Answering Interview Questions—Make a List

What is that phrase about success…“90% perspiration and 10% inspiration?”  When it comes to job interviews I’d say it should be 90% preparation and 10% perspiration.  Whether you are on a job search, selling yourself for a promotion, or negotiating for a greater piece of the bonus pie, preparing for the conversation is the best formula I know.

Paraphrasing the fourth step of Alcoholics Anonymous have you made a searching and fearless moral  career inventory of yourself?  Have you sat down and thought “What have I done for my employer lately?”, “Where did I fail?” and “When was I a significant contributor?”  This exercise is an important, often overlooked, activity. You probably know the answers but how can you sell yourself if you haven’t put them into clear, positive language?
Time to make a list of what you have to offer.

There is no better way to validate your claims than with present day examples. Flip through your calendar; search the project folders and read past performance evaluations for really great material. Examples using the words of a third party are especially convincing.  “On my last review my supervisor said the project would not have been as profitable were it not for my insights and efforts”.  I often administer the Myers-Briggs assessment to my executive coaching clients.  The results are an excellent source of keywords and concise phrases that help them communicate strengths and challenges.

Be fearless and tell yourself all the things that didn’t exactly go your way.  Successful people can produce extensive lists because they are always raising the bar. Say them out loud, and then let them go. Chose facts most people would ultimately sees as strengths or non-issues, “I have some difficulty with people who don’t share my passion for _____” or “I’d really like to take my PowerPoint skills to the next level.” Neither are deal breakers and the first might even win you some points.

Focus on getting your most important attributes out there in what I like to call the quotable quote.  This is putting an idea into a phrase that the interviewer can easily remember and pass on to the next level. I often quoted my boss who wrote on my performance appraisal, “when it comes to selecting people, Jane walks on water (OK, needs a few rocks).”  It always got a grin and also made my point.

By preparing your list of accomplishments and contributions you are ready for almost any question.  As important, should you find yourself in front of someone who either says little or does all of the talking, you can be sure to focus and make sure you leave them with the important parts.

Try this:  List five major contributions you have made to your organization or industry.  Describe it in narrative form incorporating the opinions of others into your pitch.  Next think of something you would prefer others not know, really think about it, maybe get a little angry.  Write it out (ideally in longhand).  Read it again.  Now tear it up and forget about it.  Promise yourself that you will not be the one to disclose and if it pops up, you will address it as briefly and in a detached manner. Return to focusing on the accomplishments list. It works.

Keep in mind the goal of the first interview is to make it to the second round.  Only into the future rounds does “Do I want the job?” or “Do they want me?” come into play. 

Jane Cranston is an executive coach, career coach and “The Job Search Expert” based in New York City. She shares with success driven executives and professionals techniques, skills and goal setting strategies that advance their careers, increase people management skills and assists them in career change or job search. Receive Jane’s free "Competitive Edge Report" and the free audio download “Creating a Career Strategy” by visiting

About the Author

Jane Cranston - Executive Coach NY (New York)Executive and career coach, “The Job Search Expert,” Jane Cranston understands the challenges and opportunities in the workplace. She integrates years of experience as an accomplished senior executive with global brand name companies, with the lessons learned from opening three successful businesses, and then applies her education and coach training. This sophisticated mix affords her clients her unique perspective, business sensibility, and entrepreneurial spirit.

Jane is the founder and Managing Director of ExecutiveCoachNY, an executive and career coaching business based in New York City with clients nationwide. She coaches success-driven executives and managers to develop a career strategy that accelerates advancement, increases compensation, enhances people-management skills as well as gets the competitive edge in all business activities.

Coaching with Jane is dynamic, structured, forward-focused as well as fun and inspirational. Working with clients in fields such as finance, technology, media and entertainment, real estate, and the law, she assists them in recognizing and achieving their full potential at work and in their personal lives.

Clients claim coaching with Jane has “changed my career focus,” “helped me better understand how to motivate my staff,” “given me ideas that have increased my income by $100,000s,” and “made me realize what is my part and what isn’t,” and claim coaching is “the best thing you could do for yourself.”

Jane’s soon to be published “Great Job Tough Times” is a step-by-step job search system designed to assist managers and executives looking for employment, or contemplating leaving their current positions, with their resume writing, interviewing skills, networking techniques, and negotiating need to get the right job fast.

Jane Cranston is frequently seen on CNN’s “Your Money” and quoted in nationally syndicated newspapers, magazines, as well as Internet article sites and virtual programs. She authors the free, twice monthly, “Competitive Edge Report.” Learn more on her website


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