How do you prepare for an interview when you do not know the questions that will be asked? There is a way! Many companies ask behavioral-style interview questions. So even without knowing the exact question, you can still be ready to respond to any question they might throw at you. From my experience as a recruiter, I'd like to share some pointers.
First, think about your background and experience. What experiences are you proud of? Which were a struggle? Identify moments that stand out – times you learned something or demonstrated your skills. What are examples that convey who you are as a candidate and what you bring to the table? This is really what the interviewer is trying to learn during an interview. They are trying to get to know you you through your past experiences. If you need inspiration, try googling sample behavioral-style interview questions.
Then, to prepare for an interview, come up with about 5-10 true and specific experiences from your past. Try to think of at least five so you will have enough to pick from—but no more than 10 or you will have too many. These examples will be your library of prepared answers that you can pull from during an interview.
Now that you have your topics, you still need to ensure you are presenting them well and getting to the right level of detail. The best way to do this is using STAR. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result – this is the structure for your examples.
Situation (S) and Task (T) is your introduction. It is necessary to give the interviewer context to understand your example. But keep it brief – 1-2 sentences are usually enough. For example, “I had a Business Marketing class and I was assigned a project to create a marketing plan for a local business.”
Action (A) is the most important part. This is your opportunity to tell the interviewer what you actually did. What skills did you demonstrate? Why did you take the approach you did? What tools did you use to accomplish these actions? This is where you want to spend the most time.
Result (R) is the conclusion. This section is a wrap up. Some people even like to say, “This resulted in…” Tell me what happened. Did you get a good grade? Were you recognized by your team? Did you learn something? What did you take away from this experience? Again, keep this brief. Since you are wrapping up the story you should do this in a couple sentences.
That is the format! Take your 5-10 examples and put them in STAR. I recommend writing them down and then PRACTICING them. Tell them to your friends and family. Record yourself and listen to the play back. Did you get everything you wanted to cover across? Practicing will allow you to ensure you do not miss important parts of your example.
Now it is time for Interview Day! Once you are in an interview and a question is asked, take a second to think. At that point, you are going through your library of prepared and practiced examples, picking the best one, potentially modifying it slightly to answer the question asked, and then deliver your answer. You will find that the same example could be used to answer many different questions – it is all about what you emphasize in your answer. For example, a time that you did well with a class project could be used to show your ambition, analytical thinking, problem solving or communication skills depending on what part of it you want to focus on. In your Result (R) section, you can even connect your answer back to what was asked by saying, “This shows my ambition, analysis, etc. because…” You will find that these 5-10 examples should cover the vast majority of the questions asked.
With this approach, you will be all set to do great in your interview! Even if you do not know the questions ahead of time.
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