Preparing for a Job Interview

Sally Painter
Plan ahead to prepare for a successful interview.

Preparation for a job interview can be one of the best investments you make to ensure your career advancement. By presenting yourself as knowledgeable about the company and your field of work, you can outshine your competition. You'll certainly improve your chances of being selected for second interviews and getting hired if you take the time to properly prepare before going on your next job interview.

Goals of the Interview

The interview is an important meeting for both the employer and the prospective employee.

  • An employer uses the job interview to get to know the individual and decide if she has the skills and personality to do a good job.
  • A prospective employee uses the interview as an opportunity to gain understanding of the job and the employer's expectations.

Professional HR Consultant, Career Coach, and author Sharon Armstrong agrees that, "The goal of the interview is to raise the interviewer's expectation of you, so you will be invited to continue in the selection process, and subsequently, receive a job offer."

Steps to Preparing for a Job Interview

You should start preparing for a job interview as soon as the appointment is set. Gather information and then plan how you want to sell yourself during the interview. If you only have a few days to prepare, don't skip a step. Instead, spend less time on each step. This might also be a good time to ask someone to help you with the research and allow you to practice answering the interview questions.

Mark Dorio, Management Consultant and Executive Coach of Dorio Consulting and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to The Perfect Job Interview agrees, "Practice - practice - practice! Have your family members or friends give you a practice interview or two. Tape yourself or, even better, videotape yourself. What you will learn and see will be an eye-opener and provide you with instant feedback that will help you hone your interviewing skills immediately."

Research the Company

Dorio also suggests, "Learn as much as you can about the prospective employer and, if possible, the interviewer. The Internet is your friend here! Your goal is to approach the interview like an insider. That is, be so conversant about what the employer does and wants to do that you come across as one of them already!"

Matt Tovrog, a partner with Bell Oaks Executive Search reminds job candidates, "Be well-versed on the company basics and don't ask about them in the interview because it is information easily come by."

Information is right at your fingertips through business journals and the company website. Learn important details about the company:

  • Competition
  • Has there been any recent news about the company? Was it good news or bad?
  • Headquarters
  • How old the company is
  • Number of employees
  • Products and services
  • Public or private
  • Revenue

Tovrog reminds candidates of often overlooked resources for preparation, such as LinkedIn. He suggests searching for, "current or former employees who might be able to provide insight on the interview style of the hiring manager or the culture of the organization. What you hear might dissuade you from moving forward or excite you further to pursue the job. Either way, it will be useful information."

Finalize Your References

Select three to five people you have worked with in the past who would have positive things to say about your skills and working style. Call them a few days before the interview to tell them about the job you are interviewing for and to confirm that they are willing to speak to your prospective employer. Have their names, addresses, daytime telephone number and email address available during the interview.

Bring Your Paperwork

Make copies of all the documents you might need for the interview or that you might be asked to give to the interviewer. The type of documents will depend upon the type of job for which you are interviewing. Some of the typical documents include:

  • Your resume (at least three copies, since you may interview with others, such as department heads)
  • A list of your references and their contact information
  • Copies of identification information such as your Social Security card, passport, driver's license or Green Card
  • Copies of any licenses or certifications that might be required on the job

Prepare Your Answers

You will feel more confident and appear more professional if you are ready to answer questions about yourself and your professional skills. Start by making a list of the questions you might be asked and the answers you want to give. Keep your answers short. A sentence or two is usually enough information. If the interviewer wants to know more, he or she will ask you for the details.

Dorio offers a few tips to make your responses top-notch, "Respond to questions as directly and concisely as possible. Do not digress. Do not evade the question. Do not shoot the breeze or otherwise make small talk." He also warns candidates to, "Avoid introducing negatives or potential negatives. Emphasize positive qualifications, strengths and skills."

During your practice interviews, try to anticipate the questions the employer might ask such as, "tell me about yourself' or "tell me what you enjoyed most about your last position." This preparation means you will be able to answer these and other questions without hesitation. Dorio reminds that, "You can expect to be asked to describe your weaknesses and long term goals. Again, prepare your responses."

Other common interview questions are:

  • What are your skills?
  • Explain a time when you faced a challenge and how you overcame it.
  • What are your responsibilities on your current job?
  • Why do you want to leave your current job?
  • Why should I hire you?

Armstrong suggests, "You need to sell yourself effectively and that means you need to match the position requirements with your skills, accomplishments and personal qualities."

She also reminds candidates to, "be prepared to describe specific past work experiences that illustrates their ability to perform the essential functions of the job. They should think about their accomplishments that are examples of key performance. Did they cut costs? Increase productivity? Motivate others? Identify a problem? Save time? Introduce a new system or process?"

Dorio shares that "Almost all applicants focus on their past experience and fail to sell their skills. Remember your experience is what you did in the past but your skills are what you can bring to the employer now. Focus on your skills especially how they fit the job you are being interviewed for today."

Develop Your Questions

You might be asked if you have any questions. This is a great opportunity for you to ask questions and to show your interest in the job. Come to the interview with four to five potential questions. You might want to ask:

  • How does a certain service of the company compare to a competitor's service?
  • What are the top two or three responsibilities of the job?
  • How will my performance be measured?
  • What are your immediate priorities for this job?

Tovrog reveals that, "The number one characteristic of an unprepared or disinterested candidate is their lack of questions for a hiring manager. Ask great questions about the job, the goals of the role/group/company, how success is defined, and the challenges facing the company. Also, ask questions about the leadership style of the hiring manager, the makeup of the peer group, why the position is open, etc."

Dorio offers insight from the employer's perspective, "Interviewers can quickly tell not only by your answers to their questions but the questions you ask how much time and thought you put into preparing for the interview."

Know the Location

You don't want to be late for the interview because you got lost or you couldn't find a place to park. Confirm the address of the interview when the interview is set up. Ask for directions if you are unclear about the location. If you are driving, be sure to ask about nearby parking facilities. To help your planning, consider taking some time to drive to the location before the interview to estimate the drive time and confirm the parking situation.

Dress Appropriately

Plan what you are going to wear to the interview. If you know someone at the company, ask them about the typical attire. If you don't know what the other employees wear, dress conservatively. This is no time to wear your jeans; a suit or coordinating separates are usually appropriate for an office job. Business casual is usually a good choice for other jobs. Be sure your clothes are clean and without spots, rips or wrinkles. Clean hair and nails will also add to your good impression.

Arrive Early

Rushing in at the last minute will only add to any nervousness you might be feeling. Plan to be at the proper location about 15 minutes before the interview. This will give you time to go to the restroom, get a drink, turn off your cell phone and review your paperwork.

The Thank You Note

The thank you note is a time-honored tradition that bespeaks professionalism. In the past, this was inked on a note and sent through the mail. However, it is now perfectly acceptable to send an email thank you note. You want to thank the interviewer and state how much you enjoyed meeting with her. Convey that you're excited about the position and the company.

Dorio believes that, "Your thank you message should do more than just say 'thank you'. It should be a selling piece."

Planning Can Pay Off

Planning and practicing can make the difference between a good job interview and an uncomfortable situation that does not help you get the job you want. Dorio offers a final insight, "The more you interview the less nervous you will be, as you will gain confidence with the process."

Preparing for a Job Interview