Thursday, January 17, 2013

Interview Preparation Packet

As I mentioned in an earlier post I create a packet of information when I am preparing for an interview. Below I describe the different parts of the packet and how I use them.

The Packet Itself
The actual packet is nothing more than a Word document printed and stapled. When I go into the interview I put it in a folder so that I am not walking in empty handed and then when it comes time I pull it out and use it to write my notes and ask my questions of the interviewers. Brandishing such a document shows that I am prepared for the interview. No one but me can see what is written on the pages but they can see that I have a document that looks nice and orderly.

I am the kind of person who has to take notes in order to remember things so if I didn't have these papers with me I would need a pad. However, the packet provides addition advantages. The front 2/3 of it is all of my prep materials so while I am waiting for the interviewers I can run through my prep questions to kill time and to keep my answers fresh in my head. I can also refer to parts of the packet during the interview if needed, perhaps to quote the job posting for example.

Finally, after the interview is over I always make a note of particular questions I wasn't expecting or ones that I struggled with so that I can be better prepared next time.

The Job Post
For starters I take the job positing  and cut and paste it into a Word document. I then separate all of the responsibilities and required qualifications and underneath each I make the case for how I do or don't meet each of them.  Part of this work ends up in my cover letter. The other part helps me identify exactly how I fit the position and where there might be gaps in my experience. From there, I can start thinking about how I can compensate for any gaps and highlight those places where I fit the position.

Next I make a list of all the possible questions I think I might be asked. Some of this is off the top of my head. Some is based on my research of the company or department. Some of it is from searching the internet trying to find the hardest possible questions out there and the best possible answers to them. Then I go about figuring out how I will answer each one of the questions. As the interview get's closer these are the questions my wife asks me in mock interviews.

Additional Questions
I also include a long list of generic interview questions that I don't prepare for. As my wife and I prepare and she asks me the questions I've prepared I am cementing the major talking points I want to hit during the interview no matter what questions I am asked. I know I won't get asked many of them but I also know that the answers I am preparing will be used not matter what they ask me. At the same time, I want to be ready to answer anything. So I ask my wife to intersperse these additional questions into the ones I've written up and prepared answers for. This way, I can be sure to stay on my toes and feel comfortable knowing I am ready for anything.

Questions for the Interviewers
Finally, I have a few pages of specific questions I plan to ask each interviewer I meet. Some of these are the same for all interviewers and some are specific to that particular person. Your research will inform you about what you need to ask to everyone and what you need to ask of particular individuals. These pages become the place I take my notes during the interview process.

Friday, January 11, 2013

An Interviewing Lesson Learned The Hard Way

I prepare for job interviews by creating a packet of information. Included in this packet are the job posting, questions I anticipate being asked and how I want to answer them, a long list of additional interview question, and finally the questions I want to ask the interviewers during the interview.  This packet becomes both my source for preparation for the interview and the document I can use to take notes during the interview process.  I will get into more detail about the nuts and bolts of this packet later but before I do I need to relay a story to you about it and a recent lesson I learned, several lessons actually.

I once interviewed for a position I didn't get. Actually, truth be told, I've interviewed for a few positions I didn't end up getting. Happens to the best of us right? For this particular position, I prepared my packet as usual and used it throughout the interview process. When I ended up not getting the position I tossed the interview packet into one of my numerous piles of paper at home and several weeks, months, or years later, I'm not sure how long it was, I threw the packet away. My thinking was that I tried, gave it my best shot, didn't get it, and thus I'm never going to need the packet about that job again because it's clear that I am not right for the position. After all, if I was right, they would have hired me.

Low and behold, time passes and fate being as it is I end up interviewing for this same position some time later. That packet of information and especially the notes I took during the previous interview process would have been an invaluable resource to me as I prepped for this new interview process for the same position. Typically, I take notes during and after each interview not only on what the interviewers say but also on how the conversations went, questions I was asked that I wasn't expecting and new information about the position I didn't know. I would have done anything to lay my hands on that first packet again to review how the interview process went the first time.

The lessons here are many. To name a few:

  • Save your interview prep materials! Create a file and drop them in it after every interview. Not only will you start building a reservoir of interview questions and answers but you'll also be preserving valuable preparation materials that you won't have to waste time recreating each time you prepare to interview.
  • You never know where your career is going to take you. I never in a million years thought I'd be interviewing for this position a second time.
  • Don't jump to conclusions when you don't get a job. There could be any number of reasons why they chose someone else over you. We assume it's because we aren't qualified because at the time we feel rejected and jump to the conclusion that we must not be that great at what we do. But really, it could be anything.
  • Don't be afraid to put your hat in the ring again even if you didn't get the position the first time. Yes, I know it's hard to do, trust me! But our careers are like the lottery: you simply can't win unless you play the game.