Further, Ryan encourages that question “spring right out of the conversation.” Nothing out of context. Nothing from left field. But a topic that’s already on the table, that you can expand, dive into, explore with the interviewer. That will show the interviewer not just that you’ve “done your homework”—every candidate before and after you has done his or her homework. It will show the future colleague that you’ve been listening, that you’re engaged, that you can function on less-than-familiar terrain, that you’re an interesting human being. Your stock just surged.

EXAMPLES

Ryan offers twenty questions to get your thinking. Many of Ryan’s questions, though they’d be something of “a script” for you if you lifted them verbatim, could be lifted verbatim with some success. But imagine what you could accomplish if you used Ryan’s questions as a start point for your own thinking, something to get the gears turning, so to speak: “What do you see as the thorniest or most daunting challenge for your new hire as they begin the job?” Good question. “Can you please tell me a story that illustrates your management style?” Nice.

I find a few of the questions exactly what she and we are trying to avoid: sounding scripted or too thoughtless, or, in my view, a little too self-serving. For instance, “What are the working hours, and what are your expectations around taking work home, staying late or being ‘reachable’ after hours?” Not one I’m going to ask, especially as a salaried employee. “How does your bonus plan work?” Sound like you already see yourself a superstar and you’ve not even been hired. Feel them out for yourself. If they aren’t exactly what you’re looking for, if they don’t exactly resonate with your spirit, play with them. Some of the questions that sound less intriguing are good, important ones to consider, though I think there may be other ways around them.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK

Take some time to read what Ryan offers. Then, sit back and wonder, take notes. Ultimately, don’t try to be too “intriguing.” Avoid sounding too materialistic. Avoid throwing softballs, though curve balls won’t be welcome. In the end, I’m most attached to Ryan’s general guidance: “turn your interview into an organic conversation about the job.” Yes.

Good luck.

Ed Ledford enjoys the most challenging, complex, and high stakes communications requirements. His portfolio includes everything from policy and strategy to poetry. A native of Asheville, N.C., and retired Army Aviator, Ed’s currently writing speeches in D.C. and working other writing projects from his office in Rockville, MD. He loves baseball and enjoys hiking, camping, and exploring anything. Follow Ed on Twitter @ECLedford.