Preparing for an interview: the single best idea I’ve ever received

Anthony Haynes writes: Once, when I was preparing for a job interview, I asked a friend — an experienced interviewer — for advice. He gave me one tip on how to prepare. What he said was:

‘Think about the questions, rather than the answers.’

What he meant was this. When preparing, many candidates draw up a list of questions that they think they might be asked and then promptly turn to formulating their answer. The problem with this approach is two-fold:

1. You might not be asked the question in exactly the form you expected, in which case you have two options, both sub-optimal — (a) abandon the rehearsed answer and formulate a fresh one (in which case, what was the value of the rehearsal?) or, worse, (b) stick to the answer you rehearsed (in which case  the answer won’t quite dovetail with the question).

2. Even if the question is precisely the one you expected, a rehearsed answer is likely to sound pat — and may even be interpreted as somehow inauthentic or untrustworthy.

My friend’s solution is not to rehearse answers, but rather to analyse the questions. Take, for example, the question, ‘Why do you want to work here?’ This appears to be just one question but in fact can be analysed into several sub-questions. For example: ‘What is it about our employment brand that attracts you?’; ‘What kind of team or workplace attracts you?’; or even, ‘How would working here help you progress towards your long-term goals?’

The advantages of this approach are:

1. it helps you to see the various sides of each question, making it more likely you’ll select the best response;

2, it helps you to identify where a question is ambiguous – something you might then want to clarify with the interviewer before answering;

3. it helps you to appreciate the inter-connectedness  of questions.

In a nutshell, this advice may be paraphrased as: ‘Analyse rather than rehearse’.


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