How to rock any interview

Let’s talk about the most daunting part of your dream job - the interview. I will share with you the three things I believe you need to do in order to crush any interview.

First, a little bit about my experience in interviewing.

I’ve been working since I was 14, with my first job at a small abstracting company in my home town. I won’t tell you my age, but I’ve been working longer than I haven’t, so you do the math. My last interview, before deciding to leave the legal profession, was my fifth round (yes, fifth) for an in-house counsel position at Macy’s. If I had to guess, I would say I’ve been on almost 60 interviews. Some have been successful, others have not. I will share with you the good and the bad.

Write out your answers to these top questions on paper

Interviewing is a skill, and skills can be learned with practice. If you are bad at interviewing, you can always work on parts to improve. While you can never know for certain what question you are going to be asked, I believe there are four core questions that are almost always asked in an interview, in a variety of ways. If you know how to answer one iteration of this question, you’ll be able to answer any iteration. Here are the core questions:

  • What experience do you have that will make you successful in this job?

  • What is something you think you can work on?

  • Describe your ideal working environment.

  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

These are not just random questions picked out of a hat; each one claws at a response that any adequate interviewer should want to know from you. If you can answer each of these questions with a great, well thought out answer, you will have great answers to dozens of interview questions. Writing your answer on paper will help you really think about what you are saying and whether it’s the best way to say it.

Your answer to a question about your experience can also be used when asked about your strengths, why this company should hire you, or even a “Tell me about yourself” catch-all.

Some interviews include a question regarding your weakness and your answer should be a skill that is cloaked as a weakness. For example, “I am too detail-oriented sometimes, which can throw off my time management for other projects.” or “I ask a lot of questions when working on a project I have never done before.” These “negatives” can be brought up in your answer to questions such as “Tell me a time you made a mistake" or “Tell me about your last job.”

An ideal work environment question can relate to your work ethic; do you like working alone or do you love to collaborate? How well do you take directions assigned to you from your superiors?

And finally, a question asking about your future plans hints at what you can bring to a company over time; is this just a stepping stone or do you want to make real change? Be careful, however. Some companies want thriving, entrepreneurial-spirited candidates. Others do not want to disrupt the status quo. Do your best research to figure out which one you are walking into and, more importantly, whether it really is a perfect fit for you.

Research your employer for one detail you can mention

Everyone loves talking about themselves and your interviewer is no different. Do your research and find one detail about his or her life, whether at this current job or otherwise, that you can craft a unique question around to ask them at the end. Since you ask questions at the end, this part is the most likely to stick with the interviewer once you walk out of the room. There’s no better feeling than feeling praised and important. Show your interviewer you care and that his or her life, either inside or outside of work, interests you. If you can find a loose connection to a detail in their lives, even better - but make sure your question isn’t forced. Make it genuine and make it thoughtful. They will remember you if you do.

Be Confident

You’ve studied your resume, you know how to phrase any negative question into a positive, and you’ve memorized that partner’s thesis on the electoral college they published a few years back. The last thing you must have is confidence. If nothing else, being confident will excuse unprepared responses. I once asked a boss months after I was hired at a law firm about my interview and all he could recall was how confident I was during it, nothing else.

Good luck!

Xo Nicole