Take Control of Your Interview: No Experience Needed
The Winning Interview Mindset and How to Give Authentic Answers
The interview: it's the meeting standing between you and your goals. For many, the question-and-answer session where someone evaluates your character, skillset, and abilities can be intimidating. In the same way that an entrepreneur sells his/her product to accredited investors, candidates must pitch the product, themselves, to potential employers. The thought of being evaluated by others is something inherently nerve-wracking. Most people enter an interview with the hopes of saying the “right thing” and portraying themselves the “right way” to gain the approval of the interviewer. There is an overwhelming pressure to put up an artificial front to say what you think the interviewer wants to hear. This is a damaging mentality that could potentially lower your chance of success because it lacks authenticity. Some people alter their resumes based on the opportunity they are applying to, and this is an effective way of highlighting relevant skills. Authenticity results from a strong sense of identity. It’s the ability to find value in your own personal experience and apply it to a new role. This mindset will make you think about what you can bring to the position rather than how you’ll fit into it.
Know Your Story
It’s daunting to prepare for the countless combinations and variations of questions that could be asked during an interview. Instead of having answers prepared for specific questions, it’s important to know your story. What does this mean? It means understanding who you are, how you got here, and where you’re going. For any job or competitive opportunity, there will always be a “perfect” candidate on paper with the inherent indicators of success to include a degree, credentials, and job-specific experience. The “perfect” candidate could be describing you and it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll succeed above others with lesser qualifications. A resume depicts what you’ve done, but the interview is an opportunity to reflect on how what you’ve done has shaped who you are.
What to Do When You Have Little Prior Experience
At the start of everyone’s professional career their resume is inevitably lacking relevant experience. This is especially common among college students looking to join organizations with competitive membership on campus or major-related internships. This is a perfect opportunity to make your story valuable. The first step is to identify the values and lessons you took away from significant life events, experiences, and challenges that you’ve encountered. Here are some basic examples:
Desire to learn
It’s easy to reference relevant work experience and accomplishments. Knowing your story and effectively using it to back up your values is what fosters authenticity.
For example, let’s say you want to highlight your leadership skills in an upcoming interview. If you’ve led a team, then take it a step further and discuss 1) Your personal confidence before taking on the new responsibility, 2) The difficulties you faced along the way, 3) How you overcame the obstacles and 4) How it made you better. By presenting your answer in this format, you’ve not only answered the question and referenced relevant leadership, but also took control of your interview by sharing your story. There’s a difference between the experience itself and the process you endured within it. This not only makes you a leader, but also a person who has displayed grit, operated under stress, and rose to the challenge to lead a successful team.
Now, what if you’ve never been a formal leader in a professional environment? Once again, take control of your interview and don’t discredit your authentic experience. How have you succeeded as a member of a team? What have you learned from your superiors that you hope to implement or not make a part of your leadership style? You may not have taken on a leadership role yet, but your perspective as a team member can make you successful in a new and different position. Understanding your story and extracting your core values from authentic experiences is key when your “paper” credentials may not suffice.
Weakness is a Strength
The dreaded question, “what’s your greatest weakness?” almost seems wrong to ask in a setting where your goal is to showcase your abilities. Instantly, the interview takes a negative turn when you begin to depict weak points. In the same way, an investor may ask an entrepreneur to reveal a fault in the product he/she is pitching for an investment. Many people are hesitant to answer this question because they see weakness as vulnerability. Don’t be like those people; change your perspective and take control of your interview.
Turn a negative question into a positive answer; you should be most excited to answer this question because it’s an opportunity to demonstrate a growth mindset. If an entrepreneur claimed to have no flaws in his/her product, most investors would be skeptical. The ability to identify faults is proof that the entrepreneur has a methodical and solid business plan. Everyone has weaknesses. The ability to identify deficiencies within yourself is the only way to be better and it proves that you are self-aware enough to do it. Now, here’s how to do it:
Self-reflect on instances where you’ve failed or when you didn’t get the outcome you wanted. Then, take responsibility for your deficiencies and be receptive to external feedback.
Change your mindset. A growth mindset is engrained in the belief that our capabilities are not predetermined and can be improved over time.
Be accountable for your internal dialogue. Your mind is powerful and negative thoughts lead to negative outcomes.
Your goal should be to turn the weakness into a newly equipped strength. Actively work towards this goal each day by implementing small, manageable, and measurable changes.
Now, how does this four-step process come into play when an interviewer asks you to self-proclaim a weakness? Let’s say you are terrible at giving presentations in front of large groups of people and this is part of the necessary skillset to be successful in your sought-after role.
Self-reflect: Identify times where you displayed weakness while speaking in front of others. Were you prepared or could you have practiced more? How did you react when you began to fail?
Change your mindset: Believe that you are great at public speaking. You pinpoint shortcomings that resulted in the failed presentation like limiting your everyday opportunities to speak in front of others and relying heavily on filler words that caused you to lose your train of thought and panic. You are a capable speaker and have pinpointed two areas that need improvement to allow you to realize your full potential. This is a growth mindset.
Be accountable: Find a way to convince yourself that the weakness is an opportunity. If you are a great writer and find difficulty voicing your knowledge, then focus on what you’re good at. Think of public speaking as another way to share the words you put on paper.
Your goal: Work towards making your weakness a strength by starting small. Challenge yourself to speak up in class and voice opinions in front of other people. Start explaining the concepts you write about verbally to build confidence in your knowledge and avoid panic during formal situations. Make the goal measurable by deciding to ask one question per class per day.
When asked about your greatest weakness, be prepared. It’s an opportunity to share your process for self-improvement. Explaining the process is far more effective than offering an example of a self-proclaimed strength. In any job, there will be times where you are challenged. By responding with resilience, you prove your ability to overcome unforeseen obstacles and master new skills demanded along the way.
A Two-Way Street
In this article, we’ve discussed the importance of “your story” and how authenticity is key to making your experience relevant and finding opportunity in your weaknesses. This is the foundation to not only being a top applicant, but also ensuring that acquiring the new position will equally serve you. If you’re compromising yourself to fill a role, then consider seeking alternative opportunities. A job interview tends to be perceived as one sided but remember that your employer needs you just as much as you need them. One way to be proactive about evaluating whether a position will return value is to ask the interviewer questions when given the chance. The winning interview mindset provides the necessary foundation to answer the variety of questions that could be asked and gives you the ability to assess whether an opportunity is valuable to you.