Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ace Any Interview

Do you hate interviews? I know I do. It is a terrible, nerve-wracking process during which you never know exactly what the interviewer is looking for or if your answers succeeded in capturing your ability, experience, charm...
Well, there is hope: Did you know that most interviewers are nervous, too? They want desperately to find the right person for the job--but more often than not, very qualified people get accidentally weeded out because they don't know what the interviewer is looking for or their answers don't capture their ability, experience, and charm. Last summer I read an excellent book on this subject called What Color is Your Parachute by Richard Bolles. If you can ignore his egregious use of commas and some of the corny self-help chapters, you will find some really useful advice about job hunting. It won't help you choose a career, but it will help you frame your life experiences in such a way that stands out to interviewers and gets you the job you want. The gist of his advice is this: frame your answers as if they were short stories with a beginning middle and end. Start each answer with a problem, then show concrete steps you took to solve the problem, and finally explain the solution or lessons learned. I used his methods on the Qualifications Examination Panel (QEP) and the Foreign Service Oral Exam and would highly recommend the book to any job hunter.

The Qualifications Examination Panel is the second step towards becoming a Foreign Service Officer. After passing the Written Exam, applicants are invited to write a series of personal essays that answer questions about their leadership, management, interpersonal, communication, foreign language, and intellectual skills. I would like to direct readers once again to The Hegemonist, a more established Foreign Service blogger who has a whole section devoted to the Foreign Service Exam. You can find it here: The Hegemonist Guide to the Foreign Service Exam.

In my opinion, the personal essays aren't difficult, but they are worth careful consideration since many qualified people get eliminated in this step. Don't over-think your answers, and be sure not to exaggerate because you will be required to give references who can confirm what you discuss in your narratives.

Print by atwhim available for purchase on Etsy.


  1. I read the book back in the early 1980s when I was looking for work, and I wasn't impressed. It's surely been through a lot of revisions since then, and it's clearly helped you. Right now I'm in a pretty secure job, at least for the next four years, so I hope I can work through retirement without having to do another interview.

    The picture is wonderful

  2. I just came across your blog. I'm actually working on my masters in Public Administration and have been exercising the idea of applying to the State Department as a Foreign Service Officer as well. I'll be following up on your experience and would love to hear more!

  3. Hi! I found you through a random google search. I think your advice is really phenomenal, and I'm really happy I found your blog. I am in the application process of becoming an FSO (I just turned in my personal narratives!) so I hope I have the same luck as you!

    An old client of mine recommended I read "What Color is Your Parachute" and "Who Ate My Cheese," but I never read either. I just ordered "What Color is Your Parachute" after reading your post. I'm hoping it offers some perspective!