Flip the Script on Job Interview Preparation

question mark on its side for flipping the scriptJob interview preparation can feel overwhelming. When I’m coaching, people often ask how it’s possible to anticipate all the questions they’ll be asked, so they can be ready for them.

My response: don’t. There’s a better way.

Too many questions

There are literally thousands of questions that an interviewer might ask you. Even if it were possible to memorize and polish answers to those thousands of questions (ps: it’s not), you’d eventually be faced with a question you didn’t anticipate.

Flip the script. Don’t think about the questions*. For better job interview preparation, think about the answers instead.

What are the right answers?

First, think about the jobs you normally apply for. Read the job postings carefully. What are the aspects of your experience that are most likely to be evaluated in an interview?

For most careers, technical skills will be part of it. The functional things you know how to do, that allow you to perform the job. Over and above these baseline technical skills, though, there’s more. The capabilities and attributes that distinguish a great candidate from the others.

Depending on your line of work, these might be things like …

Leadership abilities. How are you as a manager and a supervisor?

Communication skills. How effective are you getting your point across and understanding others?

Team building capability. Can you bring a group together to achieve a common goal?

Problem solving skills. When you hit a snag, how quickly and creatively can you move past it?

Try to identify at least three or four areas of skill that are commonly assessed in your interviews.

Got the list?

Now, think about the times when you best showed those skills and abilities. Those are the foundation of your stories.

Story time!

‘Stories’ really is the best way to think about these. They’re the most effective way to get your point across, to show how you put your skills to use. The acronym ‘STAR’ can help you structure these stories – touch on the ‘Situation’ that was happening, the ‘Task’ that you (and any others) needed to complete, your ‘Actions’, and the ‘Result’.

If you’ve got about a dozen stories in your pocket, you might still be wondering what happens if the interviewer stumps you. If they ask a question that doesn’t relate to one of those stories.

That will not happen. I promise.

Your stories are like a Swiss Army knife. They’re multi-purpose. You can use any of them to to answer a bunch of interview questions.

Got a story about a challenging hands-on situation you dealt with? That might be a good answer to a question like, ‘Tell me about a time when you ran into a problem that you couldn’t solve at first’. Or ‘What’s the most challenging technical hurdle you’ve overcome?’

The story about a problematic relationship with a co-worker? You could use that for, ‘Tell me about the most difficult person you’ve had to deal with’. Or ‘How do you resolve conflict in the workplace?’. Or even, ‘What was a challenging teamwork problem you dealt with?’

A story about a difficult customer might answer questions about any number of things. Your sales acumen, or your customer service abilities. Your problem solving skills, or your ability to communicate effectively.

It’s virtually impossible to anticipate every question you might be asked in an interview. If you come at the problem from the other direction, however, you’re almost certain to have a great answer to any question you’re asked.

Flip the script, and you’ll be better prepared and ready to ace your next job interview.



* As usual, there are several exceptions to every rule.

Some interview questions are almost universal. For example …

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What are your strengths? Your weaknesses?
  • Where do you see yourself in [X] years?
  • Why do you want to work here? Why should we hire you?

Since you’re almost guaranteed to be asked these questions, it pays to plan for and practice your answers to them.


Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash