Acing The Interview: A Playbook for preparing for your next Interview

Job interviews are exciting but nerve wracking experiences, and based on my conversations with friends and colleagues they are right up there with public speaking when it comes to things people are nervous about. Given the stakes as well as the nature of them it’s not hard to see why.

Over the years, I’ve been interviewed many times and have conducted many interviews. I’ve had (and conducted) great interviews and bad ones, and have actually come to enjoy the experience. To share what I have learned and to help others who are about to embark on their own job interview process I’ve developed a guide for how to prepare for an interview. This step by step guide is built off of the process that I’ve used to prepare for interviews over the years.

Interview Objectives

First, let’s start off with some of the key objectives of the interview

  • Demonstrate your knowledge -You’re capable of doing the job
  • Demonstrate your interest – You want to do the job
  • Demonstrate your fit – You are a fit with the team and organization

When it comes down to it, you are the sales person for a product, and that product is yourself. You want to present your product in a compelling way that makes the interviewer (Buyer) convinced they want you!

Step 1: Know Your Story – Since you went as far as to submit a resume and cover letter, I’m going to assume there was a reason and rationale for why you applied to this job in the first place. The first thing that you can focus on is truly understanding what brought you this far. Why did you decide to apply for this role? What attracted you to it? What makes you a great candidate? I’m sure that you know these things and have thought about them, but one of the very first things that I do is I self-reflect and articulate in words what my story is. Here is my equation for how I think about a story:

Your Personal Background + Your Relevant Skills/Experiences + How it fits with the Job Role = Your Story

If you look at the interview objectives above, you can see how the story aligns with the objectives. The key in this exercise is focused more around self-reflection and high level themes. More will come for more tactical details

Action: Self-reflect to develop “your story”

Step 2: Match Skills and Experiences to Job Qualifications – One of the goals of the interview is for the interviewer to determine if you have the skills and experiences needed to do the job. If you know the qualifications and skills that are needed to do the job, you can prepare for this by pulling out examples in your work history that match those exact skills and experiences that are needed for the job.

To do this, start by looking at the roles and responsibilities in the job posting and identifying from your work experience what things you’ve done that demonstrate that specific skill or competency. This will not only demonstrate that you are a qualified candidate, but that you also have a great understanding of the role

Action: Read the job description, and write down specific skills/experiences you have that are relevant to each of the skills identified in the job

Step 3: Develop Questions and Answer them – Since most of your interview is going to be your interviewer asking you questions about your qualifications and experiences one of the best ways to prepare for these interviews is to anticipate questions that you’ll think you’ll be asked and come up with some potential answers and responses. The point of this exercise is to help you organize your thoughts and get comfortable with answering questions that are relevant to the position. The purpose is not to memorize answers. While it can be easy to fall into that trap, you want to balance coming off as prepared or rehearsed.

To prepare, one of the things I will do is identify a set of questions and then develop answers to them. I will usually literally answer in Question and Answer form, and depending on how much I think I need to prepare, I will either use bullets or straight up sentences. I don’t worry as much about grammar, punctuation or sentence structure when I am doing this, but rather, on content, thoughts and ideas. Once I’ve answered an adequate amount, I’ll review the questions and answers, say them out loud, maybe revise some of what I originally typed, and at various points up to the interview I’ll revisit the document just to reinforce my thoughts and thinking. If you want some common questions, check out this link here.

Action: Identify potential interview questions and come up with responses to those questions by writing them down

Step 4: Identify Your weaknesses and drill them – If you work in sales, you’ll know about the topic of objection handling. Objecting handling is a technique to help salespeople overcome resistance or concerns in the minds of their potential buyers/customers. Using that concept can be particularly helpful in interviewing, especially if you exchange the word concern with “weakness.” Everyone has weaknesses – that is just a fact of life. How you talk about them and position them is what separates a great candidate from a good one. At some point, directly or indirectly, your interviewer is going to ask about them, so it’s best to prepare for how to handle then.


First, you need to acknowledge your weaknesses and be honest about them. A “strength as a weakness” is not going to fly, so taking the time to identify what they are and finding examples of them is a good starting point.

