Your job interview is one of the most important steps in getting a new job. Preparing for the interview is simple but not easy. You have to convey your skills and talents in half an hour to a person you have never met. This is not an easy task unless you are well prepared.
I wrote this guide as I was preparing for interviews with two companies in my industry. Both positions offered more responsibility and growth opportunities than my role at the time. It was exciting to land the interviews, and I spent a lot of time preparing for them. This meant researching the companies, their current projects, and understanding their roles in the industry. Here are a few points that you should keep in mind while preparing for a job interview.
How to Prepare for a Job Interview
I think preparation is the most important thing you can do for an interview. It will give the company a good first impression of you, and that is half the battle. I’ve been reviewing my notes from the last time I went through a round of job interviews and practicing scenarios and possible questions.
Main Parts of the Job Interview
There are five main parts to a job interview. You need to make sure that you are nailing each of these items when you go in for an interview:
- Show knowledge of the company and its needs.
- Articulate the value you can bring to the company.
- Ask smart questions that illustrate your intelligence and interest in the company.
- Possibly negotiate pay & benefits (though it may be better to wait until a second interview).
- Follow up on the interview.
This means that, before you attend an interview, you must do your research. You should familiarize yourself with the company and determine what you are likely to do if you got a job with the employer. Also, it is wise to think about what you bring to the table, and why it is of value.
Think of smart questions to ask about the job and the company, and consider your market value. You should understand what you are worth and how your pay should stack up with others in your field. Finally, consider following up on the interview. If writing one, a thank you note to the interview should be sent within two business days of the interview, and a follow-up about the job should take place within seven to 10 days.
Here are a few other tips for preparing for an interview I’ve gathered along the way:
Research the Company and the Open Position
When I last interviewed with a company, I took the time to research their company, current operations, the position they were filling, as well as the roles and responsibilities for the position. Armed with that knowledge, I made a list of questions I considered asking. I didn’t ask all the questions I come up with, but it was good to have a few different questions in mind depending on the direction the job interview went. These tips can help you prepare for your interview:
Know the Position, Company, and Industry
Review the job description before you go to the interview. You want to make sure that you appear tailored for the job. You should tailor your resume and your knowledge of the position. Consider different anecdotes that illustrate your fitness for the position. Also, focus those traits that demonstrate your ability to perform well in the position.
Take some time to understand the company and its position in its industry. Brush up on the issues facing the company, as well as the company’s recent successes and good news. Learn about some of the challenges facing the industry, and consider what you think are solutions to the problems. Be prepared to converse knowledgeably about the company. In some cases, this might even mean rehearsing intelligent questions to ask the interviewer about your potential responsibilities.
It’s not enough to just memorize facts. You also need to understand how those facts interplay with the latest industry trends, where your prospective company fits within the industry, their current projects, challenges they face, and related topics. Having this knowledge will make you come off as more knowledgeable during your interview and potentially give you a leg up on the competition.
Talk to Employees of the Company You Are Interviewing With
I’ve worked with several companies in different industries. Each company has had a different work culture. It’s important to get a good idea of this culture before your interview so you know if you will be a good fit with their company culture.
For example, I’ve worked at a job that was very hierarchical in nature. We wore formal business attire, addressed our supervisors as “Mr. or Mrs.,” and spoke in a formal manner. My next job required we dress in business casual and I addressed my manager by his first name. This information will help you understand if this is a good company culture for your personality and will give you a leg up when preparing for your interview.
When possible, it’s also a good idea to speak with an employee of the company you are going to interview with. They can help you better understand the company culture, challenges they are facing, hot projects, and other information that will not only help you identify if this company is a good fit for your skills, but should help you during your interview.
Prepare for Interview Questions
Be Ready with your Elevator Pitch
Another tip is to practice your elevator pitch – the 30-60 second introduction of who you are, your career goals, and why you are a good fit for the company. This is often a great way to introduce yourself during the interview.
A lot of interviews start with the standard – “tell us a little bit about you.” This is your chance to make a great first impression and show that your goals align with the hiring company’s needs.
Review Your Career History
Your resume probably doesn’t have everything you’ve ever done on it, and unless you’ve recently thought about everything you’ve accomplished in your career, you may not remember all the projects you’ve lead or participated in. These projects and your work history can be very important during your interview.
A great way to keep track of everything you’ve done is to create a career file that tracks everything you’ve done. Review it prior to your interview so everything will be fresh. It’s amazing how much you can forget!
