When getting a job interview, some think of it as a test where they have to answer all the questions correctly, and others believe that googling a list of “the most common interview questions” is what it takes to be ready. In reality, neither approach is enough to prepare for a job interview. Interviews have two purposes. To the interviewer, he/she wants to know a couple of clear facts about what you can do for the company and how well you fit into the company culture and environment. As for you, it’s an excellent opportunity to boost your chances of getting hired through talking about your skills and showcasing how relevant they are to the job.
Achieving both of these goals when you’re under pressure takes some planning and work in advance. While there is no best way to ace an interview, every interview is a learning experience, and your preparation work can surely make you feel less nervous as well as lay an essential base for the upcoming interviews.
Know your audience
So you have your interview scheduled, and you are quite familiar with the company and its product(s), do you think this is enough information? Better think again. Many people rely on their basic knowledge or the “About us” tab on the company website, while it takes more than just that to come across as knowledgeable and prepared in a job interview.
- Spend a few hours learning as much as you can about the company, use different sources besides the official website as it won’t give you the kind of in-depth information you are seeking; read news releases and talk to friends and contacts who have worked there (if applicable). Who are the company competitors? What innovations are on the industry horizon? Who are the key leaders in the field? You need to be able to talk about these topics comfortably.
- After that, you need to get a sense of “Who” the company is so you can identify what kind of employees work and excel there. The easiest way to get this information is by asking around your network (in case you already know someone that works there). Another is by checking the company social media pages and reading the published blog articles; the content on these pages will speak volumes about the company environment and culture.
- No matter what role you are interviewing for – engineering, sales or marketing- you should ideally use the company products more than one time (if possible). When hired, you will take part in adding value to this said product and its users, so being a user yourself and having feedback is considered a first step.
- Before your interview, try to get a list of the people you are meeting with from the company (if possible) you can ask during the phone interview about the name of the person you are meeting with and their position in the company. It’s an opportunity to prepare questions about that person’s focus in the company to help you better understand the nature of the work there.
Anticipate interview questions
Your resume lists all your accomplishments and experiences, and since you already got an invitation for an interview, most probably your interviewer has already gone through your resume. Communicate how will you use these past experiences to help the company in the future.
- Even if you consider yourself an interviewing machine, it’s essential to spend time going through your resume and thinking carefully what skills and experiences resonate the most with the job. The interviewer doesn’t have the time to listen to the full story of your life; you need to plan and decide on the points that you want to bring up during your interview. (these points will probably be slightly different in everywhere you interview depending on the role and the company)
- Have an answer to “tell us about yourself.” In most cases, interviewers ask this at the very beginning of your interview, and you want to make sure your answer is attractive enough. A well-structured way to answer this is what I like to call “The Present – Past – Future Technique.” First, you start by the present – what you are currently doing. Then, talk about your past experiences- a little bit of the skills you gained in your previous experiences. Finally, finish with the future – what excites you for the position and what are you looking forward to adding to the company. Let me give you an example:
If someone asked, “tell me about yourself,” you could say:
“Well, I’m currently an account executive at Company X, where I handle our top performing client. Before that, I worked at an agency where I was on three different major national brands. Moreover, while I enjoyed the work that I did, I’d love the chance to dig in much deeper with one specific company in the industry, which is why I’m so excited about this opportunity.”
Remember, of course, that your answer should highlight the accomplishments and skills that are most relevant to the interviewer when thinking about the position.
- Don’t forget about the numbers! Always try to increase the weight of what you’re saying by using percentages, increases or quotas while talking about your responsibilities and accomplishments. It makes your story more compelling and helps you tell your hiring manager how awesome you are!
Practice, practice, practice.
As part of your interview preparation, you should be ready to discuss everything on your resume. Spend time not only rehearsing possible questions, but also reflecting on your experiences to date and studying the job description. When you know your story inside out, it is easier to come up with examples to just about any interview question in your way.
- Once you have answers to all possible scenarios, it’s time to get a bright idea of how you sound and look to other people. For example: does your voice sound dull and unenthusiastic? Alternatively, do you talk too fast? Does your body language reflect confidence? Do you say “uh” too much? It’s easy to get that feedback through having a mock-up interview with one of your friends or family members.
- Use an interview Cheat Sheet to help you compile all the information that you need to remember on the day of the interview; what topics do you need to bring up? Also, what questions you want to ask?
- When it’s your turn to ask questions, make sure you have your research has covered this part as well. Employers like seeing a candidate that’s interested in the role and the company. For example, you can ask:
- What was the thinking behind this marketing campaign?
- Can you give me an example of previous success?
- How well does the company’s vision align with its actual activities?
- What do you see as the primary goals for the person in this role over the next year?
- Also, do NOT ask about salary or benefits until you are in final consideration for the position.
Show up on time and dress appropriately
- Showing up late to a job interview is never excusable, and even if you felt like you answered all the questions brilliantly, your late arrival will always be a huge turn-off. Before your meeting, try to learn the fastest route to the company as well as other alternative routes (if available). Also, arrive 10 or 15 minutes early so you can take some time to catch your breath and get your head in the right place. It’s good to have a printed copy of your resume (neat one) and a notebook in case you wanted to jot down any comments.
- Back in the old days, you used to wear your best suit for any job interview. Startup executives changed that by regularly wearing hoodies and comfy clothes to the office. If you’re not sure about what to wear to a particular interview, see if you have a contact that works there and can give you a heads up as to what they wear around the office. If you don’t have that luxury, you can check the company’s gallery on their website or facebook page and see how employees and executives dress, or you can ask your recruiter on the phone while scheduling the interview.
- Don’t forget the little things: press your outfit, shine your shoes and make sure your nails look neat. The stuff that you think people don’t notice, but they do! Also, do a little pampering to yourself (if needed); the things that make you feel at your best, whether it’s a new haircut or a new outfit. Feeling good about yourself will always boost your confidence!
After the interview
- Do an interview assessment; write down all the challenging points that were tackled and reflect on your answers to them. It is an excellent exercise to help you formulate better, more structured responses in your second interview or even in similar, future cases.
- Anyone who is currently applying for jobs knows that hiring processes could drag for weeks. It’s always wise to ask about the hiring process before leaving the company. When and how will you get feedback? Do they only contact the candidates selected for the second phase? Alternatively, everyone who went through the first interview? That way you will get an idea about when to expect an invitation back or when to know that you didn’t make it to the next step.
Finally, no matter how much you think you nailed that job interview, don’t just sit along waiting for your phone to ring. Keep up with your job search and explore other opportunities. You never know what might be waiting for you out there!