In this new blog series, our mbaMission Career Coaches offer invaluable advice and industry-related news to help you actively manage your career. Topics include building your network, learning from mistakes and setbacks, perfecting your written communication, and mastering even the toughest interviews. To schedule a free half-hour consultation with one of our mbaMission Career Coaches, click here.
In working with our mbaMission clients over the years, we have noticed several common pitfalls related to interview preparation and performance. In this article, we share some tips based on our clients’ past experiences to help you excel in your interviews.
Pitfall #1—Positioning yourself in the past: This typically happens when candidates respond to the “tell me about yourself” prompt.
- Tailor your responses to the specific job and employer. Review the job description, and be sure to describe your skills and passions in a way that aligns with the employer’s needs and demonstrates your ability to add value to the business.
- Make sure that you are relevant. Many industries are changing quickly, and employers want to see that you have knowledge of and/or experience with current trends in the marketplace.
- Explain your pathway. How did you get from point A to this job interview? How do the pieces of your journey fit together to show the employer that your goals and motivations are well suited for the job?
Pitfall #2—Choosing the wrong stories to tell or focusing on irrelevant parts of a story: This typically happens in the behavioral (e.g., “Tell me about a time when…”) portion of the interview.
- Listen carefully to each question, and provide an appropriate answer. Do not just tell the predetermined stories you prepared. And if you do not understand a question, ask for clarification.
- Start interview answers with a “topic sentence” (i.e., bring the main points of the story to the beginning) so that you can hook the interviewer into your story. This also will provide the interviewer with a road map for where you are going with your answer and will let the interviewer redirect you if he/she wants to hear something different.
- Determine why the interviewer is asking you the question. Craft your answer to help the interviewer gather the necessary information he/she needs to make a decision about your candidacy. Demonstrate that you are a leader and a good communicator as well as someone who has a history of making a positive impact on employers.
- Practice with partners. Ask them to help confirm the relevance, impressiveness, and believability of your stories.
Pitfall #3—Lacking a connection to the interviewer: This can happen at any point during the interview—starting from the moment you shake hands with the interviewer through to the last handshake as you walk out the door.
- Start strong. Use the “small talk” time when you walk from the lobby back to the location of the interview to start building your connection. This small talk can also help warm you up for continued conversation (and tougher interview questions).
- Think of your interviewer as a co-worker rather than as someone who is testing you.
- Be brief when answering questions. Aim for 90 seconds or less; otherwise, you risk losing your interviewer’s attention. Give the interviewer enough information so that he/she can ask you follow-up questions and can control the direction of the interview.
- Be likeable. Engage with your interviewer. If the interviewer has interesting decor in his/her office, and you have a true interest in that area, comment on it (but do not comment on personal photos). Start with small talk, and end with customized questions that show you are interested in the interviewer (as well as the company and the role)!
- Match the interviewer’s pace and body language. However, you—as the candidate—should be more formal than the interviewer.
Finally, remember that interviewers are also looking for resilience. You will not be able to prepare for every question that will be asked, so thinking on your feet and recovering from a less-than-perfect answer can help the interviewer understand a lot more about you than your words alone convey.
Have you been admitted to business school? If so, do you want to get a head start on defining your career goals? Do you need help preparing for job interviews or learning how to effectively network with your target employers? Or maybe you want to be a top performer in your current role but are unsure how to maximize your potential. Let an mbaMission Career Coach help via a free 30-minute consultation!