Professional Development

How to Excel in an Interview

by Christian Pierce
August 3, 2020
Lawyer at Thompson Dorfman Sweatman LLP
August 3, 2020

Summary: How To Excel in an Interview

For any ambitious young professional, it is inevitable that you will have to go through the interview process. Often in the past, some people only had to nail one interview to land their dream career at the business that they would end up working at for their entire adult life. However, over the last few decades, it has become increasingly common for people to switch jobs every few years and, with that, the necessity of performing well in interviews becomes critical. Having the knowledge and skillset at your disposal to excel in an interview will help you gain an edge.

Here are a few key elements you can focus on in your preparation to ensure you have tools and the skills to know how to excel in an interview.

Research

Interview preparation begins with researching both the position you are interviewing for, as well as the organization itself. It is vital you that understand the scope of the position you are interviewing for, so that can you can structure your answers to demonstrate that you are the right candidate for the position. Having a complete understanding of the organization as a whole will allow you to tailor your answer to the specific needs and values of the company. Interviewers can quickly sense when a candidate has not done their due diligence by showing a lack of depth and knowledge in their answers. Failing to do the adequate research on the position and organization will likely cause you to flounder in your interview and lose any hope of landing the position.

The C.A.R. Method

A common approach I advise people to utilize in structuring their answers in an interview is to use the C.A.R. method. This is not a novel idea nor my own, but it is very easy to implement and can immediately improve your interview skills. This works especially well for situational questions e.g. tell us about a time you had to handle competing deadlines.

The “C” stands for context. No matter what question you are asked, it is important to provide some background of whichever skill or experience that you are speaking about, so the interviewers know why it is relevant to the question asked. This provides the necessary foundation for the answer. This also provides you the opportunity to warm up and ease into the answer before providing the substantive portion of the answer.

The “A” stands for action. The purpose of this step is to simply explain the action(s) you took to resolve the problem or issue you encountered.

The “R” stands for result. This is where you conclude your answer and explain the positive results that occurred from the actions you took and why that would provide value in the position you are interviewing for.

When implementing this method correctly, it will allow you to give a full and substantive answer to any question that is asked.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

The most important step is to practice over and over again, and then practice some more. How do I practice? Simple: have someone (your significant other, friend, family member, etc.) ask you mock questions in the same format you will likely be asked in the interview. I typically suggest practicing 10-15 questions in a row without stopping. I suggest walking into the room, shaking the interviewers hand and introducing yourself (just like you would in the actual interview). The more the mock interview resembles the actual interview, the better.

It is also vital that you have 2-3 unique questions prepared to ask the interviewer(s) at the end of the interview. These questions show that you have taken the time to ask something that you are genuinely wondering about and asking questions can also further demonstrate your interest in the position. Practice asking these during your mock interviews.

The importance of this step cannot be overstated. The obvious benefit is that you will be prepared to speak well to anything that is on your resume and you will have thought of your past experiences and stories you intend to rely on. I call these your “narratives”. I suggest writing down three narratives that you can relate almost any answer to. Your narratives will typically be the three most substantive jobs or experiences listed on your resume or in your cover letter. The ancillary benefit of doing a large volume of mock interviews is that you will be much more relaxed and confident during the actual interview. Your presence and composure will leave a lasting and positive impression in the minds of the interviewers.

The Interview

If you adequately prepared, the interview will take care of itself. There are general tips that I would recommend to anyone, which are largely common sense. They are as follows:

  • When arriving at the reception desk, be pleasant to the receptionist and explain why you are there;
  • When entering the interview room, shake everyone’s hand and introduce yourself;
  • Speak with confidence and keep appropriate eye contact with the interviewers throughout the interview;
  • Ask your prepared questions at the end of the interview, which will demonstrate your interest in the position and organization; and
  • At the conclusion, thank the interviewers for their time and ask for their business cards.

If you felt that the interview went well, you can ask what the rest of the process entails and when you can expect to hear back.

Follow-Up

The last step is to send an e-mail to each interviewer within a few hours of the conclusion of your interview. The follow-up e-mail should begin by thanking them for their time. If there were multiple interviewers, you should e-mail each person individually and it should be unique and speak to something they asked or answered in the interview. This e-mail should be concise. If you are really interested in the position, you can reiterate that.

If you follow these simple steps, you can be assured that you will be putting your best foot forward. There is no substitute for proper preparation. Best of luck to you in your interviews!

Christian Pierce
About Christian Pierce

Christian Pierce is a lawyer at Thompson Dorfman Sweatman LLP in Winnipeg, Manitoba, primarily practicing in the areas of litigation and labour and employment. Christian was the Co-Chair of the Professional Development Committee at the University of Manitoba Faculty of Law where he assisted his colleagues with interview preparation and networking. If you would like to discuss this article more with Christian, connect with him on LinkedIn.

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