Previously, we’ve discussed what you want to know and expect about interviews, so today, we’re going to be discussing what you want to know and do to prepare. I’ll admit, preparing for an interview is about as fun as petting a porcupine, but please know that it is a critical element to your success. After all, you’ve spent countless hours finding your passion, focusing your search, creating your master resume, tailoring it to this job, just to get to this point. Just remember: This is the home stretch! Why would you spend all that time leading up to this event if you’re not going to prepare for it?! So let’s get into some of the things you will want to consider and know as you get ready.
The Science Behind Why We Prepare
Last week we ended our discussion on the topic of nerves, and I briefly mentioned how to get rid of them: Through preparation. So let’s take a moment and really unpack how preparation can alleviate a lot of the nervousness. I will use the illustration of a knife fight to walk us through the physiology and science behind the stress of an interview and the effect it has on our bodies.
When you enter a stressful situation, such as a knife fight, your body is going to release a bunch of chemicals to increase your performance in that fight. One of those chemicals is called cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone.” This hormone serves multiple functions, such as changing how your body processes energy and the resources available to repair tissue, injuries, and fight. This is often during what is commonly known as the “fight or flight” response. However, what a lot of people don’t know is that there is actually a third “F”: Freeze.
You see, when cortisol hits your system, in addition to all the benefits it provides, it also causes the cognitive portion of your brain – the “active thinking” aspect – to decrease activity. This activates the part of our brain that we would call “instinctual” or “primal.” This is the reason that we train our “battle drills” incessantly in the military – so that our reactions are more instinctual – because once that cortisol hits our system, it’s much harder to think about what we need to do, and it just needs to be muscle memory. So what happens if we haven’t trained our drills to the point of instinctual memory? We flee, or worse yet…we freeze.
So what does this have to do with job interviews? Well, walking into an interview is a stressful experience. As stressful as a knife fight? Probably not. But your body is still going to release that cortisol, and if you haven’t trained, one of those “Fs” is going to kick in. I don’t recommend catapulting yourself over the table at them or sprinting out of the room in “flee” mode so that only leaves freeze, and that's why we prepare.
This cannot be overstated: You want to research the company that you’re interviewing to join and the position that you’re applying to. This can be easily accomplished with the internet. Company web pages are a great way to learn about the history of a company, as well as even its current goals, strategic vision, ethos, values, etc.
Conversely, there are sites out there that have reviews of a company. However, please let me caution you on two things when going to these sites: One, we as humans have a general negativity bias, and two, people rarely leave reviews on these sites if they left on good terms or are still with the company, so you should take them with a grain of salt accordingly. However, they can still be a good gauge of issues you could perceivably encounter if/when you join the organization.
Another great way to research a role or company is to talk to someone on the “inside.” Often called Informational Interviews, these can allow you to network your way into the company and get in touch with some folks that already work in the same or similar role, which you may have already conducted while you were finding your passions and focusing your searches. If you haven’t conducted one until this point, however, just know that they’re not always as formal as you may think.
They are generally relaxed conversations in which you are simply trying to gain insight or knowledge about the role or company you are joining. Go into these prepared with questions that will hopefully fill in any gaps you have in your knowledge, or answer any burning questions that you have going forward. Also, keep in mind that these may be biased as well. People often don’t like to speak ill of a company that they’re currently working for. Conversely, they may be more prone to a negative bias. One good way to help mitigate these variables is by asking someone what their top 3 things are that they love about the company/role, and top 3 things that they would change about the company/role if given the opportunity (I don’t suggest asking what they “don’t like,” but rather “what they would change”).
As you know, once the initial stage of introductions is over, the questions are coming. We’ll get into formulating answers next week, but first, let’s cover some common pitfalls during this section that you can prepare for. First, as I mentioned in Part V(a), there is likely going to be silence in between your answers and the next question. This is normal. They are likely taking notes on what you said. This is not good nor bad, so do not let this affect your stress, and more so, do not keep talking to fill the silence. Your answers should be as detailed as they can be while remaining concise. Now, Behavioral Interview (BI) answers can be a little longer than the answers to traditional questions, but you should try to keep your answers under 2 minutes for traditional formatting and under 3.5 minutes for the STARS format.
The next pitfall is regarding what I call trick questions. The best way to sum up a trick question in an interview is any sort of question that has a negative connotation. “What irritates you about coworkers?” Or even something that doesn’t seem negative on the surface, but could damage your interest in the job you’re interviewing for such as, “What is your dream job?”
I detest questions like this. I feel like they’re designed to trip up the interviewee, and that’s not the purpose of an interview in my opinion. However, they do get asked, so I'll say this: always stay positive and encouraging in your answers. If I were to get the first question, I would pretend to think real hard for a minute, and then just tell them that I can’t recall anything of the sort, and tend to get along well with folks. For the dream job, I would describe characteristics of a dream job (good people, an opportunity to be part of a team, etc) rather than any specifics about a role or industry. The key to this is to never speak ill about a person, role, or organization, and always keep your answers positive.
Now, some negatively based questions do serve very valuable purposes such as, “Tell me about a time when you had a conflict with a coworker or supervisor.” Now this one is similar to the first one, but it doesn’t lock you into a negative response. In fact, this type of question is a way to gauge your conflict resolution skills, which are very valuable and viable skills in the workplace. Something like this can get into specifics because it leaves it open-ended to be able to still present a favorable outcome at the end of your response, which we’ll cover more on how to do next week.
The last pitfall is the dreaded “brain fart.” It’s going to happen. You’re going to be asked something, and you’re going to know that you know the answer, but for whatever reason (probably cortisol) your memory recall will fail you. When this happens, and it will, you must move past it. When I train people for knife fights in my side “gig” as a security consultant, I always tell them, you’re going to get cut. You need to expect it to happen, because if you don’t, it’s all you’re going to be able to focus on, and you’ll stop focusing on the fight itself. However, if you prepare yourself mentally that you are going to get cut, when it happens, you can move past it. The same goes for your interview “brain fart.” You will have one, and if you know that going in, it will be much less impactful when it happens. You can move past it and continue to concentrate on the interview rather than lose all focus and effort.
Hopefully, you’ve found some use in Part V(c) of our Employment chat. If you did, please share it with your fellow service members so that they can also hopefully glean some insight into the various aspects of transition. And of course, join me next week for Part V(d) of the Employment chat as we talk about how to perform your best during the interview!
Until next time, be safe, stay healthy, and remember that you’re not in this alone!
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