If you’ve ever done any community theatre, film or television work, you’ll know then at some point the Director tells the cast to be, ‘off book’. This means you’ve got a target date to have memorized your lines. From that point on, you can’t carry around the script with you on stage or in front of the camera. If you need help with what you’re supposed to say at any point, you just say, “Line?”, and someone who is following along off stage or set will give you a prompt. Eventually, the Director will go further too, cutting off the prompts altogether, so if you don’t know your words at that point, you’re on your own.
Job interviews however, don’t work that way. First of all, memorizing specific answers word for word has never been advised. Let me correct that; somewhere, someone I’m sure has dispensed that advice, but please, don’t try to memorize your answers to questions you presume you may be asked. This is a bad strategy, in fact it’s one of the biggest critical mistakes you could make in preparation for employment interviews!
On the other hand, don’t go to the other extreme, (which many people do I’m afraid to say) and just plan on, ‘winging it’. Making everything up on the fly, in the moment, with no advanced preparation at all is setting yourself up to be exposed as ill-prepared and you’ll eventually find yourself growing increasingly anxious and embarrassed as it becomes clear you weren’t ready for it.
What you’re really going for is to come across as authentic and genuine, answering questions put to you with confidence and intelligence. In order to do so, you need an understanding of the position you’re after, how it fits in to the organization you’re applying with, and the ability to market your skills, experience, education and personal suitability as THE right person to be hired. If you can successful communicate this, you’re well on your way to making the best possible impression you can and landing an eventual offer.
One obvious suggestion is to do some research. Now I bet you’ve heard this before, but perhaps you haven’t really understood what it is you should be researching. Sure you should visit a website, (it is 2017 after all) and click on the, “About Us” tab. That’s a start. In the days before the internet, many job applicants would drop by an organization well in advance of a job interview and pick up brochures, financial and Annual reports. These are still largely available for the asking, and in some situations it’s a great idea to pop ’round and pick them up, with the added benefit they get to see you and you them, you get an idea of the atmosphere, how employees dress etc.
Accessing LinkedIn information is another source for this research. Research not just the company but the people with profiles who work at the organizations you’ve short-listed yourself as possible destinations. What’s their backgrounds and what routes did they take to get where they are now? How are they going about branding themselves? What have they got to say in terms of their current position? How are they dressed for their LinkedIn image?
Now all this is good but back to knowing your lines. In a play the beautiful thing is that at the first rehearsal you’re handed the script. You not only know what you have to say, you know what everyone has to say! No job interview however works this way and that’s actually a good thing. So lose the anxiety over trying to memorize answers.
You do need something to hang on to that gives you some structure and some reassurance. You can get this by looking at a job posting, networking with people who work where you want to work or those who hold down similar jobs to the one you’re after now; ideally all the above. Job postings highlight what you’ll be doing, the qualifications employers demand and often who you’ll be reporting to.
Knowing what they expect you to do should give you an idea what they’ll ask you about. It’s likely your experience will come up as they seek to see if you’ve got the skills, which come out as you relate what you’ve done in the past. Using skill-based language therefore, (I listened, I resolved conflict, I negotiated contracts, I led project teams) that mirrors their current needs will prove helpful.
An interview format will surround the content of your answers with structure and this structure ensures you’re focused and only say enough to answer the questions without running off at the mouth. Not always, but if you look at a company’s pages, you might even find information on how to prepare for interviews with them. As they want to see you at your best and make good hiring decisions, they often don’t mind sharing interview preparation information. It’s there for the looking.
So, get off book before the interview. Know what you want to say and what you want to stress. Deliver your words with confidence and certainty but at the same time by all means reflect on questions asked to compose the best answers. During this conversation with the interviewer(s), have a few thoughtful questions of your own that show you’ve given some thought. And like the best actors, be memorable!