Game Time – Prioritizing Interview Prep!  

by Leah Adeniji,  Associate Director, MBA Career Management Center at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

Congratulations!  You have the interview, and your efforts from resume and cover letter drafts to networking and applying have gotten your foot in the door.  So now what?  I like to use this example when explaining to candidates why prioritizing interview preparation far in advance of the interview is critical:

Imagine if you had to take an exam the first day of a class that determined whether you would get your degree on a pass or fail basis?  Or if you only had minimal opportunities to prepare?  How would you do on that exam, unless the material was something where you were the subject matter expert?  Probably not the best.  However, this is the approach that many candidates take to the interview process – minimal or just-in-time preparation.  Ideally in a class, you learn the material, have assignments / exams that help to gauge your mastery of the subject matter, and then get feedback.  You want to take this approach to interviewing.   

The truth is, no matter what you have done prior to applying and in some cases its extensive, the interview determines whether you will secure the job.  Why?  You have to remember that companies ultimately want to hire people that are best for their company (SMF - Forbes Article): Strengths, Motivation, and cultural Fit) and opportunities are competitive.  When you receive an interview invite, the company believes that you have the potential to be a strong fit for their company.  The interview is an opportunity to that prove that you truly are.  So don’t waste all that pre-interview effort – prepare!

You cannot cram the level of confidence or execution that comes from advanced preparation.  It helps you standout as a candidate and you will be more apt to handle unexpected or challenging questions with ease.  Here are some tips on how to prepare that go beyond developing STAR stories (note that you want to be specific yet concise with insights):

1.    Research - Know the Job, Company, Industry, and the Why

·     Job Description:  Turn required skills (explicit and implicit) into interview questions and have insights on why you’re interested in the position and how it fits into your career path.  Where a knowledge / experience gap exists, determine how you would respond to those questions.  If you conclude that you lack either knowledge or experience, fill the gap, think of similar experiences, or express how you would approach the situation.  Employers minimally want to know how you would approach the situation / how you think, so never use “I don’t have xyz knowledge / experience” as a response.

·     Company:  Be familiar with the company’s services / products, mission and values (how you align), recent news, and skim the Annual Report (10-K) / Analyst Calls (Seeking Alpha).  Use this research to derive insights, including why you are genuinely interested in the company.  Your research should inform these insights based on your personal motivation and what you see as a cultural fit.

·     Industry:  Know the major trends impacting the industry as well as why you are interested.  Be prepared to be challenged by your interviewer and to share insights (including your stance) based on conditions impacting the industry.

     Above all, know that healthcare companies are seeking people who are passionate about the industry / their companies and seeking to make an impact.  Make sure you that you convey this and  that it is genuine.  The tell me about yourself question provides a great opportunity to start the interview strong by briefly sharing what motivates you to pursue healthcare and / or their company.     

     This can literally be a sentence or two.

2.    Know Yourself & Develop Responses to these Questions

·     Tell Me About Yourself / Resume Walk (I recommend including your motivation and ending with

    why you are interested in the company)

·     Why this Company / Industry / Position / Kenan-Flagler / the MBA

·     Strengths / Greatest Accomplishments

·     Weaknesses / Failures / Mistakes (Corrective Actions, What Learned / How Different, Future Steps)

·     Motivations / Drivers / Career Goals 5-10  Years

·     Why Should We Hire You

3.    Know the Interview Styles Used by Your Companies

Though behavioral and common interview questions are typically part of every interview experience, it is not uncommon for other forms of interview styles to be incorporated in the face-to-face interview – especially the final round interview (often takes place on-site).  Moreover, if the company is not local or you are engaging in off-campus recruiting, virtual means of interview are likely.  Therefore, take the time now to determine the interview methods most likely to be used with the companies you are interviewing for and then research those interview methods and practice!  Here are examples of interview styles that are used by companies that recruit with us (this article provides an overview of Interview Styles with the exception casing):

·     Case (Variation = Mini-Cases)

·     Group (Candidates)

·     Mealtime Interviews (Candidates and / or Company Representatives)

·     Panel (Company Representatives)

·     Situation / Performance (Role Play)

·     Stress (Interviewer = Intentionally Intimidating to Gauge How You Handle Stress)

Informal Interviews (Variation = Resume Interview):  These types of interviews can throw candidates off because they lack the structured Q&A format.  There is more of an even exchange between the interviewer and interviewee, and the onus is really on you to keep the conversation going.  In order to do this, ask open-ended questions (no yes or no questions).  Engage your interviewer by using your research insights, prepared questions (company, industry, job, interviewer,) and by feeding off the comments and questions of your interviewer.  Ensure that you convey your interest in the company, industry, and position.  Another variation of the informal interview is the Resume Interview, where you can be probed based on resume content.  Be prepared to discuss your resume fluently, and provide STAR like insights.  Ultimately, ensure you directly answer whatever questions that are asked.

Phone / Video (Variation = Computerized) Interviews:  I am a firm believer in becoming comfortable with these methods of interview.  Adverse weather can result in these methods being used as a default, and more and more companies are starting to use these interview methods as the norm to be more efficient while reducing travel costs.  Computerized Interviews have no person on the other end, but you are recorded.  It is best to envision a human being there as you respond so that you come to life when they see the video and that they get a sense of who you are. 

4.    Get “Low-Stake” Feedback Far in Advance – Invaluable (> 1 Mock)

I cannot stress enough how valuable it is to get feedback prior to a real interview. Recruiters rarely if ever provide feedback, and why wait for the high-stakes to do what you have so many opportunities to master in low-stake situations.   Practice is key to exceling in real interview.

