How To Prepare For a Job Interview

I recently got a new job (yeah me!). It's at the same place as my old job, but I get to do new and interesting things. It is always good to keep learning right?

When I have had the opportunity to be the interviewer instead of the interviewee, what always amazes me is that some people don't prepare for interviews. Seriously? They may know how amazing they are, but the employer does not. Proper preparation can mean getting the job or not getting the job. I am most certain that this was the case with me and my new position.

So, how to prepare? Of course there are hundreds, if not thousands, of sites online dedicated to this, but I thought I'd take a second and write down what works for ME, and may work for others. (I've gotten every job I've ever interviewed for except one, and honestly, when I got there I knew I didn't want it, so I wasn't trying- just watching the exit door!)

1.       Spend time on the application and your resume so you can qualify for the interview!
I have missed out on some great jobs because I wasn't paying enough attention to this step. Sure, the HR personnel that is reviewing your application probably won’t even spend ten minutes on your application during their first pass through, but that doesn't mean you get to put it together just as quickly. You should update your resume and application for EVERY job you apply for. Yep, not one of them should be the same. SPEND THE TIME- got that part of it? So, what are you spending the time to update?
· Use the same vocabulary and trigger words that are used in the job announcement in your resume and application.
· Ask the HR department if you can have a copy of the official job description (not just the announcement). This not only helps you get a better feel for the job, and if you're the right fit, but it gives you more specific things to mention on your resume and application.
· Make sure you clearly delineate your qualifications - even if you don't have all of the required qualification on the job announcement, it doesn't mean you don't qualify, but make sure you explain why you do qualify.
· Have a friend, co-worker, or someone in the same line of work read over your resume. If you know someone in HR make them your best friend, they can show you the secrets to making a stand out resume.

Read over it again and again. And again. If you have any grammar or spelling mistakes then you've just made yourself an easy target to be booted in the first run through the applicants.

*Something I do is keep a list of my past employment with a detailed description of my job duties and successes (usually written while I had the job), along with salary and all contact information. This way I have it all in front of me and I can concentrate on using the right wording, spelling, and grammar, rather than spinning my wheels trying to remember every success I've ever had at work or who that new manager was right before I left. Keeping this list updated and extremely detailed is key for me when I update my resume.

2.        Prepare answers to commonly asked interview questions

Prepare a list of commonly asked interview questions and then answer them. There are loads of examples of interview questions on the Internet (like here, and here), or you can also use questions that you remember being commonly asked in your line of work. I have even worked at places where their interview questions are listed right on their website or internal web pages. In my experience, I have been lucky to only be asked extremely common questions, but every once in a while I get a crazy odd ball question. The thing to remember with odd ball questions is that the interviewer is looking for HOW you answer the question, not exactly what your answer is. They are trying to throw you off your game, but if you keep in control, then you just won the match.

Once you have your list of common questions, write out a few bullet points of how you would like to answer them. Don’t write answers out verbatim, you want to prepare, but you also don’t want to go into an interview and answer questions like a pre-programed robot. Plus, thinking on your feet is often required during an interview, so if all you do is memorize your answers, then when a question comes up that wasn’t on your list, you’ll be totally taken off guard. I write out a few main ideas and then verbally practice my answers out loud. This especially helps me, because I know what I want to say, but sometimes when I actually go to say it I fumble and can’t get my words out. Actually verbally answering questions from your list will help you be better prepared for the real world interview.

3.       Prepare a list of experiences

Most of the time, no matter the research you put into your list of questions, there is always going to be something that comes up during the interview that you didn’t prepare for. An exercise I recently started, in addition to my list of questions, is to create a list of job traits and experiences. I created a table with 3 columns, where I listed where I was working, what work trait I exhibited, and the experience I had.  See my example below:

Bank XYZ
Great Achievement
Learn Quickly
Detail Oriented
SME- Just a few months after being hired, I was designated as a Subject Matter Expert and fielded calls from several districts. I researched, troubleshot, and answered employee and managers questions in addition to my regular duties.
Study Abroad- Organized my research on ABC with museums and the national archives from across the ocean to best utilize my  limited time to complete my research while in London.

