Secrets to Success Job Seekers Edition: There’s no such thing as too much preparation

Apr 25, 2009 by

So you’ve identified and articulated what you want, you’ve taken the time to carefully prepare and personalize an application and you’ve utilized all the tools at your disposal. Now, you have an interview for the perfect job – congrats! Except…what are you supposed to do now?
Here is where things come down to the core issue behind all the posts in this series: preparation. I don’t think I can overstate the importance of being prepared. Yeah it’s the boy scout motto and all, but I think people often don’t take it seriously enough. I’ve sat through a million meetings where the organizer was unprepared and watched as unprepared people try to answer questions at meetings I’ve organized. I’m sure you have too. And if you have, you know it’s frustrating. If its frustrating to deal with unprepared coworkers, imagine how frustrating and off-putting it must be for employers trying to hire someone who isn’t prepared.

Don’t be one of these people! It’s not that hard to anticipate the kind of questions people are going to ask in interviews. All you have to do is a simple Google search to come up with several websites that list basic interview questions. I suggest you do just that, for starters. If you’ve followed some of my other bits of advice you should already be able to name your greatest strengths and explain your key skills.

Flickr photo by Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library

Flickr photo by Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library

Taking it a little further though will make you really shine. Go back through the job description where you’ve already highlighted and numbered the key skills the employer wants. Think carefully about how you can help the organization achieve its goals. Then, write – yes, physically pull out a piece of paper and write – out your answers to all the obvious questions as well as clear examples of how you’ve accomplished a particular task well.

Why examples? Well, have you ever noticed that employers often put the word ‘demonstrated’ in job descriptions? As in: “shows a demonstrated ability” to reach revenue goals OR build diverse coalitions OR communicate clearly OR whatever. They want to know that you’ve done something before and they want to know exactly how you did it.

I’ll give you an example from my recent job search. An employer wanted to know that I had a demonstrated ability to serve as a liaison between state and local partner organizations and the national organization, especially in policy matters. I explained to them that at a previous job I had routinely taken complex policy documents about key bills developed by national office staff and ‘translated’ them into more accessible language for state and local partners to use. I had also followed up with the state and local partners to gather any questions they had and took them back to my coworkers for further clarification. You can bet that as I offered that example, they were plugging themselves into it and seeing the easy connections between my experience and their needs.

(It’s worth it to note here that just like all people and organizations, your prospective employer is ‘selfish.’ I don’t mean in a mean or rude way; I mean that they want to know how you can help THEM and not the other way around. Though looking and interviewing for a new job can be nerve-wracking and stressful, try to keep in mind that its always about them; if you can demonstrate how you can fit your cog into their machine, you’re in.)

Once you’ve written out all your answers to the questions, practice answering them out loud. If you can, get a friend to ‘interview’ you over the phone or in person (my dear friend Candice helped me prepare for a phone interview this way). Keep those notes in a folder and look over them at least a few times before your actual interview. I even carry mine with me to the interview so I can prepare in the final moments.

Of course, there is other preparation you should be doing too that I hope is a little more obvious. Research the organization extensively; print off some of their key documents and their mission statement; Google the person or persons who will be interviewing you to get a sense of their experience and again, keep all this in your folder.

Get prepared physically too. Please, please just go buy a suit. If you’re a recent college grad I know it can seem expensive or intimidating to buy a suit, but you can’t do without it (this is one expense that is actually worth putting on your credit card). Even if you have to wear the same one to multiple interviews, do it. No one will notice and you’ll look a thousand times better than the sloppy kids I’ve seen come in and out of interviews. Also, pay attention to your body language – don’t slouch or pick at yourself or fidget too much. (All this stuff is the kind of thing you get better at with practice; trust me.)

Maybe this all seems like a lot, but I know that it has increased my success rate in getting jobs. And hey, in the end, even if you don’t get the job at least you’ll know that you were totally prepared for it.


I hope you’ve enjoyed this series and been able to get something out of it. Please let me know what you think by leaving a comment below, tweeting me or emailing me. And let me know what you want to see next on the blog!


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