Career Coaching Series: Interviews
Katie Kinniburgh, Former Recruiter
Viget recruiter and former career coach Katie shares tips on how to approach your upcoming interviews with confidence.
In my life before Viget, I was a university career coach. I now sit on the other side of the table as a recruiter in tech, connecting talented folks to opportunities here at Viget. In this series, I’ll pull from my background in career coaching and the perspective I’ve gained as a recruiter to help you navigate your own job search with confidence.
In the first installment of this series, we talked about resumes. In this article, we’re going to talk about how to prepare for, participate in, and follow up on behavioral interviews (though I’d argue that a lot of these tips apply to non-behavioral interviews, as well).
Behavioral interviews are very common across most industries, and include “storytelling” questions that require you to share an example of a past behavior. For example, “tell me about a time when you worked with a team.” Asking about how you handled a situation in the past gives the interviewer helpful insight into how you might respond to a similar situation in the future. Non-storytelling questions about you, your goals, and your interests may also be asked in these kinds of interviews - questions like “tell me about yourself” or “what was it about this position that made you apply?”
Before we get into the “how to’s,” I want to briefly touch on the purpose of an interview. I can’t speak for all interviewers out there, but we at Viget are not looking for The Perfect Interview. Your answers don’t need to come across as well-rehearsed mini TED Talks. Rather, think of the interview as a conversation between two investigative collaborators. From the interviewer’s perspective, we want to learn about you, your background, and your goals so that we can predict if you will be successful in the particular role we’re trying to fill. Yes, your answers should be clear and easy to follow, but they should also authentically represent you. At the same time, you as the interviewee should be trying to learn as much as you can about the role so you can determine if the opportunity fits what you’re looking for. I encourage you to spend less time crafting “perfect answers” to the questions you may be asked, and more time reflecting on what you’re looking for and practicing communicating in a clear and authentic way. Now, let’s talk about how to do that:
Think about your goals. Ideally you’ve already done some introspection and reflection prior to clicking “apply.” But if you skipped that step, now is the time to circle back. What are your goals for your next move? What kind of company culture are you looking for? What kind of projects? What kind of management style do you respond best to? What would career growth look like in your ideal next step? You may gloss over these questions and assume you know the answers intuitively, but I encourage you to take some time to really think them through. Interviewers can tell when someone’s career goals are clear and well-defined.
Do your research. It’s unlikely (though not impossible) that the interviewer will quiz you on what you know about the company. But still, the more you know about the company, the team, and the position, the better you’ll be at connecting the dots between your background, your goals, and the position - and company - you’re interviewing for.
Reflect and synthesize. Now it’s time to put everything together. What’s compelling about what you learned and how does that information connect to your goals? How do your experiences align with the position description, and what about your background, perspective, or interests makes you a STANDOUT candidate? Following your research, what outstanding questions do you still have? And (this is really important!) are you seeing any red flags that indicate this opportunity is NOT going to be a fit for your goals?
Practice. Practice telling your story with a partner - a friend, family member, or mentor. Most of us aren’t conditioned to talk about ourselves in the way that interviews require. You might even come from a background where talking positively about yourself is seen as a faux pas. The only way to get comfortable with this is to practice. Your partner can also give valuable feedback on your delivery.
Create structure. Without having a structure in place, it’s easy to start rambling or lose the point of your answer. Unless a specific framework is required, I’d recommend following something like the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result). BAR (Background, Action, Result) or CAR (Context, Action, Result) are also fine - it’s mostly a matter of personal preference. Regardless, use a structure that provides an easy-to-follow storytelling arc and allows you to be clear about how you handled the situation. If you’re talking about a scenario when you worked with a group, be sure to highlight your contributions within the context of the team. Consider when “I” might be more accurate and powerful than “we”.
Be SPECIFIC. In addition to giving your answers structure, you also want to give your answers specificity. Vague answers where goals, metrics, tools, etc. are glossed over don’t give your interviewer valuable insight into your capabilities. Identify the details that are most crucial to the role, your story, and the point of the question, and be sure to give an appropriate level of detail. 2-3 minutes is usually a good amount of time to shoot for; if you find that you’ve been talking for 5 minutes or more, you probably need to tighten it up a bit. Your interviewer may dig into your story with follow-up questions, as well.
Before we go on, let’s pause to take a peek at what a detailed STAR response might look like in action. If your interviewer asks you “tell me about a recent problem you solved” you might respond with…
Situation: A bit of context to set the stage. Was this a capstone group project for your bootcamp, for example? Or perhaps this was a situation you encountered in your current role as a technical project manager?
Task: A brief explanation of the issue at hand. What was particularly challenging about it? Where did you get stuck?
Action: This is where details are important. Tell me about your thought process, the steps you took to resolve the problem, and (if applicable) the tools or techniques you used to do so. If you worked on this as part of a group, remember to highlight what YOU did as part of the team effort.
Result: How did it go? Was the issue resolved successfully? I’m always impressed when folks highlight “lessons learned” here, as well.
Slow down and breathe. Pauses are fine. We expect them, and I appreciate when folks take a beat to think before answering. Slowing your pace can also help you feel less frantic. To help you settle into an easy and thoughtful pace, and give yourself space to think more clearly, I recommend taking a slow, deep breath before answering each question. You might need longer than a breath to think through your answer, and that’s okay! If you know you’re going to need a few seconds to collect your thoughts, I recommend saying something like, “that’s a great question. Let me take a moment to think on that.”
Interview the company. Remember: interviews should be mutually beneficial. Yes, it’s an opportunity for the interviewer to learn about you and how you might fit with the role at their company, but it’s also an opportunity for you to learn about the company and how well they fit with your goals for the next step in your career. So, ask questions that will be helpful in your decision making process! I see lots of listicles online about the questions you should ask to nail your interview and land your next job. Those are helpful as starting points, I suppose, but are they going to give you the info you actually need? Instead, think about the remaining gaps in your knowledge and what you need to know to feel confident about moving forward. Then, ask about that.
Take notes. If you’re in an active search, the details of all your applications and interviews can start to get really muddy really quickly. Take some time to reflect and jot down some notes. What are your initial impressions? What were the answers to your questions, and what lingering questions do you still have? Also be sure to jot down any info that was shared about next steps, the process, and their timeline.
Send a quick thank you email. Follow-up thank you messages aren’t necessary, but they can be a valuable opportunity to reinforce your interest and highlight the ways in which your background aligns with the role. If you choose to send one, keep it short and sweet.
Follow up. Don’t be afraid to follow up! If your recruiter or interviewer told you they’d be in touch by a certain date but you haven’t heard anything by then, it’s okay to send a quick email to check in.
I hope these tips help you feel confident in your ability to ace your upcoming interviews! Next time, we’ll talk about strategies for organizing your job search.