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Career Coaching by Former Fortune 500 Recruiters

Is It Possible To Over-Prepare For An Interview

In just this past week, several of my clients have sounded tired during our interview practice.  I even got a very detailed response that was related to, but not quite exactly on point to what I had asked.  These are hardworking jobseekers who I know are diligently working through the coaching assignments.  Is it possible to over-prepare for interviews?

Most jobseekers don’t prepare enough.  So don’t use this column as permission to slack off your search.  You still need to research the company, industry and specific individuals you will be meeting.  You still need to stay abreast of current events and be able to engage in timely discussions.  You still need to have the 3-4 key message points that will present you in the best light and position you appropriately for the specific job at hand.  So there is much work to do, and over-preparation is a rare problem.

Still, I’ve seen over-prepared candidates and other recruiters have seen them, so it’s worth discussing.  Over-preparation is when your answers sound rehearsed.  You lose the spontaneity and thoughtfulness in your responses.  Your answers may be relevant but not exactly on point because you sidestep the exact question and instead jump to the points you’ve memorized in your head. 

There is a better balance between under- and over-preparation, and the secret ingredient is listening.  For all interviews, you need to research and prepare your overarching message.  But with each interaction you need to listen to what is uniquely happening at that moment and adjust accordingly.  This means that you laser focus when you have an anxious or tough interviewer.  You let the story structure meander when you have a conversational interviewer.  You are ready with details or you move on depending on your read of what the interviewer wants.  In other words, you prepare in advance a wide range of responses but react to the moment at hand.  Preparation and practice is not a substitute for listening in the moment.  A good interview is a conversation to experience, not a monologue to prepare.

 Caroline Ceniza-Levine, career coach, writer, speaker, Gen Y expert and co-founder of SixFigureStart™ (www.sixfigurestart.com), coaches jobseekers using a recruiter’s perspective of what employers really want and how the hiring process really works. Formerly in corporate HR and retained search, Caroline has recruited for Accenture, Citibank, Disney ABC, Time Inc and others. Caroline is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Professional Development at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs and a life coach (www.thinkasinc.com).

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2 Responses

  1. Valerie says:

    Excellent advice!

    Every interview is slightly different, so you need to have enough flexibility in your prepared responses to adapt to the interviewer’s approach.

    How does everyone else prepare for this?

  2. Preparing the overall structure of your responses and the key messaging points that you want to share enables you to tailor your responses in the moment. The key is knowing how to prepare, so that you don’t over- or under-do it.

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