Effectively communicating who you are, what you can do, and why an employer should choose you to fill an open role is one of the most important parts of an interview. In today’s competitive hiring environment, you need to be able to convince hiring managers you’re the best and brightest the talent pool has to offer.
You probably already know you should prepare for an interview beforehand, but in order to impress potential employers, you’re going to have to practice more than just the basics.
Interview Preparation Tips to Help You Land the Job
Here are some tips you can use to help you ace any job interview you take part in.
1. Keep Perspective
A lot of people let their nerves get the better of them during interviews, but it can help to put things into perspective. Sure, it would be amazing to get an offer, especially if you’re interviewing for your dream job. But the world won’t end if you don’t.
So many things are out of your control during the hiring process, like the qualifications of other candidates, who they know, and whether existing employees are being considered for the role. Sometimes recruiters and hiring managers have an ideal hire in mind before they even begin the interviewing process.
This means, in the end, all you can do is put your best foot forward and see what happens. If you get the job, great! If you don’t, move on to the next opportunity.
2. Understand Your Objective
Many companies use multiple steps in their hiring process. Just as the purpose of your resume and cover letter is to land you an interview, the interview itself may be a precursor for a professional assignment or a team meet-and-greet.
Before your initial job interview, ask the hiring manager or recruiter about the company’s hiring process and what it involves. This will help you to determine the objective of each step you need to get through.
For example, let’s say there are three steps between applying for the job and getting an offer:
- The initial interview
- A behavioral interview
- A professional task or assignment
You can assume that the first interview is meant to demonstrate whether you’re truly qualified for the role and who you are as a person. You’ll probably be asked common interview questions and will need to highlight your relevant skills and abilities as a professional. The objective of this interview is to make it to the next round.
A behavioral interview helps hiring managers and recruiters to figure out whether your personality is a match for both company culture and the team you could end up working with. If you make it to this stage, you know that your potential employer has decided that you’re qualified for the role in question. The objective now is to prove that you’ll get along with other employees and that you’re aligned with the company’s philosophies and principles.
If the last hurdle in the interview process is to complete a professional assignment, your objective at this point is to prove your technical abilities and effectiveness in order to get a job offer. Often, employers use assignments as a way to confirm you can use your skills to get the job done. They already think you’re a good fit, they just want to be certain that you can do the work before they bring you on board.
Knowing that the objective in each step of the interview process can vary gives you an opportunity to approach each strategically and thoughtfully. Tailor your technique to reflect the purpose of each interview or assignment to increase your chances of making it to the next round.
3. Do Your Research
Arming yourself with knowledge about the role, company, and the people interviewing you means you’ll be able to come up with thoughtful and relevant answers to the questions you get asked.
Learn as much as you can about your potential employer by:
- Reviewing the company website and blog
- Checking out business social media pages on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter
- Looking for a company profile on Glassdoor
- Taking note of professional competitors, partners, and sister companies
- Viewing hiring manager profiles on LinkedIn
- Reading over the job description
You can also explore your own network to see whether you’re already connected with any current or former employees who may be willing to share some information with you. They may even be able to give you tips about the hiring process, your potential responsibilities, or the manager and team you’re interviewing for.
4. Make a Good First Impression
Whether you’re interviewing in-person, on the phone, or through video, you need to make a good first impression. Typically, this means that you need to dress well, be aware of your body language, and speak with confidence.
In terms of clothing, choose a professional outfit that suits the industry and employer. Make sure your clothes are clean, wrinkle-free, and appropriate. If you aren’t sure about the dress code, opt for a business casual interview outfit. Style your hair and makeup as you normally would for a professional setting and avoid wearing overpowering perfumes or colognes.
Body language is another important factor in making a good first impression. Smile, sit up straight, and make eye contact. Avoid looking down at your hands, slouching, or making negative facial expressions like eye-rolling, scowling, or grimacing.
When you speak, answer questions clearly and with an even tone. If you’re nervous, remember to breathe and take your time. Take a moment to consider questions and gather your thoughts before answering and ask for clarification when you need it. Be polite, professional, and authentic in your responses, and keep your objective in mind.
5. Practice, Practice, Practice
Conducting mock interviews with a friend can help you to have a successful interview. It gives you a chance to identify and curb potential issues like too much rambling and poor body language or nervous habits like biting your nails or chewing your lip.
Plus, practice is a great way to get your nerves under control because you’ll be more confident about how you present yourself as a professional.
Have your friend or colleague make notes of the questions they thought you answered well and which they think you could improve on. At the end of the mock interview, ask for feedback and work through potential areas of improvement together.
Remember to practice in the same format that the interview will be held in order to identify any technical issues or malfunctions. For example, if you’re expecting a video interview, practice a mock interview using the same video platform.
6. Prepare Answers to Common Job Interview Questions
During your job search, there are some interview questions that you’ll be asked over and over. Although many hiring managers ask questions that specifically pertain to a company or role, most also ask a few standard questions as well. Being aware of that means you can prepare some of your answers in advance.
