Whether it’s your very first interview or your tenth, everyone gets nervous. Preparation is the underlying factor to your success.
Interviews don’t have to create sleepless nights and worrisome mornings.
In this post, I’ll give you the best hints and tips for planning your interview strategy from beginning to end.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
- 1 Prepare yourself: How to get ready for an interview
- 2 Preparing for common interview questions
- 2.1 1. Tell me about yourself.
- 2.2 2. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- 2.3 3. How did you hear about the company?
- 2.4 4. What do you know about the organization?
- 2.5 5. Why do you want this position?
- 2.6 6. Where do you see yourself in X (sometimes 2, sometimes 5) years?
- 2.7 7. Why should we offer you the job?
- 2.8 8. What are some of you great achievements and challenges?
- 2.9 9. What would be your dream job?
- 2.10 10. What are your reasons for leaving your current position?
- 2.11 Other possible questions
- 3 Present yourself: What to wear on a job interview
- 4 Nail it on the day of the interview
- 5 Quick tips for specific types of interviews
- 6 Finishing Touches and Follow Ups
Prepare yourself: How to get ready for an interview
Your interviewing mindset
Interviews kindle tension – sometimes to the point where people feel ill. There is so much riding on an hour of talking, and you have competition besides!
The first few minutes of this appointment will set the tone that makes or breaks this opportunity. Time to power up.
When you let your nerves take hold, interviewing turns into a horrible roadmap where all the on-ramps have the wrong markers. No one operates at their best under these circumstances.
Having the right interviewing mindset helps defeat those jitters. You can even use that energy in your favor. Begin by thinking of this as a business meeting.
After all, they called you, didn’t they?
Put down the pessimism, self-doubts, low confidence, and other negative psychological barriers that result in awkward silences, nervous stammers, or fast talking.
Pick up positive expectations.
Embrace possibilities and potentials.
Now contemplate presenting yourself like you might a fantastic, multi-faceted proposal. This is a thoughtful, engaging discussion where you show the employer how you can truly assist with their current and future needs.
Remember the value of forward-minded thinking, particularly if this is a career-oriented job.
Sometimes visualizing the discussion you’ll be having with the interviewer helps adjust your mindset. Visualization is like making a movie theater in your mind’s eye.
See yourself dressed for success, going to the interview, expressing yourself effectively and leaving with a smile on your face. Don’t worry about words; this is a silent flick!
The idea is to give your brain an affirmative image suggesting full achievement.
Another thing: did you know that a lot of interviewers get nervous too? They may be having a lousy day, have pressure for finding that perfect fit for their boss. They may not be the type of people who like confrontation or putting themselves out there.
After all, we often have parts of our jobs that we’re not super comfortable with, but need to be done. Interviewers are no different.
So, in many ways, this is a two-way street.
It is just a conversation, so in the days and hours before your interview keep reminding yourself of that.
Perspective is everything.
Do your research
Hopefully, you researched the company somewhat before applying. Even so, now is the time to look for some nifty details that help you shine at your interview.
For example, does the company have any community activities or support specific charitable causes? Those become inspiring talking points about why that company’s culture attracted you.
Social media, the local news feeds and the corporate website should give you enough information to tuck in your back pocket.
Other matters worth researching include:
- What the company values in its employees: What are they really looking for in a candidate? This takes reading between the lines a bit, particularly on the “Careers” page. Also seek out reviews from previous and present employees on sites like Glassdoor.com and Indeed.com.
- Who’s who? Gather a little intel on the managers, directors and CEO of the company. Some of this may be on an “About” page, but Linkedin and Twitter can provide valuable insights too.
- The 4 P’s: That is, products, processes, platforms, and performance. Know what the company offers, how they facilitate those offerings, where they advertise, and how well consumers rate their customer service.
- Your interviewer: If you can find a webpage with something about this person, striking up a substantive conversation will be much easier. Not sure who that is? Check the details on your interview invitation. Call if need be.
- Company Attributes: What makes this company special? How do they stand out in their field? How do you fit into that model and really shine?
- Financial Stability: If you feel this is a company where you want to put down long-term roots, check out their Investor Relations page on their website or other company materials. Look for new offerings, revenue growth, and quarterly earnings.
- Social Media Activity: You’ve been Googled by the company, now it’s your turn! Social media often reveals new staffers, recent corporate activities or structure changes, and special promotions. All of these could potentially be relevant talking points in your interview, or just good background info that may spark some discussion.
- Competitors in the Field: Examine the industry and see where this firm fits into the global puzzle. Do they collaborate? Do they buy startups and expand? This gives you the big picture.
Ok, that sounds like a lot of work, but don’t panic.
Whittle down to the research you feel most important in your interview if that’s overwhelming. The point is, if you want to work for this company, get to know this company.
Preparing for common interview questions
Everyone has at least one story about that left-field weird interview question. One was, “what’s your favorite comedian?” Yes, really. This particular inquiry focused on finding a good personality match for a director.
