Competition is rife and it can be a challenge to know how to really shine in a job interview.
I recently facilitated a webinar panel session with Michelle Shakesheff and Saffron House (two senior BA managers) on this very topic. This article summarizes some key takeaways from that session, with a few of my own thoughts added in for good measure. It’s important to keep in mind that I’m based in the UK, so I’ll be reflecting on the expectations for job interviews here—I am sure expectations differ across the world so be sure to check out other articles and resources too.
Preparation Is Everything
When it comes to a job interview, preparation is everything. There are many aspects that need to be considered, including the three ‘Rs’: Research, Role & Rehearsal.
Firstly, if you’re serious about working for a particular organization, then it’s crucial to research it. This doesn’t have to be time-consuming, can be entirely ‘desk-based’ and is an opportunity to use a range of strategic business analysis tools. You’ll want to check out the organization’s website, if it’s a large organization it’ll probably have an annual report. What is its stated mission and strategic objectives? What are its stated values? Techniques such as VMOST can be useful for helping us to understand where a company is heading. Approaches such as STEEPLE are excellent for brainstorming external factors that might affect the organization. You might want to assess what you consider to be the biggest external opportunities and threats to the organization. Utilizing these (and other) techniques alongside general research will provide a picture of the types of project that a company is likely to be undertaking. You’ll pick up the language of the industry and organization, you’ll be well-placed to give specific answers to any strategic questions that the interviewer asks even if these don’t crop up, you’ll be well-placed to ask a relevant question about the organization’s strategy. You’ll also get a sense of whether this is a company that you’d fit into and actually want to work for!
Secondly, there’s the role. Read every detail of the job description, person specification and whatever artefacts you can get your hands on. Think back to your experience and be prepared to give an example for every skill or competency that is listed. One senior manager I used to work with always advocated creating a table to systematically work through a job description, breaking it down into its component parts and adding an example against each. If you do this, you’ll have the right example on the tip-of-your-tongue and won’t hesitate if a question crops up. Here’s an example:
Finally, there’s the rehearsal. I remember hearing polar explorer Allan Chambers speak over a decade ago. He gave the sage advice ‘never take your body somewhere your mind hasn’t been’. This applies for interviews too: take your mind to the interview room (or virtual interview room). Imagine the types of questions you might encounter, formulate your response, and say them out loud. What is the first thing you’ll say to the interviewer? You’ll get different questions on the day, of course, but you’ll feel more confident and prepared and your answers will likely be slicker and well-informed. This brings us neatly to our next topic, questions.
There Are No “Top Ten” Interview Question Lists
Although this might sound disappointing, there really aren’t any “standard” BA interview questions. There might be patterns that crop up, but the questions are going to vary depending on the specific requirements for the role. It’s also highly likely that there won’t be a “right answer” to any particular question—put yourself in the shoes of the interviewer and think what are they trying to understand from this question? And don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. It is genuinely hard to create unambiguous interview questions, and speaking personally, whenever I’ve been involved with interviewing candidates I take requests for clarification as an extremely positive thing. After all, BAs ought to be clarity-seekers!
It’s also important to answer the question that’s asked, not the one that you might have hoped the interviewer has asked. I’ve fallen into this trap myself in the past, and I can tell you it doesn’t end well… However, if you’ve considered the different areas of the job specification and have examples for each area you’ll be well prepared to pivot and adapt on-the-fly.
A word of warning here. One trait that seems to be common amongst most BAs I’ve ever met (myself included) is the tendency to say “we”. As BAs we work with others, and a success is a team success. This is fine in most circumstances, but job interviews are a place to say I as well as we. By all means discuss what the team achieved, but remember the job interviewer is going to want to know what you contributing. Hearing “We created and prioritized a backlog” is interesting. Hearing “I worked with the PO and coached them on the user story format. We experimented with different formats, but settled on user stories with some attached scenarios and acceptance criteria, which I wrote on behalf of the PO…” is more useful. Precision is great.
Talking of precision, frameworks can act as a common language. Being familiar with industry frameworks such as IIBA’s Business Analysis Body of Knowledge guide (or whichever is relevant for your context) can help. Using industry standard terminology such as requirements elicitation, strategy analysis, requirements lifecycle management and many, many more besides will help ensure that you and the interviewer are on the same page. Of course, it’s likely that the organization will have its own internal framework. If you’ve been able to learn about that in advance through your research, then use those terms too.
Remember: An Interview Is Two-Way
It might seem like an interview is purely for the employer, but this is far from the truth. It’s also you’re opportunity to assess whether the organization is a good fit for you. Do the interviewers treat you respectfully? Do they keep failing to turn up for the interview at the last minute without explaining why and then re-arranging? Keep in mind that an employer that treats candidates without due respect may well treat employees similarly.
On the flip side, you may well find you get on fantastically with the interviewers, and all of your instincts are that this is the job for you. Be sure to take the opportunity to ask the interviewer questions too. You might ask them about the size of the team, the challenges they are facing—this might be a chance to showcase the research that you’ve done and ask them a specific question about the strategic direction of the organization and how it impacts the BA team. Choose the right questions for the context, and use it to learn about the organization and the role.
Job interviews are nerve-wracking, but those nerves push us to prepare and perform well. Remembering the three Rs: Research, Role & Rehearsal, thinking about the questions that might be asked and remembering an interview is a two-way process can help.