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How To Prepare for a Job Interview

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The good news – you've been called for a job interview. Spend time on interview preparation and you'll be ready to put your best foot forward.

Prepare an Elevator Pitch

An elevator pitch is a brief personal statement that answers a common interview directive: Tell me about yourself.

Imagine that you were riding in an elevator with someone and you had only 30 to 60 seconds to convince them to hire you. What are the most important qualifications you'd want to highlight? Make a list and choose the most important points.

Research the Company

It seems obvious, but hiring managers report that a surprising number of candidates come to their interviews without being able to talk about what the company does. It looks like a lack of interest on your part. Even if you did some research before sending in your resume, dig deeper in preparation for the interview. Look at the organization's website. Read the mission statement. Become familiar with the products and services offered. Learn about the industry and about your prospective employer's competitors.

Find Out the Type of Interview

If you can, find out beforehand what type of interview you'll have. There are six common types, and you should prepare a bit differently for each.

  • Traditional one-on-one job interview: You'll be interviewed by the person you'll be working for if you get the job. In this type of interview, the focus will likely be on the ways your skills match the requirements of the job.

  • Panel interview: You'll be in front of individuals representing different aspects of the company, such as human resources, management and employees. Some companies like to get a collective opinion. Panel members will likely ask questions that represent relevancy from their position in the firm.

  • Behavioral interview: This type of interview is designed to determine how you'll respond in certain situations. When asked about scenarios in previous positions, the interviewer can get an idea of how you'll perform in similar situations in the future.

  • Group interview: In a group interview, job candidates are typically assembled for a presentation about the company, then interviewed individually afterwards. It's a way to quickly orient and prescreen candidates. Your interactions with other candidates will be observed. Are you outgoing and taking a leadership position, or are you a quiet observer? Neither is objectively better. It depends on the particular position the company is trying to fill.

  • Lunch interview: Lunch interviews are often conducted as a second interview so that other members of the team can meet you. It's also an opportunity for you to ask questions, so prepare these in advance. The most important thing to remember is that it's about the interview, not about the food. Select a mid-priced option that is not too messy to eat. Don't order an alcoholic beverage, even if offered. Answer questions between small bites and don't talk with food in your mouth.

  • Phone interview: Phone interviews are a type of prescreening interview, often used when a candidate is not local. Most of the time, the phone call will come at a prearranged time. If a call comes unexpectedly, it's acceptable to politely request that a call be scheduled so that you can give it your full attention. During a phone interview, make sure that alerts and call waiting are turned off. Take the call in a quiet, private space. Do not eat, drink or chew gum during the phone interview.

Interview Preparation Questions

Anticipate that you'll be asked some common job interview questions. Preparing answers in advance will help you speak confidently and concisely. It's easy to start rambling if you're not sure what you want to say. Look at career websites such as Monster, Indeed, CareerBuilder and ZipRecruiter. They frequently publish lists of routine interview questions.

You're likely to be asked questions similar to these:

  1. What are your strengths?
  2. What are your weaknesses?
  3. What attracted you to this company?
  4. Why should we hire you? Why do you want this job?
  5. Where do you see yourself in five years?
  6. Can you describe a time when you had to deal with conflict on the job?
  7. How do you deal with coworkers who don't pull their weight on a team project?
  8. How do you handle criticism?
  9. Can you talk about a time when you failed to meet a deadline?
  10. What is your salary history?      
  11. What salary are you looking for?
  12. How would you describe your work style?
  13. What are you proudest of?
  14. What are your long-range goals?
  15. What is your ideal working environment?
  16. What three words would best describe you?
  17. Why are you leaving your current position?
  18. What motivates you?
  19. What other companies are you interviewing with?
  20. Have you ever been fired from a job? What happened?

Choose Appropriate Attire

Decide in advance what you're going to wear to the interview. That gives you time to try on clothing to make sure it fits well and that it's clean and in good repair. Use what you know about the job and the company's culture when planning your wardrobe. If you're not sure what to wear, it's always better to err on the side of being a little overdressed than sitting in an interview wishing you'd worn something else.

For a Corporate Position: Formal business attire is required. Men should wear a well-tailored suit in black, navy or gray with a matching tie. Women should wear a tailored dress, skirt suit or pants suit.

For Business Casual: Business casual is considered standard dress for many industries. It's not as formal as attire for a corporate position, but it's more dressed up than jeans and a T-shirt.

For women, business casual attire gives you more flexibility than formal business wear, although the look must still be conservative. Dress pants or a straight skirt at least to the knee are appropriate in black or navy. Pair pants or skirt with a simple blouse or a button-down shirt. Add a cardigan or a blazer for a little more polish. Avoid any clothing that is too revealing or that wrinkles easily. Wear simple pumps or flats in black or brown with closed heel and toe.

For men, business casual is typically a collared, long-sleeved shirt tucked into khakis, light-colored chinos or crisply pressed cotton pants. A knit tie is less formal than a silk tie. It's a nice touch, but optional. You can add a sweater, neutral-colored blazer or lightweight sport jacket to create a more pulled-together look. Wear freshly polished dark leather shoes with calf-length dress socks that match the pants.

For Everyone: Keep jewelry to a minimum, choosing one or two simple items in addition to your wedding band, if you wear one. Hair should be groomed simply and away from your face. Avoid perfumes and aftershave.

Remember, once you get the job, you may have more freedom to express your individuality with what you wear. For the job interview, though, you have just a few seconds when you walk into the room to make a great first impression. You want to show that you are a serious job candidate who is ready to go to work.

Know Where to Go

If possible, go to the interview site a few days early, around the same time as you'll be arriving for the actual interview. Note how long the trip takes and whether there might be potential delays, such as traffic or construction issues. Check out the parking situation. Plan to have change for parking meters or cash to pay for a garage, if necessary. Don't rely on GPS the day of the interview. Print out the directions ahead of time.

Study Your Resume

As you begin your interview, the only things the interviewer knows about you is what's written in your resume. It's going to serve as the outline for the interview. You may be asked to elaborate on one of your listed qualifications or to discuss a job you had many years ago. You don't want to give the interviewer a blank look when asked about something on your resume. It can seem as though you lied or exaggerated, a sure way to bring an interview to a quick conclusion.

The Night Before the Interview

An interview preparation checklist can help you remember everything you need to do and bring. Get a good night's rest. Avoid alcohol. Set your alarm a little earlier than usual so you won't have to rush. If you're a person who has a hard time getting up in the morning, think about setting a second alarm. There's almost nothing worse for your prospects than arriving late to an interview.

Check over your clothing and shoes. Place everything you're going to need in one spot so you don't waste time and add to your stress by searching in the morning. That means glasses, car keys, purse or wallet, a copy of your resume and a job portfolio, if you have one.

The Day of the Interview

Consume breakfast foods and beverages before getting dressed. Plan to arrive no more than 10 to 15 minutes before your scheduled interview. Review your interview preparation checklist one last time.

When you arrive for your interview, smile and politely greet everyone you encounter, from the person sharing an elevator to the receptionist. You never know who is observing your behavior, or who will have influence on the hiring decision.

During the Interview

When you meet the person who is going to interview you, make eye contact and give a firm handshake. Follow the person into the interview room and wait for an invitation to be seated.

During the interview, maintain comfortable eye contact. Smile when appropriate and convey your interest and enthusiasm for the position by leaning forward slightly in your seat. Avoid overuse of hand gestures and other distracting behaviors, such as tapping your fingers or jiggling your legs. If you've thought ahead of time about what you're going to say, you'll be able to answer the interviewer's questions thoroughly but without rambling.

At some point, you may be asked whether you have any questions for the interviewer. This is an opportunity to demonstrate an interest in the interviewer and in the company. You might ask any of these questions:

  • What do you like best about working here?
  • Where do you see the company going in the next five years?
  • What qualities do you think make for a successful employee here?

After the Interview

When you return home, make some notes about the interview, particularly if there were questions you would like to have answered differently. Your notes can help you better prepare for future interviews. Be sure to send a brief, unique thank you email within 24 hours to everyone who was part of the interview process. If you really want to stand out, send handwritten notes through regular postal mail. Most employers will be impressed that you took the time to do so, and it may even tip a hiring decision in your favor.