You’ve got an in-person interview scheduled. Congratulations! It’s high stakes, possibly your only opportunity to get the job you’ve been seeking. But interviewing is not your strong suit.
What do you say, dear (to quote my favorite Maurice Sendak book of the same title).
The way it reads in the book, you’re a little boy who could be facing a group of bears about to maul you. If you feel the same when you think of answering interview questions here’s some friendly coaching advice.
To follow Sendak’s advice, be polite and say thank you. But, since you don’t want to extricate yourself from the bears’ den but rather be invited to stay, here’s how to prepare.
Study the job description and take notes. Know the key tasks to be performed. Identify all deliverables or measurable items. Pay attention to what appear to be the measures of success. Make notes answering the following: if I do this job well, what will I be doing? What are the outcomes and results? Who will be I working with?
Identify the challenges and opportunities in the job. Look at the job description and the organization’s website with the filter for potential challenges. Are they growing? Have they lost funding? What is the political climate? Do they have a new Executive Director? As you review, take notes with your ideas and questions about meeting these challenges and seizing those opportunities. These notes are fodder for questions you may ask in the interview and for stories you may share showing how you have met similar challenges during your career.
Know who you’re talking to. Read background information (LinkedIn, organization website, Google search) about the interviewers so you can learn about their interests and accomplishments. You’ll get a good idea about what they’ve done in their careers and may find some points of intersection with your interests and background. Remember that you want to connect with the interviewer(s) and you hope to be spending lots of time with them!
Be able to summarize your career (!) It’s likely that you will be asked to introduce yourself and to give an overview of your career. That can feel like a tall order given the short amount of time in an interview. Prepare a summary statement noting specific career highlights with a few examples of where you’ve worked, the positions you’ve held and what you’re known for. This last point gives you a way to communicate qualities that make you stand out. Practice this summary so that you can communicate it with ease.
Have written talking points noting your accomplishments. Make a short list of points that you want to communicate about your career. This should be skill and outcome-based. For each one, start with the key points and have measurable impacts, where applicable. For example, if you want to convey your major donor fundraising skills and you launched a new major donor initiative, the bottom line is your ability to initiate and conceive a successful program and your ability to solicit major donors.
Prepare a small number of questions. It’s always wise to have a few questions that you plan to ask, time permitting. Conventional wisdom is to moderate your questions and let the interview be in charge. That said, I recommend questions that show pertain to succeeding in the job. A few favorites are, if I were to be successful in this job, what would I have accomplished in the first six months (or year)? What do you think is the most challenging part of the job? What would you recommend I do to prepare for this job?
Lastly, remember to breathe and feel your feet on the ground. The interviewers are human beings just like you and they want to hire someone they’d go out to lunch with. They are not bears!