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Brady Krien is a Ph.D. candidate in English literature and an M.L.I.S. student at the University of Iowa, where he works as a graduate careers and fellowships adviser in the Grad Success Center. You can find him on Twitter at @BradyKrien and at his website.

Many of the students I work with are in the throes of the interview process. Some are interviewing on campus for academic jobs, while others are focused on professional positions outside academia, clinical placements or even internships. While the type of positions that students are interviewing for and the nature and structure of their interviews vary considerably, the trepidation and anxiety that go along with interviewing seem to transcend disciplinary and professional boundaries.

Interviews are challenging. This is true regardless of the structure of the interview. A daylong on-campus interview can feel like a marathon of names, faces and questions. While not as physically and mentally taxing, a 30-minute phone interview demands that one define and differentiate oneself in very little time, demanding that we weigh every word and very intentionally balance our time. Whether you are concerned about looking good in a Skype interview, preparing for a phone interview or planning for an in-person interview, here are some general interview preparation strategies that can help make the process less stressful.

Prepare Drop-In Anecdotes

One of the most common questions that I get from students is whether they should develop and practice responses to lists of common questions that they find online. The answer is always no. Not only do graduate students not have nearly enough time to prepare exhaustive responses to exhaustive lists of exhausting questions, the odds that they will get asked questions that are not on the list or that they will forget their response (and possibly panic) are far too great. Having a polished elevator pitch to respond to “tell us about yourself” or “tell us about your research” is one thing, but there are simply too many permutations of questions to try to anticipate them and prepare responses to most or even a significant part of them.

At the same time, the answer is not to not prepare at all. Instead, I recommend practicing a set of three to five anecdotes that you could use to answer a wide variety of questions. These might vary depending on the type of positions that you are applying for, but in general, they should illustrate one or more of your strengths, your ability to respond productively to challenges and, for teaching positions, your ability to interact with students. Don’t practice them word for word, but rather talk about them with a variety of people. Try different articulations and figure out what the main takeaways for each anecdote are. Having a few strong examples that you just have to frame for your answers is not only much more manageable, it will also feel more organic and natural in conversation and will lead to more memorable answers.

Anticipate Your Needs

I know that the last thing that most people want to do is spend time imagining the process of interviewing, but it’s worth stepping through the interview in your head ahead of time. Where can you give yourself a little extra help? What are you going to need? What obstacles might you encounter? This may be as complex as breaking down a campus interview schedule and planning to stash snacks and water in your bag to refuel at certain points, or it may be as simple as sticking a Post-it with a reminder to Slow Down -- Breathe next to your laptop webcam for a Skype interview (really, it can help). The key is simply to anticipate your needs and figure out how your present self can help your future self to be successful. These needs will vary a lot from person to person, though I have found that having a Tide pen (or three if, like me, you are predisposed to both spills and overpreparation) handy is a must in everything except a phone interview situation.

Know Your Criteria

Going into the interview, it’s common to think about all of the things that the hiring committee wants out of a candidate, but it’s also important to think about the things that you need in a position. Yes, it’s entirely possible that your main focus may just be to land a job, any job, but it’s worth taking some time to think about what you’re looking for in a work environment, regardless of whether it’s inside or outside a university. Fit matters for both you and your future employer, and reflecting on what you need from a position to make it a valuable and meaningful experience is important prep work. It will help you develop questions that are more thoughtful and more valuable in the long term and, most importantly, it will help remind you that in any interview, it’s not just an employer evaluating you as a potential employee -- it’s also you evaluating a potential employer.

What strategies have you found particularly effective for prepping for interviews? Share with us in the comments or on Twitter -- @bradykrien and @GradHacker.

[Image by Unsplash user rupixen and used under a Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication.]

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