How to Change Careers to Social Impact: Step 10 – Ace the Interview

Alexandra Nemeth

Content Marketing Manager at MovingWorlds.org

Welcome to the 10th and final installment of our #SocialImpactCareerGuide! In this step, we’re focusing on the culmination of all the hard work you’ve done introspecting, researching, and applying for jobs so far: the interview. In this final step of the screening process, both you and the hiring manager have an opportunity to decide if your unique combination of skills, purpose, and character are a good fit for the company’s needs and culture. It’s also your chance to leave a strong impression on the hiring manager about why you’re the right person for the job. 

In the sections below, you’ll find tips to help you prepare ahead of time, decode tricky questions you’re likely to encounter during the interview, and follow up afterwards – ensuring you’re confident, prepared, and ready to shine.

1. Do your homework on the company’s culture, impact, and hiring process

The more you know about the company’s culture and hiring process, the more confident you will feel walking into the interview. Knowing the cultural context will help you frame your answers (and own questions) in a way that resonates, and can serve as a guide when it comes to which key skills or achievements you want to highlight so that they are aligned. The company’s website is a good place to start your research, as most companies publicly share details about their mission, values, and culture on their ‘About’ or other informational landing pages.

If the company you are applying to also exists for a bigger purpose and/or social impact cause, make sure to research how they live into that mission. Once you know, reflect on your own purpose and strengths, and be prepared to tell the story as to why your personal mission aligns with this organization’s mission. 

Another helpful resource to supplement what you learn from the company website is Glassdoor, a website where current and former employees anonymously review companies and share salary information. As for the hiring process itself, lean on the first, second, and third degree connections in your network to see if you know anyone who has worked there previously that you could ask about it, or if you don’t know anyone directly, searching the name of the company on reddit is another good alternative. Of course, like all social media sites, take the information you find with a grain of salt. 

2. Think through likely questions ahead of time

Here are some of the kinds of questions you’re likely to encounter, and tips to think through how to answer them:

The “so, tell me about yourself” question

Almost every interview will start with a question like this, giving you an opportunity to set the stage with a first introduction to who you are, what you do, and what you’re interested in. 

What this question is really asking is: Do you have the right skills, background, and interest to work at this organization?

Tips to answer it: Tell your story briefly in a way that shows that you like your profession and are interested in growth. This snapshot of your professional identity can include elements like your core strengths and skills, purpose and motivation, key achievements, and education. 

Particularly if you tend to get nervous during interviews, it’s worth taking the time to write out your answer ahead of time and even practice going through it a few times with family or friends. Here is a template to help you get started:

I’m a (job title/type of profession) from (location) who is passionate about (purpose).

 Most recently, I’ve been serving as (job title) for (company), where I have developed my (core skills/strengths) to drive (achievements).

 Previously, I served as (previous role), where I developed (core skills/strengths) to drive (achievements).

 I ended up in this line of work when I (connection from school, early career, or other entry to workplace).

While I enjoy the work I have been doing, I’m excited about the opportunity to use my transferable skills to support (type of organization/cause) because (reasons you’re a good fit).

Behavioral questions

Behavioral interview questions typically start with “Can you tell me about a time when…” and require candidates to share examples of specific situations they’ve been in where they had to use certain skills. 

What this question is really asking is: do you have the right skills and cultural fit for the way we work in this organization? 

Here are a few of the different types of behavioral interview questions you can expect, with examples from this complete list from the Muse:

  • Related to teamwork: Give me an example of a time you faced a conflict while working on a team. How did you handle that?
  • Related to client-facing skills: When you’re working with a large number of customers, it’s tricky to deliver excellent service to them all. How do you go about prioritizing your customers’ needs?
  • Related to ability to adapt: Tell me about a time you were under a lot of pressure. What was going on, and how did you get through it?
  • Related to time management skills: Tell me about a time you had to be very strategic in order to meet all your top priorities.
  • Related to communication skills: Give me an example of a time when you were able to successfully persuade someone to see things your way at work.
  • Related to motivation and values: Describe a time when you saw some problem and took the initiative to correct it rather than waiting for someone else to do it.

Tips to answer it: One of the best ways to avoid feeling like a deer in headlights when asked one of these questions is to come prepared with 3-4 short stories with details that you can apply to fit a number of different situations. To figure out the likely questions you will get, review the company’s cultural values as well as the key requirements on the job description. Expect questions to come related to both. To find the best examples to use in your answer, look back at your experience so far and try and find 1 example that shows your ability to navigate conflict or change, 1 example that showcases your best strength or achievement, and 1 example that shows your ability to manage time and get things done.

When you answer these questions, use the STAR framework: Situation, Task, Action, and Result. You can find a helpful template for using the STAR framework in Step 9: Fine Tune Your Professional Resume.

Potential curveball questions

Even the best prepared candidates run into curveball questions. Here are some likely ones:

  • Go through your resume and tell me why you left each job. 

What this question is really asking is: Are you looking to keep growing in a constructive way that respects the people and teams around you?

Tips to answer it: Don’t bash former employers. Emphasize that some of each previous experience was good – ideally the parts that map to the strengths and purpose that make you a good candidate for this job you’re interviewing for – but that growth in the areas you were excited about were limited, which is why you’re applying to this role.

