“What!?” I hear you say. Don’t prepare for a job interview? Surely that’s madness! All advice across the wide, information rich landscape of Google says that you should thoroughly prepare for that coveted interview and know what you’re going to say before you walk past that sterile reception, through those glass doors and be judged on everything that spills from your lips. If you search ‘interview preparation’ there are thousands of articles offering words of advice, touting ‘preparation’ as the ‘key’ to a successful interview… Well, put simply, that’s not the case. If you want to stand out from other candidates and authentically engage with your interviewer than a pre-rehearsed plan is not the way to go.
Be ready but don’t prepare
So, why wouldn’t you prepare? Surely, you want to be as well rehearsed as possible? The answer is simple. As a hiring manager, there is nothing more frustrating than asking a very specific question and then getting a generic, well-rehearsed answer as candidates desperately try to bend what they’ve rehearsed to wrap awkwardly around your question in a desperate attempt to use their scripted material. The result is that they don’t answer the question at all and instead, the interviewer gets a boring, pre-prepared monologue in a style that he or she has probably heard hundreds of times before.
Don’t ‘go through the motions’
Once it becomes obvious that a candidate is reading from a mental script, the interviewer begins to subconsciously tune out and immediately the relationship between interviewer and interviewee becomes disengaged, like an inauthentic dance where both parties simply go through the motions and the hiring manager is left with a bad, boring impression of someone who would prefer to follow a script rather than answer a simple question. You should already have an outstanding CV that speaks volumes about you, which means that you can focus more on specific nuances and examples that truly answer the interviewer’s question.
Memory is key
But, “how can you answer an interviewer’s questions if you don’t prepare”, I hear you say. The answer is memory. You likely have many achievements, challenges and examples of overcoming adversity in your career. All that’s needed is for you to reflect on these times and make sure you remember your wins in different roles. Then, when the recruiter asks a question, answer it honestly, using an example that you remember. There’s nothing wrong with taking a minute to think back and prepare your answer. If you have a good CV, you can refer to it to trigger your memory and recall your key achievements. A hiring manager would rather you take a moment to reflect and provide an authentic answer rather than launching straight into a rehearsed spiel.
Be authentic and engaging
When you’re honest and authentic in this way, everything you say becomes engaging. Instead of simply answering a question, you begin to tell a story. A story about you and your experience. The result is that you answer the interviewer’s question and showcase your experience and your confidence and ability to think on your feet. Even if your answer isn’t perfect, it’s better to speak authentically from the heart than give a scripted response. You see, there’s a reason a recruiter asks you certain questions. They’re trying to delve into your past experience and determine whether or not you have the competencies required. They also want to gauge if you have the abilities that you’ve listed on your CV. This is why it’s important that you end up actually answering the question. Even consider finishing your answer with “did that answer your question?” and allow the interviewer to reflect on your answer and make sure that they have everything they need.
But, what happens if you get asked a situational question and you can’t think of an example? Don’t worry… it happens. Again, you need to rely on memory and think back to a similar situation. You might consider saying something like “I can’t recall a time when I specifically dealt with that, however, I have experienced something similar” and then give the example.
Don’t be a ‘deer in headlights’
The other danger of preparing answers to interview questions is the ‘deer in headlights’ syndrome. That is, you prepare so much but then get asked a question that doesn’t at all fit with your preparation so you just freeze. You suddenly find yourself out of material. Being over prepared can leave you speechless if the interview takes a different path to what you expected because suddenly all your rehearsed material goes out the window and you’re on your own. So, better to be prepared to be on your own in the first place!
Of course, there are some things that you need to prepare such as your knowledge about the company itself. Make sure you know what they do, what their core values are and take a moment to think about why you want to work for them. What I’m saying here is don’t try and prepare answers to interview questions.
Think about any entertaining conversation that you’ve had. A time when you’ve enjoyed someone’s company and found them charismatic. This happens when there’s a connection between two people. An authenticity as people speak from the soul. These experiences are different to when you meet other people who you don’t connect with. People who put up walls or wear masks and keep the conversation at a socially rehearsed level. These people aren’t as interesting. So, the same goes for a job interview. You want your interviewer to be engaged, entertained and hanging off every word you say. The only way to do that is to be authentic and allow your true, albeit imperfect self to shine through. Good luck