by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
One of the biggest tricks in job interviews is being prepared with responses to possible interview questions. You don't know exactly what will be asked, but ideally you have a body of content in your brain that you can draw from based on your skills, experience, accomplishments, and knowledge of the employer you're interviewing with (as well as your fit with that employer). The real feat is being able to keep all that information organized in your brain so you can easily access it as you respond to the interviewer's questions.
I've written about one excellent technique -- composing written responses to frequently asked interview questions. A similar method -- but one especially geared for visual learners -- is mind-mapping. Visual learners prefer to take in information through sight and like to learn through reading, diagrams, charts, graphs, maps, and pictures.
Describing mind-mapping as a great tool for dealing with a vast amount of interrelated information, my partner, Dr. Randall S. Hansen, defines mind-mapping this way in our book The Complete Idiot's Guide to Study Skills: "Mind maps allow you to see ... the way in which the concepts relate to one another. Mind maps are created around a central word, idea, or theme. From this central word, you create branches to other major concepts related to the central word. From there, you continue to create branches from every word or concept you add to the map -- and keep doing so until you have all the material on your map. By focusing on key concepts that you discover and define, and then looking for branches and connections among all the concepts, you are mapping knowledge in a way that will help you better understand and remember the information. This approach is sometimes referred to as concept mapping." The illustration below shows a blank skeleton of a mind map.
In job interviewing, the types of concepts for which you can create mind maps could include:
- An overall introduction to yourself that would also work for the most frequently asked interview "question," "Tell me about yourself." Your mind map for this intro would consist of a few concise points about yourself sharply targeted to the job you're interviewing for.
- Experience and accomplishments that relate to what you'd be doing in the position you're interviewing for. Go through your resume and pick out the experience highlights that are most relevant to the prospective position. Develop a story for each highlight that epitomizes and summarizes that experience, using the Situation-Action-Results (SAR) format.
- "Hard" skills. These are the knowledge areas of specific technical skills you need to do the job, such as accounting skills, information-technology skills, or sales-forecasting skills. The best clue to what hard skills you might be asked about is the job posting you originally applied to, or a job description of the position. Again, develop a SAR story for each skill.
- "Soft" skills. These are the unquantifiable skills that are in demand for performing many types of jobs -- communication, teamwork, leadership, interpersonal, problem-solving, critical thinking, customer service, for example. Again, your tipoff to the skills sought in the position you're interviewing for will be the ad, job posting, or job description. Again, develop a SAR story for each skill.
- Knowledge of the employer and how you fit in with the employing organization. Virtually all interviewers will ask questions that require you to demonstrate your knowledge of the employer. For material to mind-map, you'll need to research the organization. (Read more.) Your mind map would then consist of various key pieces of information about the employer and how your background aligns with those items.
- Questions to ask the interviewer. Most interviewers open up the discussion to your questions at the end of the interview, and you should always have questions prepared to ask. Your mind map for this portion of the interview could feature various aspects of the job or organization that you want to learn more about. (Read more.) Let's look at what an actual job-interviewing mind map might look like for an interview question targeting the skill of persuasiveness. This map was generated using the Web-based mind-mapping interface at
So, if you were asked in an interview, "Describe a situation in which you were able to use persuasion to successfully convince someone to see things your way," you could visualize the above mind map and give the following response:
Recently my company asked for bids on a phone system for our new college campus. Two companies came in very close with their bids, and most of my department wanted to go with a vendor that we have used in the past. After I looked over the proposals, it was clear that this was the wrong decision. So, I talked individually with each member of our staff and was able to change their minds and get the best product that would save money and provide the highest quality.
Final Thoughts on Interview Prep and Mind-Mapping
The beauty of mind-mapping to prepare for an interview is that you will likely be able to recall your mind maps for each area and visualize their components as you respond to questions.
While mind-mapping can be quite informal, you can also find mind-mapping software, much of it at no cost. Find a huge listing of mind-mapping software, tools, and information at 99 Mind Mapping Resources, Tools, and Tips. See also Andrew Makar's article, Mind Map Your Interview and What is Mind Mapping? (and How to Get Started Immediately).
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com. Have you taken advantage of all of our job interviewing resources? Find articles, tutorials, and more -- all written to help job-seekers learn how to succeed in all types of job interviews.