  • Process and thought questions.

These are typically obscure questions like “how many airplanes leave your local airport every day?”

What this question is really asking is: What’s your logical process for working through things you don’t know?

Tips to answer it: Don’t worry about the “right” answer from a factual standpoint. Instead, focus on the steps of your thought process. For example, you could begin your answer to the example question above by saying, “Let’s assume that our airport has 20 terminals, each in operation for 10 hours. The average turnaround time for a plane is one hour. With this math, we can see that every terminal will have 10 planes per day. X 20 = 200 planes per day.

  • Challenge questions.

These are typically questions that ask “why should we pick you over the other candidates?” and “what makes you want to work here, specifically?”

What this question is really asking is: did this person really take the time to think about this and learn what it takes?

Tips to answer it: Get specific. Don’t just explain why you want to move into a social impact role, explain exactly why you want to move into that specific role with that specific company. Tell the interviewer about the work you did to prepare, and connect the dots between what you have to offer and what the company needs.

3. Have questions ready to ask the interviewer

Most interviews end with the interviewer flipping the script back to you, and asking if you have any questions that you would like to ask them. If you say no, it can appear that you aren’t interested or didn’t prepare. But even more importantly, this portion of the interview is where you get to make sure that the company is the right fit for you and your unique needs.

The Muse has a great list of questions to ask in an interview here, covering themes like the job, benefits, professional training and development opportunities, how performance is evaluated, and more. The Wall Street Journal also recently shared some helpful guidance about what questions to ask during an interview. This is where the introspection you put in at the beginning of this process will pay off – by understanding what your needs are, you can ask the specific questions you need to ensure they will be met in this role.

4. Avoid traps

Here are some common mistakes to avoid:

  • Badmouthing a previous employer: Even if you hate your current or previous job, don’t share negative feedback about the company in your interview. This can lead the interviewer to wonder “what would this person say about our company if we hire them and they later leave?” and can reflect poorly. Instead, try and couch your reasons for leaving in your core strengths and purpose drivers that will also apply to this job.
  • Not having a solid “why” behind your choice to apply: Even if you just learned about the company and role, make sure to communicate in a way that shows you’ve long been interested in moving this direction. Demonstrating that you’ve taken a thoughtful approach to applying for this specific job inspires confidence!
  • Not dressing professionally: Learn from either the recruiter or your own research what the company dress code is (ie business casual) and dress accordingly. A polished appearance that is appropriate for the company norms will help the interviewer see you as fitting in already, instead of distracting them from what you’re saying.
  • Arriving late: This one goes without saying! Being kept waiting is annoying, and that’s not the tone you want to begin your interview with. If the interview is in person, look up how long it will take you to get there the night before and plan to arrive about 10-15 minutes early. If your interview is virtual, make sure that all of your technology is working and that you have a neutral background that won’t be distracting on video.
  • Using your phone: It’s almost second nature to reach for our phones when there’s a lull in conversation or a notification pops up, but the message that checking your phone during an interview sends is “I don’t care” or “I don’t take this seriously.” The safest way to go is to eliminate the distraction altogether, either by keeping your phone on silent in your bag or putting it face down out of arm’s reach. 

In general, remember that the employer is looking for someone that:

  1. Has the right skills and experience for the role
  2. Is a cultural fit
  3. Wants to work at this company for the right reasons
  4. Is a positive person that makes the people around them better

Avoid the traps above to ensure you aren’t sending mixed signals!

5. Get – and stay – in the right mindset

It’s normal to get nervous for an interview. 24 hours before your interview, think about how you will likely feel in the 30 minutes before the interview begins, and make a plan. What can you do in those 30 minutes to get prepared? The answer to that question looks different for all of us based on our unique needs, but some possibilities include doing a meditation, drinking some water, going on a walk, etc. – by planning for this in advance, you won’t have to rely on your nervous mind to do the right thing.

There’s only so much you can do in the final hours leading up to your interview, so reassure yourself that all of the hard work and preparation you’ve done up to this point to prepare is enough. Do your best, and have a backup plan just in case you do get thrown a question that stumps you. Saying “That’s a great question, let me consider it for a moment” is a great way to buy yourself some additional time. 

6. Follow up with a thank-you

It’s always a good idea to send a thank-you note to the person (or people) who interviewed you after the interview is over. A hand-written note is a thoughtful way to stand out, but in today’s increasingly digital world an email is just fine. Here is a template to get you started:

Hi [Interviewer],

Thank you for taking the time to meet with me today. It was a pleasure getting to learn more about [what you talked about – the team, the company, the potential for this role] and I’m excited about the potential opportunity to join the (name of company) team.

I look forward to hearing from you with more information about next steps in the process, and am happy to provide any additional information your team might need in making this decision.

Best regards,

[Name]

Interviews can be intimidating, but with these tips in mind we hope you’ll be able to confidently put your best foot forward!

  1. Do your homework on the company’s culture and hiring process
  2. Think through likely questions ahead of time
  3. Have questions ready to ask the interviewer
  4. Avoid traps
  5. Get and stay in the right mindset
  6. Follow up with a thank-you

Looking for more support navigating a career change to social impact? Apply to the MovingWorlds Institute Global Fellowship.