Acing The Interview: A Step-By-Step Process for Nailing Your Next Job 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.

 

Step 1: 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 2: 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.” Take the time to actually answer the following questions for yourself:

  • Why do you want this job?
  • What makes you qualified for this job?

Step 3: 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 using your resume or knowledge of your work experience, identify  specific skills/experiences you have that are relevant to each of the skills identified in the job. Keep track of these skills/experiences as they are things you will want to highlight in the interview.

Step 4: 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. You can use this as a starting point, and when writing out your responses, either use bullet points or actually write them out in complete sentences. Finally, start practicing them out loud.

 

Step 5: 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 6: 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.

 

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. I like to compare interviewing to learning how to ride a bicycle. The first few times you’ll fall off, but with practice and learning, you’ll get better over time, until you get comfortable with the process.

Taking Risks and Trusting Yourself to Drive Career Growth

When you’re working in a demanding and fast-paced career like management consulting, it can be very easy to put your head down and devote your focus to the task at hand. While this often leads to career progression and job security, it can be easy to fall back on a “safety net” instead of taking risks and pursuing growth opportunities. This week, we spoke to Max Linkoff, a former management consultant at Deloitte, who recently left the industry to build his own business called The Weekend Sabbatical. We spoke to Max about his decision to leave consulting, what he’s up to now with his own venture, and what advice he has for consultants (and other professionals) who might be considering a career transition.

Careerschooled: You recently left a job in management consulting to pursue a new venture. How did you know it was time to leave, and what led you to make the jump?

Max: I was fortunate to have a successful career during my time at Deloitte. I had early promotions, started a new business capability, and received plenty of recognition and exposure at an early age. Though as I grew at the firm and chased the dangling carrot on the corporate ladder, I started to find the work less and less fulfilling. Like most analysts, I had made my long term working context around making it to a Partner or Director level.

As I grew in the firm, I became comfortable with the consulting salary, career trajectory, and what my life had and would become. Though more importantly, I became comfortable and I realized if I didn’t rip the band-aid off of my consulting career, then I would never be able to. It is this exact mentality that allowed me to develop the courage to want to take the next steps in my career. Either continue down the status quo, wake up in my 40’s as a Partner or Director and ask myself “okay, I’ve made it to the top, now what do I do with my life and career?” or rip the bandaid off entirely and pursue areas that I was passionate about. These revolved around traveling, executive and leadership coaching, and empowering other professionals in their careers.

 

I started The Weekend Sabbatical as a side project during my final year at Deloitte, testing it out with friends to make sure I had a viable product that worked and was effective in helping professionals as a service. After a couple of test trials, and seeing participants have career breakthroughs during our 5 days together, I knew I had something that would allow me to leave my consulting job and push myself outside of my comfort zone like never before.

CareerSchooled: When you were deciding if you wanted to leave consulting, what were some of the questions you asked yourself/considered before you decided to make the move?

Max: How would I feel if I never gave myself the opportunity to truly step outside of my comfort zone in my career? How can I ensure that I have a source of income in place as a build my new business? What does my burn rate look like for my current living and life situation? Is it possible to leave on good terms with my company so that I could one day go back if I wanted to?

 

Careerschooled: What is your new venture, and what does it do?

Max: My new venture is called The Weekend Sabbatical. It’s a 5-day career development travel adventure allowing professionals to recharge, complete an impactful social impact project, and take a step back to evaluate how you can grow in your career.

We work with professionals that are doing well in their careers and have started to ask themselves the “what comes next for me in this job?” or “how do I take this job at this company to the next level?” questions or professionals that are burnt out, looking to make a career transition, or simply need some time away from their day to day.

 

Careerschooled: What did you learn from your time in consulting that has helped you as you’ve started your own business?

Max: This question always makes me laugh. As a consultant, I was always required to provide a high level and detailed strategy to my clients for how they could fix their respective business issues. From there, the client typically tended to complete the implementation on their own. Now As an entrepreneur, I’m responsible for setting my own strategy and have full autonomy to carry out that strategy as quickly as possible while handling all of the other things that pop out of left field. Aside from the strategic thinking, time management, productivity, relationship management are all things that I learned during my time as a consultant and have helped me as I’ve started my own business.

Careerschooled: While we know you just started, how has progress been so far, and what have been some of the successes and challenges with launching your own business?

Max: Successes – 5 trips completed to date, a monthly cadence of trips planned until October (July – Costa Rica, August – Nicaragua, September – Mexico City, October – Puerto Rico) establishing partnerships with multiple non-profits throughout Latin America, establishing partnerships with other health/wellness influencers that can add a complementary flavor to the experience, setting up my own CRM, creating pilots with other companies to create customized trips that focus on social impact and leadership development.

