Your Career Optimiser

Logo for Your Career Optimiser

Crack The Interview Code: How To Prepare For Your Next Interview

Reading Time: 15 minutes

Imagine you’re a marathon runner. The cheering crowd, the sound of your heart pounding, and the finish line right in front of you. Now, think about the moment just before the race begins. 

Did you start training a week before the race? Of course not. 

The training started months ago. It involved early morning runs, a regimented diet, strategic rest days, and countless hours studying the course. Your preparation didn’t start when you stepped on the track; it began the moment you committed to the race.

So why should preparing for a job interview be any different?

Just as with marathon training, your interview preparation begins long before you step into that room, before you shake hands with the interview panel, even before you receive that highly anticipated interview request. It starts months in advance.

Thorough preparation is to an interviewee what training is to a marathon runner. It’s a crucial factor that determines whether you cross that finish line successfully or fall short of your potential. It’s the difference between securing your dream job or walking away with ‘what could have been.’

In this post, I will guide you through the art and science of preparing for an interview, revealing why it’s an endeavour that requires time, focus, and strategic planning. You’ll learn that preparing for your next interview isn’t just about rehearsing answers; it’s a transformative process that starts months in advance, giving you the confidence, insights, and competitive edge to stand out from the crowd.

So, ready to start your marathon? Let’s begin this rewarding journey together.

Let’s go!

Table of Contents

The Early Bird: Why Start Months Before

The saying “The early bird catches the worm” holds more truth than you might realise, especially when it comes to interview preparation. A study by the talent firm Robert Half reveals that candidates who spent more time preparing for an interview – that’s weeks and months, not just days – were 30% more successful than those who did less. There’s a clear correlation between early preparation and interview success.

So why don’t more professionals start their interview preparation sooner?

The answer lies in some common misconceptions about the interview process. Many professionals believe that interview preparation starts when you receive an interview invitation, that the focus should primarily be on rehearsing generic responses to common interview questions, and that it’s impossible to prepare for unexpected questions.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Firstly, interview preparation is more than just a rehearsal; it’s a journey of self-discovery, a strategic analysis of your skills and achievements, and an in-depth study of potential employers. All this can’t be accomplished in a few days or even a week. It requires time and focus – hence the need to start months in advance.

Secondly, generic responses rarely make a lasting impression. Today’s employers are looking for authenticity and a deeper connection. They want to understand not just what you’ve done, but how you think and what you value. Crafting this narrative takes time and introspection.

Lastly, unexpected questions shouldn’t induce panic but rather be seen as opportunities to showcase your adaptability, quick thinking, and problem-solving abilities. With sufficient preparation, even the most unexpected questions can be turned into an opportunity to shine.

Starting your preparation months ahead gives you the best chance to present the most authentic, well-rounded, and impressive version of yourself to potential employers. It’s not just about getting ahead; it’s about staying ahead. Let’s dispel these misconceptions and give you the tools to truly stand out. Stay with me, as I dive into how to start this journey of preparation.

Business woman looking out over the city skyline

The Personal SWOT Analysis: Your Compass

You’ve likely heard of a SWOT analysis in a business context – evaluating the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats of a company. But have you ever considered applying it to yourself, in preparation for your next job interview? If you haven’t, then it’s time to discover your personal compass – the SWOT analysis.

Performing a personal SWOT analysis allows you to gain profound insights into your unique skill set, professional development areas, and potential opportunities. It can also shed light on external factors that could pose a threat to your career progression.

Here’s how to perform one:

  • Strengths: Start by identifying your key strengths. These could be skills, qualifications, abilities, or personal qualities that give you an advantage over others. They are the elements that make you stand out and could be anything from your exceptional communication skills to your knack for problem-solving.
  • Weaknesses: Next, honestly assess your weaknesses or areas for improvement. These could be skills you need to develop, tasks you struggle with, or negative work habits. Recognising these is not a sign of failure, but a step towards personal growth.
  • Opportunities: This section involves examining the external circumstances that could positively influence your career progression. These could include networking events, industry developments, or even specific job openings that align with your aspirations.
  • Threats: Finally, assess potential threats, external factors that could hamper your career advancement. These could be competitive job markets, economic downturns, or industry changes.

Performing this analysis provides an invaluable map of your professional landscape. It’s an opportunity to discover the best version of yourself while also identifying areas of improvement.

Focusing on your strengths and opportunities in an interview can give you an incredible edge. It allows you to position yourself as the solution to the company’s needs and demonstrate your unique value proposition.

For instance, if one of your strengths is a deep understanding of data analysis, highlight this during your interview by showcasing how you’ve leveraged this skill to drive business decisions in the past. Similarly, if there’s an opportunity in the market that aligns with your skills and interests, discussing this during the interview can demonstrate your industry awareness and proactive nature.

