I know that preparing for interviews can seem like a waste of time sometimes. In the basic sense, it is just having a conversation, so why not just go in with the attitude of: “I’m just gonna go in there, be myself, answer their questions with great stories, and knock the interviewer’s socks off.” And the answer is, because that probably isn’t how it will go at all if you don’t do any prep work, like having answers for common questions prepared.
When I was up in Chicago for the MBA Veteran’s conference, I participated in a conversation with some fellow combat arms vets that probably could have been titled: The greatest hits of terrible interview question answers. The questions that were asked in the interviews were generally along the lines of:
“Tell me about a time you were in a seemingly impossible situation, how did you find an innovative solution?”
“Tell me about a time when you were under a lot of stress and had to make a difficult decision?”
“Describe a time when you worked as part of a team to meet a seemingly impossible goal?”
“Describe a time when you used your leadership skills in order to resolve a conflict?”
As a former infantryman who went on multiple overseas deployments, I have a fair amount of experience working in adverse situations, making difficult decisions, working as a part of a team, and using leadership skills. But, as the mental Rolodex clicks through my life’s story, the first experience that comes to mind for any of those questions is not one that I am going to use in a job interview. The reason I say that isn’t because I lack pride in my time as a Marine, or am ashamed of what I did overseas or anything like that. The reason is that the interviewer is not going to be able to understand how to translate those answers into potential value for the company. During a job/internship interview, the potential employee has to show that it would add value to the company to bring them on board. If your answer takes the interviewer to a situation and place that they will never understand, full of acronyms and jargon that sounds like a foreign language, they are not going to be able to grasp the value that you can add to their company through your past experiences. Instead of stories appropriate for the VFW hall, focus on positive stories, that showcase skills like the ability to work as part of a team, be a leader, use time management efficiently, make timely decisions, ect…
So, in my humble opinion, if you are in a situation where you are going to be going to interviews, taking the time to think through some answers to typical behavioral interviewing questions. That is what I have done, and now I have alternative experiences to draw on, and don’t need to rely on the first experience that comes to mind when someone asks me about a time when everything was going wrong, and success seemed impossible.
I know this post seems rather veteran-centric, but I think it applies to everyone. It is a good idea to think before you speak in an interview, and make sure that your story conveys a sense of added value to the company that they will be able to understand. That generally isn’t something that is going to happen without some prep work ahead of time.