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When the interviewer asks you where you see yourself in five
years, what will you say? How about describing your ideal working
environment? What are your strengths? And what are your weaknesses?
How do you take criticism? How do you deal with conflict situations?
What motivates you? What is your management style?
Yikes. If you are not prepared
for these kinds of probing questions, they will undermine your
interview. Pondering Socrates or Freud is not necessary preparation
for your job interview. Still, taking time to do some soul searching
is helpful when it comes to presenting yourself in an attractive
Each question posed by your interviewer
requires that you sift through a repertoire of professional
and personal experiences, gazing at your life in an instant
and conjuring up an answer to the basic question: who are you?
Doing that on the fly is bound to be confusing. You should know
yourself before you shake the interviewer's hand and flash your
first friendly smile. The prospect can daunt even for those
of us who are in touch with our inner child.
To make substantial headway in
self-reflection, spend some time on the following exercises.
When considering your responses, think beyond your professional
life and current circumstances. Include instances as far back
as your youth.
- Make a list of five accomplishments that you enjoyed.
- Make a list of five things you have done that make you
- Describe three scenarios in which you felt highly motivated
to accomplish something.
- Describe three scenarios in which you lacked motivation.
- Think of three scenarios in which you felt appreciated
by other people. How did they communicate that appreciation
- Make a list of how your colleagues, staff, and supervisors
describe you. Include the positive and negative feedback.
- Make a list of how friends and family describe you.
- Make a list of ten of your best personal qualities.
- Think of two small and large decisions that you have
made. Describe how you went about making those decisions.
- Describe two situations that seemed risky to you. What
did you do?
- Describe a conflict situation between you and someone
else that was resolved to your satisfaction. How was it
- Describe a conflict situation between you and someone
else that was not resolved to your satisfaction. What happened?
- Complete this sentence: When I am responsible for leading
or supervising other people, I prefer to. . .
- Complete this sentence: When I want to show appreciation
for other people, I usually. . .
- Complete this sentence: I work because. . .
- Complete this sentence: From a job I want. . .
After you spend an evening or
afternoon reflecting on your life, you might wish to have others
explore your responses with you. Look for themes and trends
in your responses, finding information that overlaps. Focus
on what energizes you and what saps your spirit. Notice your
preferences. Consider for example what we can discover about
Suzanne's professional aspirations and tendencies from her responses.
Five accomplishments that
I enjoyed include:
- Launching an anti-drunk driving campaign in high school.
- Training an intern in critical thinking.
- Negotiating with diverse teams to get creative projects
- Finding the overlap between different company's interests
so that they can establish mutually beneficial relationships.
- Seeing my college students think in new ways.
Five things that make me proud
- Going to France by myself to learn French.
- Setting a high performance goal for myself and meeting
- Having vision for what needs to be done in different
- Being in shape.
- Listening to the concerns of my friends and honoring
Three times that I felt highly
motivated to accomplish something include:
- When I had tons of work to do to meet a product launch
deadline and had to stay extremely organized and focused
in order to complete the work.
- When I came up with an idea for panel discussions at
my church, which led to much improved communication and
many new friendships.
- When I worked on projects with colleagues and had to
complete my work so that we could discuss things and move
to the next stage.
Three scenarios in which I
lacked motivation to accomplish something include:
- When I worked all by myself after my boss died and my
new supervisors were not accessible.
- When I had to process details all day, day after day-entering
data, completing forms, and other rote tasks that only challenged
my patience but did not engage my mind.
- When I felt like my employer was making decisions that
sacrificed his employees.
I felt appreciated by people
- I got a significant raise after having my value to the
- My supervisor and colleagues verbally praise my efforts
and thank me for my way of working.
- My supervisor expressed confidence in my abilities and
did not micromanage me, but spent time helping me when I
needed support or ran into problems.
By analyzing even these first
five questions, we get a sense of what kind of job would fit
Suzanne well. For example, we see that Suzanne enjoys influencing
people; each of the accomplishments that she enjoyed includes
affecting the way that other people think or act. She also feels
gratified when she is able to bring people together for a common
purpose they might have overlooked. The things that make Suzanne
proud are a bit more diverse. Some include a sense of meeting
difficult challenges-like learning French through immersion
and raising the bar of performance or being in shape. Having
vision means that she has something to offer that affects common
purpose. Acting ethically toward people also seems important
It already begins to make sense,
then, that she would feel motivated to accomplish things when
she initiates them, when she is accountable to other people,
or when she needs to meet a specific goal. Deadlines appear
to affect her in positive ways by helping her to focus when
she might not otherwise. Contrarily, her energy and drive are
sapped when she works in isolation without gaining feedback,
when the tasks are rote and do not require creativity or initiative,
and when she perceives that people are treated badly. She feels
appreciated by her employer when her supervisor recognizes her
vision, drive, and ability to focus and gives her the space
she needs to excel while still staying connected with her. She
feels appreciated when her company gives her a raise for good
work, but also when others verbally praise her. And, even though
she likes to work without tight supervision, she feels appreciated
when her supervisor has time for her.
Intriguing as these discoveries
might be for Suzanne, she cannot unload her personal psyche
on the interviewer. She still has to formulate professional
responses to specific questions. Knowledge about the company
provides guidance for how to craft these materials. Self-knowledge
provides the raw materials for devising compelling responses.