Second, start thinking about what you are doing to improve upon your weaknesses. We are all works in progress, but if you can demonstrate that you are working on improving this your interviewer is probably going to respect your work ethic and commitment to learning. For example, if you’re not great at public speaking, talk about how you asked for more responsibilities to present at team meetings or in front of clients.

Third, think about, if you were to get the role, what you would do in order to overcome the weakness. This requires a good understanding of what you are going to be doing in the role, but if you can answer this correctly you can show to your interviewer that you understand your weaknesses, how you are improving them, and that you have a good understanding of what will be asked of you in the new role and how you will go about doing it effectively.

Action: Think about what your weaknesses are, think about how an interviewer might ask about them in an interview, and practice how you might respond.

Step 5: Develop the questions you are going to ask your interviewer – At some point in the interview your interviewer is going to ask you if you have any questions. If you know this is going to happen (hint: it most likely will) one of the best things you can do is prepare and come forward with thoughtful and insightful questions to ask. I think this is important because a good and thoughtful question that makes an interviewer think is something that can help you differentiate yourself from the other great applicants.

Everyone will ask about the culture, or what the career path is, but if you can as a thoughtful and/or personal question that stands out, that could help you be memorable in a positive way. So what kind of questions should you ask? For one, they need to be things you are genuinely interested in knowing. Second, they should be questions that give you more a more personalized look into the role, the organization, the team you are applying for, etc. And last but least, they should allow the interviewer to engage and speak from their personal and unique experience. If you want some examples of ones see my other post on four that I like to ask.


Action: Write down questions you are going to ask your interviewer

Step 6: Research – My goal in this section is to understand as much as I can about the company, industry, team, role and people as I possibly can so that I can sound as engaged, knowledgeable, and smart about these things when it comes time for the interview. Demonstrating you took the time to prepare and are knowledgeable not only demonstrates your competency, but also your interest, which certainly helps your candidacy.

Below are the types of research that I do when preparing for an interview:

Research on People – If I know anything about who I’ll be interviewing with I’ll do what I can to find out as much information on them as I can. There are easy things like looking on LinkedIn and understanding their job and job history, but I’ll also check Twitter to see if they tweet or share interesting content and links.

Finally, I’ll also do some Google searching just in case they are public facing and have either been quoted or even written articles on news sites. When appropriate, I will use this information in an interview, which is a really great tactic to show that you’ve done your homework


Research on Current Events – This one is pretty simple, but I’ll check what’s being said about the company in the news. I’ll look for information on quarterly performance, product announcements, recent customer stories, writeups by analysts, and other pertinent information. My goal for this is to be as up to date and in the know of anything that is happening with the company I’m applying for a job at.

Research on Social Media – This also covers websites like Glassdoor and understanding what people are saying about their experience working there.

Research via Network – If I am applying to work at a particular company one of the things I will do is talk to (on the phone, in person or via email) anyone I know who works at that company. Their insights are valuable to helping me understand the company and the position, but also, it will inform me in my prep for how I interview. During this process, I’ll try and read over my notes and try to identify the insights that I can possibly use in the interview, especially ones that you can’t get anywhere else but from a friend who works at the company. These insights can be anything from specific internal terminology that is used, personal views on the culture, big events that went unreported to the public, or stories that I could potentially use in an interview.

Action: Conduct research relevant to the job posting

Practice – Once you get to a good point it makes sense to practice responding to certain questions. I would focus on two types of questions. The first are questions that you think you’ll be asked, and the second are questions that you think you might struggle with. You can use the answers from the Q&A exercise from above. Also, if you have a buddy/friend to practice with that is a great resource as well. You should get comfortable with answering questions on your toes, but I would refrain from trying to memorize too many answers to questions as I think it is important to sound articulate but not rehearsed or canned.

Action: Practice speaking your answers to potential interview questions


Interviewing can be a tricky and challenging process, but with the right mindset and preparation techniques you can start to develop comfort and maybe even some enjoyment when you interview for a job.

Additional Resources


How Hustle and Humility helped me land a role in Tech

Jordan Nichols is on the Growth Team at Stripe, and a MBA graduate from the University of Michigan (Ross, ’14) Since graduating from Ross, Jordan has coached numerous students and professionals on landing jobs in tech, and recently shared a post that went viral about what he’s learned from coaching individuals looking to make the transition into Tech. He shared his thoughts and his own job search story below.