Also, you would be surprised at what you could learn about yourself by conducting a video interview.  This will provide you with a self-awareness that no one else can give to you.  I highly recommend using this to gauge your presence, and how you present yourself to others in an interview setting.  Both verbally and non-verbally.  Here are resources for this:

·     Multiple Mock Interviews (BCC, Career Mentor, Peers, Club Events, CMC AD)

·     Conduct Video Interviews Using InterviewStream

·     Note: The more prepared you are for the mocks / practice interviews, the better the feedback.

5.    Develop Responses for Negative / Conflict Interview Questions (Not Just Positive)

·     Conflict: When developing responses for these questions, use tact and diplomacy.  Never make it personal, focus on the negative behaviors, not the people.

·     Negative: You would approach responding to this questions as mentioned above under weaknesses – bullet two. 

6.    Learn to Structure Your Responses (STAR and Non-STAR) & Be Comfortable w/Stopping to Think    

·     Become comfortable with structuring your responses, both STAR and non-STAR, so that your interviewer can follow you.  If you are asked something that you have never been asked before, it is ok to ask for a minute to think so that you can have a moment to structure your response.  The goal is to have a great response – not race the clock to responding.  They are looking for skills and insights on how you think and approach situations.

·     Using the “Rule of 3” can be helpful helpful here for applicable non-STAR questions, such as framing “Why are you interested in working for us?”  You can base your response on the top 3 reasons.

7.    Novelty - Expect the Unexpected

Sometimes employers are unconventional and can do or ask things that throw you off.  Here are some examples:

·       Asking you a question that is completely unrelated to the job or a brain teaser

·       Requesting multiple responses for the same question

·       Observing you complete a task or simulation related to the job

·       Technology failing on purpose to see how you respond to stress

Though your research and conversations can help with anticipating, you will not always know what to expect.  Your goal is to remain confident and poised while delivering an effective response.  Try mixing up things during your interview preparation to become more comfortable with the unexpected.  Some methods:

·       Try to simulate some of the examples from above.

·       Throw in a question that you have never answered before in your preparation.

·       Give yourself only 1 minute to respond to a challenging question.

·       Use and google unconventional interview questions (add the company for the second search)

·       Note: Always remember to pause and take a moment to respond when asked something new.  As mentioned earlier, sometimes employers can be informal or leave more time than expected for you to ask questions.  Be confident in what you know about the organization / person and use that knowledge base to engage and ask questions as needed if more are needed beyond the ones you have prepared.

8.    Use Your Research & Perceived Personal / Career Needs to Develop Intelligent Interview Questions

The key here is developing questions based on your research and needs – not things that can be found easily online.  Never ask about salary pre-offer.


9.    Become Comfortable with Small Talk & Identify Something Cool Related to the Company

Remember the importance of connecting with your interviewer and enjoying the interview experience.  If you are uncomfortable with small talk, ensuring to ask how they are doing (how day / week has been, weekend was, etc.) will take you far.  Also, if you have been working on something interesting or meaningful that is related to the position, the small talk stage of the interview is a great time to bring it up so think about something worth mentioning.  Depth is not needed – if they have additional questions, they will ask.


10.   Start Practicing Now / Aloud!

Ever recited something in your head and it sounded great, but when you said it out loud it did not?  Welcome to the human experience!  This is why verbal practice is so critical yet valuable.  When this is done, you truly simulate the interview experience as you do not write or type, but talk in an interview setting.  With casing, you even have to resolve a business situation.

To develop comfort, and confidence, because you need to be yourself (not nervous in an interview) practice is key.  Consider putting yourself on a daily plan:

·       Master interview prep now so that when the interview season starts, you will be ready.  Ideally, starting 2 months in advance will put you in a get place if you practice properly.

·       When preparing for a mock interview, practice daily in 30 minute – 1 hour increments, for a minimum of 2 weeks (note that it would benefit you to begin earlier). 

·       Preparing for real interviews minimally 2 weeks in advance of a specific interview is recommended (again, this applies to if you have already done advanced preparation, as mentioned in the 1st bullet).  Engage in verbal practice up to 2 times per day in 30 minute  – 1 hour increments (but not more than twice a day so that you will not get burned out). 

If you use these tips, you will be strongly positioned for the interviews you have now and throughout your careers.

You all have worked hard throughout the semester to get where you are today – know that I am proud of you, and encourage you to continue working toward the primary goal when attending graduate school – your career! 

Congrats again on your interviews and good luck with preparing.  My best to you.


I Haven’t Been Networking… Now What?

When it comes to On-Campus Recruiting (OCR), employers often visit because they want to have an opportunity to connect with you and for you to learn about their organizations.  Why?  So that both you will have an opportunity to determine if there is alignment based on your mutual strengths, motivation, and cultural fit.  Moreover, recruiting within healthcare tends to be high-touch, meaning that employers like having contact with you.

However – there is still hope!  You would need to prioritize interview prep with making connections now.  Recommended actions:

1.    Make Connections ASAP!

·     Request to meet with 2nd years that have worked for the company using the 5 spreadsheets sent out in August with data on interns (in some cases there may be 1st years that have worked for the companies as well)

·     Reach out to Club Leadership for recommendations on who to connect with

·     Use LinkedIn / the 5 aforementioned spreadsheets to identify alumni

o  Note – 2nd / 1st years a priority, as some alumni may take more time to respond

2.    Ask GREAT Questions During Meetings

·     Make sure you prepare questions for your meetings and obtain key insights during those interactions.

3.    Know the Company / Industry & Use the Research

·     It is critical that this knowledge and your true interest surfaces in future interactions, such as interview.  If there is a knowledge gap, work on filling it.

4.    Review this Helpful Video – Steve Dalton Video on the 2 Hour Job Search

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