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Interview Prep Basics for Baddies

By Sarah Murphy

During the pressure of the interview, you do not want to rely on winging your responses. You want to be perceived as prepared and cogent. Interview preparation also helps assure that you get across the message to a prospective employer:

I’m a badass, you’d be remiss to not hire me. 

Tell them you’re a badass: a one-minute summary

Many versions of this concept exist, such as the 30-Second Introduction or the Elevator Pitch. This may seem like a hokey LinkedIn post, but you will inevitably be in a situation where you have to introduce yourself. That person will know nothing about you, nothing about your school, nor your experience, and frankly, has very limited interest. Do not get too hung up on whether your summary is exactly one minute, but keep it succinct. All of our social media-addled brains can’t handle too much information at once – the same goes for a job recruiter. 

Try to hit these highlights:

  • Your full name. It sounds obvious, but easy to forget in a rush. If you’re wearing a mask or have an uncommon name, enunciate. I know that will feel a little weird, but the recruiter may not want to be in an awkward position to ask you to repeat it. If name tags are available, put one on. 
  • Your current degree in progress (and current job if applicable). Beware of jargon and acronyms. Unless that person is an LBJ Alum, they likely won’t know what MPAff or even Master of Public Affairs means. You can mention those phrases, but be sure to translate what that means in lay terms. “I’m a graduate student studying public policy with a focus on energy and sustainability.” Mention your current job only if it’s directly applicable to the role or company which you’re trying to woo.
  • Past relevant experience. You are a wonderful baddie as I’ve previously mentioned. However, there’s no time to regurgitate your resume line-by-line. Pick out one or two relevant jobs/fellowships/research projects/internships (this doesn’t necessarily need to be paid-work experience) that would demonstrate skills of interest to your recruiter. Ideally, you will hook them into a longer conversation,  so don’t tell them every last detail. And remember: no jargon.

Optional elements or follow-ups (read the vibe):

  • Why you’re interested in the job/organization/individual. Be earnest. Most people can smell BS a mile away, so come up with something that shows you’re genuinely interested. This will require a bit of research and soul searching, but mentioning a recent project the organization has just completed can demonstrate your authenticity in this job recruiting performance.
  • Question about the job/organization/individual. Prepare two or three thoughtful, open-ended questions to keep the conversation going. Make sure it’s something the organization representative would be able to speak to though (not too in the weeds). The classic, “tell me about your role and experience at the organization,” is typically a good start.

Autobiographical summaries, as you probably know, aren’t easy for most of us to speak on unrehearsed. You have to know yourself and anticipate how you’ll act under pressure. It is normal to be nervous in job recruiting situations which is why preparation can ward off feelings of imposter syndrome and remind yourself why you’re a badass. 

Prove you’re a badass: interview question responses

You can’t anticipate every question you’ll be asked, but some questions are more common than others. Here is a list of common questions you can read through to help prepare. However, more importantly, you want to prepare to tell the interviewer about your relevant achievements in the most straightforward way possible. By prepping these achievement examples, you’ll be able to drop in these anecdotes regardless of what questions are asked.

  • Pick three or four concrete examples of your accomplishments. This could be a team assignment for class, a project for work, or even a volunteer initiative you helped bring to fruition. Most roles require teamwork so this is a good place to acknowledge how you’ve worked well with other people, but be sure to highlight your contributions to the accomplishment. 
  • Write out the details of each accomplishment in the STAR(V) method. This is one of the few b-school tactics I still use today. The STARV framework will help you clearly articulate your accomplishments to minimize rambling, backtracking, or over-explaining. Write out these examples ahead of time, you don’t necessarily need to bring the notes with you to an interview, but the process will help you remember important details and refresh your memory to have these examples of your badassery ready to go. 

And because everyone is a bit attention-deficient, keep anecdotes between 3-4 minutes. Whoever you are talking to will ask follow-up questions if they want more information. 

Situation: Give a short two or three-sentence primer on when this accomplishment happened, within what organization, and your role in the situation. This should provide enough background to help the interviewer understand the context of the situation without getting hung up on missing details.

Tasks: What was the problem you were trying to solve? What was the project or event on which you were facing? Was there any conflict or high stakes involved?

Action: What did you specifically do in this situation? You can speak to the context of the team’s collective action, but be sure your actions don’t get lost in the story. What skills did you deploy (e.g., stakeholder management, communication, research, data analysis, project management)? Don’t list out skills. Rather, speak to how you effectively rose to the challenge. Toe that line between meek and cocky – be confident and positive in your anecdote. 

Result: What happened? What goal was achieved or what feat was pulled off? 

Value: This is arguably the most important point— why did this accomplishment matter? Why should the interviewer care to know this about you? How did you grow from the accomplishment? What did it provide for the organization? What good came from your involvement in this situation?

If you struggle to answer this value question during your preparation session, consider picking a different situation or accomplishment to highlight. 

  • Prepare your questions for the interviewer. They will likely ask you if you have any questions for them toward the end. Don’t take this as a polite overture to end the conversation. If you’ve done some research into the organization and role before the interview, you likely will have some questions. Take some time to envision yourself in the role and what you would want to know before accepting the position. This may not be the time for salary discussions but ask about their organizational culture or the interviewer’s own experience. 

Use your best judgment and dig deep about what’s important to you. Employers want you to want to work for them, and if you don’t want to, keep searching for those opportunities! In this piping hot job market, many organizations and industries are eagerly competing for top talent. You are in demand, use that to your advantage!

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