Over the past year I have had numerous conversations with MBAs looking to start tech careers. I recently hosted a small webinar for the Michigan Ross tech club and wanted to pass on some thoughts that seemed to resonate across my conversations. I also wanted to share my own recent job search story as I hope it is helpful to those of you still on the trail. 

Tip #1: Set Realistic Expectations

Your MBA is important… but not until you close the gaps and prove some functional knowledge in the job you are trying to get.  – Small companies don’t have the time to bring you in and train you for 9-12 months. They need someone who can hit the ground running. Hence, the job you get out of school might not be (read: probably won’t be) your dream job. You are competing with people who have several years of functional experience in similar companies and are a much lower risk for the company hiring them. Be open to taking a job that allows you to close the gaps and learn the language and ropes. Once you do that, the MBA becomes more powerful as a backdrop and will set you apart moving forward.

Tip #2: Broaden Your Job Horizon

That “Business Operations and Strategy” role you are eyeing…. find a backup plan.  -The idea of a business operations and strategy role at a high growth tech company gives just about any graduating MBA goosebumps, but don’t get your hopes up. Here’s Why: Every MBA who graduated from 2012-2017 and worked in consulting or banking is looking at that strategy and operations role… not to mention all the people without MBAs who are equally and more qualified that have been working in strategy and ops in other tech firms. I have seen the applicant pool for these roles and to say it is stacked is an understatement. There are candidates with several years of functional experience both externally and internally who are dropping for these roles. It is important to remember that being qualified for a role is relative to the competition. A new grad is a stretch (at best) to land one of these roles.

Try broadening your horizon. Sales Ops seem to be an under appreciated field by the MBA community and I can tell you it is VITAL to any enterprise company. This is a role that helps shape the go to market metrics, targets, and executional strategy for the sales team. It may not sound as glamorous as other roles you may be familiar with, but it is just as important.


Tip #3: Lead with Value, not Desires

Stop telling people you are passionate about exploring a career in tech… Why do you want to work at THIS company and what do you have to add?

Here’s an example of what not to write:Hi Jordan, I am passionate about exploring a career in technology and would love to talk to you about Stripe”…..Technology is a big field. Would you write to an admissions officer for your school and say you are “passionate about getting your MBA and want to learn more about the school”? No. Show you have done some research on the company, why you specifically want to work there, and what you can bring to the team.

While you may be trying to convey your enthusiasm, leading with your passion for a career in tech can come off as entitled and aloof. Remember, a recruiter’s job is to find the best person to fill a role, not to indulge your passions or career objectives. Find a way to articulate what you have to offer rather than what you want.

Tip #4: “He who will fly must first learn to walk, one cannot fly into flying”

If you have no product or engineering experience, you are not going to get hired as a product manager. What a sexy job right? Product management… yea, No.

There are legitimate skills involved here that go beyond strategic thinking. This would be akin to hiring a fresh MBA to manage a construction project. You need to understand how things get built if you are going manage a team of builders. This switch can be made, but doing this right out of school is not realistic. Get into the ecosystem, learn the ropes, take some classes at General Assembly, make an internal move in the future.

A former colleague of mine began on the integrations team before making a move to product management. He built report with the product users during his integrations experiences and became a vital recourse to the product team by passing along customer feedback and offering informed product critiques. When he wanted to make a move to the team, they saw him as a resource and welcomed him with open arms.


Tip #5: Focus on the Task at Hand

While you should learn about company culture, do not ask about internal mobility when you are speaking with a recruiter or hiring manager. -The job you are being hired for, is the job they need someone to do. If you give the impression that you just want to get into the company and then bounce around, you are NOT going to get hired. The companies are not just growing whimsically, they have specific headcount needs and are generally working as lean as possible. Obviously people move a lot these days, but if someone thinks you will be looking to rotate out of the position in a year, they will look elsewhere. (edited)

My Journey to Stripe, with a side of humble pie…

While it may seem like others have their path laid out before them, my job search that led me to Stripe was a prolonged and humbling experience.

