The easiest questions are the hardest, when you’re not prepared

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Hey Mary! Minneapolis worked for her, not for me.

The easiest questions are the hardest, when you’re not prepared.


When I was looking for work recently, I was thrilled to secure an interview with an organization I really respected. Dream job type stuff: Great brand, helping the world, and loads of free tickets to shows and events.

To prepare, I created a quantitative analysis of past projects, perfected my story of my proudest career moments and memorized all the obstacles I have faced plus the solutions. However, I was not prepared for the first interview question: “Tell me what we do and how?”

Of course I knew what they did but I had not practiced it in my mind so I could articulate it perfectly. My first thought was to say, “What do you do? Well, I don’t have to tell YOU that! Am I right?”

My actual answer was factually correct and fine but, had I been prepared, I could have done it in a way that showed my storytelling skills and connected their mission with my experience. Very bad, especially for someone who wanted to be their communications expert. Spoiler alert: I did not get the job.

I was so intent on selling myself, I neglected to study the organization more closely. Interviewers don’t want to know about you, they want to know about you as it relates to helping them achieve goals.

At another job interview a few weeks earlier, an easy question that threw me through a loop was, “Tell me what we expect to be accomplished by the person we eventually hire?”

You’d think I’d know about the job I was going for but it was quite a complex communications job working for several business lines and functions in a mega-conglomerate. Every person involved with the hiring wrote down all their wishes and dreams or what I call, all the things they no longer want to do. In my mind, the answer was simple, “It would be shorter if I just list the things you don’t expect.”

No excuses! I could have taken their ridiculous wish list and focused on the areas that jumped out as priorities and how those align with my skills. I don’t remember what I said exactly but I was no longer interested in the position at that point. It was February and they flew me out to where the job would be based, the corporate offices in an old drafty building in an industrial complex thirty miles south of Minneapolis. I asked myself, “Can I live here?” and answered quickly, “Live here? Girl, I don’t even want to die here!”

What I learned is this: study just as much about the company and the position as you study your successes. Then connect those three things and you will be able to show exactly how and where you will bring value. Or, you might learn the job or the company is not a great fit. Most importantly, I learned not to go to Minneapolis in February.

— Jeff Stein, Communications Consultant, SAGEWorks
The thoughts and opinions above are those of the writer and not Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE).