2 Essential Steps for Acing Your Next Interview

Preparing for an interview can be nerve-wracking, immensely intimidating and deceptively one-sided. Think about it: a person or (worse!) several people sitting opposite you, questioning you, and then analyzing, critiquing and judging whether you can or cannot get the job done properly…it’s a professional’s worst nightmare!

Preparing for an interview with the right resume and best attire can fluster even seasoned professionals (here are some tips on how to land and prepare for the interview), but most say the interview questions are what really rattle their nerves.

The questions can be unpredictable and therefore anxiety producing. And my prospective clients tell me that even when they feel they are prepared for interview questions, a nagging and insecure voice in their head badgers them, saying that they probably didn’t answer correctly. This insecurity eats away at their self-confidence.

“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.”

– Arthur Ashe

It doesn’t have to be like that. With a little preparation and some reframing, you can answer any question with calm, cool confidence. You can achieve a successful outcome without sweating through your suit jacket. Below is my long-standing strategy for acing interview questions. I show you how to keep your composure and keep the exchange of information on an even keel.

Step 1: Know what to focus on first.

A classic interview questions is, “Tell me where you see yourself in 5 years.”

Thoughts race through your mind about becoming partner, or retiring, or maybe about quitting in 5 years to start your own company. Sometimes the thought, “Well, I want your job!” pops up. These thoughts are not something you intuitively want to share for fear that the answer is “wrong.”

To give a polished answer to this question, avoid the temptation to immediately name a title or position. Instead, focus on the skills you want to acquire, the goals you want to reach and the projects you want to tackle. Then, if you feel the need to drive home your ambitions for a higher title, you can indicate that you’d hope to have been promoted to a certain level.

Here’s an example of how to give a sophisticated answer without stepping on a land mine:

“When I look forward, I hope to have lead several projects to the point where I’ve become a subject matter expert and have been promoted into a role where I can lead a team and make a bigger impact on the company.”

This is a great answer, and a little further down I will tell you what to say next to make it an outstanding response. Before we move on, let’s discuss what else is ok to say when answering the question.

If there is a partner track, it is completely fine to say, I want to make partner in 5 years. Laying down achievable goals like this shows your interest and implies a long lifespan in the company.

Remember: Do not focus on the title when answering this question, instead reveal who you want to be or what you will have learned or experienced in that time.

Step 2: Turn the question around.

Once you answer the question, turn the question back to the interviewer. This is an interview after all, and it is your job to not only impress, but also do some investigating about how well you fit with the corporate culture and discern if you want the job. The turn-around looks like this:

“I would really like to be on the partner track in five years and (now here is the turn-around:) I think to get there I’d like to have a good mentor to help me develop my leadership skills and help assess major projects. Can you tell me about your mentoring program? What is expected of mentees?”

 You have answered the question (“I would really like to be on the partner track in five years”) and left the door open for the interviewer to give you more details about the company. This is a great set-up for a productive information exchange.

Here’s another example:

“When I look ahead, I see myself managing a team of developers and fine-tuning products that are about to be released. (And now the turn-around:) In order to do that successfully, I will need to be part of key projects that let me learn new skills and get valuable guidance from my team and my boss.  Can you tell me about what kind of projects and training I can expect within the first few years working here?”

One last example:

“I want to continue my track record of innovative graphic design and have access to higher-level clients in order to push myself and improve my client management skills. (Turn-around:) Can you tell me what my first year or two would look like and what you think I should focus on to be successful?”

No matter what question you are asked, you can turn it around. It takes some practice, but once you get the hang of it, it will become second nature to answer the question and then craft your own question.

Remember, great interview answers are always:

  • Thoughtful
  • Pose an open-ended question
  • Require concrete information in return

When you get comfortable using this technique, your success rate will start to climb. Creating a conversation that fosters an exchange of information on both sides of the table makes a more satisfying experience for everyone. You come away with more information, and therefore are more control of your career path. The interviewer gets to know you better through your answers and also through your questions. S/he will certainly have an impression of a proactive, driven candidate.

For more practice with interview questions and acing the interview process, see my blog posts on 8 Top Tips For Handling Salary Questions and What Do You Mean I’m “Overqualified”?.

Preparing for your interview can turn a worrisome chore into an exciting opportunity. Reframe the interview as an information exchange, rather than a do-or-die situation and you will relax a bit. You’ll find that your curiosity about the role and the company will help you easily turn the interviewer’s questions around to help you get details about the job and the culture. Once you gain traction with this skill, interviewing will be something to look forward to and you’ll see it as a great opportunity.


Julia is a Career Strategist and Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach based in the Bay Area. She helps career-focused professionals showcase their unique abilities and talents in order to amplify their presence in their chosen fields and when re-entering the job market. Julia uses her extensive leadership experience in interviewing, executive management, business development, team building and recruiting to help her clients have the career they always wanted. Learn more about Julia at www.JuliaHolian.comwww.LinkedIn.com/in/JuliaHolian,   https://Twitter.com/JuliaHolian (@JuliaHolian) and www.Facebook.com/JuliaHolian

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