How to prepare for an interview
Securing an interview is an accomplishment in itself. For many, however, interviews are a stressful step in the hiring process and preparing for them can be daunting. With some research and planning, however, it is possible to walk into an interview confident and ready to move into your next role. This article includes some key considerations and common interview questions to help you prepare for this important event.
Revisit the job description
The first step in preparing for your interview is assuring that you are familiar with the skills and knowledge that your prospective employer is looking for. By knowing the job description and your key responsibilities, you can tailor your responses to maintain relevance with the job description. Hiring managers often use the job description as a guide during the interview, so using it as preparation will help you feel confident and prepared.
When you revisit the job description, try and build up a picture in your mind of what the company is looking for in their ideal candidate. You would not have been invited to the interview if your resume (and/or cover letter) did not already demonstrate your essential qualifications and skills necessary for the role. The interview is a chance to highlight your specific qualities and traits that would make you a good fit for the business.
Get to know the company
Hiring managers expect candidates to have an strong grasp of what their business does. It is a good idea to research the industry as well as the organization itself. Demonstrate your awareness of the wider marketplace, the company’s competitors and the latest trends and innovations.
You can get plenty of information on prospective employers by chatting to fellow professionals within your industry or former colleagues. Use LinkedIn to find out more about the company and read news and press releases about the business. These actions combined help you build an overall picture of the organization.
Prepare your questions
While researching your prospective employer, it is likely that you will have several questions about the business. Before you can confidently say that the business is a good fit, you need your questions answered. Go into your initial job interview armed with several questions that you can ask throughout the discussion. Not only will you get the answers you need, but it will also shows the hiring manager that you have done your homework.
Silicon Valley-recruitment exec Ilil Ginsberg warns applicants to be mindful of the questions they choose.
“Don’t ask obvious questions that can easily be gleaned from their website. Ask about current challenges the company is facing and how they are dealing with them. Ask about expectations for the role. Don’t ask obvious questions, it is a real turn off.”
Ginsberg also stresses the importance of relevance in your line of questioning.
“If you are able to keep things very current, that is positive. Read the news about the company and show you are up to date.”
Practice makes perfect when it comes to job interviews. One way to practice is to ask a friend to help you role play a list of interview questions. You can also practice answering questions alone. Having already spoken about these topics will help you speak calmly and confidently during the interview as you will already have practiced your responses.
Your personal appearance
The best way to settle into a job interview is to feel good about your appearance. Projecting a professional image can help to underpin the skills and expertise that you discuss during the interview. Speaking on this topic, Ginsberg stresses a big picture approach while being sensitive to the specific company and industry you are entering.
“It is more important what you show, the kind of energy you have, than what specifically you wear. However, you clothes should match the position and company you are interviewing for. Don’t come overdressed for a meeting with a tech start-up.”
As virtual interviews have become the norm, Ginsberg adds that applicants have additional considerations to keep in mind to be sure they are presenting themselves professionally.
“In the era of Zoom meetings, (personal appearance) is not simply about what you are wearing, but also about your background. You really must pay attention to how you are oriented across from the camera, take into account the camera view.”
Interview etiquette and body language
Good interview etiquette means that you should avoid the following:
- chewing gum
- torn clothing
- unusual hair e.g. bold colors
- sneakers or gym shoes
- too much jewelry
- strong cologne or perfume
- Your posture, eye contact and gestures also play a role in your overall impression. Ginsburg recommends following your interviewer’s lead.
“Try to match the energy of your interviewer. If your interviewer is more enthusiastic, feel free to let your enthusiasm shine through. If your interviewer is more reserved, it is probably best to dial things down a bit.”
Following up after an interview
The day after your interview, it is a good idea to email the interviewer thanking them for the opportunity. Include one aspect of the business that you learned from the interview that interested you. This will demonstrate that you were paying attention and are passionate to learn about the company. Ginsberg echoes this sentiment, adding that it can be a helpful reminder for the interviewer to stay in contact.
“Thank the interviewer for taking the time to meet with you. This is a great opportunity to highlight anything you feel you might have missed in the interview, and it also reminds the interviewer to follow up. If you don’t hear back after a week, it is fine to send a follow up note thanking them again and expressing interest.”
If you learn that your application has been rejected post-interview, do not be afraid to ask for feedback. This feedback is a useful tool for future applications.
Top 10 most common interview questions
Although each hiring manager has a different interviewing approach, there are some common questions that you should prepare to answer. Even if the interviewer does not ask these questions, you may be able to incorporate your answers into other parts of the discussion.
What are your biggest strengths?
Hiring managers will want to know that you have the core competencies needed to meet the job description. When revisiting the job description ahead of your interview, memorize the primary skills and attributes required for the role. With this information, decide how your transferable skills and experience can meet those listed. When you mention specific attributes, try to prove how those attributes have delivered a commercial benefit to your current or previous employer.
What are your biggest weaknesses?
When a hiring manager probes you on your biggest weaknesses, their primary goal is to determine your self-awareness and integrity. Always be sure to have something prepared as not mentioning a weakness seems dishonest. Similarly, it is not a good idea to list multiple weaknesses—this is likewise a red flag for the interviewer. Try to be concise and proactive about your weaknesses. Mention them and state how you imagine improving upon them and describe what measures you are currently taking to work on them. This shows your dedication to developing and growing as a professional.
What can you bring to our business?
Although hiring managers will want to learn more about your background as a person, they are more focused on what you can do for them. As part of your wider research of the company, it is a good idea to look at the possible challenges within their industry and how you can add value to their future plans.The key is to use your qualifications and skills to connect the dots and explain how your expertise can have a positive commercial impact.
What are your salary expectations?
If you are applying for a job where the salary is not displayed, you will need to be prepared for the hiring manager to ask about your salary expectations. Take some time to research the industry average for comparable vacancies. Sites like PayScale can give you a reliable barometer. Some people struggle to talk about salaries, but it is important that you do not undersell your skills and experience. If you are unsure which amount is appropriate, you can offer a range.
Why do you want this job?
This question can make or break an interview. It is important to avoid a generic response that could be applied to many other vacancies. As part of your pre-interview research, try to highlight some aspects of the business that interest you. You could also discuss the company’s growth and how you would like to contribute to that growth. Having a good reason why you want the job shows hiring managers that you are serious about the vacancy.
How do you account for gaps in your work history?
If you have one or more gaps in your work history, do not be surprised if hiring managers ask about them. You should be transparent and honest about these gaps. If you simply took a long time to find the right role, say so. Have you been unemployed for a period of time due to an inability to find a suitable role? Ideally, you speak about the benefits of this time, such as certificates you earned or skills you gained. If you were unemployed for health reasons, you do not have to justify yourself in more detail than you feel comfortable with.
Tell us about the toughest decision you have made in a previous role?
This question is an opportunity for managers to understand how you deal with difficult decisions in the workplace. Be prepared with concrete and detailed examples of how you have overcome adversity using analytical or reasoning-based decision making. Being able to make tough decisions is a skill. You also need to be able to deal with the interpersonal ramifications of making such choices.
How do you organize your workload?
If you are applying for a vacancy that requires you to take care of multiple tasks at once, hiring managers need reassurances that you can stay organized and on top of your work. You will need to articulate how you exercise judgment in your work priorities. Examples of how you have achieved this in previous roles are encouraged. Discuss any organizational tools or techniques that you have used in the past. Hiring managers may also ask how you would deal with receiving last-minute requests for work or an unforeseen shift in project priorities.
How did you hear about the vacancy?
This can appear to be a basic question, but it is another chance to demonstrate your desire to secure the role. Talk about how you discovered the company and explain what caught your eye about the business. If you were informed of the vacancy by an acquaintance in the industry, explain what intrigued you most about the job description. This is all useful information that prospective employers use when deciding between multiple promising candidates.
Do you have any questions for us?
Job interviews are not just an opportunity for prospective employers to question you. Asking your own questions helps you decide whether the position is the right fit for you. It is possible to be attracted by the job description and then change your mind after the interview. You can ask the hiring manager about their own experience as an employee in the company as well. Questions like what they like most about working in the company or about upcoming developments or plans for growth will give you specific feedback about what it is like to work in the organization. These kind of questions also help demonstrate your long-term interest in the business.
Follow-up interviews: closing the deal
It is increasingly common to be invited back for a second, third or even fourth interview, as well as more in-depth employment reference checks. Typically, the more advanced the position you are interviewing for, the more likely it is that there will be multiple interviews. Businesses want to ensure that they make the right decision when it comes to making senior appointments. Senior professionals are more likely to be managers and act as the face of the organization, so employers need to ensure that these hires are the best possible fit.
The structure of second and third interviews
The primary difference between the first interview and any following interviews is that you are likely to meet different people in the business – potentially even the business owners in later stages.
This is where preparation is critical as business owners are likely to ask more complicated questions than hiring managers. You will need to think more carefully about how you align your responses to the commercial objectives of the business. It is equally important for you to pose questions of the leadership team to understand how performance in senior roles is measured.
At later job interviews, it is also possible that you will be asked to conduct a presentation to the interview panel, outlining your expertise and what you can bring to your prospective employer. If you want your presentation to stand out from the rest, be sure to keep your discussion engaging. If using PowerPoint, simple slides and engaging analysis are key to developing your story.
Tying it all together
The importance of personal appearance cannot be overlooked at later interviews. Avoid wearing the same outfit twice and dress appropriately for the occasion. Your continued preparation and depth of knowledge of the company will be tested in these later stages and cannot be overlooked.
Even at the later interview stages, every interview is a two-way discussion. It is your chance to get information about the company just as the company is learning about you. With the proper preparation, you help yourself stay calm and focused, launching you towards the next step on your career path.