A personal SWOT analysis is more than just a preparatory step; it’s an ongoing strategy for career growth. Start early, revisit often, and let it be your guide to an enriched career journey. In the next section, we’ll delve deeper into how to harness your strengths and achievements for an unforgettable interview impression.

Signature Strengths and Accomplishments: Your Power Cards

Your journey to ace the interview process doesn’t just involve understanding your professional landscape; it also involves diving deeper into who you are and what makes you exceptional. This is where identifying your signature strengths and listing your accomplishments come into play – your power cards in the interview game.

Signature strengths are those unique qualities or abilities that come naturally to you and help you perform at your best. They are as unique to you as your signature and offer a distinct advantage in your career. This could be your knack for building effective relationships, your exceptional analytical ability, or your innovative problem-solving skills.

To identify these strengths, think about times when you’ve truly excelled in your work, times when you’ve felt motivated and engaged. What were you doing? What skills were you using? These are likely your signature strengths. Another approach could be to use validated psychological tools like the VIA Survey of Character Strengths or StrengthsFinder 2.0, which can provide comprehensive insights into your unique strengths.

Accomplishments are evidence of your strengths in action. They are the wins, big and small, that you’ve accumulated over your career. They could be successful projects you’ve led, problems you’ve solved, or even recognition you’ve received.

Listing your accomplishments can do wonders for your confidence and appeal during an interview. Not only do they offer concrete proof of your capabilities, but they also tell compelling stories about what you can bring to the table. Remember, interviews are not just about stating what you can do, but showing it through your past successes.

Your signature strengths and accomplishments are your power cards, and how you play them can make all the difference. They enable you to show, not just tell, your worth. They allow you to convey your uniqueness and demonstrate why you’re not just a good fit, but the best fit for the role.

In the following sections, we’ll discuss how to weave these power cards into compelling career stories using the CAR method and how these stories can serve as tailored responses to a range of interview questions. So, hold tight and let’s keep digging into the gold mine of interview preparation!

While virtual interviews offer many conveniences, such as eliminating the need for travel, they also present unique challenges.

Using the CAR Method to Craft Career Stories

As we’ve established, your signature strengths and accomplishments are the building blocks for compelling career stories. But how do you craft these stories effectively? Enter the CAR method – Context, Action, and Result.

The CAR method provides a structured framework to help you narrate your professional experiences in a way that highlights your unique skills and achievements. Here’s how it works:

Context: This is the backdrop to your story. It sets the scene and paints a picture of the situation or challenge you faced. This could be a high-stakes project, a tight deadline, or a difficult client.

Action: This is where you describe what you did to address the situation. It’s essential to focus on your actions and how you utilised your signature strengths. Be specific and detail-oriented. This part of the story gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your problem-solving abilities and unique approach.

Result: Here, you describe the outcome of your actions. What was the impact of your intervention? Did you save time, increase efficiency, or improve customer satisfaction? The results section gives your story a satisfying resolution and demonstrates your effectiveness.

Using the CAR method allows you to present your experiences in a clear, concise, and engaging way. It enables you to demonstrate your value proposition effectively, using real-life examples that speak louder than generic statements.

For instance, if one of your signature strengths is your ability to lead and inspire teams, you could use the CAR method to tell a story about a time when you successfully managed a team to complete a complex project within a tight deadline.

Context: “In my previous role as project manager, we had a high-stakes project with a tight deadline and a client known for being particularly demanding.”

Action: “I leveraged my strength in team management and motivational skills to ensure clear communication, delegate tasks effectively, and maintain high morale.”

Result: “We completed the project on time, to the client’s acclaim, and even managed to implement improvements that increased overall efficiency by 15%.”

Crafting such stories not only shows your ability to tackle challenges effectively but also provides a deeper insight into who you are as a professional. In the next section, we’ll discuss how to adapt these stories to answer various interview questions effectively, ensuring you’re ready for whatever comes your way. Let’s continue the journey to interview excellence!

Face to face interview in the office

Adapting Career Stories to Answer Diverse Interview Questions

Your career stories, crafted using the CAR method, are not just compelling narratives; they’re your adaptable tool kit for answering a diverse range of interview questions. Each story is a multifaceted diamond that can reflect different aspects of your professional prowess. It’s all about how you angle it to match the light – or in this case, the question.

Consider our earlier example of leading a team through a high-stakes project. This career story can be tailored to answer several interview questions. Let’s explore how:

Question: “Can you give an example of a challenging project you managed successfully?”

Adapted Response: Use the career story in its entirety. Discuss the context, the actions you took, and the successful result.

Question: “How do you handle pressure at work?”

