Professional resume writing and job application skills are only the first step to landing your next career. Once your application gets your foot in the door, you’ll need to know how to prepare for a job interview that will seal the deal.
The purpose of an interview is twofold. First, the interviewer will want to learn more about your skills and background. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the interviewer will want to get a feel for you as a person. Interviewing for a job is as much about showing how well you’ll fit in with the company culture and environment as proving your qualifications.
There are a few qualities that experienced hiring managers always looks for:
- Enthusiasm. Employers are looking for people who want to work. If you can’t seem excited and engaged during the interview, how much energy could you have for the job?
- Technical Interest. Showing that you understand what will actually be required in the position and are excited to dig into the nitty gritty of the job will always give you an advantage over others being interviewed.
- Confidence. The key is to be self-assured and confident without projecting arrogance or bragging. Be candid in your responses about your experience, achievements and abilities, and don’t be afraid to shine.
Interviewers are well aware of how stressful an interview can be, so don’t worry too much about being nervous. A good interviewer will usually take steps to put you at ease, and being a bit nervous can actually help with boosting your intensity. Just be sure to do enough job interview preparation that you have solid responses at the ready, even if you start to lose your nerve.
Job Interview Fundamentals
Interviewing for a job gets easier the more you do it. Although each interview will be different, many interview questions will stay the same from one to the next. Knowing what to expect and having a firm grasp on the fundamentals will help you to prepare for a job interview that will be a success.
- Regardless of the field you’re applying in, every interview ultimately exists to do four things:
- Provide you with an opportunity to present your background and work history in a thorough and accurate manner, building upon the information found in your resume.
- Allow you to gather data about the company, industry, position and specific opportunity.
- Give you a chance to link your abilities, skills and interests to the specific job you’re applying for while keeping the company’s needs in mind.
- Let you build your case for why you’re a good for for the company and why they should hire you over the competition.
Every interview will usually start with an open-ended question such as, “Tell me about yourself.” This is your opportunity to lay out your work history and experience in as much detail as you feel is necessary. Don’t hold back information in hopes that it’ll come up later; you will want to lead with strong stories that demonstrate you are the right person for the job.
Once you’ve given a brief but detailed summary, the interviewer will provide a bit of background information about the company and position. They may give you an opportunity at this point to ask questions. Take advantage of this as a way to demonstrate your understanding of the position, which can build rapport and prove that you were paying attention. You can then link those key bits of information to your own skills and experience once the specific questions start.
Job interview questions are designed to gauge your skills and abilities as well as get a close look at your personality and how well you’ll fit in with the position. Some of the questions will be familiar to you, but it’s best to avoid giving canned answers; the interviewers will have heard the same responses before. Studying common questions in advance can help you to prepare, but there’s no value in simply memorizing so-called “best” responses. Be honest while aiming to make the best impression.
Preparing for a Job Interview
Before you go into your job interview, it helps to remind yourself of the interview’s purpose. Your goal is not to say whatever it takes to get the job. You don’t want to lock yourself into a position that you’ll hate only to start the job-hunting process all over again. You are interviewing your employer as much as they are interviewing you. Going in with the right attitude can help you to remain centered and focus on getting the most from the experience.
One important thing to bear in mind is that it’s possible to talk yourself out of a job. A longer interview is not necessarily a better one. Stay focused and enter the interview with a strategy for handling questions without getting side-tracked. Most interview questions are open-ended, and it can be hard to gauge how much to respond. A good strategy for working around this is to prepare both long and short versions of a response. Default to giving the short version and explain that you can go into greater detail if they’d like.
Be sure to tailor your answers to fit the information the interviewer needs to know rather than offering any extraneous details and unnecessary explanation. Don’t be so terse as to appear that you don’t want to answer at all, but make it clear that you have a lot of information to share and give the interviewer a chance to sift through what’s most relevant.
For example, an interviewer might ask you about what prior sales experience you’ve had. You then might respond with something like, “Let me give you the short version first. I’ve held the titles of regional and national sales manager and worked in two different companies over the span of five years. What would you like me to focus on?”
This saves you the hassle of going over several years of job experience while telegraphing to the interviewer that you are organized, methodical and care about his or her time. It also turns the job interview into more of a conversation and less of an interrogation.
Although you’ll want to answer questions thoroughly and accurately, you don’t want to over-share or appear to lose focus. Don’t provide too many details or go off on tangents. It’s especially important to rein it in if you know that you tend to ramble when you get nervous. Resist the urge to chatter to fill in gaps and silence. Instead, take a deep breath and carefully consider questions that require some thought. Keep the conversation flowing and show your potential employer that you are capable of communicating clearly.
Let’s talk about the 5 job interview preparation strategies.
1. Ask the Right Interview Questions
You never want your interview to turn into an interrogation. You also don’t want it to simply duplicate the contents of your professional resume. An interview provides you with an opportunity to get to know the people you’ll be working for, and you should take advantage of this. You’re not there simply to get the job; you’re there to be sure that it’s a job you actually want and will enjoy long term.
Asking high-quality questions shows your would-be employer that you are paying attention and are engaged with the interview process. They also help to build up rapport. Good questions serve other purposes as well:
They create a dialogue that help you to get a feel for what working with the interviewer might be like, which is especially important if your interviewer will be your direct supervisor.
- They help you to clarify your understanding of what the company does and what your position will entail.
- They show that you understand what’s been discussed and have been paying attention throughout the interview.
- They illustrate your ability to probe beneath the superficial and indicate a willingness to learn.
When thinking up questions to ask at your job interview, you’ll want to slant them in such a way that they build empathy and understanding of the employer. You don’t want to ask obvious job interview questions that you could have solved with a brief internet search. You want to ask questions that make it clear you’re envisioning yourself already in the role.
If you’re not sure where to start, you can try some of the following job interview questions:
- What is the most important issue or problem facing the department?
- How long have you known about this need or issue?
- How have you tried filling this need? Have you been using your present staff, independent contractors or employees borrowed from other departments?
- What skills do you find most critical for getting this job done?
- Why did you select me for this interview? Is there a unique aspect of my background you think would be especially helpful for this job?
You’ll want to personalize the questions you ask to the specific role you’ll fill and the general vibe of the interview, but pointed questions like these can show that you’re working to align with the company’s priorities and goals.
2. Do Your Research Before Your Job Interview
The first step of writing a professional resume is researching the company and tailoring your resume to the job posting. The same is true of a job interview. You’ll want to do some work in advance to have answers to some of the most common job interview questions:
- Why do you want this job?
- Why did you leave your last job?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- What goals do you have for your career?
- What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
- What do you like most about your current job? What do you like the least?
You’ll want to put some real thought into these questions and be prepared to answer them in a way that feels authentic and provides some valuable information. You’ll also want to be prepared to answer them in a way that reflects your own skills, strengths and ambitions rather than pointing a finger at anyone else, even if the reason you left your last job was that the working conditions were miserable. You don’t want to come across as a complainer; you want to be someone who is excited for a new opportunity and a chance to stretch your creative and professional wings.
There are a handful of questions you can always count on to come up in a job interview:
- Resume questions, which relate to information found in your resume such as past experience and education. The answers to these questions should be brief and objective since they are quantifiable and verifiable.
- Assessment questions, where an employer asks you to self-appraise your strengths and weaknesses. You may be asked how you’ve solved problems in the past or about an area of improvement that you’ve overcome.
- Role-playing questions, where an interviewer will ask you how you would respond to a hypothetical scenario. The answers to these types of job interview questions are often less about the specific solution than your ability to think critically and creatively about an issue.
- Questions seemingly from left-field. Some employers like to ask stress questions that are designed to put you on edge. They might range from something simple like “How do you feel this interview is going?” to out-of-the-blue like “How would you change the design of a baseball cap?”
Stress questions don’t come up in every interview, but it’s good to be prepared for them. You’ll want to handle these questions calmly and with a carefully considered answer. Humor is a good tactic if you can keep it professional. Take your time with these and don’t feel pressured into responding right away. The interviewer is testing to see how well you do with pressure and how well you respond when you’re put on the spot.
3. Handle the Money Question Like a Pro
As professional resume writers and career coaches will tell you, navigating salary questions is one of the most nerve-wracking parts of the job application process. The prevailing wisdom is often to wait for the employer to bring it up first, but some HR executives suggest taking a more proactive approach.
Either way, when preparing for a job interview it’s important not to lock yourself into specific numbers unless you have to. An interviewer may ask you how much you’re currently earning or what sort of money you’d need to consider a job offer. Avoid giving a specific figure here unless you’re asked for one directly. Instead, it’s best to offer a range or to deflect with a response like, “The opportunity is more important to me than the salary. If we decide to work together, I’m sure you’ll make a fair offer.”
By making the employer bring up specific dollar amounts first, you can usually land a better starting salary and save yourself from getting locked into a lowball figure.
4. Wrap Up Your Job Interview
As an interview begins to wind down, you’ll have opportunities to wrap up any loose ends or circle back to questions you still have or anything else that seems relevant. By this point in the process you may have a good feeling about how well the interview has gone; you may even want to ask the interviewer how he thought it went if you’re feeling bold.
You can’t go wrong with asking the interviewer about the next step of the process. You’ll also want to be truthful about any other opportunities you’re exploring and any timeline you’re working on that may affect the interviewer’s decision. Always present this in the spirit of assistance and disclosure and not in an attempt to strong-arm the interviewer into negotiations.
No matter how you feel the job interview went, be sure to end on a positive note. Even if there were hiccups along the way, most employers will remember candidates who maintained their composure and behaved professionally through to the end.
5. Consider Professional Help
Interviewing is a skill that can be honed with job interview practice. It’s also something that you can get help with.
If you’re looking to advance your career, it pays to reach out to professional resume writers or job coaches who are in the business of helping people package their experience and skills in a way that will be enticing to potential employers.
There is no shame in getting help especially at higher career levels; you can be sure that your competitors are doing the same, and doing some advanced preparations will help you to put your best foot forward.