Common Interview Questions The Employer May Ask
Be sure to think of items of interest to the interviewer or potential questions they may ask based on your resume. It’s possible they may see something they want to know more about or related to their current projects. Having this information fresh in your mind will make answering interview questions much easier. You may find it helpful to have a friend or coworker review your resume to think of potential questions an interviewer may ask.
It’s also a good idea to have answers in mind if the interviewer asks illegal interview questions. Some interviewers may be trying to pry for information, while others may simply not be aware of which questions are allowed and which are not.
Have Clear Professional Goals
Be sure to have a clear idea of your professional goals, as this is sure to be a question during the interview. Even if it is not a question in the interview, you should have an idea of what you want to accomplish and where you want to go with your career. Otherwise, you may take a job for all the wrong reasons.
Practice Interviewing with a Friend or Relative
I’m one of those people who can line up everything perfectly in my mind, and then when I try to say it, the words come out jumbled. Sometimes all it takes is verbalizing things once or twice for me to really grasp the concept and speak more smoothly and professionally. Asking someone to help you with a mock job interview is a great way to handle this.
While holding mock interviews with your relatives and friends is a good idea, you don’t want to practice too much. Memorizing answers may make you sound too stiff and rehearsed. Think of it more like talking points and not a memorized speech.
You also want to limit yourself to serious interviews only. I have seen some people attend each interview they get called for, even if they don’t want to take the job. I personally don’t think this is the right thing to do. This may be fine at junior levels, but after a certain point, the positions are scarce, and if you give an interview, are hired, and then refuse the job – you slim your chances for the future. And I wouldn’t like it if I went to an interview and found out that the panel was only practicing their skills and was not serious about hiring me.
Create a List of Questions You Want to Ask
Interviews are never a one-way street. This is your chance to show the interviewer you are a good fit for the company and to find out if a company is a good fit for you. I recommend asking several questions about the role you are applying for, as well as general company culture, challenges the company is facing, and whatever else comes to mind.
One of the most useful questions to ask interviewers is – “what would my typical day look like?” This question puts the interviewer into the shoes of the person performing that role and can help you gain valuable information about what would be expected of you if you get the job. This also gives you valuable information about the job that you wouldn’t otherwise have from the job description. There may, for example, be unwritten expectations for each employee, even if they aren’t listed on the job description.
I should note that your first interview is probably not the best time to ask a ton of HR-related questions, such as pay, benefits, time off, etc. These are important questions but can be answered during the second round of interviews or by contacting HR directly. Your first interview should focus on whether or not you and the company are a good fit for each other.
Showing Up for Your Interview
Know the Route to the Job Interview and Be on Time
The last thing you want to do is show up late! Plan your trip, do a practice run if necessary, and whatever you do – show up on time! Even being a few minutes late gives your interviewers a bad impression of you. If you don’t care enough to show up to an interview on time, how will you perform on a daily basis?
Bring Everything You Need
Bring a briefcase or portfolio to carry a notepad, pen, business card, and several copies of your resumes (printed on high-quality paper). I recommend leaving almost everything else behind. You don’t want to present a cluttered image or be distracted while interviewing. The cell phone? Leave it in your car, turn it off, or put it in airplane mode.
Phone Interview Tips
I have done several telephone interviews. Interviewing by phone can be very different from a face-to-face interview, so it’s important to prepare accordingly. These tips can help you do a better interview by phone and hopefully receive a call back for a second interview.
Schedule an Appropriate Time and Location
You need privacy and a quiet location to do your best. This allows you to concentrate on your responses and not worry about interruptions or eavesdroppers.
I work close to home, so I scheduled my interview to occur before lunch (a more appropriate time than after lunch, when people tend to be sleepy). I took a couple of hours of personal time, did my interview, then ate lunch.
If you can’t make it home, you can consider doing a phone screening from your car or a public location that has minimal noise and allows you to converse without interruptions.
The absolute worst place you can do a phone interview is from your cubicle at work. In fact, you probably shouldn’t do it from work at all. Even though that empty conference room might be tempting, I am pretty sure most companies would seriously frown on using company time and resources to interview for a position with another company. In fact, it may be grounds for dismissal.
Prepare for Your Phone Interview
The preparation tips listed above all apply. But you need to do a little extra to prepare for your telephone interview. You should also prepare your interview location. Have a copy of your resume, a pen and pad for note taking, have a glass of water handy, ensure your phone is fully charged, use the restroom before the interview starts, and…
As I mentioned earlier, I did my interview from home. While this is a comfortable place to be, it can also be distracting because it is easy to get too comfortable. I shut off or put away everything I didn’t need for the interview. I didn’t do any work from my current job, nor did I use the TV, radio, computer, games, have food available, or do anything else that might distract me. I had a copy of my resume, a pen, some paper, and my cell phone. That was all I needed to do for my interview.
