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The Art of the Interview

Growing up, my mother strictly regulated our television viewing time. We were limited to approximately an hour a day on school nights and our main source of television programming was PBS. Favorites included Sesame Street (where Grover reigned supreme), Yan Can Cook, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, Reading Rainbow and Ghostwriter.

Then, there was The Joy of Painting. Every episode, Bob Ross would begin with a blank canvas and end with a beautiful landscape. We would watch, mesmerized, as he of the halo-like Afro and smooth, soothing voice painted massive mountains and happy little trees. As a child, I especially loved the details of the painting like the way the paint was arranged on the palette and the sound the knife made when he mixed the paints.

Of course, because it was PBS, Bob Ross was teaching pre-teen Shannon more than fundamental painting techniques. He was teaching me that there was a process required to complete any task successfully. Moreover, The Joy of Painting included a liberal dose of Ross’s optimism. He frequently reminded the viewer that anything was possible in the world of painting. As Mr. Ross himself said, “Talent is a pursued interest. Anything that you’re willing to practice, you can do.”

This lesson has followed me to adulthood and in particular to my job search. Ross’s process, emphasis on practice and optimism are especially relevant for interviews. I think that interviewing successfully is somewhat of an art. I have spent years crafting a technique that helps me feel relaxed, prepared and even eager to interview.

My technique is as follows:

1. Practice. I found a set of commonly asked interview questions via Google. I review them before each interview. In particular, I always have an approximately 60 second response for “Tell us about yourself” that ties my professional strengths to the position for which I am interviewing.

2. Look the part. Even when I am doing a Skype or telephone interview, I put effort into my appearance. At Wellesley, we were told to wear a dark suit and a string of pearls. The suit suggestion was echoed in law school. A suit, professional makeup and pearls are my default. Getting dressed up, regardless of how I am interviewing, underscores the importance of the task at hand. It puts me in a completely different headspace than I would be if I were wearing jeans and a hoodie.

3. Come prepared. I research the organization and its staff. I also reach out to people whom either work with the organization or a similar organization. I use this data to prepare a few questions based on my research to ask the interviewers. I also work my findings into my interview question preparation.

4. High Power Posing. After listing to Amy Cuddy’s amazing TED Talk on body language, I decided to adopt a “high power” pose before my interviews. According to Cuddy, adopting a high power pose, for two minutes before an interview, can increase testosterone (the dominance hormone) and decrease cortisol (the stress hormone). If I am sitting by myself in a room, I simply sit up straight and put my hands on my hips for two minutes. Or, I excuse myself and go to the bathroom. There, I stand up straight with my feet apart and place my hands on my hips (like Wonder Woman). Even if it is just a placebo effect, doing this ritual calms me and makes me feel more prepared.

After the interview I write thank you notes and send them out the same day or the next day. I will follow up with a call or email if I have not heard back in a few weeks.

I can honestly say that all of the above works, although not necessarily for the first or 20th job opportunity. I know this because after a lengthy search, I am now gainfully employed with the federal government (ethics now require me to state that the opinions I express in this blog are mine alone). It’s an amazing position, one that combines my legal background with my passion for public service. More to follow in my next blog, but how about you? What steps do you take to prepare for job interviews and is there an opportunity to tweak your process for results?

Photo credit: Duncan Darbishire ARPS. His blog, The Nook–A Garden Blog, can be found here.

About Shannon Alexander

Shannon was born in 1982, which makes her a member of the Millennial Generation, not Generation X as she previously presumed. She is an attorney by trade with a background in immigration and human rights law. Shannon loves reading, running and traveling. She has held library cards and run races all around the world from London to St. Louis to Lund.