Q: I’m going for a big job interview next week. And when I say big, I mean big. The biggest I’ll have gone for so far, and perhaps the biggest I will ever tackle. I want to let them know everything. As the saying goes, I aim to leave it all our there on the field. However, in two mock interviews I’ve done with my work colleague over the last fortnight, I find myself struggling to remember details from all my employments to date. I’ve tried various ways of prompting myself, but they just aren’t working. My roles to date have been wide and varied and are choc-a-bloc with experience that I’m sure would impress the panel. How can I get the right tone in an interview? (KJ, email).
A: I fear you are hurtling down the road towards remembering lists, and I caution you to avoid this temptation.
Think first about the spirit or tone of the interview. Think about making them understand that you are competent, confident and enthusiastic. Show them you, as opposed to endeavouring to relay an endless list of things you have done.
The pressure to remember lists will interfere with your flow. Lists are for CVs and forms. In an interview, you will throw yourself off if you are counting your fingers to ensure you are shoehorning seven stories into an answer.
It is just not possible.
The more reliable approach is to tell a couple of stories well, trusting that they will do a much better job than rhyming off seven or eight stories. Think about it also from the interview panel’s side: there is only so much information they can absorb and if you fire reams of detail at them, chances are they will struggle to take most of it on board.
If you throw everything at them, you leave it up to them to discern the most important information. Take more control of this: decide what’s important and serve that up to them in the most convincing way.
For school exams, we learned poems off – some even pre-wrote and remembered essays – but we’ve moved on now. As adults, we communicate in an organic fashion.
Yes, that will result in you forgetting some things. Do you really expect to remember everything? You describe a busy and diverse career – it is inevitable that you will fail to remember information. I have come out of interviews kicking myself for completely forgetting some relevant evidence from my career.
Did I beat myself up? Probably a little initially, but I quickly fell back on the view that an interview is not a quiz.
Remembering lists will stunt your personality in that room. They need to see you. They need to get a sense of how you will fit in and what value you will bring.
At various stages during the interview, you could ask them if they would like more detail on a particular topic. If you prove something well with one or two stories, chances are they won’t need to hear more. And they have your CV or application form to fall back on if they wish to check some of your career history.
De-list, I say. Bring the whole person into the room and – forgive my evangelistic tone – let your light shine.
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