How to Prepare for a Job Interview

June 28, 2018

Congratulations, you’ve scored an interview! What now? Whether you have one day or one week until you’re speaking with or meeting your potential employer, it’s incredibly important to prepare as much as possible. Being organized and feeling prepared will help you to feel less anxious, and save you time and energy on the day of the interview. It will also impress the hiring manager or whoever is interviewing you, and will allow you to stand out from the crowd.

Remember that the company or organization already has your resume and cover letter--now they want to have a conversation with you and see what you’re like in person, so putting your best self forward is a must. But how exactly do you prepare for a job interview? We’ve outlined key preparation steps for you:

Do your research.
Researching the company is just as important as knowing what you want to say about yourself. You want to be able to answer any questions they might ask you about the company, as well as be able to add things about the company into your answers about yourself and your work. Being able to name specific projects they’ve worked on, clients or partners they have, initiatives or values that you admire will make you look savvy and dedicated.

On top of that, researching the person who will be interviewing you might also be helpful. Looking at their “about” or bio as well as their LinkedIn could help you find any connections or things in common that will allow you to personalize the interview, mention a specific place you’ve worked, or cause or passion of yours that will impress them.

Think about the skills and qualifications required for the job, and compare your own.
What experiences and skills should you talk about during the interview? Ideally, you’ll have examples of qualifications that align with what they’ve asked for in the job description. Keeping the outlined qualifications in mind while describing why you’re a good fit for the job will help sell yourself for the role.

Prepare stories and examples.
By preparing responses and examples of instances when you succeeded, helped someone, or exercised an important skill or judgment call, you’re building a repertoire of solid stories to pull from during the interview. You can take a moment or two to think about which story to tell or example to give, but ultimately you’ll feel less stressed than if you had to come up with something on the spot. Your stories don’t have to be a big achievement, but they should positively showcase a skill, the way you handle difficult situations, or outline the way you work. If you need to describe a problem or challenging situation, it’s always best to spin it into a positive such as you learned so much from the experience, you were able to grow from the situation, or you recognized a quality you didn’t know you had before. This shows that you don’t dwell on the negative but can overcome obstacles and challenges, as they do come with every job.

Create a question and answer sheet, and think deeply about your answers.
The most common questions asked in job interviews, especially first interviews, are these:  

  • Can you tell me about yourself?
  • What do you know about our company?
  • Why did you apply for this job and what interests you?
  • Can you describe your work or management style?
  • What is your greatest strength and what is your greatest weakness?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  • Do you have any questions for me?

There are many other questions they might ask, ranging from questions about salary requirements to industry or role-specific questions. It’s good to think about those too, but it’s absolutely crucial for you to be able to answer the above questions concisely and in a unique way. Answering the question “Can you tell me about yourself?” by rambling about your life’s story won’t do you any favors, unfortunately. Instead, think about why you care about the role of company, the work that you do, and how it relates to who you are as a person. Come up with 3-5 sentences that get at the core of it, and practice answering.

The question that’s most likely to trip people up in interviews is “What is your greatest strength and what is your greatest weakness?” It might feel like a personal attack--but trust us, it’s not. The interviewer is asking you this because they want to hear how you describe your strengths and if it’s relevant to the job. Furthermore, they aren’t looking to hear you badmouth yourself when describing your weakness. They want to hear about a skill that you are not proficient in or a trait that is perhaps not you’re strongest but that you’re working on. Ultimately, they want to hear how you’re working on bettering yourself and growing as a professional. The person interviewing you knows that you’re not perfect, and they’re likely not looking for someone who is perfect for the job. However, they are looking for someone who is self-aware, open to constructive criticism, and dedicated to doing a good job.

Lastly, don’t forget to ask questions of your own. “Make sure that you have questions to ask about the company culture, job responsibilities and expectations. It’s good to show that you are prepared and did your research but also keep in mind that you are interviewing them for the next right step in your career,” experienced recruiter and the founder of Elysian, Jessica Ozrek, advises. Some great questions that you can ask include “What’s a challenge you currently are facing in your role and how is the company helping you tackle this challenge?” and “What does the team do together for bonding or professional development?” And if you really want to stand out and you’re feeling bold, you can ask something along the lines of, “Is there anything about my qualifications that you feel hesitant about and are there any skill or experiences I can expand on or clarify?” This will show that you want to prove yourself, you’re not afraid to ask the hard questions, and want to give them all the information they need to feel confident in you as a candidate.

Practice interviewing, including etiquette and body language.
Ask a friend or relative to help you do a mock interview. This will give you a chance to talk through your answers out loud and get any stumbling blocks out of the way ahead of time. It will also help you practice interview etiquette like handshakes, keeping eye contact, and minimizing fidgeting and nervous habits.

Plan your outfit.
If it’s an in person interview, picking out an outfit that’s professional but also makes you feel comfortable and confident is a small but extremely important step to take. You want to put your best foot forward, and this is also a great way to show them a little bit of personality. If it’s a corporate environment, make sure you are wearing a suit. If it’s a more casual environment, a nice dress or slacks and blazer will suffice. You want to show them that you’re already a good fit for their company culture but also dressed to interview as you take the opportunity seriously.

Bring any necessary materials.
Even if you’ve already sent your resume, it’s good to bring a few copies with you. It makes you seem prepared and thoughtful. Bringing a physical portfolio may also help you stand apart from the crowd.

And last but not least… When you walk in the door, make eye contact, and have a firm handshake. Even if the interview takes place at a restaurant, cafe, or somewhere that feels more formal, it’s necessary to remember to always keep it professional. Even if the interviewer sets a casual tone, it’s important to remember that this is still an interview for a job. Keep your A game going by being the most professional version of yourself possible.

All the best