1) How should I prepare for a job interview?
Regardless of how you prepare for a job interview, make sure you start early.
Research the Company: You probably already did preliminary research when writing your resume, however, now is the time for a refresher. Check their website to learn more about their corporate culture. Dig a little bit deeper to find out if the company has been in the news recently for an award, event, or change in leadership that you may be able to mention to demonstrate that you are on the ball.
Get to Know the Interview Team: It is appropriate to ask who will be in your interview when you schedule. Be sure to check the company website and professional social media profiles such as LinkedIn to learn about the people you will be meeting. Avoid personal social media sites since mentioning something you learned there can come off as creepy. Mentioning a recent professional award or promotion, for example, can make a big first impression.
Think of Relevant Experiences and Questions: Take time to think through specific experiences when you overcame obstacles or demonstrated a certain skill such as leadership. In addition, think of a few great questions to ask the recruiter during your interview about the job or the company. Write them down and be sure to bring them with you.
Mock Interview: Ask a friend or family member to join you for a mock interview or two. Ask for constructive feedback on how to improve the impression you are making and then practice those techniques as well.
Sweat the Details: Make sure that you have everything you will need the day of your interview ready to go. Decide what you want to wear and try it on to make sure it fits and conveys a professional look. Take a ride over to the location to verify your driving time and the parking situation. Assemble the materials you plan to take to the interview as well.
2) What are interviewers looking for during a job interview?
Depending on their roles within the organization, the people who will be interviewing you will be looking for different things. However, the following remains a constant:
Fit: Although your qualifications for the position are critical, by the interview phase it is likely that all of the remaining candidates meet the basic criteria. The interview is a chance to show that you are a strong fit for the position, the company, and the department you will be working within. Do your best to demonstrate that you have researched and understand the company culture, have passion for the position itself, and will be a value added member of the team.
Nonverbal Communication: Recruiters will be watching your nonverbal communication for several indicators including your confidence, sincerity, and openness. Maintain strong eye contact, smile often, nod as you listen and manage any nervous fidgeting to put your best foot forward. Make sure your body language doesn't give the wrong impression. Posture tips include not crossing your arms in front of your body, sitting up straight, and breathing deeply to keep yourself relaxed.
Ability to Learn and Grow Professionally: Hiring managers want to be sure that they bring someone on board who is willing to adapt and learn to thrive in their company. Be ready with a story or two of when you learned on the job. In addition, be honest about (and be prepared to discuss) your strengths and weaknesses to show that you are a good long term investment for the company.
Personality: Sometimes a hiring decision does come down to a personality fit. Managers want to hire people that are likable, amenable, flexible, reliable and low maintenance in addition to having the required skills.
3) When should I schedule the interview?
The first thing to do is to try to assess the interview window that the hiring team has set aside for their search. It is appropriate to ask when you are offered an interview for this information and generally recruiters will share it with you. In general, being closer to the end of this window boosts the chances that you will be fresh on their minds when a decision is made.
It may be advisable to avoid Mondays and Fridays for no other reason than these days can be full of distractions about the upcoming weekend or adjusting back to the work routine from the weekend prior.
Before deciding on a time of day, think first about when you are at your best. We all have our own natural rhythms and the most important factor may be hitting your peak time of day. If you don’t have a strong preference, then mid-morning or mid-afternoon are potentially the best times since they avoid being too close to lunch or quitting time.
See this article for a more in-depth discussion: When to Schedule a Job Interview
4) What should I wear to an interview?
The answer to this question strongly depends on the specific industry for which you are applying. For example, many employers in the tech industry expect a much more flexible work attire as part and parcel of a culture that values creativity and independent thinking. On the other hand, banking tends to have a fairly conservative expectation that you can strut a well-tailored and more formal business suit.
Your attire should give the overall impression that you are neat, professional, and polished. You are aiming for an outfit that is one step above what you might wear to the job every day. Be sure personal hygiene details like a fresh haircut, manicure and a clean shave are covered.
