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Deborah Walker

Avoid Job Interview Brain Freeze

Four strategies show you how.

August 20, 2009
by Deborah Walker, CCMC

Have you ever experienced brain freeze during a job interview? You are asked a question and your mind goes blank — it's horrifying. You lose composure as well as confidence. Your interview goes down hill from there. Interview anxiety most often happens as a result of behavioral or situational interview questions that are not anticipated before hand. As a career coach, this is the most common interview problem I hear about from my clients. With the right preparation accounting and finance executives can avoid the nightmare of brain freeze and improve their interview performance greatly.

Behavioral and Situational Interviews

First of all, it's important to understand what a behavioral or situational interview question is. It is any question that starts with:

  • Tell me a time when …
  • Give an example of …
  • Describe a situation when …

Employers ask these questions with the assumption that past behavior indicates future performance. These questions reveal a lot about you, including your ability to think fast on your feet. Given that interviews are inherently stressful, many job seekers find it extremely difficult to think fast during interviews.

Four Strategies to Avoid Brain Freeze

Here are four steps that will help you prepare for any interview question:

  1. Take inventory of your accomplishments.

    This requires more than a cursory mental note of the good stuff you've done in the past year. Take a systematic approach by asking yourself what challenges you've faced in each of your positions over the past five or more years. Try asking yourself:

    • What processes have I improved?
    • How have I made work easier for others?
    • What did I do to save my company money?
    • When did I find a solution to a departmental problem?
    • How did I save time?
    • When did I go beyond the call of duty to solve a customer problem?

Write out your answers to these questions. Remember to include the quantitative details when appropriate. Include dollars saved, hours cut, percentage increased etc.

  1. Study the job description.

    With your list of accomplishments in hand you are ready to turn your attention to the job description. Study the requirements to determine all the possible challenges involved with the job. If the actual job description is skimpy in details, look to other similar positions listed to help fill in the blanks. Additionally, ask others who hold similar positions what their greatest challenges of the job are. Write out your list of anticipated challenges.
  1. Create a list of behavioral questions.

  2. Turn your list of challenges of the position into a list of questions that start with:
    • Tell me a time when you …
    • Describe a situation when …
    • Have you ever had to …

    Your list will look something like:

    • Tell me a time when you had to cut costs out of your annual budget.
    • Describe a situation when you had to fire a friend.
    • How would you go about repairing a relationship with a disgruntled client?

  3. Use your list of accomplishments to answer your behavioral questions.

    Ask a friend to help you role play your interview answers. You should feel very comfortable communicating your success stories. The more time you practice actually talking about your accomplishments the faster you'll be able to recall your stories in your next interview.

Conclusion

With interview performance more important than ever before it pays to prepare, prepare, prepare. There is no such thing as over preparation when it comes to interviews. Use this 1-2-3-4 approach to interview preparation and you'll be surprised at how much more confident you'll feel in your next interview. The better you interview the faster you'll land that new job.

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Deborah Walker CCMC, is a career coach who works with recent college graduates preparing them to compete in the toughest job markets. Her clients gain top performing skills in résumé writing, interview preparation and salary negotiation.