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Prepare for an Effective Interview

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For each of your assets, you will list experiences, situations, or accomplishments that demonstrate the validity of your claim to it. For example, "a high energy level" might be demonstrated by: (1) your ability to maintain the productivity of your sales force despite personnel cuts, (2) your active participation in professional associations, and (3) your ability to take demanding courses while maintaining superior performance ratings on your job. Your fluency in Japanese might be shown by having negotiated contracts for engineering projects with Japanese companies and by your extensive travels in Japan during vacations.

Armed with plentiful evidence of your assets, your next job is to convert this evidence into story form. A story is not necessarily fiction; by story form, I mean a brief account with a beginning, middle, and end. A story is simply a way of organizing information into a memorable pattern.

Your aim is to make you and your assets memorable to interviewers. So, instead of saying that you have traveled extensively in Japan and have been able to make your away around remote areas where nobody else spoke English, you might tell the story of arriving in a small rural village late on a rainy night and managing to talk your way into lodging with a farming family largely because they were amazed to meet an American who could actually speak their language.



You will introduce your stories as a way of elaborating on the points you want to make about yourself. Suppose, for example, in the interview which began with "Tell me a little about yourself," your answer is followed by the question, "What else about Syntax appeals to you?" Your reply might be:

While researching Syntax, I've noticed that one of your aims is to participate in more joint ventures with Japanese firms. I'd love to have more opportunities to work with the Japanese, and I think my knowledge of the Japanese language and culture would be an invaluable asset to Syntax. In my dealings with the Japanese, I've found that they're very impressed by Americans who actually speak their language and respect their culture. For example, last year while traveling in Japan after a business conference, I arrived at a remote farming village late on a rainy night and found that the inn was closed. But on the way back to the train station, I bumped into a farmer, and he asked in broken English where I was going. He was so amazed to hear me reply in fluent Japanese that after I explained my plight, he invited me to his home to meet his family, share their evening meal, and stay until the inn reopened in the morning,

I think my extensive knowledge of the Japanese can be an invaluable asset, given Syntax's goal of expanding into Japanese markets, and Yd like the opportunity to put it to use.

Formulating stories ahead of time is important; if you rely on your memory and spontaneous story telling capacity, you will probably tell stories that are too long and get lost on tangents. Also, you will inevitably find that you recall the best stories only after the interview is over.

Finally, remember that experience does not come packaged in story form this form is what you add to the facts of your experience to give them meaning and to make them memorable. Being invited to stay with a Japanese family means nothing by itself. You must make it mean "ability to work productively with Japanese firms" by making it into a story and putting it into a context that gives the facts the meaning you intend them to have. You should not, however, try to memorize your stories. Your purpose is not to script answers but to make sure that the most salient experiences of your life are at the front of your mind and that you are prepared to talk about them in a focused manner.

What about the liabilities? Do you try desperately to avoid talking about them? Do you try to hide them? Do you lie? None of the above. You prepare to meet them head on. For every liability, you identify compensating factors. You explain how you can overcome your liabilities, showing that they are not insurmountable barriers. At the same time, you will be demonstrating the ability to assess yourself objectively, identify weaknesses, confront them honestly, and overcome them with your strengths. Again, preparation is key. First, you must prepare by identifying the aspects of your background that interviewers for a particular job may take to be shortcomings. This you do when you list your liabilities compared with the perfect candidate for a position.

Next, you use your preparation sheet to list compensating considerations. For example, lack of industry experience is a liability for our friend Chris. But as compensating factors, Chris can list things like:
  • A long standing interest in bioengineering, which has involved following the field and industry closely in trade journals.

  • An ability to learn quickly through self directed study and experience.

  • A willingness to pursue formal course work and an ability to do so while fulfilling the requirements of a demanding position.

  • Similarities between previous experiences and challenges facing the bioengineering field.

  • An ability to bring fresh perspectives to bear on Syntax's problems and opportunities.
Then, you follow the same procedure that you used to substantiate your assets: you list experiences that demonstrate the compensating factors in action, and you develop stories that convey these experiences in a meaningful and memorable manner.
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