A reader named Theresa asked this great question after reading a recent YouTern blog post about preparing for interview questions. The question struck me as quite complex in its simplicity – one that many people have, but no one thinks to ask… or answer.
The blogosphere is full of posts like “The Top 10 Interview Questions Recruiters Ask” and stories of Google’s infamous interview questions like “How many ping pong balls would it take to fill a school bus?”
But even with all that useful advice, the honest answer to Theresa’s question is… you can’t know for sure what you’ll be asked, so you can’t possibly rehearse for every possible question.
Perhaps a follow-up question would be: “In that case, why rehearse for interview questions at all?”
Here’s an answer to that question:
An Interview is Different Than a “Normal” Conversation
I bet you’ve never thought about how you’ll order at the drive thru window ahead of time (“Should I order the fries before the burger?… Or should the order go Coke, burger then fries?”). The reason we don’t think ahead is because our routine interactions are just topical, cursory transactions that have little or no consequences.
An interview – where we have one shot to make a positive impression on the hiring manager – is different. Every part of this interaction counts – from our confident handshake at the beginning, to our eye contact, poise and word choices during the interview.
Practice Makes… Confident
Theresa is right – we don’t know exactly what is going to be asked. That doesn’t mean, however, that there’s no sensible way to practice delivering answers… or that we shouldn’t. You may not have participated in many interviews in your young career, so you’ll be out of your comfort zone, perhaps nervous and having to think on your feet. Developing the ability to deliver answers – quickly, clearly and concisely (even if they are different questions than you’re asked in an actual interview) – is a very important interview skill.
For an example of why you need to prepare ahead of time… try this brief exercise, right now:
Take a moment and pretend you’re in an important interview and the recruiter just asked you this question: “Tell me about yourself.”
Immediately – right now as you’re reading this post – out loud, answer that question in 30 seconds or less…
Where did you start – with the city where you were born? Your education? Your hobbies? A laundry list of your skills? What important details did you impart in those 30 seconds to impress that recruiter over all your competition? Were you able to answer immediately, concisely, and more important – confidently – with no pauses, “um”s or “uh”s – in a half-minute. Without practice, it’s not so easy is it?
You Don’t Need to Know All the Questions…
Just do your homework – almost like any math test you’ve taken. Did you know ahead of time all the questions that would be asked? My guess is you’d answer “no”. Yet, without knowing the questions in advance you were able to answer the questions and pass the test, right?
Interviews are similar to those tests. Research and study the “test” material – and know it…
- Every detail of your resume
- Your personal and professional accomplishments
- The company’s information (and I mean much more than just the About Us page)
- Why you want to work at this company in particular
- Perhaps most important… how your skills will solve the problems outlined in the job description
Armed with this type of information, you’ll be able to answer almost any interview question – and impress the recruiter.
Perhaps it’s un-nerving to some to know that in any interview, you’ll be asked difficult questions.
Take comfort knowing that your competition is in the same position – they don’t know all the questions either! If you rehearse and develop your presentation skills – knowing your competition probably has not – you’ll build your confidence – and show you’re the right candidate to hire!
About the Author: Dave Ellis is an original member of the YouTern team and instrumental to its success… in fact, he’s so awesome there wouldn’t be a YouTern without him (and he might have written this bio himself). In his spare time, Dave volunteers, rescuing and rehabilitating sea lions and baby elephant seals.