Preparation: The Recipe for Success


When I was interviewed recently on WTOP radio, I spoke about the need to be prepared if you are planning to make a career change.  Ironically, after several post-interview conversations with friends, clients, family, and colleagues about the experience, it struck me that I’d had minimal time to “prepare” for the interview. I got into the studio about 20 minutes in advance of my interview and was handed a sheet of paper with the proposed questions. I was also aware that the interviewers might not always follow the script exactly. Any answer I provided might lead them to a question I hadn’t seen prior to the interview.

Since, by all accounts, the interview seemed to go fine, I began to wonder if my oft-repeated mantra about preparation might be wrong. Here’s what I determined: Preparation is very important! But, there are different types of preparation, and over-preparing can have a negative impact as well. So, how do you sift your way through?

Things To Remember
The goal of preparation is, of course, to do well at whatever you are preparing for. The idea is to feel confident going into the situation, so that you increase your chances of succeeding. Preparation is the “recipe for success,” so to speak.  When preparing for an interview or other situation in which you need to think on your feet, first consider the topic in broader terms. Don’t try to ferret out every single question you think might be asked. You won’t be able to, and it could cause you to become tied up in knots as the interview proceeds and you anticipate questions that are never asked.

Here are some additional considerations for proper preparation:

  1. There are many little ancillary things that you can do to make yourself feel more prepared. I got to the interview site 30 minutes before I was asked to arrive, just so I wouldn’t need to worry about parking or searching for the entrance to the studio. (I was so early that I actually sat in my car for ten minutes!) And, since it was radio, I could really dress comfortably, and I did!
  2. Remember that you are a person speaking to another person. No more and no less. When my interview started, the interviewer, Shawn, mistakenly said he was happy to be there. I laughed and said that was my line, and it loosened me up considerably when he and his co-host laughed in return.
  3. And, of course, understand and be prepared to speak about the topic. The deeper your background knowledge of the topic, the more comfortable you will be and the easier it will become to speak off-the-cuff and sound authentic, intelligent, and well-informed. I spent the earlier part of the interview day recollecting some general anecdotes from my career that I thought I might be able to use. Since my stint at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey always seems to resonate, I made sure to work that into the conversation in a relevant way. Other things I thought about including didn’t fit naturally into the conversation, and I didn’t try to force them.

All of that being said, don’t over-prepare, because there are risks to that as well! First, you may be so focused on what you have prepared to say that you can’t listen closely to the actual questions being asked. If I’d over-prepared, I would have missed the opportunity for humor in Shawn’s opening slip of the tongue. Second, over-preparation may leave you sounding rehearsed and stiff.  Give a listen to my interview and imagine how it would have sounded if, instead, I’d simply said, “nice to be here, Shawn’” in, more or less, a monotone. Instead of introducing the very human element of humor, I would have caused us both to remain guarded and unnatural.   So, in short, it’s great to follow the “recipe” for success and do your prep work, just don’t “over bake the cake!”

Every situation is different and requires different preparation. We are prepared to help you determine whether you are prepared for the next step. You can reach us at 301-520-9511 or at