Interview Preparation

As you’ve seen, succeeding in an interview requires a great deal of preparation. In fact, you should expect to spend more time preparing for an interview than you will participating in the interview itself, including following up afterward. Let’s get into some proven strategies to be a top notch interview candidate.

Research the Employer

An interview presents a great opportunity to show your prospective employer that you’re excited to work for them and that you’re giving due consideration to how well the organization aligns with you and your career development goals. So, spend some time learning about the company: what does it do? What are its mission, goals, and values? You can find great information about your target employer in a number of places:

  • The job posting
  • The company web site
  • LinkedIn (look for its company page. Also, why not reach out to current and former employees and request an informational interview? Learn about informational interviews in Module 3 of this series, Networking and LinkedIn)

A classic manila folder--a page peeks out from inside itPortfolio Activity #23 – Research the Company

Let’s practice researching a company using just its web site. Think of an organization you’d like to work for, or use Canadian Tire as your example. Open a new internet browser tab and find the company web site. Try using a search engine, like Google.ca.

Research the Job

Researching the job you are interviewing for is the most important step you will take to prepare for the interview. This is because employers tailor interviews to determine how good a fit the candidate is for the job in question. If you have a good idea what the job requires, you’ll be well positioned to prepare effectively for your interview.

So, just as you’ve spent time learning about the company, learn about the job by looking closely at the job posting or by reading the job description if one is available. You will get valuable clues about what is most important to the employer in a job candidate.

Let’s say you have applied to the job posting below, and have been called for an interview:

Job: Project Manager, Construction
Employer: Anytown Foundry & Machine
Location: Anytown, ON
Terms of employment: Permanent, Full time, Day
Languages: English
Education: Undergraduate degree or equivalent experience
Experience: Experience an asset
Specific Skills:

  • Select trade subcontractors and co-ordinate their activities
  • Plan and manage budgets
  • Plan and prepare construction schedules and milestones
  • Implement policies and procedures for quality control
  • Prepare reports
  • Plan, organize, direct, control and evaluate daily operations

Computer Applications: MS Excel; MS Word; AutoCAD; MS Office; MS Outlook; MS Project
Additional Skills:

  • Read blueprint, schemas, and drawings
  • Hire and supervise activities of subcontractors

Work Setting: Industrial construction
Security and Safety: Bondable; Drug test; Criminal record check
Travel Information: Valid driver’s license

Work Conditions:

  • Fast-paced environment
  • Work under pressure
  • Attention to detail
  • Tight deadlines

Personal Suitability:

  • Effective interpersonal skills
  • Flexibility
  • Team player
  • Excellent oral communication, excellent written communication
  • Organized

Answer the following questions based solely on information from the job posting.

“What Are Your Weaknesses?”

Imagine walking into an interview where you already know all the questions that will be asked and you are poised to provide polished, impressive answers to the interviewers. This is the value of knowing both the most common interview questions and the questions you are most likely to be asked for the specific job for which you’re interviewing.

A classic manila folder--a page peeks out from inside itPortfolio Activity #24 – Brainstorming Weaknesses

Imagine walking into an interview where you already know all the questions that will be asked, and you are poised to provide polished, impressive answers to the interviewers. This is the value of knowing both the most common interview questions and the questions you are most likely to be asked for the specific job for which you’re interviewing.

Watch this 6 minute video by Linda Raynier on how to answer the interview question “what are your weaknesses?”

In completing the portfolio activity above, you may have noticed that the purpose of an interview question may not always be obvious and that it is helpful to know why the interview is asking a question and what information they are looking for from you. Download this PDF resource that addresses common interview questions, why the interviewer is asking the question, and the information they’re looking for. If you’ve completed all the prior modules in this course, you’ll be familiar with what the STAR framework is and how you can make it work for you; if you’re just joining us for this module, we’ll dig into the STAR framework a little later on!

“Tell Me About Yourself”

“Tell me about yourself” is one of the most common questions you will be asked as an interviewee and it is often asked early on. So, knowing how to structure your answer will make a great positive impression from the start. Structure your answer using a Present-Past-Future format:

  • Present: briefly explain where you are now in terms of your career, whether in terms of training, work, or both. Explain what you do and recount a positive accomplishment.
  • Past: indicate how you got where you are, for example via education and/or past experiences.
  • Future: indicate what you’re looking to do next and show how the position you’re applying for aligns with how you envision your future

Here’s an example:

Question:

Why don’t you tell us a little about yourself and why you’re here today?

Answer:

Sure. My name is Janice and for the past year, I’ve been working at a co-op placement at Infosplit, doing database maintenance. I also have some background in data analysis and I’m nearing completion of a computer science degree.

I’ve always been good with numbers and interested in big data. For example, during my placement at Infosplit, I made some recommendations to improve the quality of data inputs. This allowed for more robust analytics by the reporting department.

Moving forward, I hope to expand my experience, ideally in the not-for-profit sector. I’m particularly interested in the important work being done by children‘s charities, which is why this opportunity is so appealing to me.

A classic manila folder--a page peeks out from inside itPortfolio Activity #25 – Tell me about yourself

Now that you know how to answer the interview question “Tell me about yourself”, take a few moments to practice how you might answer that question if you were interviewing for your next target job. You’ll get to practice forming responses in past, present, and future tenses.

Determine Likely Questions

One of the most valuable things a job posting can do is provide clues as to what the specific questions will be in the interview. As noted at the start of this module, employers conduct interviews to confirm 3 things:

  1. If you have the abilities and skills to do the job;
  2. If you will fit well with the team and the organization; and
  3. If you have enthusiasm and a good work ethic.

By looking closely at a job posting, you can often identify what the employer is looking for (and thus, what the employer is likely to ask during an interview). Let’s say you have applied to the job posting below and have been called for an interview.

