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Interview Skills


Most people get nervous when we have to interview for a potential new job. A bit of nervousness is fine, but the best way to avoid excessive anxiety is to be very well prepared!


Think P & P: Preparation and Practice 


Here are a few key components of P&P:


  • Learn about the organization.

  • Learn about the professional field connected to the job that you're seeking.

  • Study the job posting really well so that you understand what the employer wants. Next, you need to understand -- in detail -- how your skills and experience intertwine with that job.

  • Anticipate the kind of questions you might be asked. In addition, prepare at least 5 good questions that you can ask the interviewer.

  • Practice with a partner in advance (if you can).


Remember that employers are looking for two primary things:


  1. Can you do the job? In other words, do you have the abilities to do the job? That means not only the hard and soft skills, but the ability to learn new skills as needed. More on hard and soft skills under "Quick Tip #1" (below).


  1. Is your personality pleasing? No one wants to hire someone who is unpleasant! That means you have to let your wonderful personality shine during the interview.


QUICK TIP #1: Both hard and soft skills are important. What are the differences? In brief, hard skills relate to things you can do that are learnable, teachable to others, and often measurable. Examples of hard skills are things like speaking more than one language, knowing how to use Excel or Zoom, having a cybersecurity or CNA certification, having expertise in accounting, having the ability to use tools and machinery, etc. Soft skills are the positive qualities and traits that you possess which enable you to better perform at a job -- and in life. Examples of soft skills include things like being organized, creative problem-solving, an ability to collaborate with others, staying calm under pressure, empathy, integrity, etc.


QUICK TIP #2: People remember STORIES better than detailed lists. That means, in addition to being able to list your hard and soft skills, you need to prepare 2 or 3 stories about successes that you've had in prior jobs, as well as problems that you've solved. These stories will paint a vivid picture of how you effectively put your skills to real-life use. Keep the "stories" relatively short, honest, and interesting -- again, something that the listener is likely to remember.


Many experts talk about DIFFERENT CATEGORIES OF INTERVIEW QUESTIONS. While this certainly has merit, overall, it's not worth stressing about rigid categories. Some questions *do* fall into one category or another, but many questions fit into multiple categories.


On that basis, let's attempt to understand the types of information that various questions seek to elicit:


Some questions primarily offer a straightforward OPPORTUNITY to describe your abilities and experience. For example, you might be asked to talk about a project that you successfully completed or to describe your greatest strengths.


Some questions primarily seek information about your BEHAVIOR in challenging situations. Aspects of these questions can also be a bit TRICKY because if the question is focused on a difficult or challenging experience, you may end up sounding negative or critical about a former job, supervisor, client, or colleague. And remember -- employers don't like to hire negative people.




  • You might be asked to describe a problem you had in a prior job and how you solved it. In this case, try to choose a "problem" that wasn't terrible and that also had a successful outcome. Then, create an answer that's professional and that will highlight your problem-solving and collaboration skills.


  • Or, the interviewer might describe a challenging situation that could present itself in the job that you're seeking and ask how you would deal with it. Again, keep the tone of your answers positive, professional, and constructive. If you have a relevant story from a prior job, share it.


QUICK TIP #3:  When you answer questions, honesty is essential. However, honesty doesn't mean you have to talk about all of your experiences. Remember that what you choose NOT to talk about is as important as what you choose to say!


A few other examples of rather "tricky" questions: What are your greatest weaknesses? What kind of supervisor do you like working with? Why do you want to leave your current job? Why haven't you worked for the last 6 months? These are common questions, and how you answer them will require care.  Two examples:


  • An interviewer has the right to ask about weaknesses -- but you don't have to respond by exposing your most serious weaknesses!  Be honest but be careful about what you choose to talk about.


  • You may be leaving your current job because you dislike your supervisor (and perhaps you have good reason to dislike your supervisor). But you can't say that in an interview, because no one wants to hire a hater or a complainer!  Instead, you can simply state that you're ready to move on, you're ready for new challenges, you're excited about new opportunities with the prospective employer, etc. All of those remarks are probably true anyway and enable you to focus on positive opportunities rather than negative experiences.


More on these topics under "Quick Tip #4" (below).


There are also ILLEGAL questions. For example, it's not legal to ask about your age, sexual orientation, marital status, or country of origin. If you don't want to answer an illegal question, you have to find a polite way to decline. It is suggested that you think about this in advance so that if the uncomfortable situation arises, you'll be prepared to deal with it. For more information about illegal interview questions, click HERE.


FINALLY, ALL QUESTIONS GIVE YOU THE CHANCE TO SHOW THE POSITIVE SIDE OF YOUR PERSONALITY. When you respond to questions, your tone, facial expressions, posture, gestures, and choice of words provide you with opportunities to be professional, relaxed, friendly, and confident!


QUICK TIP #4:   Always keep in mind that you should never say anything negative about your past or current supervisor, co-workers, organization, or yourself!  Stay constructive, professional, and diplomatic.  And, an additional word about weaknesses. Many "weaknesses" have a flip side that can reveal a strength. For example, over-analyzing before making decisions could be viewed as a weakness. But if you ultimately make decisions on time, you can talk about that. In addition, "over-analyzing" often allows people to gain a deeper understanding of complicated situations. You can talk about that as well.




  • Prepare for the most common interview question: "Tell me about yourself."  NOTE: This is not about your personal life!  Your answer should mostly convey educational and professional information that is relevant to the job for which you're applying.

  • Americans tend to like politely firm handshakes (however, don't break anyone's hand) and eye contact, so keep that in mind during the interview process.

  • If something is unclear during an interview, ask for clarification.

  • Dress professionally.

  • If the interview is in person, plan to arrive about 10-15 minutes early. It's preferable not to arrive any earlier than that, because you don't want the interviewer to feel pressured.

  • If the interview is virtual, make sure you've checked the link, audio, and video in advance.

  • Don't be afraid to smile



Learn More about Interviewing Skills

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