How to Prepare for a Job Interview So You’ll Convince Them You’re the Right Hire
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Preparing for an interview takes a lot more than Googling a list of common interview questions (though yes, you should 100% be ready for those). You have to make a great first impression (no showing up in wrinkly suits or running late!), know about the company and its products and mission, and, of course, convey exactly why you’d be a great hire for this job.
So to help you prepare, we compiled a list of our all-time best pre-interview tips. From strategizing about how to tackle the toughest questions to packing your bag, we’ve got you covered—with 30 ways to make sure you bring your A-game.
Learn everything you can about the company, the job, and the interview.
A lot of your interview preparation will depend on the specifics surrounding the job, the company, and even who is interviewing you and how.
1. Research the company.
Spend a few hours learning everything you can about the company—from as many sources as you can. Talk to people in your network to find current and previous employees, read current news releases, and, yes, spend some time on Google. Often, candidates just look at the information a company is pushing out on its own website and social media accounts, but fail to look more in depth at what others are saying. By looking at multiple sources, you’ll get a broader picture of the company (along with any negative press), and be ready to talk about why you’d like to work there and what you can do for them.
2. Learn everything you can about the open position.
Before you can show your interviewer why you’d be a great hire, you need to know what they’re looking for. Luckily, most organizations have laid out exactly what they want in an applicant in the job posting. So go back to the description you looked at before you applied. What skills and experiences are they emphasizing? What problems will this hire need to solve? These are the things you’ll want to emphasize throughout your interview.
3. Try out the company’s product or service (if you can).
If the company you’re interviewing for sells a product you can feasibly check out—try it before your interview (ideally, a few times). If hired, your goal will be to create value for the people who use that product, and being a user yourself is the first step. Plus, it’ll help show the hiring manager that you’re truly interested in the role.
4. Learn about the interviewers (without being creepy!)
If you’re not told who you’ll be meeting with during your interview, ask. For each interviewer, learn what their role at the company is and prep some questions that are specific to them. You can ask for details about their role, discuss current events related to their field, or bring up a common interest you know they have outside the office (just stick to one mentioned in an easily accessible spot, like their company bio or LinkedIn profile).
5. Find out what kind of interview you’re in for—and prepare accordingly.
Different companies use different types of interviews, so ask what you’ll be faced with. For example, some companies will have you meet one on one with several different people at the company, while others might have you meet with multiple people at once or give an interview presentation. You may also have a phone or video interview. Asking the recruiter or HR contact about the interview format ahead of time is totally fair game. And once you know, investing time to become familiar with this style can make a huge difference.
Brush up on interview skills and common interview questions.
Next, you’ll want to use what you learned to prepare your answers to common interview questions and practice some interview techniques.
6. Identify your selling points for this job.
Even if you’re a well-oiled interviewing machine, it’s essential to spend time thinking carefully about what skills, accomplishments, and interview answers will resonate with your interviewers most for this job. Your management abilities? Your creativity? Go back to your research and see what makes you most qualified.
7. Be ready to tell the interviewer about yourself.
For every interview, you’ll want to have an answer to “Tell me about yourself” that’s tailored to this job and company and ready to go. Interviewers almost always ask this question or a similar one—like “Walk me through your resume”—to start off the conversation, so you want to make sure you’re getting started on the right foot.
8. Know why you’re interested in this position at this company.
It’s likely you’ll get asked why you’re interested in this particular role and company. (And if you can’t answer this question, you shouldn’t be in the interview!) So to make sure you can answer, identify a couple of key factors about the job and the organization that align well with your strengths, interests, and/or work style and get you excited about the position. Even if you’re not asked about this specifically, you can use this to inform your answers to other questions.
9. Do some salary research.
Even if you’re not ready to have the money conversation, you might still get asked about your salary expectations. To keep yourself from getting caught off guard and giving (or agreeing to) a way-too-low number, do a bit of salary research to figure out how you’d answer.
10. Prepare your stories.
Most interviewers will ask at least a few behavioral questions, that is, questions about how you’ve acted or would act in certain scenarios. While you can’t anticipate every possible situation you’ll be asked about, you can prepare a few stories about your past work experiences that you can adapt as needed.
