(By Lily Zhang)
“Finally, know what you’re trying to sell. Consider why you’re a good fit for the organization and how you can best illustrate that. Tell a story that shows how this position fits with your career path, and connect the career trajectory for this position with the trajectory of your own long-term plans“.
The job search is a long and laborious process, but when things start happening, they seem to all happen at once. In fact, sometimes interview invitations come out of the blue, and you are expected to be ready to go in a couple of days.
So, how can you best prepare when you don’t have a week or two to practice before show time? When there’s little to no time to get ready, focus on these three things.
1. Know Yourself
More specifically, know how to talk about yourself. Figure out what skills and experiences you want to highlight in this particular interview and practice how to answer, “Tell me about yourself.”
Finally, consider which accomplishments make the most sense to bring up and craft stories around them. Try to prepare at least four or five flexible stories to answer the standard behavioral questions (here’s a great template) about conflict, teamwork, leadership, or failure.
2. Know the Company
In an ideal world, you would have followed the company’s IPO with enthusiasm, spoken to several current employees, and been an avid user of the company’s product for months. Realistically, you may have only heard of this company the day you saw the job posting.
Certainly do what you can to research the company and position, but as long as you can answer, “Why do you want to work here?” with a response that shows you know something specific about the company—you’ll be fine. (Hint: Try one of these ideas.) If you have more time, try to come up with three or four reasons why you’re interested in this particular company and position.
3. Know the Pitch
Finally, know what you’re trying to sell. Consider why you’re a good fit for the organization and how you can best illustrate that. Tell a story that shows how this position fits with your career path, and connect the career trajectory for this position with the trajectory of your own long-term plans.
Carefully combine what you know about yourself and what you know about the company. Your goal is to clearly align what the organization needs with what you have to offer. This is your greater objective for the entire interview.
Once you’ve done these three things, spend the rest of your time practicing answering questions aloud. Some prep work and research is essential in preparing for an interview, but in the end, nothing trumps plain practice. So, grab a friend or even sit in front of a mirror and start practicing for whatever time you have left. Good luck!
Lily Zhang serves as a Career Development Specialist at MIT where she works with a range of students from undergraduates to PhDs on how to reach their career aspirations. When she’s not indulging in a new book or video game, she’s thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.