The key to preparing for an interview

Published April 21, 2021

For the majority of people, interviewing can be a nerve racking experience. As if being evaluated by a group of people you’ve never met isn’t uncomfortable enough, you have to sweat out the consideration of not getting an offer and what that means about your self-worth.

The key to preparing for an interview

About the author

Torrence Lamb

Torrence Lamb is one of our professional mentors on MentorCruise and works as Director of Services at Xandr.

Program Management Project Management Product Management
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However, like anything else in life this comes down to your mindset. I’ve been the interviewee many times in my career, I have been the interviewer hundreds of times, and I have had the great honor of coaching a number of people through these processes. Here are a few key takeaways you should know if you want to be a serious candidate and ditch the nerves…

The Truth About Interviewing: No One Wants to Be Here

This sounds a bit cynical, but let me explain. Anyone that is interviewing you is either a hiring manager or simply asked to participate in the interview process. The hiring manager has an open headcount that he/she wants to fill as quickly as possible and they have no choice but to go through the pains of hiring. This means looking through a sea of resumes that say almost nothing, and scheduling several meetings on top of what they need to do in their day job. Similarly, the non-hiring manager is being asked to take time out of their day to talk to you. This additional work is not something that anyone really wants to do. In an ideal world, they can just focus on their own tasks which are probably stressful enough as is. 

What does this mean? This means that if you have an interview, you are a candidate that is worth their time to reach out to… they WANT you to be the candidate that frees them of this process. Take that confidence boost and keep this in the back (or middle) of your mind.

Remember, there are humans in the room…

It is very natural to reduce ourselves to whatever role we are in at the moment. Parent or Child, Boss or Employee, Provider or  Consumer. While these roles are generally functional for our society, they lack authenticity. This is the same for Interviewer and Interviewee. While these roles may be relevant, the truth is during an interview you have one person talking to another person. People are a complex profile of desires, fears, strengths, and weaknesses all of which create a sense of self-worth/identity/individuality. We experience this to different degrees as individuals, but a very common truth is that we respond EXTREMELY well when someone shows that they can and do understand who we are. If you can admit this about yourself, then you can see how this may be true for another. 

What does this mean?Do not engage the person evaluating you as just an interviewer. They are far more than that and if you can believe that and show interest in wanting to know more, that interest will have a positive effect. The interviewer will feel seen and they’ll begin to trust you and connect. It is important to keep in mind that this cannot be faked. You need to decide that you actually care about the other person and then the rest will be natural. 

People Want Stories Not Resumes

Oftentimes you will be asked to give a summary of your relevant experience and skills. What I have typically seen happen is the candidate will recite a version of their resume. Imagine for a moment that you are going to describe to someone your favorite movie. Let’s say it’s The Matrix. Here’s what it might sound like if Neo were to recount the Matrix as if he were reciting his resume.

“Back in 2001 I was hired by a company named Zion and was responsible for a number of things during that time, mainly focused on developing bug fixes and enhancements for their legacy system. I would work with a team of about 5 people and we would essentially manage any inbound pipeline of production issues or new requests from the business…”

Hopefully you’ve seen The Matrix so you know how incredibly flat this all sounds. This is what the interviewer will hear if you launch into a monotoned overview of your resume. People WANT a story. This is a fact, it’s how our entire society works whether you’re referring to any art form, media, business, anything. The story is what matters. So much so that you should really consider how you are telling yours.

What does this mean? Believe in the idea that your story is interesting… because it most likely is. I have yet to meet a single person whose life uncovered is actually boring. With that in mind, find a way to talk about your resume in a more narrative fashion. An example… 

“I graduated college really eager to join a company and to be honest, start collecting a paycheck, as well as to just feel the challenge of a new career. So I got a job at a small company that sold machinery parts in the Northwest and who had a small development team to manage some of their backend systems. The systems themselves were not exciting, but I really got a handle on what it meant to support an e-commerce platform that was integrated with the back office. I was a junior developer at the time so I was doing bug fixes and minor enhancements, I enjoyed the technical aspect however I am a people person and I wanted more responsibility and the opportunity to teach others. So I went on to get hired at another company in the sports industry, and had a similar role but was given a few junior resources to lead and mentor. I really enjoyed that experience because…”

This is a story, with a protagonist that has desires and a journey. Tell your story like this and the interviewer will be more likely to actually listen and connect, which to some degree is more important than you demonstrating your skills. 

Specific Role: Product Manager - Speaking to Alignment and Collaboration

Product Management is the art of roadmap clarity and team building. There are a lot of techniques and tools in this world but when it comes down to it, you’re building something with a team where you are the quarterback. In this interview you need to show that you have a pragmatic way to create a roadmap, and understand the reality of organizing a team. The roadmap is based on intuitive thought processes around any product: awareness of the market and your competitors, clear value propositions, piloting, benchmarking, and a development strategy that aligns with your investment strategy. You’re essentially the translator between the entrepreneurs and the developers.

Specific Role: Project/Program Manager - Speaking to Tactical vs. Strategic

The most powerful thing you can demonstrate here is truly understanding the difference between these two roles. They are not the same, and if you’re interviewing someone that thinks they are or it’s as simple as “a project manager handles one project while a program manager handles many”, then you’ll do well to edify them. A project manager has techniques and tools to develop and execute a work plan. They are relatively high touch in terms of the tactical day-to-day to make sure things are getting done. As a program manager you are establishing a model that allows lots of work to get done in concert and with low friction. The main difference is that program managers are experts in the nuances required to engage high-level stakeholders (e.g. C-Suite, SVPs, etc.) and putting tools and processes in place to drive progress and resolve issues and risks quickly and effectively. 

Specific Role: Developer - Knowing and Knowing Not

There are very few technical interviews where you can get away with not understanding the specific technology that is described in the job posting. If you are preparing for an interview, and there is a technical job requirement that you are not fully comfortable with, then I would strongly suggest that you do your research and build SOMETHING with that language or framework before the interview. If you are not an expert, DO NOT LIE. You will likely be interviewing with someone that can easily use your proficiency. Instead say that you do not know, but that you are happy to demonstrate how quickly you can pick it up by building something out and conducting a demo at a later time. 

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