XYZ Canada

Oshawa, ON

Full-time · Entry level

We’re XYZ, a three-time Best Places to Work award winner in Insurance. We enable client success through the expertise of over 400 employees based in Canada (and more than 3,000 employees globally), investments in innovative technologies, and ensuring quality relationships with highly-rated insurers, vendors, and financial institutions.

We’re growing our Administrator team. We are looking for an Insurance Coordinator to interact with clients on a day-to-day basis while managing a variety of administrative tasks.  This role will serve an essential function in servicing, guiding, and resolving our clients’ billing issues .

What You’ll Do

  • Coordinate and process insurance claims and communicate with claims adjusters
  • Prepare pre-renewal client information packages, assist clients with any questions
  • Reporting of claims where required
  • Assist front line service and sales staff with various service requests as needed
  • Other duties as assigned

With this role, you will open the door to an exciting career growth opportunity with XYZ and be a valued member and key partner in ensuring client satisfaction. XYZ will cover additional training on our specific software and insurance requirements so you can succeed in this role.

What You Bring

  • Customer service and/or administrative experience in ensuring client-focused services – preferably in finance or insurance
  • Strong ability to work collaboratively in a remote/hybrid environment
  • Strong time management and organizational skills; quick learner
  • Ability to consistently meet deadlines independently and comfort with fast-paced, changing environments
  • Knowledge of payment options, insurance coverage, and risk management best practices is an asset
  • Experience with industry software is an asset
  • Strong computer and data maintenance skills with variety of applications and ability to learn proprietary systems and proficiency in Microsoft Office

Based solely on information from the job posting, it’s likely that you’ll be able to predict some of the questions of topics that will be addressed during the interview. Below you’ll see a number of quotes from the above posting. Before clicking them open to see what the likely question or topic is, see if you can guess them yourself.

Once you have determined the questions that will most likely be asked, you’ll be able to prepare your answers to interview questions in advance! That way, when the time comes for the interview:

  1. You’re more likely to provide the information the interviewer is looking for in a way that has the strongest impact;
  2. You won’t be stuck trying to think of answers on the spot;
  3. You’ll feel more confident; and
  4. You’ll appear more confident.

Using the STAR framework

The STAR framework is a concept that is explained in Module 1 under the “Articulating Your Skills” heading. This section will help contextualize ways of using the STAR framework to your advantage while interviewing. You might find it useful to complete the associated activity linked to above, as it will ask you to craft accomplishment statements for your portfolio that you can use in your resume.

 

The STAR framework is the method to use when responding to behavioural interview questions where the interviewer asks you to recount an occasion where you faced a certain situation and had to take some action (for example: “Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a conflict”).

Once you have determined what questions you are likely to be asked, prepare scenarios from your experiences – from work, education, placements, volunteering, etc. – where you demonstrated the skills and knowledge required for the target job. Instead of merely telling the interviewer you have the skills they seek, your answers to these questions give proof of those skills.

S-T-A-R stands for Situation, Task (or Tactics), Action, and Result: when responding to behavioural interview questions, be sure to include all of those elements.

Situation: briefly describe the specific situation you were in (What was the context? Who was involved? What problem needed to be solved? etc.).

Task/Tactics: what was your responsibility in the situation? Explain your thought process and the options considered.

Action: describe the course of action you took, step by step. Explain your rationale for taking the action you did.

Result: what was the positive outcome generated by your action? (E.g., What was accomplished, improved, or learned?)

Here’s an example of the STAR framework in action, being applied to answer the following interview question: “Sometimes customers can be angry. Give an example of how you have handled this in the past?”

If you want some additional information on the STAR framework, you can read this article by Alison Doyle which details examples of the framework being used to answer interview questions.

Now that you’re familiar with STAR Framework, try ordering the phrases found below to formulate a STAR response to the following interview question:

“Tell me about a time when you had to be strategic in order to meet all of your priorities.”


A classic manila folder--a page peeks out from inside itPortfolio Activity #26 – STAR Framework (redux)

Choose one of the following behavioural interview questions. In the document building tool below, practice your answer using the STAR framework. Remember, the examples you use can come not just from prior work experiences, but also projects you completed at work, school, or home.

  1. We all make mistakes we wish we could take back. Tell me about a time you wish you’d handled a situation differently.
  2. Describe a time when you saw some problem and took the initiative to correct it rather than waiting for someone else to do it.

Questions For the Employer

You learned early in this module that a typical interview consists not only of questions by the employer for the candidate, but a chance for the candidate to ask questions of the employer. Don’t miss this opportunity! Asking questions shows that you are engaged in the conversation, interested in the company and the job, and that you are enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and prepared. This is another chance for you to demonstrate your understanding of the company and the position, restate your skills and why you would be a great hire, and show your interest and passion for the work you hope to do with the organization. So, be prepared to ask 2-3 questions during your interview. Here are some ideas:

If the interviewer has not already described what to expect for next steps in the selection process, this is a good time to ask. For example, you might ask “What are the next steps in the interview process?” or “Do you have an ideal start date in mind?” Remember, this is not the time for your questions about salary, benefits, or vacation time. Save those questions for when a job offer is extended. For now, focus on showing that you are the right person for the job.

You can take this a step further by framing your research as questions. You might ask about something the company is currently involved with, such as an upcoming project, event, or what is relevant for professionals in the field right now.  Here’s an example: “I noticed that you have recently partnered with OPIRG to deliver some workshops to community groups. Since I would be involved with outreach, would I be assisting with this project, and, if so, in what ways?”

So, in short, be prepared to ask 2-3 questions during your interview. Here are some ideas:

A classic manila folder--a page peeks out from inside itPortfolio Activity #27 – Questions for the employer

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