Make the process, but don't let it make you: A 5-step interview prep frameworkFeatured
Hi, I'm Jeneba Wint, a product manager for platform products and product content strategist.I've reinvented myself and have changed careers or roles within the technology industry three times within the last ten years. I started as a technical writer and I've been a UX writer and product content strategist and product manager. After over fifty interviews over the last two years, I learned a thing or two about preparing for the interview process. This is the advice I offer to friends and colleagues looking to change roles or switch careers.Preparing for interviews when you’re job hunting can be tiresome, annoying, stressful, and just a lot of work, whether it’s your dream job or not. To reduce some of that stress, I always encourage people to have a framework or a model they can repeat every time they find themselves on the job market. A framework or model that they can develop, tweak, repeat, and use to kill their interviews. Make the process, but don't let it make you. Keep in mind, you still need to keep your most authentic energy to answer interview questions with your unique solutions and processes in a way that no one else can do but you. When I am preparing for an interview I know that no one else can out due me at two things:1. Preparation - I prepare for the interview as if I’m back in an undergrad course or preparing for a final exam with a lot of homework, studying, and practicing.2. Authentic solutionizing and problem solving - No one else has my story or approach. Your processes and strategies for problem-solving are your unique identifiers. Create a notebook on yourself, almost like you’re studying for a class called Know Your Dopeness 101. Include your uniqueness factors and top differentiators, top skills and how you apply them, best case studies, career success and challenges and how you overcame them, opportunities for improvement and opportunities for excellence. After creating this notebook you will always be able to sell yourself and answer that all-time fave application interview question: Why should we hire you? Here’s how you package it all into a repeatable framework/model to crush your next interview.
Do Your HomeworkReally read that job description and analyze it line by line. Take notes on what you think the hiring manager is looking for and their state of mind when they wrote the job description. Think about what the ideal candidate is in the hiring manager’s eyes. Don’t stop there, go deeper, and take some time to understand why the founder created the company. Spend some time going through that line by line. Find something written about the company, hiring manager, and/or founder that you can connect with. Do the same thing with the LinkedIn profile of your hiring manager and look into the past companies they have worked for, previous job titles, articles written, and find relatable connection points that you can speak to. This is a good opportunity to look for common interests and experiences with your future boss and coworkers. Using this strategy, you can show off your research and storytelling skills and stand out from other candidates.
Evaluate Your SkillsSelf awareness is a beautiful thing, especially when interviewing. Before going into an interview, use that self-awareness to really evaluate your skillset as it compares line by line with what the job description requirements. You can do this using a skills matrix or a skills comparison which is used in the HR world to assess the skills needed for a project or a team. I usually create a table and in one column I copy all the bullet points from the job responsibilities section of the job posting. I use the other column to provide a corresponding personal example and a quick description for each of the job responsibilities from the job posting. Before going into a second interview, I use this as talking points during the interview to be able to speak to the responsibilities and requirements of the role and make sure that I can provide complimentary examples of the work I’ve done. By doing a simple skills matrix, I can speak confidently about my past experiences. To learn more about skills matrices, read through this blog article on how and why HR teams use skills matrices and how to create your own.
Create Case StudiesIf you haven’t already started documenting your work during your professional career, it’s not too late but you need to start ASAP. Think long and hard about all of your past projects, writing down all the tasks you did and deliverables you provided on a single project. Document the scope of the project and provide an overview of your role. Then write down or type out the state of the state before you started working on the project. This is what you were solving for. Now, you need to paint a vivid picture, with detailed examples of how you solved the problem, how you added value, and the impact of the work you did. Be sure to provide numbers, stats, and/or quantitative data here. This really provides the interviewer with a clear picture of your problem solving process and critical thinking skills in past experiences. User experience (UX) professionals have some of the most visually stunning strategies for presenting their work in the form of portfolios which is just a collection of case studies. Check out these UX best practices on creating case studies to present your work.
Practice Then Polish There are general questions that all hiring managers at tech companies will ask, but then there are questions specific to your disciple, for example, software engineering, customer success, or UX design. Try to get your hands on a few Medium articles, books or YouTube videos on top interview questions with best practices for answering questions specific to your discipline or line of work and then practice, practice and practice some more. Tweak your answers based on your personal work experiences and then iterate. Don’t try to overcomplicate things here or sound overly smart. Use plain English answers. The trick here is to get to the question behind the question, meaning what is the intention or motive behind the question. Here are some quick steps to put it into practice:Step 1: Start with 10 questions that you think you may be asked based on the top interview questions in your discipline. Step 2: Come up with a script on how you will answer each question and either write it down or type it out. Step 3: Add a compelling story to each of your responses. Provide specific real-life examples from your past experiences to each response. For example, you may say something like, “I enjoy working with diverse, cross-functional teams on a daily basis to solve problems and find solutions. In the past I have worked with marketing, engineering, customer support, UX design teams, and more.” Add to this by highlighting key takeaways on how or why your specific example was a success and viola...you have a system for the perfect answer every time. Step 4: Practice reading the answers out loud and continue to practice each question and answer up until the day of your interview.
Be Flexible...Stay ReadyYou know the saying, “Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.” Well, ultimately the interviewing game is about preparation. Be sure to ask about and truly understand your interview process. You want to know what kind of interview to expect, whether it's a group interview, panel interview, behavior interview, or situational interview. If you are going to be whiteboarding or live coding, you want to be so prepared for it that you are comfortable and it feels like second nature. Practice presenting on a few of your past projects and live coding or whiteboarding the solution out in front of an audience at home. Your strategy should include describing the current state, explaining the problem, providing your solution and explaining the result or outcome. Practicing your presentation with an audience, going through scenarios, and a question/answer session will make a potential presentation interview a cake walk. --Jeneba is a creative technologist with over six years experience leading SAAS digital product development projects. As a data-driven product strategist and user experience storyteller, she focuses on digital transformation and digital product management within startups to large enterprise corporations. Her secret sauce is product language and how to drive product engagement, adoption and optimization using the words you see within an interface. A good product experience makes her happier than a kid in a candy store!