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Know What to Say on a Job Interview

Know Yourself before Interviews

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When interviewers ask you where you see yourself in five years, what will you say? How about describing your ideal working environment? Your strengths and weaknesses? How do you deal with criticism and conflict? What motivates you? What is your management style?

Yikes! If you are not prepared for these kinds of probing questions, they will undermine your interview. Pondering Socrates or Freud is not necessary preparation for your job interview.

Still, taking time to do some soul searching is helpful when it comes to presenting yourself in an attractive way. 

Each question posed by your interviewer requires that you sift through a repertoire of professional and personal experiences, gazing at your life in an instant and conjuring up an answer to the basic question: Who am I?

Doing that on the fly is bound to be confusing. Instead, you should know yourself before you shake the interviewer's hand and flash your first friendly smile.

Still, the prospect can be daunting, even for those of us who are in touch with our inner child.

To make substantial headway in self-reflection, spend some time on the following exercises. When considering your responses, think beyond your professional life and current circumstances. Include instances as far back as your youth.

  • Make a list of five accomplishments that you enjoyed.
  • Make a list of five things you have done that make you proud.
  • Describe three scenarios in which you felt highly motivated to accomplish something.
  • Describe three scenarios in which you lacked motivation.
  • Think of three scenarios in which you felt appreciated by other people. How did they communicate that appreciation for you?
  • Make a list of how your colleagues, staff, and supervisors describe you. Include the positive and negative feedback.
  • Make a list of how friends and family describe you.
  • Make a list of ten of your best personal qualities.
  • Think of two small and large decisions that you have made. Describe how you went about making those decisions.
  • Describe two situations that seemed risky to you. What did you do?
  • Describe a conflict situation between you and someone else that was resolved to your satisfaction. How was it resolved?
  • Describe a conflict situation between you and someone else that was not resolved to your satisfaction. What happened?
  • Complete this sentence: When I am responsible for leading or supervising other people, I prefer to...
  • Complete this sentence: When I want to show appreciation for other people, I usually...
  • Complete this sentence: I work because...
  • Complete this sentence: From a job I want...

After you spend some time reflecting on your life, you might wish to have others explore your responses with you. Look for themes and trends in your responses, finding information that overlaps. Focus on what energizes you and what saps your spirit. Notice your preferences: consider, for example, what an interviewer might think about your professional aspirations and tendencies, based on your responses.

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