Resume Help/Interviewing


Hi Ralph,

I read your book about preparing for interview questions but I'm not sure I understand how to determine which questions I might be asked.  I have an interview scheduled in a couple of weeks so I guess I need to know how best to prepare.  Thanks.

Hi Jackie,

I'm not sure which of my books you read, but I'm guessing it was the first one.  Rather than give you a list of questions to prepare for, let me give you a different way of thinking about the process.  In my second book, seventh chapter, I urge readers to consider the questions in categories.  The four categories of interview questions can be distilled down to :  Competence, Character, Commitment, Creativity.  I call them the "Four Cs" for obvious reasons.

If you can determine which category a question comes from, it is a lot easier to formulate a response - assuming you have practiced your responses.  The four categories measure your qualifications for the position, your character and behavior, your personal and professional goals, and finally your ability to think on your feet.  What you need to do in your preparation is devise questions that address each of these issues and then have a number of talking points that you want to covey to the interviewer.  The point here is that you can use many of the same talking points for multiple questions if the questions come from the same category.  Keep this very important issue in mind, however: the goal is not to deliver your responses in a robotic and canned way, but to simply feel secure in the things you want the interviewer to know.  Also remember what should be at the core of all your responses: what you can do for the institution.  How do you know what they want?  Look at the job announcement and form your question responses based on the things they want their candidates to be able to do.

If one of the desired qualifications is be able to do XYZ, your response to a question from the Competence category will demonstrate how you are experienced in the field of XYZ (or any other competency).  EVERYTHING you relate in response to a question must have a direct link to the qualities the institution has described in the job announcement.

Far too often, candidates think the interview is about them and tend to rattle off answers that describe themselves and their skills only.  It is well and good to describe your competencies, but unless you relate those skills to what the institutions wants, you have failed to do one of the most important tasks in the interview.  Don't expect the interviewer (or committee) to make the link from what you can do to what they want.  They won't do that; it's your job to connect the dots for them.

The most difficult category for most applicants to handle is the last one: Creativity.  The reason is simple: the questions asked from this category usually carry a hidden meaning.  Here's an example that is a very common interview question: "Tell us about yourself."  Another along very similar lines is "Tell us why you want to work here," or "Tell me why you think you are the best candidate."  All these questions are an attempt to get you to understand the underlying question.  The underlying question in all of these is "What can you do for us?"  The first one, "Tell us about yourself," is especially misleading.  They are not very interested in you telling them about yourself.  What they really want to know is how your qualifications and skills and education will benefit the institution.

I have had candidates I interviewed literally tell me about themselves.  "Well I was born in ..." and it goes from there.  Not good preparation or understanding.  I have also had applicants respond to "Tell me why you think you are the best candidate" by saying "Well, I don't know; I haven't met the other candidates."  We already know that; we go to great lengths to keep candidates from even seeing each other let alone communicate with one another.  So, that's the wrong answer.  What I really want to have you do is describe your outstanding qualifications AND (most importantly) tell me how they would help you to do your job better if we hire you.  It is ALL about connecting the dots between your skills and the employer's needs.  You MUST do that with EVERY question.

If you properly prepare your talking points, you can give the same response to different questions but word it in multiple ways.  That way, you are not literally repeating yourself but you are imparting the same basic information.  "I noticed in the job announcement that you want to have someone in this position who can analyze widget deficiencies.  In my last job I headed a department that had as its primary goal, the analysis and correction of all widget deficiencies AND recommendations for the elimination of such defects in future widget designs."  You have just described your skills and experience, and linked it to what the employer is looking for.  All your responses need to meet this very basic criterion.

If you would like more detailed information, feel free to write me at the email address below.

Best wishes,  

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Ralph D. Converse, Ph.D.


I can answer questions about general job searches, resume construction, crafting an effective cover letter, and how to prepare for, and conduct, a winning interview. My speciality is the field of education, but I also have extensive background in business and administration. I know what works and what doesn't work and I can make your application package stand out from the rest ... because that is what you have to do.


I have interviewed for, and held, dozens of jobs in a career going back more than 42 years. I have taught at all educational levels including middle school, high school, community college, and university. In more than 42 years of experience on both sides of the job-search process, I have interviewed hundreds of applicants and have reviewed literally tens of thousands of job application packages. I am the author of 12 Mistakes That Got Your Job Application Rejected ... And How To Fix Them! I conduct workshops for job seekers in a variety of locations every year.

Music Educator's Journal, Teaching Music, Music and American Culture (forthcoming, 2013), Last Teacher Standing: The Job is Yours Now! and 12 Mistakes That Got Your Job Application Rejected ... And How To Fix Them!

B.A. New Mexico State University; M.Mus. Southern Illinois University; Ph.D. University of California and University of North Texas

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