Come up with thoughtful, considered responses to the following questions:
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- Why did you apply for this position?
- What can you tell me about yourself?
- What motivates you?
Modify your answers to reflect the position you’re interviewing for by working off the job posting. For example, if the job posting specifically states experience in Google Analytics is required, don’t pick that to highlight as one of your weaknesses.
7. Prepare for Inappropriate Interview Questions
Sometimes, interviewers unintentionally ask inappropriate interview questions that can lead you to feel uncomfortable or as though you’re being discriminated against. Although more often than not these questions aren’t meant to make you feel awkward or distressed, that doesn’t mean you have to answer them.
Make sure to be aware of the types of questions employers can and can’t ask, and prepare yourself with strategies for handling them tactfully to avoid long pauses, awkward silences, and unplanned answers.
8. Come Up With Questions of Your Own
At the end of the interview, most hiring managers will ask if you have any questions. Don’t waste this opportunity — asking impressive questions is a great way to show potential employers that you’ve done your homework and are truly invested in working for them.
Use the research you’ve done to help you come up with questions to ask about the position and the beliefs, culture, and goals of the company.
Avoid asking questions about salary, hours, or benefits too early in the process. Most often, these details will be provided to you by a recruiter or hiring manager before an offer is made. If the information isn’t shared with you, wait until you’ve passed the initial interview to ask for details.
9. Find Qualitative and Quantitative Examples to Use
Based on the job posting, you should have a good idea of why you’re the best candidate for the role. Picking out specific experiences and accomplishments from past jobs can help you to demonstrate your skills and abilities to hiring managers.
For example, if the job description asks for managerial experience, make a point of discussing how you built and managed a team at a previous employer. But don’t just stop there. Use numbers and performance metrics to back up your achievements whenever possible — for example by indicating the percentage you increased sales or how much money you saved the company.
It’s easy to say that you’re a match for a job, but relevant examples illustrate that you don’t just talk the talk, you can walk the walk.
Having examples also helps you to answer questions more easily because you’ll have achievements and scenarios that you can point to instead of having to think on the spot.
10. Prepare for the Interview Format
In-person, video, and phone interviews all have different best practices. For example, during a video interview, you need to be aware of what will show up in your camera shot.
Prepare for the format you are scheduled to interview in and be aware of best practices, considerations, and hardware or software requirements in advance. If there’s any doubt as to the format of the interview, ask well in advance to avoid any surprises.
Regardless of the format, be ready about 30 minutes early in case any unexpected issues arise, such as traffic or technical difficulties.
11. Choose a Time That Works for You
Most hiring managers will give you a few interview slots to choose from. Select a day and time that will allow you to properly prepare and show up on time, and one that works with your schedule.
It can be tempting to accept any date and time offered for an interview, but it doesn’t serve your best interest if you might not be able to make it to your interview on time. If none of the proposed interview times work for you, politely ask whether another alternative would work for the interviewers.
Be sure to suggest at least two or three alternatives for them to consider. Choose a date no more than a week away and time slots that are comparable to those they offered you. Be mindful of factors that may affect the interviewers’ availability like rush-hour traffic, office hours, and holidays.
12. Gather Supplies
Prior to an interview, there are some items you need to prepare:
- Copies of your resume and cover letter
- A notepad and pen
- The office address, including suite number
- The name, phone number, and email address of the hiring manager
- A briefcase or bag to store your personal items like your phone
- Notes or questions you want to ask
- Your portfolio and work samples
- A list of references
13. Have Your References Ready
Once you get an invitation to interview with a company, start thinking about which of your contacts would make the best references. Most hiring managers ask for three to five and prefer that at least one reference be a previous manager or supervisor. You can also use past clients, contacts from any volunteer experience, former colleagues, and professors if you only have one or two former employers you can use.
Get in touch with your references beforehand to ask their permission and to confirm their contact information. Let them know when you’re interviewing so they have an idea of when to expect a call.
Either print out your list of references — including your relationship to them and their contact information — and bring it to your interview or send it in an email when a hiring manager asks for it.
14. Have a Follow-Up Plan
Some job seekers like to send thank-you notes to their interviewers while others prefer to simply send a follow-up email a week after the interview took place. The current trend is to combine the two. Instead of sending a mailed thank-you note immediately after the interview, consider sending an email a few days later. In your email, you can thank the interviewer for their time, inquire about the next steps, and ask any additional questions you may have.
Some of the nervousness and anxiety job seekers experience during interviews can be chalked up to a fear of failure. But you can curb some of the pre-interview jitters by being prepared. If you’re confident that you’ve done everything you can to ensure that you’re the best candidate you can be, the rest is up to the potential employer.
Focus on your objectives during each interview stage and keep the opportunity and the interview process in perspective. Even if you make a mistake, use it as a learning experience to figure out how to avoid making it again in the future. If you end up getting an offer, congratulations! If not, simply move on to the next opportunity.