How to Keep an Interview Journal and Why
Interviews are the most crucial parts of the job search process and often the most stressful. They can cause an endless amount of anxiety as well as an endless number of sleepless nights. It's no wonder that interview tips are the most sought after career advice by jobseekers. However, most advice about interviewing concentrates on what you can do before an interview, and little concentrates on what you can do afterward. And that's what I'd like to focus on below.
So, to begin, let's say you've done all you can to prepare for an interview for a job you really want. And let's say you just had that interview. It's over. You've just shaken the hand of your interviewer, the elevator doors have closed, and the elevator is making its descent. Likely what's going through your mind is what transpired during the previous 30 to 45 minutes. You're likely replaying the interview in your mind, likely replaying the parts in which you think you stumbled. Maybe you're even starting to metaphorically kick yourself for saying the wrong things, or not saying the right things, or for mumbling or fumbling through an answer, or for going down a road when giving an answer that led to a dead end. All that is good. Which is to say, all of that is good information that will help you in your next interview, and the one after that, and the one after that, and the one after that.
Here's something you should start to get used to: throughout your career, you'll likely interview hundreds of times. Not with hundreds of companies. But you'll definitely have many, many interviews. More than 100. This includes jobs, volunteering opportunities, graduate schools, etc. The point is it's important to remember you'll have more interviews during your career than you'll be able to remember. Which is where your interview journal comes in.
Let's go back to you in the descending elevator. Now the elevator has just hit L. The lobby. The doors open. Hopefully you're breathing steadily, you've stopped sweating, and you have 20 minutes before you have to get back to your daily rounds (school, your job, etc.). You exit the building and go find a cafe. Any cafe will do. You pull out a pen and pull out your interview journal (you will have brought a notebook or Moleskin-like journal with you to your interview). At the cafe, you find a quiet, or quiet-ish area. Now here is what you do next.
1. Get down the basics.
First, write all the basic details about your interview. Which company you interviewed with, the date, the exact time of day, the name of the person you interviewed with, that person's title, the job you were interviewing for, how long the interview lasted, and the round of interview (if this was your first interview with the company, second, etc.). Okay, done. Now move on to #2.
2. Write down the Qs.
Now begin to go over the interview in your mind in detail. And then begin to write down the exact questions you were asked. Maybe you were asked: Tell me about yourself. Walk me through your resume. What are your strengths? Do you have any weaknesses? What would your coworkers say about you? Where do you see yourself in five years, ten? Etc. Write all these questions down in a list form. As many as you can remember, in the exact language you were asked (if you can remember how you were asked; if not, then just the general questions will do: "Strength. Weaknesses. Etc."). Okay, great, done. Now on to #3.
3. Write down the As.
Okay, now you're going to write down the answers you gave to the questions you've just listed in your journal. You don't have to write your answers verbatim, but it's important to report on what you said. For example, to the strength question, write down what you said your strength was and how you supported this answer. Write down anything you can remember about your answer. If you only remember a few things, then just making a few notes is fine. Treat it like you're taking notes in a class, or in a meeting. But feel free to get as detailed as possible. The important thing is to make notes so you can remember your interview. Do this for all of the questions you were asked that you can remember. Then move on to #4.
4. Assess yourself.
Now it's time to give an assessment of the interview. Go back to what you wrote in #3 and go through each answer. Write down if you think you answered well, clearly, or if you stumbled a bit. If you stumbled, write down why you think you stumbled. Were you nervous? Were you not prepared for the question? Not prepared enough? Also, did you think your interviewer liked your response/thought it was a good one? What was your interviewer's reaction to your answer (if you could read their reaction)? Now that you've done that for each question, you're ready for #5.
5. Assess yourself, part two.
Now you're going to give a general, overall assessment of how you think the interview went. Remember, no one else but you will read this, so be as honest as you can. Honesty is your friend. It will help you. So, in general, did you think the interview went well? Did you connect with your interviewer? Were there any places where you lost a connection with your interviewer? Gained it? Were there any surprises (questions or things the interviewer said)? Do you think there were any spots where you could've made a stronger impression or where you could've slid in a talent or experience of yours that could've made a difference? Where were you the weakest? (This next part is important). And where were you the strongest? Did you knock any part of the interview out of the park? Write all of your thoughts down on these questions, like you're a detective. That is, try to keep some distance from yourself. It's not easy, but try your best. Then move on to No. 6.
6. Turn the page.
Your journaling is now complete. At least for this interview it is. And this is where the journal becomes your best friend. You're born alone and you die alone, as the saying goes. I also believe you interview alone. No one but you is with you in your interviews (aside from your interviewers, but they're never going to be truthful with you when it comes to how well or not well you did, and sometimes they're not even the best judges of that). And so, you're going to use your notes to become a better interviewer in your next interview. No matter if that's with the same company, or with a different one, or with a graduate school. You'll continue to keep this journal after every interview. And then, before every subsequent interview, as part of your interview preparation, you'll have a record of your past performances to draw upon. You'll know which areas you need to work on, and which areas you're already quite adept in. You'll know which questions trip you up and which don't. And you'll know, to the best of your memory, how your answers land with interviewers. And then you can tweak and work on your answers accordingly. And you will be able to chart your progress.
Lastly, it's important to remember that interviewing is a process. This means I don't believe or buy statements like: "I'm not a good interviewer" or "I don't interview well." Interviewing is hard. Unfortunately, we have to do it. And do it often. The point is not to become a perfect interviewer, or even a good interviewer. The point is to keep learning, to keep improving, and, as Samuel Beckett famously wrote (perhaps first in his journal), to keep failing better.
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