Tips to ace a job interview

The job interview experience is not an easy one, but the good news is that with the proper approach it could become steady.

In this article, I will cover the tools and a process to thoroughly prepare you for the interviews so you will nail them with confidence, enthusiasm, and less anxiety. So let’s discover together how to ace a job interview in 3,5 steps that will bring your dream job.

I will cover the experience of non-tech interviews, but these ideas and practices could be used also for the technical ones.

In my career, until now, the non-tech interviews in which I participated were of two types:

  • behavioural interviews: help employers to understand how you have performed and behaved in the past in both positive and negative situations. Usually, it covers past experiences and hypothetical questions.
  • case-study interviews: help employers to understand how do you approach, document, and present solutions for a use case. For this type, the context-problem-solution(s) approach is a good match to present your submission.

The 3,5 steps to ace a job interview:

  • Step 1: Before the interview – how to prepare
  • Step 2: The day of the interview – how to be chill
  • Step 3: After the interview – how to continue
  • Step 3.5: The “secret” element

Step 1: Before the interview

So you got an invite to participate in an interview for your dream job.

How to prepare

Learn about the process

  • Clarify with the recruiter the expectations and the format of the interview, how long it will take, who will participate, what are the assessed skills
  • Review the job requirements and for each point prepare 2-3 samples from your experience
  • Be organised and prepare a learning plan based on how much time you have

Learn about the company

  • Discover the vision, mission, and values of the company and prepare samples from your experience that validate them
  • From the company’s website and job posting identify keywords and use them when you answer the questions during the interview
  • Practice with a friend and ask for constructive feedback

Learn about yourself

  • Knowing yourself is critical. Knowing your strengths, interests, values, experiences, skills, and abilities – these are what you will bring to the workplace
  • Prepare a list with relevant experiences and identify 3-4 situations rich in lessons learned, innovation or creativity, challenges, impact
  • Sleep enough (7-8 hours per night), take breaks, exercise, and eat healthily

A very useful tool to use to learn more about yourself is to create a personal SWOT analysis:

  • Strengths – Advantages like skills, achievements, certifications, education, connections
  • Weaknesses – Skills that should be improved (technical or work habits)
  • Opportunities – Events, conferences, new role/project, industry growing
  • Threats – Impediments at work, changes, weaknesses lead to threats

For sure it is relevant to know your weaknesses, the current opportunities, and also the threats, but based on the research it brings more impact to focus on your strengths.

Curt Liesveld, a senior consultant for the Gallup organization, emphasises that “you cannot be anything you want to be, but you can be a whole lot more of who you already are.”

But how to discover your strengths?!

  • Listen to feedback
  • Consider your passions
  • Pay attention to when you are most productive
  • Ask others directly
  • Take a personality test (Gallup – CliftonStrengths®)
  • Seek out new experiences and observe yourself in those activities

After the SWOT is done, have a system in place, an action plan based on the time you have available, and more than that focus to build good habits and break the bad ones. Here I recommend checking the book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear.

What to prepare in advance

  • Have a pitch ready, they are likely to ask you to tell them about yourself. When you talk about your achievements, include also numbers.
  • Prepare to be asked to give feedback about the interview process or about that specific interview
  • What kind of questions to expect:
  • Behavioural questions
    • Tell me about a time when…
  • Hypothetical questions
    • What if you need to…
  • Small talk questions
    • Talk about hobbies, books, movies, trips
  • Areas to consider in your preparation plan for the interview:
    • Difficult person, situation, project, task, decision
    • Stakeholders management
    • Creative solution or approach to solving a challenge/issue
    • Handle ambiguity
    • Failures and lessons learned
    • Success stories or achievements
    • Give & receive feedback
    • Prioritisation & rollout a process
    • Collaborate, delegate & empower
    • Mentoring & learning

What to ask

Identify the elements that are important for you at a job (like work-life balance, moving to the next level on your career, learning & development, mentoring, etc) and address questions related to those areas (3P = People Project Process):

  • People
    • Team structure
    • Stakeholders
    • Manager
  • Project
    • Legacy code, dependencies, architecture
    • Tasks management
    • The lifecycle of a tass
  • Process
    • On-call procedure
    • Onboarding experience
    • Learning opportunities
    • Performance review
    • Career growth

Step 2: The day of the interview

The DAY of the interview is here. How to be chill?!

