The Ultimate Guide to Interview Preparation
For many job seekers, the interview is the most stressful part of the process. As your first (and perhaps only) face-to-face meeting with the potential employer, there’s a lot of pressure to showcase your skills, your relevancy, and your cultural fit during one 60-minute conversation.
The secret to doing well in an interview–and minimizing your pre-interview anxiety–is to thoroughly prepare ahead of time. Indeed, there are plenty of things you can do well before your interview that put you in a position to succeed once the meeting starts.
Here are 11 tips on how you can put yourself in a winning position with solid interview preparation.
1. Research the organization
Before walking into an interview, you need to do your homework. That means researching the company, knowing the products or services they provide, understanding the industry within which they operate, and getting a sense of the challenges they face.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make in an interview is to ask a question, the answer to which is readily available online. Spend a few hours reviewing everything you can on the organization’s website and social media channels. Look for recent stories about the organization on Google News.
If possible, review the company’s most recent annual report. And check out perspectives from current and former employees on GlassDoor.com. (Just treat these employee reviews with a degree of skepticism, as they tend to be either very negative or very positive.)
The goal is to enter your interview already knowing the organization’s challenges and priorities. This enables you to present yourself as someone who can help solve specific pain points for the employer.
2. Study the job description
This tip comes from Don Raskin, author of The Dirty Little Secrets of Getting Your Dream Job. (Check out our podcast interview with Don on Episode 029 of Find Your Dream Job.)
Don always asks job candidates to summarize the position interviewing for. Amazingly, many interviewees show a fundamental misunderstanding of the job and its requirements.
You can’t present yourself as the perfect fit for a job if you don’t fully understand the job. Take some time to review the original job description. Print it out, write notes on it and take it with you to the interview. (This is a great visual cue to the hiring manager!). Make sure you’re absolutely clear on the responsibilities and tasks associated with the position.
It can also be helpful to look for other job postings with the same job title. This gives you a sense of what other people and organizations are looking for in similar positions. While you have to structure your interview responses around the specific job description provided by the employer, understanding the full scope of responsibilities in your profession reflects well on you.
3. Get to know your interviewer (or interviewers)
When you schedule your interview time, always make sure to ask who you will be meeting with. Try to get the full name and title of all your interviewers. This is important information because it allows you to do targeted research before you walk into the office.
Find the LinkedIn and social media profiles of everyone you will meet at the interview. Familiarize yourself with their professional bios and responsibilities in within the organization. Always look for shared connections–both mutual acquaintances and common interests. These are great touch-points for building a personal rapport with your interviewers.
Don’t worry about the interviewer seeing that you’ve viewed their LinkedIn profile. This is actually a good thing, as it’s addition proof that you’re doing your homework.
4. Know your story
Many interviews start with the same question: “Tell me about yourself.” This is a deceptively open-ended prompt and one that trips up many job seekers. But it doesn’t have to.
The interviewer isn’t looking for your life story, or a rundown of every job you’ve had. What they really want is an explanation of why you’re interested in the job-at-hand. Your goal is to construct a concise narrative about your career that culminates in you applying for this specific job.
What threads tie together your career? What problems and challenges do you enjoy tackling? And how do these interests align with the job on the table?
This is a response you can have scripted in your head, well ahead of the actual interview. Craft a compelling, honest story and practice your pitch ahead of time. This will help you start your interview off right.
5. Have prepared answers for the easy questions
Here are a few other questions that you’re likely to get in an interview:
- What are your strengths?
- Tell me about your biggest weakness?
- Why are you looking for a new job?
Since you can expect to hear some variation of these questions, you can safely prepare your responses ahead of time. Take the time to think through possible answers to each prompt, remembering to tie your skills and problem solving abilities into each response. A little bit of practice can help you hit these softball questions out of the park.
Want to know other questions that you’re likely to hear in an interview? Check out this Mac’s List resource, The 50 Most Common Interview Questions.
6. Print copies of your resume
This is an old piece of advice, but one that is still relevant, even in our digital age. Make sure you bring hard copies of your resume to the interview–at least one copy for everyone with whom you’re scheduled to meet.
You might not actually need these print-outs but it’s good to have them just in case. In the event that your interviewers don’t have a copy of your resume, you’ll look like a polished and prepared professional when you pull a crisp version out of your bag.
7. Select your outfit the night before
This sounds easy, right? But how often have have you tried something on, only to decide that it’s not the right outfit? And an hour later, your closet is empty and your floor littered with discarded wardrobe options. It happens to everyone and it’s stressful.
Take the time to figure out the perfect outfit the night before your interview. That way you’re not trying to make a decision the day-of, when you’re already worried about other things.
When picking the outfit, always err on the side of being more formal. Unless you are told otherwise, you want to wear business attire. This means a suit or jacket for men, and a suit, business dress or blouse-slack combo for women.
Some coaches recommend trying to match the office dress code with your interview outfit. I think this is a mistake… save the hoodie and jeans until after you get hired.
8. Get a good night’s sleep
I know… almost everyone needs more sleep. We all lead busy lives and are want to squeeze more hours into the day. Plus, all the good TV shows are on until 11pm! But going to bed early and getting a full eight-plus hours of sleep can do wonders for your performance the next day.
Research shows that even mild sleep deprivation can cause memory loss, impaired judgement, decreased attention-spans, and a host of other ill-effects. This is not the state of mind you want to be in at an interview, where you absolutely need to be at the top of your game.
Make it a point to hit the hay extra early the night before your next interview. Put away your phone and other digital distractions that can keep you awake. And record that episode of Game of Thrones to watch some other time. You’ll be thankful you did the next morning.
9. Know where you are going
Always confirm the location of–and directions to–your interview site at least a day before the interview. If you have questions about parking, building access, or any other logistical issue, call the company and ask ahead of time. You don’t want to show up late for your interview because you didn’t know where to park.
Also, make sure you’ve map out your route to the interview, whether you plan on driving or taking public transport. You’re already going to have pre-interview jitters; don’t make them worse by getting lost on your way to the meeting. Remember: Google Maps is your friend!
10. Give yourself plenty of time
Do you know what’s more stressful than an interview? Sitting in a traffic jam when you’re supposed to be sitting in an interview room! Always make sure you have more time than you need to arrive for your meeting. As a general rule, you should always plan for the worst case traffic scenario when estimating how long it will take you to get to your interview.
Always err on the side of arriving early. However, don’t show up for your interview more than five minutes before your allotted time. (Your interviewer is probably a busy professional–don’t add to their stress by hurrying their schedule.) If you running way ahead of schedule, kill some time at a coffee shop or window shopping.
Another task that is easier said than done. Just keep in mind that, in scoring an interview, you’ve already cleared a major hurdle in the job search process. Obviously, there’s more work to be done if you want to close the deal, buy you can take pride in two probable facts:
- The employer already believes you have the technical skills for the job
- You’re one of a small group of applicants to get an interview
You should feel confident, empowered, and cautiously-optimistic walking into your interview. Out of a huge stack of resumes, the organization found something special in your application–something it really liked about you. Now you just have to affirm the idea that you are the right person for the job. All the preparation you’ve done ahead of your interview puts you in a great position to accomplish this goal.