One of the career management subjects about which I am asked most frequently is how to prepare for the in-depth interview with the recruiter or the prospective employer’s interview team.

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Roger, a Vice President of Communications Strategy from New York emailed me recently: 

“John, I like your blogs and videos, especially those on the interview process.  I have learned the hard way that being prepared for the interview is vital.  I understand how to research the prospective employer, but how do I prepare for a 90-minute interview?  I cannot possibly anticipate every question they might ask.”

Roger, thanks for writing.  Good question. The interview process is where most jobs are won or lost.  It is a unique communications form about which most managers and executives have little experience – it is hopefully not something you do a lot.

Roger Is Right!

Unless you have mystical powers Roger, I agree with you.  You cannot possibly anticipate all the questions you will be asked, especially in this day of behavior and values interviews.

However, there are steps you can take to prepare to be more effective at the interview table.

First, there are certain core questions that you will be asked in almost every interview:

  • Tell us about yourself? – Value Brand Statement
  • Why do you want to work here?  – Research regarding the employer
  • What are your strengths?  – Emotional Intelligence
  • What will your direct reports say are your weaknesses?  – Self Awareness
  • Tell us about your leadership style? – Self Awareness
  • Tell us about your biggest success in your current or most recent position? – Self Assessment
  • Tell us about your biggest mistake? – Self Assessment
  • Why did you leave or why do you want to leave your current organization?

These questions can be asked and answered in 15 – 20 or so minutes. Now you have more than an hour to deal with all types of questions, from subject matter expertise, hypothetical reaction questions or those regarding your soft skills.

Interview Question Categories

Depending on your title and scope of responsibility there are five to eight categories from which these questions are based.  They run the gamut from finance, operations, leadership, human resources, marketing, governance and regulatory compliance.

Create a chart with each category and think about questions you might be asked, especially those that you hope they won’t ask!  Jot down examples of your scope of responsibility, metrics, success stories, examples of where you overcame challenges to succeed.  You cannot anticipate specific questions but this type of preparation in which you are, in effect, thinking about the questions you would ask if you were conducting the interview in advance will help you be more effective in selling your value.

The best advice I can give you is either hire a professional coach who will put you through two or three mock interviews, or enlist the help of a spouse, partner or friend.  Create a list of questions and practice.   At John G Self Partners, we record each Mock Interview so you can have a record of each session.  We provide immediate feedback with suggested alternative approaches to improve your effectiveness.