Challenges – Initiating a CRM system, learning about the legal applications of my business, standing up a payroll (I learned about accounting in business school but never needed to apply it to anything from a consulting standpoint).

CareerSchooled: One of the key components to The Weekend Sabbatical is that all your trips take place in far away destinations. What value does the environment/location play for your experiences?

Max: I strive to provide an environment that allows professionals to feel disconnected from the normal 9-5 setting. Each location that we travel to has an abundance of nature and beauty to really provide an atmosphere that feels far away from their work environment, promotes disconnecting from a work mentality, and allows them to get into the right mindset for the experience.

 

Careerschooled: From your experience, what are some of the biggest hurdles that professionals struggle with as they think about finding the right job or career?

Max: First, many professionals are afraid to even attempt to make any change at all, even when they’re unhappy and feel stuck with what they’re doing.

Second, when it comes to finding the right job or career, many professionals also struggle to figure out what some of their passion areas are from a career standpoint. The word passion gets thrown around alot but I like to associate it with “what you find engaging” for your day to day.

Third, the job application process is grueling and in my opinion is a job within your own job entirely. How to manage the job application process while still performing well in your current career can be a daunting task if you lack structure or knowledge for how to handle it.

 

Careerschooled: Consulting is an industry known for turnover. From your experience, what are some of the challenges that consultants face, and do you have any guidance or advice for consultants out there who are struggling with this decision?

Max: One of the most eye opening thing to me as a consultant was how much politics play a role in your career, especially as you grow in your respective firm. Unfortunately, who you know and make part of your core network and team can have a major impact on your career. Other challenges revolve around “working smarter, not harder”.

I struggled with this early in my career and saw other analysts deal with it too. Consulting was all about efficiency since there were always many moving pieces of the puzzle for the larger project. Being busy can be a good thing, but not when you’re working on the wrong things and spending too much time getting the right things completed.

For any consultants struggling with the decision to take the next step in your career, just remember that other companies love consultants. Having a consulting job on your resume means that you’re a chameleon – someone who was able to consistently take on a new role in a new organization and succeed. There’s also always some fear leaving your comfort zone in a consulting environment, taking that next steps professionally, and even managing the thoughts of if you can succeed in your new work setting.

Try and maintain a growth mindset and remember, that you didn’t always know how to be a consultant in the first place. At some point, you developed a process of what it takes to be successful in this environment and took that process and amplified it to drive success. What would be different for taking on a new role with a new company?

 

Careerschooled: Many of our readers are thinking about making career moves or wondering if their current job/career is right for them. What advice do you have for professionals who are evaluating their career options?

Max: When deciding if your job/career is right for you, think about your current and future growth, learning opportunities, and support system – especially if you’re still within the first few years. If your work is engaging, you’re continuously learning, have mentors around you that are invested in your growth, and find yourself challenged, then it may make sense to continue where you are (all of those areas a recipe for constant growth within your company).

If you’re starting to feel comfortable, losing your ability to challenge yourself and grow, or find any of the other areas above compromised, then it may be time to look for something else.

Our careers are our lives and it’s where we spend more than a majority of our time. If you’re not finding your work fulfilling, then start to evaluate the skills that you have and where else they can be applied. Moreover, we’re not our parents generation where a stigma exists to spend your entire career with one company. There are hundreds of jobs available (especially with the current state of the economy). Don’t be afraid to take a risk and trust yourself to drive your growth as a professional.

 

Careerschooled: If our readers want to learn more about The Weekend Sabbatical, where can they get more information?

Max: Check out the website at www.theweekendsabbatical.com or email me directly at max@theweekendsabbatical.com

Winning and Success

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in life is the difference between winning and success. Winning is something we’ve all come to know. Last night, The Golden State Warriors won and the Cleveland Cavaliers lost. You close the sale or you don’t. You get the job or it goes to someone else. Winning, is somewhat binary.

Success on the other hand is a more nebulous, and thus harder to define. In fact, if I were to ask you right now what success means you may or may not have an answer.

Since success is more nebulous than winning, what you determine as success is going to be different than what someone else might view as success, which is why defining success for yourself and focusing on making collecting wins that drive towards your version of success is important. Unfortunately, some people end up chasing wins and on paper they are “successful” only to find out that their wins were geared towards someone else’s version of success. In the end, they feel empty because the success is not their own.

This is not meant to knock winning, or success. The point is that A) it’s important to understand the difference, and B) to define success for yourself, so you can work towards achieving wins and success on your on terms, not someone else’s.