How to Prepare for Knowledge-Based Interview Questions

The interview you’re heading into isn’t your first. In fact, during the course of your working life, you’ve participated in dozens of interviews, and at this point, you don’t need to be coached to sit up straight, and you aren’t terribly worried about your attire or the firmness of your handshake. But you do have some concerns about potential knowledge-based questions that might trip you up and throw a wrench into an otherwise confident interview performance. Here are three scenarios that may fit your circumstances and a few tips for each that can help you come out ahead.Scenario 1: You’re Switching CareersStepping into a new career can be challenging. Especially when you have an interview standing between you and the job offer. If you’ve spent the last ten years working in an office and you’re about to step in front of a classroom of seventh graders, or vice versa, expect a barrage of knowledge and behavior-based questions that can’t be answered with a smile and a handshake. Here’s what you should do:
  1. Think critically. If your interviewer asks you how to build a bicycle, don’t panic and freeze. Just think about the steps you would take to solve this problem. How would you conduct research or assemble a team to tackle this challenge? What kinds of questions would you ask and where would these questions be directed?
  2. Call your mentors to mind. Keep your toughest professors, coaches, and counselors in your head as you enter the interview, and if you’re hit with an especially tough question, ask yourself “How would he/she answer this?”
  3. Think aloud. Don’t be afraid to show your work by taking the interviewer through your entire thought process. For example, if your interviewer presents you with a hypothetical sick patient/mechanical problem/on-the-job crisis and asks you for a diagnosis, share your potential solutions and your reasons for ruling each one out.
Scenario 2: You’ve been Off the Grid for a WhileIf you’ve left the workforce for a year or two (or ten) to attend to other responsibilities, your interviewers will want to make sure you’ve been keeping up with changes in your industry. Get ready for some pointed questions.
  1. Weeks before your interview, contact people who are currently immersed in your target job at your target level. Engage in unscripted conversation with these people over coffee or email and focus on current software utilities, political events, or scientific developments that have altered the field in your absence.
  2. Use the internet. Specifically, blogs. Read up on industry news, but devote a portion of your attention to blogs and bloggers who offer not just news, but opinions, insights, and commentary dealing with specific events taking place in your field.
  3. Practice. If new software utilities, procedures, or theories have become standard while you’ve been away, familiarize yourself with these new models in a hands-on way.
Scenario 3: You’re In a Field Known for Rapid Knowledge-Based ChangesYou haven’t stepped away from the workforce and you aren’t going through a career transition, but your field is known for constant changes in standard practice (healthcare, IT, education, etc.). And you’ll need to demonstrate that you’re staying on top of these ongoing shifts.
  1. Read. All the time, whether you’re in the midst of a job search or comfortably employed. Staff development studies suggest that reading almost any work-related material (books, journals, internet articles) for at least an hour a day can move you ahead of your peers and turn you into a recognized expert in just a few years.
  2. If you don’t recognize a new procedure or utility that your interviewer wants to discuss, admit this and ask for more information. Intelligent curiosity will win more points than blustering and posturing.
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