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Careers Café

Job interview tips: spot the pattern


After serving on a number of hiring committees and conducting hundreds of mock interviews, I think that one of the most useful and trickiest ways to prepare for interviews is to identify patterns – the patterns in your responses that you might not even be aware of.

Grab a friend or relative who’s willing to be honest with you, or work with a career professional who’s paid to be honest with you, and find out what patterns emerge in your answers over the course of an interview.

Behavioural questions (about “a time when” you did X) can really bring out messages you might not intend to send. Maybe you’re applying for a role that requires working in isolation, yet your answers consistently draw on collaborative experiences. Maybe you frequently mention the word “collaboration” in your responses, but the achievements you refer to all highlight your history of spearheading projects solo, and of bringing in new ideas despite opposition.

Patterns can also come through in what’s left unsaid. This is especially a risk if the people interviewing you have done or are doing the work for which you’re interviewing. They know the rewards of the job, and they’ll notice if your excitement about these rewards doesn’t seem to match their own. So, if you’re interviewing for a college instructor position, and you don’t get excited about developing students’ skills, the interview committee might raise a collective eyebrow.

Of course, you can work at identifying your interview patterns on your own. Look at the messages you know you want to get across. What strengths underscore them? In my own interviews, I tend to highlight a collaborative approach. Next, think about what frustrates you in others when you’re trying to use that strength. For me, it’s people who are overly assertive, who appear to jump to conclusions. That gives me a hint that a pattern in my interviews might be that I come across as someone who won’t be a strong advocate when needed, or who takes too long to reach a decision.

It’s far easier to find someone else to spot your patterns for you – someone who will be honest with you, and who is not so like-minded as to have the same blind spots. Really listen to that person’s feedback. How does it fit with the role you’re vying for, and the environment hope to work in? That last piece is important – a pattern that’s detrimental in one context can be beneficial in another. Knowing what your patterns are, however, is always beneficial.

Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is the associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award at McMaster University.
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