Some people may need access to a computer depending on the position they are interviewing for. Just use your own judgment and be careful not to surf the web or play games during your interview. Your prospective employer deserves 100% of your attention. And trust me, even though they can’t see you, they will know you are distracted.
What? You’re on the phone! They can’t even see you! That’s true. But multiple studies have proved that people who dress professionally act more professionally. I’m not saying you need to put on a 3 piece suit and tie, but you shouldn’t do a phone interview in your pajamas either. Being too relaxed can take you off your game, and you may respond in too casual a manner.
Follow Standard Interview Etiquette
Telephone communication is often less formal than in-person communication. But don’t fall for that misplaced sense of informality. This is your first impression of a company, and you want to make it favorable. Paying attention to standard professional etiquette will go a long way in your favor.
Here are a few examples:
- Address the interviewer by title (Mr., Mrs., Dr., etc.)
- Don’t chew gum, eat candy or food, or smoke
- Don’t interrupt
- Don’t be afraid of silence; take your time and give a well-thought-out answer
- Close the interview with why they should hire you
- Thank the interviewers for their time
- Follow up with the interviewers with a handwritten note, or e-mail if more applicable to your industry, or there is a time constraint.
This section only focuses on the major differences between doing a telephone interview vs. an in-person interview. You will face many of the common interview questions in a telephone interview, and the best way to answer those questions should be similar.
During the Interview – Making a Great First Impression
Dress for Success – How to Dress for an Interview
The way you dress says a lot about you. Dress professionally and appropriately for the job. Try to find out ahead of time, through observation or by asking someone in the company, the general attire worn at the company.
You don’t have to spend a fortune on your wardrobe. Focus on clean, professional attire, go light on your makeup and jewelry, and be sure to polish your shoes.
If you have taken the time to get to know the company, though, chances are that you have a pretty good idea of what professional dress looks like.
Here are tips for dressing the part:
- Choose your suit carefully. If you elect to wear a suit, choose a solid color. Focus on presenting a clean-cut, professional image to avoid distracting the interviewer’s attention.
- Wear a simple shirt. The idea here is to keep the focus on you, not your clothes. A solid-colored shirt or one with simple stripes won’t distract the interviewers like a shirt with loud colors or patterns could.
- You have options with the tie. A plain tie is simple, elegant, and always in fashion. However, staying away from the loud, visually distracting ties is probably a good idea. Ties with argyle print or Daffy Duck probably aren’t the best choice for most interviews. The emphasis should be on you and your interview answers, not your clothing.
- Go easy on the jewelry. If you are a male, keep the jewelry light. Wear your wedding ring if you are married and maybe a watch or tie clip, but consider leaving the jewelry at home, in your car, or concealed beneath your clothing. Females should wear simple accessories and avoid large dangling pieces that can distract the interviewer. Again, the focus is on you, not your jewelry.
- Neatly groom your hair. Guys, get a haircut and comb your hair. But be sure not to weigh it down with half a bottle of gel – that’s disgusting. Women, consider a simple style and keep your hair from covering your face, which will distract the interviewers.
- Skip the perfume or cologne. Many people are allergic to perfumes and scents, and the last thing you want is to have an interviewer cut short the interview because they can’t physically be in the room with you without sneezing. That is a quick way to end the interview and miss out on what could possibly be a great opportunity.
- Polish those shoes! Many people forget this simple, but important part of their wardrobe. Your shoes don’t need a mirror shine, but they should be clean, polished, and presentable. Polishing your shoes also makes them last longer.
- Other accessories and tips. Wear plain dark socks and a belt to match your shoes. Be sure to leave a pager or cell phone in your car, or turn them off.
Greeting the Interviewer(s)
Not only is the way you dress important, but the way you greet the person(s) interviewing is also vital. You want to show a certain level of confidence. Enter the room with good posture, and shake the interviewer’s hand firmly, introducing yourself. Make eye contact, and be sure to smile. When combined with your appearance, that first impression of your confidence can make a big difference later.
It helps, too, to be ready with your “elevator pitch.” You may not be asked for one, but if the interviewer leads with, “Tell me why I should hire you,” you can get ahead if you are ready with a succinct statement.
