5 Key Content Areas to Focus on During Interview Preparation

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“I absolutely dread interviewing.”

“I get nervous and forget everything I wanted to say.”

“I struggle with talking about my accomplishments.”

“I have so much anxiety that I can’t articulate my skills and answer questions well.”

“I go off on tangents because I’m so nervous.”

“I feel so insecure in interviews.”

During the interview coaching conversations, statements like these are vocalized frequently.  Low confidence paired with high anxiety/nerves is present in many interviewees, which often shines through and is evident to the hiring Manager/interviewers. 


While interviewing is a fear and anxiety-inducing event for most, it does not need to be.  A great place to start your interview preparation is by knowing your key “content.”  What content, or information, do you want to prepare for?  What areas will you be speaking to, and/or asking questions about, during the interview?

We have categorized the information you need to know for every role you are interviewing for into five major areas: 

1 - Yourself

What are your core competencies and skills?  What are some major career or project accomplishments you have had over the last few years that you can highlight?  What are your primary technologies/technical strengths?  What are all the other things, outside of your day job, that might be relevant and would communicate positive traits to a resume reviewer/interviewer (i.e. user group involvement, technical training courses you take, nonprofits you are involved with, etc.)?

Here is an example of the types of content you would prepare for, and then share as your 20-30 second professional elevator pitch:

  • Database systems administration of large-scale environments with hundreds of servers and multiple instances of SQL Server, including 2008, 2008 R2 and 2016
  • Served as Team/Project Lead supporting the rollout of servers and infrastructures across four sites
  • Acted in a leadership capacity in the last two roles, including hiring and mentoring seven junior-mid level DBAs
  • Two relevant SQL Server certifications, and continue to take training monthly via Pluralsight and SQL Server user group events 

2 - The company/industry

If it’s a new industry, take the extra step of learning about it.  Never, ever skip out on reading up on the company!  It’s almost disheartening how many interviewees we have seen get ruled out for not having done any research on the company, and it certainly gives you a leg up if you do excellent research and have a few questions that show you did your homework!   Review their website and social media platforms and write out key findings.  Write out some questions that you think of while doing this research. 

Here are some examples:

  • You learn the company was recently voted a ‘Best Place to Work’. Question: “Congratulations on being named as a top place to work.  What are some reasons you believe contributed to that?  What do you and your team members enjoy about working here?”
  • You see the company was just acquired by another organization. Question: “I see you were just acquired by ___.  What sort of that impact will that have on your company?  How will that change priorities?”

3 - The job description and how the role fits in.

Reading the job description once and never referencing it again is not a good idea. Rather, review the job description multiple times, including the day before and maybe also the morning of the interview!  Flush out a few questions you have based on the job description. 

During the interview process, ask questions that validate the job description and assist in your overall understanding of the priorities and expectations of the role.  For example, you can explain to the Manager, “My understanding is the purpose of this role is to ________, the key objectives are to _______, and the main technology stacks you use are ______.  Is that correct?” and then, “What else can you tell me about what you’re trying to accomplish in the next 3-12+ months with this position?”

4 - How your skills align with the job description.

You need to have a strong grasp of your background, strengths, interests, and how your experience and knowledge is pertinent to the role at hand.  As you review the job description, look at each responsibility and requirement and verbalize what you have done that is similar, or any experience/skills you have that would contribute or relate.  You can also write out a couple bullet points on why you think you are qualified for the role, and how you would make an impact against what they are trying to do. 

5 - Potential “hiring risks”

What are the potential risks related to your candidacy?  What might prevent you from getting the job?  How could you address or overcome?  As we tell our clients (i.e. Technology hiring Managers), “there’s no such thing as a perfect candidate!” What are your potential “red flags?”  Maybe you have been out of work for the last year, had three jobs in the last two years, or you are missing a technology, skill, degree/certification or version of a technology on the requirements list.  It is likely there is something preventing you from being a “slam dunk” candidate.  Identify what the “but” might be and then engage in “candidate risk management” by determining the actions you will take to eliminate that “but” from being an actual concern.

Next Steps

Everyone needs to put on their “candidate marketing hat” as they start the job search.  When it comes to marketing, a major action/step is to think about your top “content” and strategize your communication so you are effectively communicating that content to your “target audience” (i.e. Recruiters/Talent Acquisition Professionals and hiring Managers).

Here are some audit and reflection questions to ensure you’re going in the right direction.

  • Have you reviewed your entire resume and refreshed yourself on past experience, projects, technologies you worked with, etc.?  Do you have a strong 30-second professional elevator pitch flushed out for each job you are interviewing for?  Have you identified any of the technologies you have not worked with recently, yet want to keep on your resume and potentially work with again, and brushed up on them? 
  • Have you done enough research on both the company and the industry they are in, using channels outside of just their website?  Have you identified at least three reasons why you want to work at that company?
  • Have you reviewed the job description at least twice, and written out questions to ask the interviewer to validate and get more information on the true purpose and priorities of the role?
  • Have you identified reasons why you are qualified and will make an impact in that job?
  • Have you found your “buts” / “hiring risks” / “red flags” and come up with a “candidate risk management plan?”

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About the author
MSSQLTips author Erica Woods Erica Woods has nearly a decade in the IT staffing world, an MBA, and is a member of the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches.

This author pledges the content of this article is based on professional experience and not AI generated.

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