One of my projects since retiring has been to help my son find a job.
We started by going through a couple books from the library. First we read Private Notes of a Headhunter: Proven Job Search and Interviewing Techniques for College Students and Recent Grads and then Knock ‘Em Dead 2016: The Ultimate Job Search Guide.
I would give my son assigned, daily reading (usually enough to last 2-3 hours) and require him to take notes. We would then discuss his reading/notes as well as develop follow-up tasks generated from the discussions (make a list of people to network with, update a specific portion of his resume, etc.)
One of the follow-ups was for my son to take all the interview questions listed in Private Notes of a Headhunter and write a response to them. He did that and we discussed them, talking through what the interviewer was looking for with each question and how my son could best answer it to position himself correctly. He would then re-write the answers based on our discussions and we reviewed them again. Once we were both sure we had the best answers on paper, my son would rehearse these once a day as part of his education.
Interview Fail and Success
The first interview he had after we finished book #1 was at the grocery store a few blocks from our house. They had just remodeled and were hiring new staff to stock up in certain areas. The interview went dreadfully. The interviewer seemed to be in a foul mood. My son had listed that he could work any day and any time except Sunday morning since that’s when we attend church as a family. The interviewer looked at this, said she couldn’t use anyone who wasn’t 100% accessible, and dismissed my son in five minutes.
We chalked that up to a learning experience and continued on with our training. A few days later my son got a call back from the store saying they’d like to interview him again. We kept training and focused on the interview answers we thought would impress the store.
He went to the interview a few days later. Thankfully the original lady was nowhere to be seen (I think she was a traveling recruiter who was brought in for the mass hiring days they were doing). This time the interviewer asked my son to fill out a couple forms (he already had completed an application form online), one of which had several interview questions on it.
After it was over my son texted me and I drove down to pick him up. When he got in the car he told me he had gotten the job! Obviously I was thrilled and proud of him and his hard work.
He then told me about the interview question form. He said that when he saw it the questions seemed very familiar. He opened the journal where he had taken notes and we had reviewed interview questions. He saw that most of the questions they asked were nearly identical to those we had rehearsed. So he copied down the answers we had worked on and turned them in. When the interviewer received the form and looked over the questions she said, “Wow, these are great answers!” She asked him about them, he answered as we had rehearsed, and she was impressed enough to give him an offer.
Having the Answers to the Test
When I was in college I belonged to a fraternity (don’t judge, it was a small school and life was much different than big-school frats.) In the basement of the fraternity house was a file cabinet.
In the file cabinet were tests for almost every class the college offered. They were tests that past members had taken, were graded, and then donated to the files. The tests were filed by subject and then class. When any of the current members had a test in a given class he would simply pull that class’ file and use the past tests to study. In almost every instance, the new test’s questions were at least very similar to the questions on the filed tests. In some cases many of the questions were exactly the same. And in a few cases, the entire tests were almost exactly the same.
Imagine how much easier the new tests were to take when you had the answers. 🙂
BTW, I wasn’t a fan of the system as it helped sub-par students do much better than they would normally, thus putting pressure on those of us who simply took the tests without using past tests as guides.
Steps to Ace an Interview
These two stories illustrate a key fact about interviews: an interview is a test where you know what most of the questions will be in advance.
As such, you can perform much, much better if you prepare in advance.
Here are the steps I recommend preparing in advance so you can ace an interview:
1. List the questions an interviewer will most likely ask you. There are some questions that are specific to given industries or companies, but for the most part there are standard questions that the vast majority of interviewers ask. You can find them in a book (like we did) or on career websites. When I was actively interviewing I had 57 different questions listed as potentials. But I’m a bit of an over-preparer. Most lists will be 20 or so questions.
2. Write out responses to each question. Look at each question and think about what the interviewer most likely wants to hear — what the best answer would be from the interviewer’s standpoint. Then construct your answer accordingly. Write it as you would speak it as in most cases you will be speaking the answers.
One point I’d add is to sprinkle quantifiable accomplishments in your answers as often as you can. So:
- Answering a question with a compelling explanation is good
- Answering a question with a compelling explanation and an accomplishment (“I increased sales”) is better
- Answering a question with a compelling explanation and a quantifiable accomplishment (“I increased sales 12%”) is best
My list of questions and answers was 10 pages long. 🙂
3. Edit responses and fine tune until you get them right. You want your answers to be as much meat as possible. Make them concise and yet communicate all the key points you need to be impressive. Edit, test them out for how they sound, and repeat as needed. If you need help or feedback, solicit it from an experienced friend, mentor, or colleague. You want your answers to be solid because otherwise you’ll be rehearsing sub-par answers that won’t do much for you.
4. Rehearse giving the answers out loud. Yep, out loud. Get into a room by yourself, pretend the interviewer has just asked you a given question, and answer it out loud. Initially, this will be a dreadful task and will take you forever to get your verbal answer to match what you have written down. But eventually you’ll get the words down. At the same time, practice voice intonations, hand and face gestures, side commentary that most people use in conversations (i.e. “Imagine how I felt when that happened!”), and even plan a laugh or two within specific answers if it fits. You want to be conversational, not uptight and overly formal. Eventually you’ll get to the point where you can answer these questions in your sleep.
Some will claim that rehearsing like this will make you over-prepared and stiff. No, it won’t. It actually makes you relaxed because you enter the test knowing that you already have all the right answers. You will have rehearsed not being monotone (which many people fall into without rehearsing) so not only what you say but how you say will benefit you.
I have used this system to ace numerous interviews. In fact, I can’t recall ever using it and not getting a job offer as a result.
If it can work for my son who probably has less real-world experience than anyone who will ever read this post, it can work for you as well.