Part of being a good interviewee is listening. You want to make sure you understand the questions being asked. You also need to be able to participate in give and take, so that requires active listening. Additionally, it helps to remember that many people consider a “good” conversation one that they spent a good amount of time talking during. Try not to interrupt your interviewer, and let him or her share stories. He or she will be more likely to have a favorable impression.
Know Your Market Value, but Don’t Talk Salary
I prefer not to discuss salary during the job interview, if at all possible. I would rather talk numbers with the HR rep. But sometimes hiring managers will want to discuss salary numbers first – just so they have a better idea of whether or not both parties are in the same ballpark. So just in case, you should be prepared, know your market value, and have an idea of your salary range and desired benefits package. Payscale.com and Salary.com are great resources to get a ballpark idea, but keep in mind these may vary substantially from what you are offered or what your market will support.
What Not to Do in Your Interview
Here are some “not to do” things at your next job interview. If you avoid the things on this list, maybe next time you will be called back for a second job interview – or offered the job:
- Arrive unprepared for the interview: have you ever just shown up to a job interview and figured you would “wing it”? Most job candidates will spend several days preparing for an interview. If you come in unprepared and hoping to “wing it”; your interviewer will know and everyone who came prepared will have a better chance at getting the job than you do. Know the business you’re applying to work for, update your resume and references, and spend some time thinking about responses to questions you will probably be asked.
- Say too little: do not give one-word answers to the interviewer’s questions. Even if it seems the question can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” response, elaborate on why you’ve answered it the way you have.
- Say too much: on the other hand, you don’t want to say too much and forget the interviewer should be leading the conversation, not you. Make sure you show your listening skills by allowing the interviewer to talk uninterrupted, and then keep your answers on topic to avoid rambling.
- Be a comedian: sure, you may think you’re funny and you may relieve stress by making people laugh but a job interview is not the place to show off your comedy skills. An interviewer might think you are not serious about wanting the job if you make jokes during the interview.
- Use your cell phone: taking a phone call, reading or responding to a text message during an interview is never acceptable. Turn your phone off before the interview and give the interviewer your undivided attention.
- Dress casually: even if you know the dress code is business casual, do not show up casually dressed for an interview. Your first impression is made by your appearance.
- Complain about your last employer: when asked why you’re leaving or why you left your last place of employment, do not take the opportunity to bad-mouth the employer or the workplace. No one wants to hire someone who bad-mouths the company they worked for or complains about everything. Also, don’t blame incidents at your previous employer on co-workers. If something happened, talk about it honestly and don’t place blame.
- Cry about your problems: a potential employer could care less about how much debt you have or that you’re trying to support your children and need to make more money. They don’t hire candidates based on their financial need of the candidates, so don’t use your interview to cry about your problems.
- Stretch the truth or lie: one of the worst things you can do in an interview or on a job application is lie about your experiences, education, or qualifications. A good company is going to do a background check and verify the information you’ve given them, and lying during a job interview is a sure way not to get called in for a second interview – or grounds for dismissal if it’s discovered after you’ve been hired.
- Show up late to interview: someone who can’t make it to the interview on time is also likely to be late to work regularly. Plan to be fifteen minutes early. If an emergency or traffic jam is going to make you late, call the office and let them know.
- Not following up: sending a quick e-mail or letter after your interview is a great way to thank the interviewer for their time, ask any questions that might have come up since you did the interview, or clarify any issues that may have occurred during the interview.
Yes, some of these are the opposites of the tips above, but they deserve being repeated. They are that important!
After the Job Interview
Afterward, Send a Thank You Note
It’s never a bad idea to follow up with your interviewer after the interviewer unless they specifically ask you not to. Sending a thank you note after the interview reinforces your interest in the job, and reminds the interviewer of who you are.
If you know the company plans to make a hiring decision relatively soon, the quicker you send the note, the better. However, if you are aware that the interview process will take a while longer, consider waiting a few days (but not more than a week) to send your note. That way, you will refresh the interviewer’s mind at a time when you might have been fading. Timing is a fine line, so if you are in doubt, send the note promptly.
I have sent the interviewers a thank you note directly after an interview. I did this via e-mail, which some people say is a no-no. However, others think it is fine depending on the industry and whether or not it is time-sensitive (i.e. they need to make a decision quickly). Going the extra mile doesn’t hurt.
Preparing for a Job interview is Just as Important as Doing the Interview
You can’t do well in an interview without preparation. If you want the job, take the time to properly prepare for the job interview. It will show as soon as you sit down with your interviewers.