If you are not sure between two outfits, go with the more formal choice. Too dressed up is less of a risk than under dressing for the big day.
When choosing your outfit, a few things to avoid include:
- Large swaths of flashy colors (accents are appropriate).
- Excess perfume, makeup, aftershave or cologne.
- Over the top accessories such as large jewelry or jokey ties.
- Overly revealing or suggestive clothes.
- Outdated outfits more than a few years old.
5) What should I bring to a job interview?
There are a few important items to take with you to your interview. Make sure that whatever folder, portfolio or briefcase you use is clean and organized. Keep your documents in labeled folders so that you can quickly grab exactly what you are looking for.
Printed Copies of Your Resume: Keep some extras on hand in case someone shows up to your interview that may not have a copy.
Reference List: Keep several copies of your up to date list of professional references along with their title, email and phone number. Make sure you only include people that are aware they may get a call from a potential employer to speak on your behalf.
Pen and Paper: Make sure the pad you use is in good condition and if you are using a briefcase, consider an extra pen. Go ahead and get these items out at the start of the interview so you already have them in front of you once the interview gets started.
Questions: As part of your preparation for the interview, hopefully you have done some research and prepared some thoughtful questions that you have for the interview team. Write them down and bring them with you so that you won’t forget them in the event that you get nervous.
Business Cards: If someone happens to ask for your card, you will be ready with one.
Samples: In some lines of work, particularly creative ones, a portfolio with work samples can be helpful to have with you.
6) What kinds of questions should I be prepared to answer?
As a starting point, you should be prepared to address whatever is written in your application materials. Beyond this, these questions always find their way to the job interview:
Can you tell us about yourself? This open ended question can be intimidating if you have not prepared for it. Keep your answer brief and focused on your professional development, hopefully providing a narrative of your career that points to the current position as the next logical step.
Why do you want this job? (and… What is your dream job?) These questions are actually related so it may be best to prepare for them together. Employers want to see that the job that you are being considered for is a strong fit for your overall career ambitions so that you will be dedicated and enthusiastic about the work. This is a great answer to bring in the research you did on the company and the job itself to demonstrate you are a great fit and that you have done your homework.
What are your strengths/ weaknesses/ greatest accomplishments? While preparing for this set of common interview questions, it is helpful to think through the answer and then back it up with a true story of a professional experience that demonstrates it. When it comes to weaknesses, employers are looking for employees that are self-aware and willing to grow and learn. While you should not hopefully have a weakness that is core to the responsibilities of the job, this is not the time to say something like “I am a perfectionist.” Be real. Recruiters appreciate openness from candidates.
Why are you leaving (or did you leave) your last job? It is critical to stay positive with your answer to this question, framing it as an opportunity to grow in your career. If you were fired, make sure you have a narrative prepared that is both honest and framed in the most positive light, such as a poor fit. Don’t badmouth your previous or current employer.
Do you have any questions for us? This question is almost a guarantee. Have a list of prepared questions with you that are relevant to the company or role itself, and also jot down any that come up during the interview. Ask one or two questions and listen attentively to the answers.
What is your required salary? Although it is more common to discuss salary at the time of an actual offer, sometimes recruiters toss it out during an interview to gauge your response. Many career advisors recommend dodging this question, politely, so that you can have more room to negotiate in the event of an offer.
7) What kinds of questions should I ask the interview team?
Almost every job interview will end with an opportunity for you to ask questions. Preparing in advance with a written list of a few possible questions to ask is a great idea, but don’t be afraid to jot one down if you think of it during the interview either.
There are many strategies in terms of how to make the best use of this phase of the interview and knowing how to use this time is highly dependent on the specifics of the job and what ground you already covered during the interview itself.
The best questions are both an opportunity to learn more about the company and/or position, express sincere interest in the job, as well as another chance to strut your stuff. For example, asking about a leadership training program you saw on their website checks all three boxes. Generic questions are less helpful and will likely give you less information as well as squander your last opportunity to shine in the interview.