11. Familiarize yourself with the STAR method.
Whenever you’re answering interview questions with a story, you want to make sure that story is well structured and the takeaway is clear. Your goal should be to give your interviewer all the context they need to understand what happened while still answering the question clearly and concisely. One way to do this is using the STAR method. STAR stands for:
- Situation: Briefly lay out the scenario using just enough detail that the interviewer will understand the stakes and everything else in your answer.
- Task: Talk about what your role in the situation was.
- Action: Discuss what you did and why.
- Result: Tell your interviewer about the outcome and what you learned.
Note that for some questions you might want to tweak this structure slightly. For example, if you’re talking about a time you demonstrated leadership skills, consider defining what leadership means to you before jumping into the situation. But the STAR method will ensure your stories always have a beginning, middle, and end.
12. Jot down important numbers and details.
Don’t forget about the numbers! Find some revenue figures, engagement numbers, budget or team sizes, percentages of time saved, or anything else you can use to communicate your impact. Throwing in some hard numbers when talking about your responsibilities and accomplishments or answering behavioral interview questions really sweetens the deal and helps you tell a hiring manager why you’re so awesome. You can even write them down so you can refer to them during the interview. (Here’s how to quantify your accomplishments, even if you don’t work with numbers.)
13. Brush up on your interview skills.
How well you answer interview questions isn’t everything—though it is a lot. Interviewers are also consciously or subconsciously picking up on how well you use other interview skills such as active listening, small talk, and empathy. These skills not only help you impress an interviewer, but also give them a sense of what it might be like to work you as a colleague.
14. Practice—but don’t memorize—your answers to common interview questions.
You can and should familiarize yourself with common interview questions—but don’t prepare by writing out your entire answer; instead, jot down a few notes or bullet points and keep them on hand for the interview itself. You’ll ensure you cover the bases—without reading from a script. Practice looking in the mirror and answering them out loud. This prep work will help you clarify your thoughts and make you much more comfortable during the interview.
15. Think about body language.
Brush up on what certain body language conveys. Be aware of what you’re communicating through your posture and stance—and make sure it’s good. (For example, sitting with your arms and legs crossed sends a message that you are closed-off or feel defensive.) Think your movements through ahead of time so you’re not distracted (or distracting) during the interview. If you’re on video, think about how you’ll show that you’re actively engaged in that format—putting the Zoom window near your camera so you’re not looking away from your interviewer, for example, or making non-verbal gestures or expressions to show that you’re listening without cutting off their microphone.
16. Try some mock interviews.
If you have the time, do a few mock interviews with a friend or loved one. You’ll be much better at answering, “What would you bring to the position?” the 100th time you do it and you’ll know ahead of time where you want to put your hands or how you want to sit.
17. Write down questions you’ll ask them.
Most interviews will wrap up with “Do you have any questions for me?” and you should absolutely have some questions. You can start with this list of interview questions to ask, but you should also plan some questions that are very specific to the job and company. And prepare more than you think you’ll need—you don’t want to ask questions that have already been answered or be left without any backup options if the interviewer already touched on your first two questions during your conversation.
18. Plan for what you’ll do if you’re caught off guard.
You can’t prepare for everything, but you can prepare to handle the unexpected—like an interview question you don’t know how to answer. For example, you can come up with a go-to phrase that’ll help you avoid dead air if you need time to stall and gather your thoughts. Two strategies that work well are repeating the question thoughtfully before answering or saying (slowly), “Now, that is a great question. I think I would have to say…"
19. Prepare for technical interviews or skill tests.
If you’re getting ready for a technical interview or you’ve been told there will be a skill test during your interview, start preparing and practicing as early as possible. Working through a prep book or sample questions will not only give you good practice, but it’ll also put you in the right problem-solving mindset.
Get ready to present yourself well and figure out all of the interview logistics.
Once you’ve prepped for the content of your interview, it’s time to make sure you walk in looking put together and feeling confident.
