The HR Lady Speaketh: Zen and the Art of Preparing for an Interview Part 1

Written By

Namita Kutty

Preparing for an Interview Part 1 Loading

Getting hired by a company is much like marriage. Heck, if you put in long hours, you probably end up spending more time at office than with your better half. Think of your interview as the first date. You want to make a good impression, but you also need to do your homework. First step, do you want this partnership? Is it a great place to work for you? Is it aligned to your working style and long term goals? Do talk to someone who works there (recruiters don’t count!). Done your homework and you like it? Awesome! Let’s get prepped for your first date!

Here’s a secret. At most interviews, you can control what you share. Yup, you can, with a bit of preparation, steer the discussion the way you want to. In this part let’s talk about acing behavior-based interviews. In our next one we will tackle some of those typical interview questions. For now, I’m going to take an example of interviewing in a fictional retailing company for a data analysis job.

  1. What does this role require?

Research like mad on the company! Their history, financials, current position in the market, future plans, etc. Remember how you would obsessively check Facebook for any deets on your date before meeting him? Figure out what qualities and qualifications this role would need. Get in the mind of the hiring manager and understand what he / she is looking for when they interview you. I create a small file which I carry around for every company I interview with. Example:  “Aamantran” is the second largest Indian retailer founded by Arvind Amay in 1990.  There are over 67 stores in 32 cities across India and it hires over 11,000 employees. Its revenues are over 200 million and has been awarded “the Hall of Fame”.

  1. Why should they hire you?

How do you as a prospective employee match up to the requirements of the role? What super star qualities or qualifications do you bring to the table that make it a match made in heaven? Make a list of abilities or strengths that you want to showcase relevant to what the company needs that you penned down in step 1. Example: 12 years of work experience in the top industry retailer leading their data analysis wing. MBA from a top b-school and specialised in Marketing and Analytics. Quick learner, End to end ownership, Initiative…

  1. How can you showcase your abilities?

I know interviews can seem daunting at times, but guess what, the hiring manager you’re meeting is human too! He really wants to like and hire you and get down to business as usual. To be convincing, talk the interviewer through an actual situation where you made a difference. Most interviewers use the behaviour or competency based PAR framework. The funda is based on the theory that your actual behaviour in the past is the best predictor of behaviour in the future.

 As Mark Minocha shared while he was babysitting his little daughter in the park, “I don’t hire just on the basis of what the interviewees claim they can do, I want real life examples.”  In addition to being super dad, Mark’s day time avatar is a Director heading the Data Analysis wing at a large Indian retailer. Here’s a great example from one of his best hires for “Tell me about a situation where you had to take up end-to-end ownership of a problem.”

  • Project: What was the project, situation, challenge or task at hand? Highlight any specific challenges or constraint (deadlines, costs, lack of resources). Example: We had a launch for a retail solution that was to be released for Diwali sales analysis. With less than a week to go, we realised that while the tool was fully functional, without a suitable user interface, the tool adoption rates will be very low. The UXM (user interface team) was backed up and couldn’t dedicate time for the next 3 weeks. 
  • Activity: What activity or action did you undertake? Subtly highlight desirable traits like initiative, leadership, problem solving abilities etc. Example: Though I was responsible only for the technology, I decided to find a solution. I found that RShiny was the best UXM tool to use in this case. After reading up extensively via online tutorials for 2 days I developed a user interface before the end of the week. 
  • Result: What was the result, benefits or business impact? Example: We were able to launch the tool with an easy-to-use user interface for Diwali sales ahead of competitors. We exceeded our target and the user adoption was almost 5 times the predicted rate. This ensured that we were able to get our data analysis reports to our Merchandising and Marketing teams on time to allow them to understand the trends and react accordingly. 

A great way to prepare for a behaviour based interview would be to prepare PAR examples for commonly asked categories like:

  • Leadership / Taking initiative
  • Problem solving
  • Teamwork
  • Pressure situation / Deadlines
  • Communication

Here’s wishing you all the very best. I hope this helps in finding your match made in heaven!

For more ‘HR Lady Speaketh’ tips read this and this.

In our next article, we will cover some of the common interview questions and answers. Till then, as good ol’ Arnie puts it — Hasta La Vista Baby!




Mommy of a pint-sized dictator (read toddler). Wife of a super busy entrepreneur who's also an incredibly hands-on daddy (never mind all her whingeing!). Lover of books, yoga; and fitness enthusiast (read: the long journey back to pre-natal petiteness) and member of the top secret 'New Mommy Club'. Namita in her previous avatar was a senior HR professional for over a decade in top IT, Banking and Retail MNCs. She prided herself on her people management abilities and effective conflict resolution. All of which comes to naught as she's totally owned by a toddler at negotiations.

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