Doing this helps me think of the different accomplishments and experiences that I have to discuss during an interview. So many interview questions start with “Tell me about a time you faced a major challenge and how did you  . . .” and so on. It can be hard to come up with all these experiences on the spot, making a list like the table above means that I already have thought about them before I ever even sat down for the interview.  I also take this list with me to my interview in addition to my list of questions, so if I really get stuck for something, I ask for a moment and look my lists over. Even if my table doesn't hold the answer, at least it gives me another 20 seconds to formulate an answer.

4.       Research of the company/organization in depth

Part of your preparation for an interview must be to research the company or organization you are meeting with. I think this step is the one I see people forget to do most often. I mean think about it, you just gave this place a whole bunch of information about yourself, do you really want to go into the interview and not know at least a little bit about the other side? I usually start with the organizations official web page. A lot of the good stuff is hidden here on their website. Do they have annual reports? Do they have any statistics? Do they have an organization chart with departments and their respective managers? All this information is golden.

After I search the website and see how the company presents itself, I move to a general Google search on the company and see if any additional information comes up that I didn’t catch on their web page. I also look to see how the employer is perceived by others, what recent news articles have been written about them, etc.  If HR will give you the names of those that will be interviewing you then give them a quick Google search as well. This may sound kind of creepy, but again, don’t you want to know who will be sitting on the other side of that table? I am not suggesting to go to their personal Facebook pages and stalk them, but sometimes you will come across a news article, a LinkedIn page, or brief work history synopsis that has been written on them. It helps to know going into the interview if you are meeting with Harvard graduate or a self-made entrepreneur. Getting to know more about the other side helps me feel more in control of the situation and better prepared.

Quick Tips for the Interview:

·         Don’t Rush-Take your time to answer the questions. This isn’t a race, you can take 5 seconds to best frame your answer. Take a breath, then answer.

·         “Can you repeat that?” This is a great question to ask if you need a few more seconds to think up something, or if you didn’t understand- ask for clarification, no shame in that.

·         Be Nice- Your last boss was crazy (whose isn’t?), an interview for a new job is NOT the place to bring this up.

·         Be Inquisitive- Not only do you need to think about your answers for the interviewer, think about what you want to know from them and come up with a handful of questions for the end of the interview. I always struggle with this, but that’s when I employ Google Search!

·         Dress Well – This should go without saying, but society has become increasingly casual recently. At my first job after college I was paying particular attention to how they chose to hire a new employee. I swear the deciding factor between two candidates was that one girl wore a suit and the other top candidate did not. The suite was the one hired (and she was an excellent employee). I also hear from my HR friends to wear a white or blue shirt, for what it’s worth.

·         Don’t fidget- This one is very hard for me. I’m a fidgeter. Just resist the temptation and calmly place your hands where everyone can see them.

·         Be Genuine- People can usually tell when you’re faking it. Of course you have to put your best foot forward during an interview, but don’t lie about your qualifications, or play to the crowd so much that you just end up playing a part and not being yourself.

·         Smile- Smile when appropriate. Yes, an interview is serious business, but you can still be happy. Plus even if you are a bucket of nerves, smiling will actually calm you and make it more enjoyable.

Well, there it is, how I prepare for an interview and some quick tips for the interview.  Again, there is lots of information about interviewing out there, and what works for me may be different than what works for someone else- but the thing that stays the same is that YOU MUST PREPARE. It really is key. Would you take a test without studying? No, then why would you interview without preparing properly? In this day in age, in this economy, you need to be on your game.  I hope this helps someone else out there out, and the next time I interview I’m sure I’ll revisit this post.

Picture Sources: 1,2