After creating a target list of companies, I reached out to sales recruiters at roughly eight firms and all but one of them got back to me quickly. The one that did not get back to me was one of my top choices, however this did not bother me as I just knew I would have plenty of options. I was sure my biggest problem would be slow-playing the interview cycles so I would be able to see all my options before making a decision. Everything went exactly as expected. The recruiters loved me and passed me along to their teams for an expedited interview process.


When I got to my first final-round interview, something unexpected happened…

“Hey Jordan, the team really loves you and thinks you would be a great fit, but not for the enterprise team. Would you be open to interviewing for a mid-market role?”

This was not what I had in mind. I thanked them for their time, said ‘no thank you’, and focused on the rest of my list. As I finished the first final-round interview of my target list, I was sure the next call would be a job offer.

I was wrong.

“Hey Jordan, the team was super impressed with you, but we just don’t think you have the experience we are looking for in an enterprise rep and we worry it would take too long to get you up to speed. We really want to keep in touch as we think you have a lot to offer but you are just not a fit for what we need right now.”

One by one, each company I targeted came back to me with some variation of ‘we really like you, but this just isn’t the right role or the right time.’ The true come to Jesus moment happened when I was dinged from a mid-market job that I had decided I was overqualified for but would take because it got me in the door at a great company. It was time for a wake-up call.

The reality is, a 30-year-old MBA with 1.5 years sales tenure and a mixture of biz-dev/marketing experience isn’t anyone’s idea of a quota crushing sales rep. People didn’t know what to make of me and I was a high risk hire for a sales leader who is on the hook for hitting aggressive growth targets.


Why did I get an MBA to pursue a career in sales when no one cares about my business acumen or education?

I was humbled.

It was exactly one day after my low point that Stripe reached out to me.

“Jordan, I am reaching out about a role on our small but fast-growing sales team. I love the diversity of your experience across sales, strategy and marketing. Your background looks like you could be a great fit here. Can we find some time to chat?”

After multiple “porridge too hot, porridge too cold” experiences, this was just right. Not only were they not concerned about my non-traditional sales background, it was exactly what they were looking for. I accepted a full time offer to join Stripe roughly three weeks later.

Now, I am not saying that someone is going to reach out to you on LinkedIn with the perfect opportunity, but I am saying that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Just because you don’t fit someone’s idea of what a product manager, product marketing manager, or director of business development looks like, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a company out there who would jump at the chance to have you walk through the door. It just won’t likely happen overnight, and it may not be at the company you thought it would.

As much as it hurts to get turned down from what you believe to be the job of your dreams, try to get feedback, really listen to it, and adjust course moving forward… both what you target and how you present yourself.

You will end up in a great place if you exercise grit, patience, and most of all, humility.

I hope this was helpful and happy hunting! 

Internship Insights: Follow these steps to master your summer Internship

Each year, after months of preparation, interview practice, interviewing and waiting,  hundreds of students spend their summer interning at companies and organizations. As summer creeps around the corner, our Careerschooled team decided to find the answer to one really important question: What can you do to prepare for your Internship?

We took the time to interview a number of MBA students who shared some of their tips and experiences from their own internship, and here’s what we were able to learn.

Start Early – Since most internships are only 10-12 weeks, its important to start early. Susan Hedglin made sure  (UNC Kenan-Flagler, ’17)she hit the ground running not only by preparing leading up to the internship, but asking for as much information from her manager as soon as she got started to ensure she had enough time to finish her project.

Build Relationships –  Prerana Manvi (UNC Kenan-Flagler, ’17) quickly realized she would need to rely on others at Amazon to help her navigate her internship. During her summer, Prerana made sure to reach out to and build relationships with her manager, formal buddy, and other team members who all were helpful to getting her familiar with the culture and advising her throughout her summer assignment.

Set Goals – As the old adage goes, “What gets measured gets managed.” To make sure he made the most of his Product Marketing Internship at Electronic Arts, Taylor O’Brien(McCombs, ’17) created a series of goals for his summer internship and tracked them throughout the summer.

There are many other things you can do to achieve success, but these three a great start. Read more about internship tips from interviews with Susan, Taylor, and Prernana