Interview Questions: Bring It On

Career Blog

Published: July 29, 2019 by Greta Snyder

Preparing for a job interview? Then prepare to be caught off-guard with surprising behavioral questions those questions designed to assess how you deal with unanticipated circumstances. First of all, trust your interviewer, they do this all the time so don’t doubt the point of the question. Instead focus on entertaining and impressing. Cool, but how do you do that? By identifying the goal of the question and using your creative problem-solving skills to address the objective with a compelling and clear anecdote. Don’t let the nature of the questions, no matter how weird or intimidating, fill you with doubt. The interviewer wants to get to know you and what it would be like to work with you. Be yourself, see yourself in the job role and take center stage. Be the star of your own interview!

Interviews are your chance to shine

Think of preparing for an interview like preparing for a performance. Even if you aren’t the theatrical type, at some point you were performing in a school play, playing an instrument at a band recital, presenting a project to a class, speaking at a friend’s wedding, or trying your best not to be nervous on a first date. These past experiences no doubt demonstrated the value of rehearsal, and it’s true, practicing your interview responses is an important part of your interview strategy. But with behavioral questions, being prepared to be caught off-guard elevates your performance to the level of sheer improvisational magic.So, don’t hesitate to be the star and go for that Academy Award. I live in Hollywood, and if you share your success stories with me, I will find the perfect knock-off Oscar trophy for “Best Interview Performance,” or “Most Impressive Spontaneous Response to a Seemingly Irrelevant Question.” Go ahead and prepare your acceptance speech, as the tips I am about to share will surely get you the nomination, and (fingers-crossed) the award and/or job.

Commit to the role:  act like you are already have the job

Interviews are all about committing to the role. Go in thinking you are the best candidate for a position. Get into character by imagining you already have the job and are in the role; think of the interviewer more like a new co-worker asking for advice about how to succeed with the organization and in the position for which you are applying. What advice would you give? Share specific stories using the STAR structure (read more here on my pervious post) and be sure to describe the outcome in measurable ways.

Read the job description over and over

Okay, so of course you’ve read the job description, but have you actually done this with a purpose? Besides salivating over how exciting the opportunity sounds, really zero in on the key skills identified. Then match your experiences with these skills or job responsibilities to build a mental library of reference points. As this helpful article from Big Interview points out, each behavioral question you will be asked focuses on a desired competency, so scan the job description for keywords and think of a time you demonstrated these skills. This way you will have examples ready to roll. Read my recent posts: “Did You Read the 2019 SJSU ‘MLIS Skills at Work’ Report?” and “The Secret Key to Finding the Perfect job” to learn more about keywords.

To really excel in the interview, here are some additional recommendations from Big Interview and Glassdoor:

  • Identify what types of problems you would be solving in the role to focus your list of concrete examples.
  • Understand that problem-solving questions are meant to assess your initiative, creativity, resourcefulness, analytic thinking, decision making, and determination.
  • Keep answers results-oriented by providing deliverable metrics and a clear timeline and outcome, e.g., “By focusing marketing efforts to increase our organization’s online presence through social media, I increased user participation in our online services by 35% in one quarter.”
  • The interviewer is trying to assess how you approach and execute a task or project: can you develop a strategy and align your work with the objectives and values of the organization? So, they are really asking: “do you have a vision and follow through; can you prove it?” and “what is your time-management strategy, how do you prioritize and manage projects?”
  • Select strong, relevant stories and realize that here, in this interview right now, you can be the hero.
  • Keep in mind that communication skills and teamwork are listed in almost every job description, so your ability to communicate in the interview and have striking examples of how you worked with a team towards a common goal and how you achieved it are key.
  • Change management: questions about your ability to lead change or thrive in constantly changing environments is an increasing common question, if not in direct leadership roles think of times you demonstrated flexibility and adaptability and support co-workers in navigating change.

By preparing examples for the skills listed in the job description, you will be ready no matter what question is thrown at you by confidently fielding those questions and demonstrating your communication dexterity and the depth and breadth of your skill set. Focus on how you accomplished tasks and projects and come ready to engage.

Unexpected questions – use what you’ve learned

Come to the interview prepared to think on the spot. Be eager for the chance to be challenged and learn new things – it’s always smart to demonstrate your curiosity about the job and the organization.

But you can also rely on what you’ve learned in your iSchool courses to come up with solid responses. For example, I spoke with SJSU iSchool MLIS student and iStudent blogger Havilah Steinman about a recent interview she had in the law library sector. Havilah was asked how she would go about finding information on a legal topic she was less familiar with. Even though Havilah has a strong background in paralegal work, this question initially caught her off guard. Luckily, her SJSU MLIS coursework came to the rescue. Havilah took INFO 220 on Legal Resources with Vicki Steiner to update her legal research skills and so was able to nail the answer by citing her experience using Westlaw. How cool to know the classes you take today will provide you with examples to answer tough interview questions and the skills needed to get the job tomorrow!

Another way to think about behavioral questions is to imagine scenarios such as being at a reference desk when a patron asks you an unexpected question, being in a research role when a supervisor asks you to investigate a topic you are unfamiliar with, or being a supervisor approached by an employee with an unforeseen conflict. How would you respond? The interviewer is trying to picture you in these types of roles. Are you defensive, insecure, and hesitant, or are you confident, open, creative and able to solve for the answer in the moment? You are an information professional; use the same skills you would leverage in a job role. Be resourceful and focused on problem solving with the goal of improving end-user experience.  

Expect some bizarre behavioral questions

For example, I had a recent interview where I was asked several left-field behavioral questions. I appreciated the fact that the organization wanted to get to know me, have some fun, and challenge me to think on my feet, so I enjoyed coming up with creative responses. One question: if there was a super-hero dress up day would I dress up, and if so, as what? Well, yes, I love coming up with last minute costumes for Halloween and am a huge vintage clothing fanatic. So, I shared this and replied that I would dress up as Batwoman since I often accidentally wear all black, or as my friends call it, my “stealth outfit.” My answer indicated that I like to participate with workplace culture and can provide quick, clear answers with specific examples when asked the unexpected.

These questions may seem daunting at first (you so want to have the coolest answer ever), but try to relish them because they indicate the interviewer values your personality and is really interested in making sure you are a good fit with the team.

Another challenge given to me: design a prototype of a spice rack that is accessible to everyone. This was a measure of my creative problem-solving abilities and awareness of how technology could be used to improve user experience by making it more inclusive. Through my answer, we discovered that the interviewer and I both love cooking. I realized these questions give you a chance to really find common ground and connect, which are crucial job skills in almost any role. So try to let go of the fear and anxiety and focus on the interviewer, for example, as someone you just met at a friend’s birthday party: you might be nervous, but you are trying to have a good conversation and get to know someone new.

Final takeaways

Prepare to answer this question: “what achievement are you most proud of at your previous/current job role?” You might be asked this directly (I was), but even if not worded as such, the interviewer wants to be convinced you are the best candidate so have a repertoire of success stories. They have been waiting to find the right person and move forward decisively, so be bold and think of the interview as an opportunity to speak at awards night or a party to celebrate your accomplishments. Give the audience what they want!

Speaking of how going to an interview is like going to a party, look forward to a collaboration coming soon about to wear to the interview: the struggle is real, even for the consummate fashionista. I mean how many outfits do you try on beforehand; am I right? We would love to hear your funny anecdotes about outfit fails and wins at recent interviews. So please comment below, email me, Tweet at me, or message me on LinkedIn with stories to share.

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