Thankfully, there are some questions that nearly every interviewer utilizes.
Important: No matter the question, make good eye contact.
1. Tell me about yourself.
This isn’t the time for reciting your full resume, family history, and favorite coffee flavors.
Think of experiences that truly define you, and accomplishments that will compel the interviewer’s interest. “Keep it simple” definitely applies here.
2. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Tell the interviewer your true strengths.
Be accurate and relevant; but specific and succinct. Follow any chosen strength with an example of how you’ve applied it professionally.
This is the key.
Weaknesses get tricky.
Focus your answer on some behavior or skill you’re trying to improve upon, and how you’ve addressed that. Maybe you struggle with technical writing but signed up for an online course, for example.
Whatever happens, don’t feign perfection. The vast majority of employers value honesty and candidness.
3. How did you hear about the company?
This sounds pretty straightforward, but turn it into an opportunity that illustrates your diligence.
Even if you heard about the job through a professional contact or current employee (name drop!) go further. Share a little of the research you did, and what made you excited about the job.
4. What do you know about the organization?
This builds beautifully on the last question we discussed, even if it comes later in the interview.
Now you can share the things that really stood out in your research. Think: company mission, community presence, exciting products or goals.
Keep this response personal. Phrases like “I believe in” or “I’m attracted to” illustrate not only your knowledge about this company, but your vision for exactly how you’ll fit in to that demographic.
Pro Tip: Drop some key words or phrases into this conversation from their “About” page
5. Why do you want this position?
What was the first thing that caught your eye when you read or heard about this opening?
Use that as your foundation and build from there. Include how your skills connect with the company’s focus and function.
Add information about highly applicable skills and experience tying them to the position. Also include tidbits about your potential career path in the long-haul at this establishment.
Companies want people in whom they can invest for the future.
6. Where do you see yourself in X (sometimes 2, sometimes 5) years?
Your answer to the prior question offers support. You’ve already mentioned your career track, so expand on that.
Where can this position take you?
If you’re not sure, you can say so, but add something about how this experience will help form future decisions positively.
Illustrate realistic expectations for your career based on your aptitudes. If you want to eventually move into management, share how the internal ladder for that company can teach you great managerial skills, for example.
7. Why should we offer you the job?
Avoid the temptation to say, “because I want it” (while true, not a great opening line).
They already know you do.
Instead, have an answer that covers how you plan on delivering great results within the company’s culture.
Focus on the interviewer. They want someone motivated and enthusiastic with all the right skills.
This is a good time to really focus on why your abilities will not only make you a great, dedicated asset, but also keep you attentive and involved in the company for years to come.
Another approach is talking about a current need or issue in the firm and how you can fix that effectively. Ramit Sethi refers to a version of this as the Briefcase Technique. This shows you’re a self-starter with creative problem-solving skills.
EVERY company needs a person like that.
Talk to enough hiring managers and you’ll see that very few actually demonstrate it.
8. What are some of you great achievements and challenges?
This question is very similar to the one about strengths and weaknesses but more specific. An interviewer wants to know your track record.
For achievements think of one situation or task and provide the background and context for that event. Next, what did you do; how did you manifest change? Finally, what were the results?
Pro Tip: Find a balance. Do not exaggerate or undersell
Challenges work similarly, but instead of action-oriented, this is about behavior, specifically how you respond to conflict.
Return to the formula used for your achievement illustration. Discuss one circumstance without becoming too revealing. Explain your handling of that conundrum with expertise and civility. Hint: Everyone loves a happy ending!
9. What would be your dream job?
If the conversation has been comfortable, you can insert a bit of humor here. Astronaut comes to mind. After lightening the mood, go on to a serious reply.
Talk about a job in which your personal strengths play a key role – one that continues growing and honing your skills.
Also, add what really interests you. Maybe even something that’s been a passion since childhood.
Round this out by touching on your values:
- balance between work and home life,
- a position where you can have the opportunity to help others,
- a career with integrity where hard work matters, etc.
Finally, go for the gold and tie all that vision into THIS company. You don’t have to include the specific position. The hiring manager may have some other ideas up his or her sleeve for you!
10. What are your reasons for leaving your current position?
There are potentially thousands of reasons here, but avoid saying negative things about the current or previous employer. This gains you nothing and makes a bad impression.
Instead, talk about what was lacking for you such as not being able to utilize a specific skill set you love, or maybe you feel stuck because there is no growth potential.
If you were fired: Don’t dance around that issue.
Anyone in hiring knows that people mess up sometimes. That person may have also experienced displacement previously.
Shoot from the hip. Explain what happened and what you learned from it. Keep it short, genuine and pointed.
The phrase, “I was let go” is perfectly apt, but one of the hardest deliveries for many. It can hit you hard when you least expect it.
No matter what, do not get emotional. If there was ever a time for composure prevailing, it’s right now. Being level-headed and professional opens doors.
Now, bring this answer back to the topic at hand – this job. Show the interviewer that your approach to work has transformed and how this company will reap those benefits.