20. Figure out what to wear.
Unless you’re prepping for a phone interview, you’ll need to take your physical appearance into account. (And yes, for video interviews, that does include pants.) Not sure what to wear? Ask a contact at the company if you have one or scope out photos on their social media or Muse profile and dress at least as professionally as employees do. For example, for a casual environment, business casual is appropriate for an interview.
21. Look appropriate and professional.
Don’t forget the little things. Make sure your outfit is cleaned, ironed or steamed, and tailored if needed (a modern fit is best). Shine your shoes, check for loose hems, and make sure your fingernails look neat. Do a little pampering, because looking your best helps you feel your best. If that means you need a facial, haircut, shave, or even a new interview outfit then by all means go for it! If you can’t afford an appropriate outfit, you can check out a local Goodwill or thrift store or search for services in your area that provide free or discounted interview clothes for people who are out of work. Feeling good about yourself will boost your confidence—and we probably don’t have to tell you that confidence is key to landing the job.
22. Print out copies of your resume.
If you’re going to an in-person interview, you’ll want to bring enough copies of your resume for everyone you’re meeting with plus one to refer to yourself. However, if you have a phone or video interview it can still be useful to print out a hard copy of your resume to easily refer back to.
23. Prepare a reference list.
Prepare a reference list, whether you think you’ll be asked for it or not. For each reference, include a name, title, organization, division or department, telephone number, and email address, as well as a sentence briefly explaining the relationship (e.g., “Carlton was my team leader for two years, during which we collaborated on four major product launches”). If you have an in-person interview, a hard copy is a good idea, and for any later-round interview, being prepared to send off the file as soon as you’re asked for it shows how you prepare ahead of time.
24. Test any needed tech.
If you’re doing your interview over the computer or the phone, make sure ahead of time that all the needed hardware, software, and network connections are working smoothly. If you can use headphones with a microphone, do so, and make sure they’re connected before the interview begins.
25. Pack your bag ahead of time.
Whatever purse, backpack, or briefcase you carry should be large enough to hold your everyday essentials, plus your interview musts, such as extra resumes and a notepad, as well as a special emergency kit stocked with what you might need in an unexpected situation (think: Band-Aids, a stain stick, an umbrella, and breath mints). Here’s a general checklist of what to bring to an interview so you’re super prepared. And clean out that bag! If you have to dig past candy wrappers, phone chargers, and old receipts to get that resume, you’re going to look a little disorganized.
26. Figure out where you’re going and how you’re getting there.
Whether you’re driving or taking public transportation, make sure you look up your route ahead of time (including where you’ll park). Buy any needed tickets, add needed money to your metro card, fill up your tank, or do anything that could slow you down on the way to your interview. Know how long it should take you to get there and add plenty of extra time in case of traffic or transit delays.
27. Prepare your environment (if needed).
If you’re doing a remote interview, you’re responsible for your environment, so make sure that you’re in a quiet place without distractions and that anything you’ll need to reference during the interview is laid out in front of you along with a notepad, working pen, and beverage. For video interviews, you’ll also need to pay attention to what’s going on behind you, so choose a plain or non-distracting background to sit in front of and make sure your shot is free of clutter and well lit ahead of time.
28. Fill in an interview cheat sheet.
You can use an interview cheat sheet to compile all the details you need to remember, jot down notes about what you want to say and ask, and check off all the essentials of what to bring to the interview. Print one out for every interview, read it over the morning of, and you’ll be good to go! (We made one for you right here!)
29. Get a good night’s sleep.
This sounds like something your mom would tell you, but there are few things that will throw you off your game like sleep deprivation.
30. Calm your nerves and/or get psyched.
Immediately before the interview (or as close to the time as possible) you’ll want to get yourself in the right headspace. Expect to be nervous and plan ahead of time to use whatever tools you need. These methods are different for everyone, so think about what’ll work for you. Maybe there’s a friend who can pump you up (or talk you down) over the phone or text or a song that always makes you feel like you can do anything. Perhaps you need to do some breathing exercises or give yourself a pep talk in your car. Whatever will get you ready to go into your interview confident, calm, positive, and ready to ace it.
Regina Borsellino contributed writing, reporting, and/or advice to this article.