Preparing for a Job Interview

Preparing for a job interview takes time and reflection, but it’s worth it. When you’re prepared, you are more confident, relaxed and focused. Use these interview tips and career advice to get ready.

The job interview is primarily about you – a chance for your potential employer to access your skills, experience and perhaps just as importantly, your personality and how you might fit into the company.

confident business woman aces an interview

Interviewing styles can vary, even within the same company. Most managers base their judgments about your competency on some combination of first impression, technical knowledge, academics, and smarts. By preparing for a job interview, you’ll be ready to cope with whatever questions or circumstances arise.

Following are some key interview tips to follow when preparing for a job interview and aid in your job search.

Research the Company and Position Before Your Job Interview

As you prepare for an interview, you’ll want to understand as much as you can about the position and the company as you can. If you’re working with a recruiter, much of this information will likely be provided for you. This information helps you guide your preparation, focusing the strengths you highlight and examples that you will use as supporting evidence.

If you haven’t already received a copy of the job description, request it prior to your job interview. Use the Internet to learn as much as you can about the company before the interview. Read industry magazines to find out what challenges the company and industry are facing, talk to your contacts that may have insight, Google the names of the people you’ll be interviewing with to see where they show up. Jot down ideas about how you can help and questions you may want to ask during the interview.

Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses.

Write down four or five of your key strengths and one or two weaknesses. Prepare a short, one-paragraph example of an accomplishment using each strength (use the format below). Choose examples that support critical skills or aptitudes that the company is looking for.

Now do the same for your weaknesses. Most people get a little nervous and don’t know how to respond; this is where preparing for a job interview really pays off. The key to highlighting weaknesses is to be able to show how you’ve turned a weakness into strength. When asked about a weakness, first pause and reflect. Then answer.

For instance, you might say something like, “I used to be afraid to speak up in staff meetings, but I took that on as a development opportunity and now I am even comfortable leading parts of the meetings.” Or if you prefer, it is also appropriate to say something like “I can’t think of any weaknesses that specifically relate to the job description. However, I am sure I will have to familiarize myself with company policies and applications to get up to speed.”

Practice Your Job Interview Form

Offer the right amount of information for each question and target 1-2 minute answers. If you talk longer than 3 minutes, the interviewer can lose interest. If your answer takes less than 1 minute, the interviewer may consider you underqualified or shallow. To keep your answers focused, use this simple formula:

  • Make an opening statement
  • Amplify that statement
  • Provide an example or two
  • Wrap it up

Sharing examples provides demonstrated proof behind your opening statement. Interviewers will use these examples to form their judgments about your competency. Most people talk in generalities. Specific examples are much more powerful.

Articulate Two of Your Most Significant Accomplishments

To improve your verbal pitch, take the time to prepare a write-up for your two most significant accomplishments. These should be two to three paragraphs each in length, but no longer than half a page each. Write one individual accomplishment and one team accomplishment. Include examples of your strengths in both write-ups. It’s easy to get a little nervous in the early stages of an interview, which can lead to temporary forgetfulness. These write-ups can act as your cheat sheet, allowing for better recall of this important information. They’ll also be the basis of the examples in format above.

Use a Key Question to Lead the Discussion

Discussions about your major accomplishments should dominate the interview session. However, most interviewers don’t ask about your accomplishments naturally, so you can get them started. Ask this question early if you feel the interview needs a fresh direction: “Would you please give me an overview of what the job entails and describe some of the key challenges in the job? That will help me give you examples my experience that is comparable.”

This opening allows you to describe some important related projects you’ve worked on. Managers generally like people who are more proactive and who ask good questions, so make sure you have prepared a list of other insightful questions to ask. Use the notes you took as you researched the company or industry to formulate on-target questions. Other questions you may want to ask include:

  • How would you describe the ideal person for the job?
  • What’s the biggest challenge that needs to be addressed right away?
  • What is your vision for your department over the next two to three years?

What Happens if They “Pop the Question”?

It is to your advantage to detailed discussions about salary until you have the information you need. We’ve devoted a whole article to this to help you do it with tact. However, once you get the offer, you’ll want to be prepared for your negotiation discussions.

Ask for the Job

At the end of the interview, two additional questions help you close:

  • From all I can see, I’d really like to work here, and I believe I can be a great addition to your team. What’s the next step in the selection process?
  • Before I leave, is there anything else you need to know concerning my ability to do this job?

It’s important to uncover any potential gaps or misunderstandings to that you can provide clarification or additional examples if needed. Sometimes you have to ask directly about any concerns they might have so that you can have the opportunity to address them head on.

At the close of the interview, ask if you can follow up with them later if you have further questions. Also, be sure to ask for a business card; this provides the direct contact information for the person, allowing you to send the interviewer an interview thank you letter.

As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Preparation is one of the most important tips for interviews you can follow because it allows you to ensure that the first impression you leave is your best.

Good luck!

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