Other possible questions
There are literally dozens of other questions that may arise.
Be ready to think on your feet! This is where doing mock interviews with your school’s career services office, friends and family, or even paid interviewing consultants comes in.
Present yourself: What to wear on a job interview
Clothing, a good handshake, and a smile all act like a letter of introduction.
Let’s talk about that first one.
So what do you wear the day of your interview?
First, take a look at the company. If you can, go there one day and watch workers coming and going. Use those observations as style guides.
For me, I would reflect what they wear and step it up just a little bit:
- T-shirt to Polo shirt
- Jeans to Chinos
- Shirt and tie to Casual suit/blazer
You get the idea.
Certainly, a suit, crisp pants, skirt, dress and accessories are all standard fare. However, you can pick out accent pieces that reflect your personality a little and even give a nod to the job for which you’re interviewing.
Here are some examples of nice, business casual interview outfits for men and women (along with links to buy them for yourself):
Feel free to substitute with lower cost items at stores like H&M, Zara, etc.
- Unconstructed Navy Wool Blazer, Bonobos.com ($450);
- Stretch Washed Chinos, Bonobos.com ($88);
- Double Monk Strap Shoes, Suitsupply.com ($449);
- Linen Pocket Square, Bonobos.com ($55).
- Silk Blouse (cream), H&M.com ($99.99);
- Fitted Blazer, H&M.com ($34.99);
- Suit Pants, H&M.com ($29.99);
- Suede Pumps, H&M.com ($69.99).
Obviously, as a man, women may not want to take my advice. I suggest you check out an article like this one for more info!
For a bag to carry resumes, references, samples, and other materials you’re bringing with you, I would recommend staying away from any kind of backpack.
Stick with either a briefcase or messenger bag, in either leather or a neutral-colored canvas. Something classy. Women can carry a briefcase or a classy leather tote.
A couple good examples are:
- Katee Genuine Leather Tote
- Samsonite Leather Messenger Bag
- Filson Original Briefcase (a bit more casual, but still a great choice)
Now you’re prepped.
Let’s get on with the interview.
Nail it on the day of the interview
Today is the day! Give yourself plenty of time for primping and whatever mental exercises you need for clearing out the nerves.
Always, always… did we say ALWAYS arrive early. Inevitably, there will be some paperwork waiting for you.
Being late without a superb reason typically means a lost opportunity.
To avoid that embarrassment, pre-plan your route to the interview and alternatives. It doesn’t matter if you are driving, using the bus, or hopping a commuter rail having options can make or break your day. Tune into the radio or live streaming for issues and updates 2 hours before you have to leave.
Google Maps will allow you to set your arrival time for public transport on the day of the interview, and give you options to get there on time. Set it early, and get their early (especially if the buses and trains are often late near you).
When you arrive
Once you arrive at the site, take a few minutes outdoors or in the lobby and compose your thoughts. Remember your visualization. Think: success!
During the interview show them the best while remaining human and Velveteen-Rabbit real. Trying to put on an act only undermines your chances.
Pro Tip: Be authentic. Employers expect a few quirks.
Quick tips for specific types of interviews
Thanks to the wonders of technology and changing social norms, there are several interview types you may be offered. Each has slightly different considerations to take into account.
Phone interview tips
No dogs, no kids, no doorbells, no background rustling and bustling. Ok, your interviewer knows you are at home, but the focus still needs to be YOU.
So find a room where you can have some privacy for the interview.
If you get interrupted have a backup phone number where you can return the interviewer’s call, make a brief explanation and move on. This is especially important if you’re doing an interview over VOIP or internet-based conferencing.
Group interview tips
There is typically one person in a group interview running the show.
Pay attention to everyone but direct your answers to both the person asking and the ringleader by shifting your eye contact.
Skype/Video interview tips
Look behind you.
If it’s laundry, a sloppy couch, or other clutter – fix it!
Find a place in your house that has a pleasant and professional backdrop, or at least one that’s inoffensive. Phone interview tips above apply here, as well.
Informational interview tips
These work like a regular interview. Be early, have questions in hand, take notes, state your objective and ask if it would be ok to contact that person again (or other people in the company or industry for alternative perspectives).
It’s ok to bring your resume but only present it if it seems suitable at the end of the conversation.
Working interview tips
Working interviews from a potential employer’s standpoint means “try before you buy.” Having said that, unless you ONLY observe, these generally must be paid, legally.
It’s a great opportunity to work alongside a supervisor and co-workers and find out if this situation is right for you.
Remember, it’s not just you auditioning for them – they’re auditioning to get YOU.
Finishing Touches and Follow Ups
There is some argument over whether a thank you note still has a place in business.
Yes, it does.
That email or letter could be the determining factor between you and another equally qualified candidate.
Write mindfully. Keep it brief and make sure you use the interviewer’s name. The follow-up brings you back to their mind and can give you an edge in close calls.
You’ll do great!
Got any other tips? Leave them in the comments below!