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The One Interview Prep Activity You Should Be Doing

Over the past 15 years, I’ve interview-coached hundreds of professionals aiming for highly competitive opportunities. Before hiring me, most of my clients would experience stressful, anxiety-provoking, nerve-wracking panic as they prepared for interviews. They worried about being unprepared, talking too fast, talking too quietly, and not asking the right questions. They doubted their own capabilities and qualifications, and worried that the interviewers would regret calling them to even be considered.

What was causing this extraordinary amount of panic? For the majority, they were planning to think on their feet, a strategy that can only get you so far in an interview. Since it’s impossible to predict what questions they’d be asked, they put all their faith in their instantaneous ability to come up with passable answers.

Here’s why this doesn’t work:

Lots of us thrive on adrenaline. In fact, many of us do our best work – and best thinking –under pressure. When we come up with the right answer spur of the moment, we get a rush of dopamine for ‘succeeding’. 

But in an interview setting, the goal is rarely to have the right answer. The goal is to connect with and make an impression upon your interviewer with honest, authentic answers. Here are four ways to do that:

  • Tell a story about a past win or impressive accomplishment
  • Share insight into how you handle negative emotions or less-than-ideal circumstances
  • Show them that you have the capacity for self-reflection and growth
  • Provoke an interesting and memorable conversation, perhaps inspiring a deeper connection

When you think on your feet, you're less likely to remember supplementary details and anecdotes that you could have used had you planned your strategy out in advance, which is why it's so important to prepare for your interviews.

Here are the interview prep steps I use that leave my clients feeling cool, calm, and collected before their big moment:

Step #1

Start brainstorming a list of 8-10 instances when one of these things happened:

  • You felt especially energized or proud of something you did
  • You overcame a challenge OR improved something
  • You got praised, promoted, or recognized
  • You took initiative without being asked
Step #2

Reflect on each instance you listed and ask yourself, “Was there a measurable outcome or improvement that was related to this?”  

What might this look like?

  • The increase in customers reached by the initiative
  • The number of overall users engaged
  • The total sales volume that was achieved
  • An increase in accuracy, productivity, or revenue
  • The number of staff that were impacted

But what if there isn’t a hard metric associated with your work? It’s totally ok to bring in descriptive indicators of impact. A few examples might be:

  • A customer left you a nice review for helping to resolve a complicated issue.
  • Your supervisors were so impressed – one even said that it was the best ‘something’ they ever saw.
  • They are still using the tools, solutions, or processes, even after you left
  • The next year, they replicated what you did. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery
Step #3

We’ve brainstormed the last half of our interview answer, but we still need the beginning. As any good storyteller knows, there are two critical questions we need to address if we really want to make your answers not just memorable, but mind-blowing.

Question: Where were you were working at the time? 

Setting the stage sparks the interest of the interviewer. “It was a dark and stormy night” is the most cliché example of this.

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

We don’t need to get this descriptive. But we do want the interview to get a clear sense of where we were working, and the challenges we were up against prior to the accomplishment.

Here’s an example: 

  • I was originally brought in by the owner of a small wellness company to help scale the company beyond where they were. They had already had some success, but they were in dire need of some structure and processes to help them grow.

So we have an idea of what type of company they were working in, the sector, and the size of the organization. Our interest is piqued!

Question: What obstacles were you up against? 

  • Most of their operations were being done manually by a very small team. There was not much documentation or automation – and I was learning from the ground up.

Aha. So now we know the challenge that they’re up against.

Let's do a quick recap of where we are so far:

We've set the scene ("brought in to a small wellness company"), we've identified the obstacles ("they were doing everything manually"), and we're showcasing the outcomes achieved ("company doubled their profit in the first 6 months").

Now put it all together.

When we put it all together, we now have an amazing interview response that showcases our strengths and capabilities.  The best part? When responding to interview questions, we can show them rather than tell them!


“What’s your greatest strength?”


“I would say that my greatest strength is probably my ability to quickly assess a situation, see what needs to be improved, and put a plan in place to get there. Here’s an example. In my earlier role, I was originally brought in by the owner of a small wellness company to help scale the company beyond where they were. They had already had some success, but they were in need of some structure and processes to help them grow. The challenge was to build trust with the existing staff and get their buy-in, so that I could map out all the steps, interactions, and possibilities. From there, I was able to guide them through the process of selecting systems and formalizing things. The company doubled their profit in the first six months that I was there, and I was promoted to a VP role.”


To structure your interview prep time as smartly as possible, follow the steps outlined above! Write out your most memorable, powerful, and impressive work experiences. Then expand them into narratives that feature a story arc, describing what happened using the framework: setting > problem > solution.

If you need some more structured support, our 20+ page Interview Workbook is packed with fillable interactive exercises that build on this activity. It includes sample templates, cheat sheets, and guidelines for common interview scenarios.

And for those needing some individualized guidance, we provide one-on-one interview coaching sessions for a limited number of clients each month. Learn more here.



Andrea Gerson
Post by Andrea Gerson
February 29, 2024
Andrea Gerson is a social worker, career coach and workforce technology founder. Over the past 15 years, she's crafted impactful resumes for over 7,500 clients – many of who have gotten hired at organizations like Google, Apple, and the U.N. She's partnered with dozens of non-profit workforce agencies to lead staff trainings on topics like job search strategies, interview preparation and navigating workplace conflict. Andrea brings a strengths-based, client-centered perspective, and her work is an extension of her commitment to addressing the opportunity gap.