This past year a student met with me and shared a list that contained 200 interview questions that she had been practicing. She passed over the loose pages of handwritten questions, smoothing the paper as she presented them to me, well-worn from hours of practice. She pointed out a few questions that she expressed as not knowing how to answer. Her ability to memorize was impressive, but instead of sounding authentic and prepared she sounded stressed and automated. She also recognized that her list did not nearly capture all the questions that she might get asked. After a bit of conversation I took her through an exercise to decode the questions that she found challenging, asking her the following:
- Tell me a bit about why you think an interviewer would ask you that question?
- What do you think the interviewer is curious about learning or knowing?
- What examples (note this is plural) can you share to show the interviewer the relevant skills, experiences, knowledge, and/or perspectives that you possess?
- What are two or three different answers that could be equally good?
- In what ways can you structure your answer to make it easy for the interviewer to hear your response?
Through this process of inquiry, the student realized that she no longer needed to memorize and then produce what she calculated to be a single correct answer! As she gained confidence in decoding questions we also talked about topics on which she needed to feel comfortable speaking. By making a shift from preparing to answer individual questions with single responses, to being prepared to speak about her skills, strengths, experiences, perspectives and knowledge, she could effectively stop memorizing and rehearsing and begin responding to almost any query with a new sense of ease.
As we were reaching the end of our session, I said, “Let me pose a question I suspect is not on your list, but that could easily be asked: ‘What is the best idea you ever had?’”
With a sparkle in her eye she folded up the sheets of paper and said, “Do you have a recycling bin?”