Focus on the interview experience

During that day, work to take a very limited number of decisions

  • Know in advance what to eat, drink, wear on that day
  • Make sure you’re feeling comfortable
  • If online do not wear clothes with lines, patterns, or bright colors and avoid accessories that could be noisy

Have a clear plan in place

  • Online:
    • Decide if it’s the case to have a virtual background. If yes, consider not wearing white clothes
    • Set up your camera, microphone, lights, and run some tests before. Check the internet connection
  • Offline:
    • Make sure you know the location and how to go there
    • Have at least 30 minutes buffer

What to have next to you

  • Prepare a notebook and a pen or have an opened blank document on your computer
  • Your resume & the job description
  • A big glass of water

How to answer

Before you answer a question, take a deep breath and relax. Think about your response beforehand, and don’t start speaking until you know what you want to say. If you’re unsure about a question, ask the interviewer to repeat it, and don’t be afraid to request some extra “thinking time.”

Setup

  • Make sure you understood the question (clarification and confirmation)
  • Be aware and define your assumptions
  • Don’t be afraid to admit you do not know
  • Be mindful about your body language

STAR method

  • Situation – describe the event or situation that you were in
  • Task – explain the task you had to complete
  • Action – describe the specific actions you took to complete the task
  • Result – close with the result of your efforts

CAR method

  • Context – background of a specific situation
  • Action was taken – the action you took
  • Result – the results you achieved

Think on Your Feet® approach – emphasises structure when communicating

  • Analyse – think what you want to share
  • Separate – structure ideas using keywords or steps
  • Dynamism – connect the ideas and build the story

STAR template in action

Question

  • “Tell me about a time when you performed well under stress.”

Answer

  • Situation
    • One time, at my last job, my coworker had a family emergency and needed to miss work for some time, and her project was left unfinished and without a manager.
  • Task
    • My manager instructed me to take on the project, and I had days to complete a project that originally should have taken several weeks.
  • Action
    • I was able to delegate a part of my goals to some of my teammates.
  • Result
    • With the reduction in my daily goals, I was able to dedicate more time to the special project. This allowed me to finish it on time and with complete accuracy. My manager appreciated my attitude and drive, and I was given a promotion and pay raise.

CAR template in action

Question

  • “Describe a situation when one of your team members complained about his job.”

Answer

  • Context/ Challenge
    • At the previous company, I had a team member who just joined the team and mentioned after 1 month that he would like to change the team because the current context is not ok for him.
  • Action Taken
    • I recommended him to prepare a list with SMART objectives and expectations and we addressed together each point to discover concrete actions to make.
  • Results
    • The result of that conversation was an actions plan on which we worked together and follow up to check the progress. The colleague started to achieve his expectations and improved his engagement.

Step 3: After the interview

The interview is done, now you must wait for the feedback. How to continue?!

What to cover at the end

  • Ask about when you could get the feedback for that interview
  • Send a thank-you note
  • Note the questions you received during the interview to reassess your answers
  • Make a retrospective to evaluate your experience
    • Have you set realistic goals for preparing for this interview?
    • Do you need to do your pre-interview research more thoroughly?
    • Have you presented yourself in the best possible manner?
    • Identify some actions to start, stop, continue doing on the next interview

Step 3.5: The “secret” element

If you covered the previous steps, your job as a candidate is done. But what could make a difference in the entire interview experience?! What is the “secret” element that could help you to be focused, and to achieve your objectives?!

The answer is to continue to be confident and enthusiastic. Remember to have courage and challenge yourself. Enjoy the journey, not only the destination. After each interview experience, you will gain a lot of new knowledge. And also please remember that if the preparation process is difficult, take a break, then start over. You got this! 😉

You could check also the video version of this article. Hope you will enjoy it! Thank you!

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