Maybe you’re naturally good with first impressions, or maybe you’re practiced every manner of mock interview question you can find multiple times—either way, there’s always more you can do.
That’s probably not the most welcome message in the world, but when it comes to landing your dream job—you know, that thing that could actually make you look forward to the 40+ hours a week you spend on getting a paycheck—did you really expect anything less?
Here are three things you can always do to polish yourself up before this incredibly important meeting.
1. Use the Job Description Wisely
Think of this as your interview prep cheat sheet. The job description basically spells out for you where you should be focusing your preparation efforts, and yet, for some reason people often forget to make full use of this handy guide. It’s essentially an outline of how the conversation will go.
Use it to craft position-specific mock interview questions to practice with or as a checklist for coming up with relevant stories and examples to use. For example, if it says, “looking for a detail-oriented person capable of juggling multiple projects,” make sure you have a story or two exemplifying that.
Finally, see if any questions pop up after reading through it. Is there a missing piece? Clarification needed? Yes? Great—now you have unique, relevant questions to ask the hiring manager at the end.
2. Do Your Homework on the Company
When you’re interviewing, you’re not just trying to sell your skills, you’re also trying to pitch what a great fit you are for the company. The better you know the organization, the more likely you are to stand out when it comes to that second piece. In other words, do your company research and connect the dots as to why you’ll be the perfect addition. (And if you’re struggling to find that connection, that’s a strong sign that it might not be right for you.)
Peruse the website and read the mission, values, and annual report. Check out the company's social media accounts (and if available, Muse profile) to learn more about the culture. If the team clearly values honesty, make sure to weave that in (naturally). Or, perhaps management seems to love the “get ’er done” mentality—make sure your interview answers hit on that at some point.
Lastly, if you really want to impress, get a sense of the company’s strengths and what it does better than its competitors. No hiring manager hates a well-placed compliment as to why his or her organization’s crushing it (or is going to crush it) in an industry.
3. Get an Insider’s Perspective
When it comes to trying to convince someone you know what you’re signing up for, being able to say you’ve had an insider fill you in is pretty helpful. That’s where informational interviews come in. Aside from being an effective way to build your network, they’re also an exceptionally powerful way to get information—especially since this kind of information is often impossible to find anywhere else.
You can find insiders through LinkedIn, mutual connections, or even your college alumni database. Be sure to fully disclose that you’ve applied for a position with your contact when you ask for the informational interview. It’s as simple as saying:
Hello [contact name],
I’m a [quick description of who you are], and I’m hoping to learn more about what it’s like to work at [company name]. I found your information on LinkedIn and was excited to see that you’ve been with [company name] for [number] years.
I’m writing to ask if you’d be open to having a quick conversation about your experiences. I’ve looked over the website, but would love the opportunity to get your perspective. Full disclosure: I’ve actually [applied/am interviewing] for [position name], so I understand if you’re not able to meet.
If you’re open to chatting, I’m free [times you’re free]. I’d be happy to buy you a cup of coffee or talk by phone if that’s more convenient.
Thank you for considering this,
Aside from giving your this person an out in case this is out of his or her comfort zone, it also preps him or her for the types of questions you’ll likely be asking. Which brings me to what you’ll be asking. Start with a question about his or her experience at the company. Since people generally like talking about themselves, you can kick it off with “How did you get your start here?” or “What’s your experience been like at this company?” Then move on to more specific questions that can help you with the interview, like “What makes someone successful here?” or “What qualities do you think your company looks for in new hires?”
The theme here, in case you haven’t noticed, is to get personal. You’ve tailored your elevator pitch. You’ve tailored your resume. You’ve tailored your cover letter. Now, do the same for your interview prep. You owe it to yourself after you’ve gotten this far.