The secret to prepping for an interview on short notice

Hint: It involves an ongoing process

3 min read

Women's hands near open laptop, flipping through papers in a file folder.

I wish we knew when our dream job was going to be vacated by its previous heir. However, in reality we’re rarely afforded that luxury. Instead, we’re usually immersed in our responsibilities so deeply that when the opportunity arises, preparation for the interview process seems like a daunting task. Fortunately, there are tools you can use to mitigate the burden of interview prep. Here are the steps to take now to ensure you’re ready when an opportunity presents itself.

First, consider this…

To prove the value of preparation, I frequently ask the paradoxical behavioral question, “Can you describe the greatest breakfast you’ve ever had?” Akin to ”Describe a time when you needed to complete several important tasks by the same deadline,” candidates often respond that they can’t recall a specific situation. Just as they eat breakfast every day, they also have several things they prioritize and complete each day. However, they’re unable to give themselves credit by describing the details of an actual situation.

Start a personal development file

Hindered by the same inability to recall this information, I started a personal development file almost a decade ago. I’m not talking about a physical folder where you save all your performance evaluations. This is a real-time, electronic organizational tool like Microsoft’s OneNote that allows you to save electronic copies of emails, chat logs, attachments, and much more.

The sole purpose of this file is to save some of the more impactful—yet easily forgotten—situations when they occur. When I recognize that the circumstances I’m involved in could be relevant in an interview, I save the example electronically. It’s sort of like a social media post, except I’m only sharing it with myself for the purpose of remembering key details for future use.

It takes self-awareness to realize that the situation you’re dealing with at that moment may be a relevant interview answer in the future. I’m always on the lookout for emails that provide feedback to situations I was involved in. Those are an instant save, as they usually capture a situation with an email string, including actions taken and feedback that shows a result: the perfect interview example just waiting for when I need it!

I’ve learned to take advantage of other technologies, as well. Sometimes key moments take place using messaging tools, like Teams. I’ll use a “Print to PDF” function to save those in my development folder. Remember, what may seem like a routine aspect of your job may be the exact type of thing a recruiter is interested in understanding as proof of your proficiency.

How should I prepare if I don’t have a development file?

If you don’t have the luxury of a 10-year-old file filled with key learnings and accomplishments, it can be difficult to recall relevant details for an interview. My best advice? Start by asking people in your network to help you. I’ve found that those around us can provide an interesting perspective on situations that may not be easily recalled. What may have been miniscule to you may have been impactful to a peer, a leader, or even a family member. Ask them to elaborate on the impact of your involvement in a situation and save this as another example in your development file.

Preparation for an interview doesn’t take place the week of the interview. It’s an ongoing process that takes self-awareness to recognize that your current experience may be something important to share in the future. Save yourself from being overwhelmed by prepping well in advance so you’re ready on short notice.

Cole Jansen is a Recruitment Manager for Progressive. Starting with Progressive as a claims representative, he leverages his experience to determine job fit for specialty roles across the company.

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