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Advice / Job Search / Interviewing

Are You Over-Preparing for Your Interview?

Shortly after graduating from college, I landed an interview for a media relations position with a major nonprofit organization. I was so excited and worked like mad to be beyond prepared for the event.

It didn’t matter to me that this job was located 70 miles from my home. It didn’t matter that it paid next to nothing. I had to have this job.

When the day of the interview arrived, I’d studied a gazillion possible interview questions. I’d practiced them in front of the mirror, studying my gestures and inflections closely. I’d cornered my sister and forced her to grill me over and over again.

I was so ready, it’s not even funny. What could possibly go wrong, right?

How about everything? Everything went wrong at that interview. I couldn’t focus on nor appreciate the conversation, because I was hell-bent on remembering my lines. They’d ask a question, I’d blurt out my canned response (with a well-practiced brow raise, of course). They’d ask another, I’d search my brain for the “right” answer and methodically volley something back.

No one actually met Jenny Foss the Human that day; they met her awkward alter ego, Jenny Foss the Robot.

Jenny Foss the Robot did not get that job, nor should she have. (Companies don’t hire robots; they buy them.)

Certainly, I was distraught afterward and cursed the interviewers for not realizing how much I could bring to the organization. (Duh, we all do that.) But when I really got quiet with myself, I realized how and why I’d bombed it:

I’d practiced way too much, and I came across as completely phony.

Learn from me here, people. You’ve got to find a balance between showing up like the kid whose dog ate her homework and rolling in R2-D2 style. It’s just as bad (or worse) to over-rehearse than it is to fly entirely by the seat of your pants.

You want to get it right? Consider instead these tips as you prepare for the next big interview.

Study Common Interview Questions, Then Consider How Your Experience Fits In

You’ll certainly benefit from Googling “common behavioral-based interview questions” and then thinking about how your experience fits in to these oft-asked questions. Just don’t write out the entire answer; instead, jot down a few notes or bullet points and keep them on hand for the interview itself. You’ll ensure you cover the bases—without reading from a script.


Know Your Own Story Well, So You Can Insert Examples Into the Questions

When you know your story inside and out, it’s much easier to apply examples to just about any interview question. So, spend the most time before the interview not rehearsing questions, but reflecting on your career chronology to date. Think about what you’re most proud of, what you struggled with, what you learned from the struggles, where you developed management skills, how you got to be so good at problem solving, and so on. When you’re confident with the specifics of your story, you’ll have a much easier time drawing from your experiences and articulating your worth, no matter what you’re asked.


Remember P-I-E

Studies show that the highest rated interviewees are those who seem positive, interested, and engaged (P-I-E) in the conversation. But it’s hard to pull off this trifecta when you’re obsessing over what question might be coming next and then scrambling to recall how you’re supposed to answer it. Focus more on being a thoughtful participant in the conversation than on trying to predict what’s coming next and how you’re going to respond. In other words, act just like you would if you were meeting anyone else for the first time.


Consider the 3 Things They're Hiring On 

Many people mistakenly think, “If I can show them that I know what I’m talking about, they’ll hire me.” Yes, of course, you have to demonstrate in the interview that you can do the job. But that’s only one of the three main things your interviewer is looking for: He or she also needs to feel that you’re likable and that you’ll fit in around the place. Focus less on regurgitating perfectly crafted answers, and more on demonstrating aptitude while being both likable and “like them.” Relax. Laugh. Roll with what’s happening and let a bit of your personality shine through. It’s just as important as showcasing your skills.

And finally:


This way, they’ll know for certain that you’re a human, not a robot.

Photo of woman interviewing courtesy of Shutterstock.