The range of appropriate questions to ask is fairly wide, but the best questions are specific to the job or company itself. For example, inquiring about the most exciting projects from the last year, asking to learn more about the other team members you will be working with, or what the most important qualities the recruiters are looking for in this position are all fair game.
8) How and when should I follow-up after an interview?
In general, emails have now replaced the old-fashioned hand written note for an immediate follow up after an interview. Send it 3-24 hours after your interview, during business hours.
Immediately after your interview, take a few minutes to write down a few notes about the people you met so that you have details that you can include in your follow up email. For example, if the hiring manager talked about a project that he or she is particularly excited about in the coming year, mentioning that in your follow up email shows that you were paying attention and are sincere about your interest in the job.
Keep your follow up email short, simple and earnest. It should convey your gratitude for the interviewer’s time, preferably mention some aspects of your conversation (hopefully one you can connect to your qualifications), an expression of your excitement about the job, and end with the fact that you are looking forward to hearing back from them soon.
9) What are the key mistakes to avoid at an interview?
Dressing inappropriately, arriving late, badmouthing your previous employer, arriving with headphones on, or using your phone are obvious no-no’s. Here are a few more big mistakes you don’t want to make:
Failing to Prepare: If you go into an interview without bothering to learn about the company, the position, and the people you will be interviewing with, you are coming in the door at a huge disadvantage. Employers are looking for motivated, driven and passionate team members and the best way to convey that is to show that you have done your homework. In addition, prepare for common interview questions and take the time to craft a few relevant and specific questions to ask them.
Not Addressing Concerns: Whether the interviewer asks you directly, or you pick up on a concern in the course of conversation, make sure you address the issue directly. Evading the hardest part of a question might seem like a good strategy, but recruiters would rather see you are able to see and name your weaknesses, rather than deny them or ignore them.
Babbling: Being longwinded uses up valuable time and increases the odds of you going off tangent and stumbling. Try to keep your answers direct, focused and to the point, without coming off as curt. Sharing too much personal information is another mistake in this vein. If you tend to overshare when you are nervous, consider a mock interview to practice reining it in.
10) What are the key things to keep in mind at an interview?
Be confident and smile. This is your time to shine, so don't let nervousness have the upper hand. Beyond this, consider the following:
Bring It Back to Fit: Since employers are ultimately looking for a strong fit to the specific job, that is where you want to keep your focus during the interview. Any chance that you can bring the conversation to how you have the skills, experiences, education and/or enthusiasm for the job, put it on the table. Bonus points for any time you are able to bring your research of the company or specific role into the conversation about your fit for the position.
Be Yourself: The fact is that by the time the candidates have been narrowed to the interview stage, most have the necessary qualifications for the job. A great deal of the hiring decision can come down to your fit for the company, the culture and the team you will be working with. Decisions about fit can also come down to plain old likability. Try to relax and let your personality shine while being genuinely present to get to know those you hope to be working with soon.
It’s a Two Way Street: Instead of seeing the interview as an experience solely about being judged by others, remind yourself that you are also there to assess the fit of this potential organization and position for your career ambitions. Ask great questions when offered a chance to do so.
Be Memorable: Whenever you have a chance to connect with your interviewer, take it. This might be a shared professional interest, or it might come out as a hobby you have in common during the casual conversation before the interview starts. In addition, have a few very strong stories about a time you overcame a professional challenge or earned a major award and work them in. These kinds of memorable moments can help you stay in their mind during the decision making process.
Following are links to articles that address other frequently asked questions:
- How Do Employers View the Interview Process?
- What Should I Wear to a Job Interview (Women)?
- What Should I Wear to a Job Interview (Men)?
- How Can I Be More Compelling When I Answer Questions?
- What Questions Should I Ask During a Job Interview?
- How Can I Prepare for a Job Interview?
- How Can I Ask for Feedback About My Performance During a Job Interview?
- Why Does It Matter How I Dress for a Job Interview?