Adapted Response: Focus on the aspect of the story where you dealt with the pressure of the tight deadline and demanding client. Highlight your resilience and your strategy to keep the team morale high in stressful situations.

Question: “What are your strengths as a leader?”

Adapted Response: Draw attention to your action in the story, where you showcased your strength in team management and motivational skills.

The key to effective adaptation is relevance. The story must directly address the interviewer’s question, showcasing your experience and abilities in the context they’re interested in. It’s not about reciting your career stories verbatim but moulding them into targeted, relevant responses.

By preparing your career stories in advance, you can ensure you’re ready to adapt your experiences to answer diverse questions. It’s about being ready to showcase the best of yourself, no matter what you’re asked. In the next section, we’ll talk about another critical aspect of interview preparation – having your own set of questions ready for the interviewer. 

Preparing for a panel interview can be daunting, but with the right approach, you can excel and leave a lasting impression on the interviewers.

Interviews as a Two-Way Street: Questioning the Interviewer

For many, interviews are seen as a one-way process, an intense scrutiny where they’re in the hot seat, and the interviewer holds all the power. But it’s time to challenge this perception. Interviews are indeed a two-way street. They’re not just for the interviewer to assess your suitability for the role, but also for you to evaluate if the role and the company are right for you.

You might be thinking, “But how can I do that?” The answer is simple: by asking your own set of questions.

Questioning the interviewer shows that you’re engaged, proactive, and critically evaluating the opportunity, all positive attributes. More importantly, the answers you receive can provide valuable insights into the company culture, expectations, and potential for growth.

But what sort of questions should you ask?

Well, questions about the role’s responsibilities and expectations, team dynamics, or the company’s future plans can be insightful. For instance:

  1. “Could you describe a typical day in this role?”
  2. “What are the key challenges that this role will face in the next six months?”
  3. “How would you describe the team culture here?”
  4. “What does the company’s growth plan look like for the next few years?”

It’s crucial to ensure that your questions are appropriate and asked at the right time, typically towards the end of the interview. It’s about striking a balance between demonstrating your interest and not overwhelming the interviewer with too many questions.

Remember, a successful interview should leave both parties with a clear understanding of whether the fit is right. By being prepared to ask your own questions, you can ensure that you walk away with a comprehensive understanding of the opportunity, ready to make an informed decision.

In the next section, we’ll discuss how to further enhance your interview preparation by practising answering questions. Read on to round out your preparation!

Handshake following successful interview

Practice Makes Perfect: Mock Interviews and Question Practice

The old adage, “practice makes perfect,” couldn’t be more accurate when it comes to interviews. Now that we’ve discussed identifying your strengths, creating compelling career stories, and preparing insightful questions for the interviewer, let’s talk about the glue that binds all these elements together – practice.

Practising your responses is key to mastering the interview process. Not only does it boost your confidence, but it also helps you articulate your thoughts coherently and reduces the chances of being caught off guard.

So, how can you effectively practice interview questions?

Mock Interviews: One of the most effective methods is conducting mock interviews. Enlist a friend, family member, or mentor to play the role of the interviewer. This can be done in person or over video calls, mirroring the format of your actual interview. Ensure they have a list of potential questions they can ask, and encourage them to throw in some unexpected ones to simulate a real-life interview scenario.

Record and Review: Another method is to record yourself answering questions. Listening back can help you spot any recurring issues in your answers, be it verbal tics, overuse of filler words, or certain points where you might lack clarity. It’s an excellent way to self-assess and continually improve.

Mirror Practice: Practicing in front of a mirror can be incredibly useful, especially for understanding your body language and facial expressions. Both of these play a significant role in how you come across to an interviewer, so it’s worth paying attention to them.

Rehearse your stories: Keep practicing your CAR stories, adapting them to different questions. The more you practice, the more fluidly you’ll be able to weave them into your answers.

Remember, the goal isn’t to memorise answers word for word but to be comfortable with your key talking points. The aim is to maintain a natural, conversational tone while ensuring you’re effectively conveying your abilities and experiences.

In the final section, we’ll look at how these steps of interview preparation led to success for a Franchise Manager in a Biopharmaceutical company. Stay tuned to learn from this real-world example!

A lady working on her laptop at home
INTERVIEW WORKSHOP - £149

Gain confidence and learn the skills required to articulate your values and strengths with my Interview Workshop:

  • Successful Interview techniques & strategy session.
  • 1 X mock interview.
  • Feedback, reflection, and recommendation session.

Case Study: A Franchise Manager For a Biopharmaceutical Company

Let’s bring everything together with a client of mine Lucy – a Franchise Manager for a Biopharmaceutical company, who recently landed her dream job using the interview preparation techniques we’ve discussed.