Yes, it’s a lot of work but your career, income, and job happiness are certainly worth the effort.
P.S. For those who prefer a video version of this post, see the ESI Money YouTube channel.
Mike H says
Great tips for someone just starting out. Practice is the key to get it feeling natural and that’s where you want to be- natural, comfortable and calm.
Count me towards those interested in questions you used and what answers you were looking for!
K D says
What a great post. My child is a college senior and not yet ready for graduate school (a very good student but ready for a break) so a hunt for a post-college job is in her future. She has been working since high school but at a job that was a result of volunteer work she did, no interview.
This method would work for anybody, at any stage in their career.
Congratulations to your son on his new job, I hope it goes well. He’s very lucky to have you for a father.
I just spent the day yesterday interviewing college students. The thing that totally floored me, and always does, is how obvious it is that some folks spend nearly no time preparing for an interview. And this was the third round of interviewing these people have been through.
I love your system, but honestly if most people do half of what is noted here, they would generally be light years ahead of other canadates.
Jack Catchem says
Awesome work, ESI. Your son is blessed!
The one caveat to becoming great at interviewing is you can end up with a job you don’t want because you were too focused on “passing” the interview.
I interviewed with a headhunting firm and talked my way into a wonderful new career. Unfortunately, my infantry experience made me a horrible fit for office work and I left the firm a few months later. While there I had the great experience of watching C-Suite execs interview for jobs and was intrigued to see it was a two way conversation. The best interview, like the best dates, result in both parties walking away with a better understanding of one another.
You did some good work on guiding your son in the interview process. Now a days things are different and even in college there are programs to help students with interview skills and polishing a resume that is IF the student takes advantage of them.
One advantage both my sons have is being a boy scout you are put into interaction with both adults and peers and with the adults it is rank advancement. There is the interview with the scout master as to why you feel are ready to advance to the next level of rank in that you have earned all the necessary requirements. Then there is the board of review which is 3 adults interviewing the scout as to what they feel is they learned. There are 7 ranks in Boy Scouts leading all the way up to Eagle scout. So in essence 14 interviews with a young man from the time they are 10 all the way up to 18. Each and every rank advancement gives confidence and interview skills that are very valuable in the world today. Both my sons are Eagle Scouts and there traning shows. When my son gave his senoir project presentation he was by far the most comfortable in public speaking and presenting and fielding questions. He even helped mentor his team mates in presenting and feeling comfortable.
Anything anyone can do to help a person feel comfortable and confident will lead to better opportunities which will eventually help your bottom line.
Once again, you show how developing a process and persevering in mastering the steps leads to accomplishments greater than first believed possible. Well done! (I have found the Manager Tools and Career Tools podcasts a source of such ideas.)
SBDad @ Small Budget Blog says
Color me one of those who thought that over preparing makes someone too stiff. BUT after reading your post and understanding your process better, I can say I’m a convert.
Do you prepare questions to ask back at the interviewer? I’ve found that if I can get the interviewer to talk more about themselves and the job, company etc, the better they like me.
We prepare questions to ask the interviewer as well as how to respond (i.e. “sell yourself”) based on the answer the interviewer gives. 🙂
practicing interviews is a great idea. I don’t like the idea of trying to find the exact questions etc. this completely defeats the purpose. The reason for practicing is to get used to thinking on your feet and to have some themes to talk about for the more typical interview questions. If you practice the exact answers, and then get those questions and do well – you may be incorrectly assessed to be a good fit for a job that isn’t good for you. But getting used to being questioned and giving positive helpful answers in a likeable way is valuable.
We practice exact questions and write out exact answers. If we get those and do well, then it’s up to us to decide whether the job is for us or not.
We also rehearse “general responses”, how to answer any question so it focuses on my son’s accomplishments and what he can do for the employers. Almost any question can be answered with a key point/accomplishment that we’ve done pre-work on.
Our key words this time were “learn and grow”. We used them regularly in his responses. He wants to learn and grow with the company, in his skills, with customers, etc. Employers eat this sort of stuff up.
The entire plan works like a charm — has for me for almost 30 years and now has worked for my son.
BTW, since I wrote this a couple weeks ago (I write early and set posts to go live at a future date) he used the same exact formula to get a second job (he’s now working them both). He said the interviewers LOVED that fact that he wanted to “learn and grow.” 😉
Of course, this is just to get him the jobs. Now he has to perform well at them (see this post: https://esimoney.com/7-steps-to-millions-more-over-perform/ ) and I’m coaching him through that process as well.
Amanda @ centsiblyrich says
Love this! I am going to use these ideas to help my son as he begins his job search!
I believe rehearsing is huge. When I started doing 2 1/2 hour self-defense presentations a few years ago, I rehearsed until I had it down (almost to the point of memorization) and tweaked and experimented along the way. When I was asked to be on TV once, I did the same thing – even though I was a total nervous wreck, my preparation helped me do well.
Just found this piece this morning:
See #3. 🙂
I love this approach with your son. Sounds like you have a great relationship with him. I’m curious whether you challenge his rehearsed answers as well (this may have been what you meant by stating that you helped him best answer the questions to position himself correctly). As a hiring manager I hear my share of rehearsed responses, but when I probe deeper, some candidates cannot provide substance beyond their initial answer. This makes my hiring decision that much easier, especially if the candidate starts making up answers on the spot instead of remaining genuine and admitting that they do not know something or cannot explain further.
That said, a prepared candidate is 10 times better than an unprepared candidate! Again, I really admire the work you’ve done with your son and hope he continues to find success from your coaching.
Yes, I help him get the best answers as well as prepare to explain what he means by each answer. 🙂