Lucy knew that the position she was eyeing would be a leap forward in her career, so she wanted to be thoroughly prepared. She started her preparation months before the actual interview, treating it with the seriousness of training for a marathon.

The Personal SWOT Analysis: Lucy conducted a thorough personal SWOT analysis, diving deep into her strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This exercise helped her understand where she had to target her job search and shape her interview preparation.

Signature Strengths and Accomplishments: Lucy then identified her signature strengths, which included team management, strategic planning, and resilience. She also took the time to list her most significant accomplishments, such as successful project deliveries and initiatives she led at her current role.

Crafting Career Stories Using the CAR Method: Armed with her strengths and accomplishments, Lucy used the CAR method to craft compelling career stories. These stories, grounded in real-life experiences, demonstrated her skills, work ethic, and dedication.

Adapting Stories to Interview Questions: Lucy didn’t stop there. She adapted her stories to answer different interview questions, rehearsing them to ensure she could deliver relevant responses in the actual interview.

Questioning the Interviewer: Lucy also prepared her own set of questions for the interviewer. These were targeted to understand more about the role, the team she would be managing, and the company’s future growth strategies.

Mock Interviews and Practice: Finally, Lucy practiced. She roped in friends and family for mock interviews, recorded and reviewed her responses, and practiced her stories until she could tell them naturally and convincingly.

The result? Lucy excelled at every interview stage. Her preparation shone through, impressing the interviewers not just with her qualifications, but with her dedication, self-awareness, and strategic thinking. She was offered the job, thus stepping into the next exciting phase of her career.

Lucy’s story is a testament to the power of thorough, early, and well-thought-out interview preparation. Her success can be your success too – all it takes is the right mindset and the right preparation.

Interviews are not just about landing a job offer. They’re an opportunity to learn, grow, and gain a deeper understanding of your professional persona. So, start your preparation today, and remember, the journey is just as important as the destination. Best of luck!

Business men and women celebrating with champagne

Final Thoughts

A well-prepared career portfolio isn’t just a nice-to-have; it’s a powerful tool that can significantly optimise your career opportunities. According to a survey by Forbes, 85% of professionals who invested in developing a comprehensive career portfolio reported an improved ability to articulate their skills during interviews and increased their chances of landing the job.

Creating a career portfolio, including a personal SWOT analysis, identifying your signature strengths and accomplishments, crafting compelling career stories using the CAR method, and practicing potential interview questions, allows you to present yourself in the most appealing light to potential employers. It’s an in-depth journey into self-awareness and professional development, one that begins long before the actual interview.

Early preparation not only boosts your confidence but also shows the interviewer that you’re serious about the role. You aren’t just someone looking for a job; you’re a professional who understands their strengths, knows how to leverage them, and is eager to add value to the company.

This level of preparedness and introspection is what separates ordinary candidates from the extraordinary. It’s what makes you not just a suitable candidate, but an irresistible one.

So, let’s begin this journey of preparation today. Start early, stay committed, and watch as doors open and opportunities present themselves.

Are you ready to optimise your career opportunities and become the irresistible candidate that companies are eager to hire? I believe you are. Let’s get started!

Are you interested in improving your interviewing skills?

I have spent the last 10 years supporting companies ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies to find and the best talent around the world.  

During this time, I have:

✔️ Scanned and reviewed more than 26000 CVs.

✔️ Conducted over 7000 interviews.

✔️ Secured new jobs and promotions in 20 countries across 3 continents.

For the past 5 years I have been developing best practices and solutions to give job seekers more confidence in interviews.  I run 1:1 virtual interview workshops which show you how to articulate your values and strengths.  Just like in sport, perfect practice makes perfect interviewing.  Learn how to take on any interview with confidence with My Interview Workshop:

  • Successful Interview techniques & strategy session.
  • 1 X mock interview.
  • Feedback, recommendations, and reflections session.

Are you interested in working with me?

Email me today.

Best of luck,

Dave Crumby

Your Career Optimiser | Certified Leadership and Management Consultant

Winner of Most Supportive Career Branding Service 2022

MORE INSIGHTS TO OPTIMISE YOUR CAREER
A collage of the best CV Writers in the UK

Meet the UK's top CV writers, dedicated professionals who focus on presenting your skills and experiences in a way that...

READ MORE
3 photos of Linkedin and AI

Unlock the secrets to a successful job search in 2024 with our guide on crafting an AI-optimised LinkedIn profile. Learn...

READ MORE

Discover how recruiters search for candidates on LinkedIn with insights from a seasoned recruitment expert. Learn key strategies for optimizing...

READ MORE
A desk with a notebook that has the text new year new me

Unlock your potential in 2024. Discover practical strategies for goal setting, personal branding, and navigating the job market to achieve...

READ MORE