How to Prepare for a Job Interview
You’ve diligently done your networking, found a dream company with an exciting job to offer, and spent several weekends re-doing and editing your resume. You wrote a brilliant cover letter and tomorrow you get the reward. You will be granted an interview to make your pitch for being offered the job. Are you ready for it? In this article we’ll discuss a range of pre-interview preparations to give you the best shot at getting that job.
Before the interview: learning about them, reflecting on you
From the moment you get the phone call, you have a serious mission: to find out all you can about the company offering the job. Chances are you would not have applied for the job if you hadn’t already learned some positive things about the organisation, but it needs to go well beyond a casual reading of the job advertisement. At the same time, in order to go in confidently and capable of making a standout impression (for all the right reasons), you must be intimately familiar with yourself: your strengths, your accomplishments, your vulnerabilities/weaknesses, and your resume, which will have recorded important dates and facts of your history.
Research the company
The director-general of one of Queensland’s foremost public service departments once said, “When I have a job to offer, I want to give it to someone who really wants it.” So how do you show that, apart from obvious enthusiasm at the interview? The answer is in how much you care to find about the company before you ever turn up in person. What are good places to mine for this gold?
The company’s website
This is the mother lode of valuable information. Through this you can gain not only directly-announced facts like where they operate, how many employees they have, and what their mission is, but also the felt sense that you can pick up reading between the lines about what their organisational culture might be like (based on what they included and emphasised), how they have written about themselves, and how their service offerings are structured. The only problem with finding out information from this source is that, as it is readily available, every other candidate will go here first as well, reducing your competitive advantage if you do not know how to make the information work for you.
Earnings calls, quarterly reports, and blog posts
Like or not, content is supreme in the contemporary corporate scene, so data such as quarterly reports and earning calls give glimpses into what is happening in the firm. Even most start-up enterprises can brag that they do regular blog posts. You can handle those difficult interview questions – such as what you believe would be the company’s biggest opportunities in the medium term – with greater insight if you have researched how much growth they have experienced and where it is coming from. Your answers rooted in their hard data show you have done your homework.
Our purpose here is not to give Google, LinkedIn, or anyone else free advertising, but let us say that we acknowledge how hard it can be to keep up with company news, especially if you are applying for numerous jobs (each in a different company) at once. Google Alerts is a tool that emails you (for a specific term) anytime a new story appears, ensuring that you keep up with current events in your chosen industry without searching for the information (Youshaei, 2014). LinkedIn Today can also provide online alerts in the industries you wish to follow (Pollak, 2011).
News from current and/or recent employees
Do you know anyone who is working or recently worked in the company? Perhaps this person would be happy to give you an overview of how they see things going in the organisation. Sometimes you may be lucky to know someone in a related or rival company who can also provide perspective (although the bias will be different than company-generated information). The more knowledgeable you are about the organisation at the interview, the more well-managed is your risk to offer your ideas about anything to do with the company or its potential movement in the market.
Clean up your social media
Yes, we know, you probably shouldn’t have posted onto your Facebook page that awesome photo of you and your mates looking relaxed and oh, so tipsy six hours into the party, but now there’s a “Get out of jail free” card available. Social Sweepster is an app which detects pictures of beer bottles and other “suspicious” objects. It even picks up profanity from past posts! The Social Sweepster CEO, Tom McGrath, says that these days, over 90 percent of employers search a candidate’s social media for “red flags” and many recruiters reject candidates because of something they found on their social media pages. The app, says McGrath, helps users to create the first impression on their own terms (McGrath, in Youshaei, 2014).
Choose a favourable interview time
Have you ever wondered if the time at which you were interviewed, or the sequence in which your interview occurred, influenced the outcome? Apparently, it does. We can understand this when we reflect on how the interviewer (let’s say it’s a woman) has a whole life going. She must tend to other projects, respond to emails, and interview other candidates, as a minimum. She may have personal stresses impacting on her work life. Obviously, you want her in the very best mental state possible when she is speaking with you. In a typical work week, when might this be?
According to research by Glassdoor (in Youshaei, 2014), the “sweet spot” is Tuesday, 10:30 a.m. Why? You avoid the bookend times: Monday morning when the interviewer might be just gearing up for the week, or Friday afternoon when she is winding down. Also, you avoid being the candidate rushed out the door just before lunch because she is hungry, or the one on whom she cannot concentrate just after lunch because she desperately needs a nap. The advice comes with a warning, though. In some cases companies need to make a quick decision and will take the first thing that doesn’t look too bad. In this case, you want an early slot. If the job is starting several months down the line, however, late morning sometime between Tuesday and Thursday is your best bet (Youshaei, 2014).
Reflect: What is it about you?
Unfortunately it is not enough to collect even masses of data about your intended employer if you cannot advantageously present the other half of the employment story: you. You can think of the employer and you as being like interlocking jigsaw puzzle pieces. If you are both going to be part of the same organisational picture, you must fit together. It is not enough for the employer to know that you know all about their organisation. You must also show how your piece of the puzzle fits with their piece. Thus, the other crucial part of pre-interview preparation is to get very clear on what your strengths and your accomplishments are and be able to talk about those in a way which shows how they would add value to the organisation. You had to do this already in brief form for the cover letter. How can you expand on that? Generally here are the components you must be able to recite as if from memory:
- Your strengths (you should be able to reel off at least six and insert all of them at some stage into the interview conversation)
- Your accomplishments (you need to be able to tell the story of each one of these – factually, with back-up detail, in one to two minutes when it’s appropriate)
- Your vulnerabilities or growing edges. You will undoubtedly be asked about these as well, so try to find a way to turn the naming of them to your advantage (e.g., the former self-confessed “perfectionist” who now just has high standards)
- The key interview questions you will be asked which could make or break you
- The probing questions you will ask that show you understand the business and are genuinely interested in the job (unlike, for example, the question of how soon you would be able to take a holiday if you were offered the job)
- Your resume. Being exceedingly familiar with your resume and cover letter will help you to answer questions in a fluent manner and turn to exactly the right part if there is something you can best clarify by looking at it (Kelly Services Australia, 2016a).
Research your route to the interview
It seems like a no-brainer, but, especially if you are headed into unfamiliar territory, do your homework. Use the map book, GPS, or internet/phone app to find out exactly where the interview will be held, and how to get there from wherever you will be coming from. You might even try going there a day ahead of time for a trial run. Your goal will be to arrive 15 to 30 minutes early (Kelly Services Australia, 2016a), but unless a taxi or some knowledgeable person is dropping you off, you must also figure out which approach roads to use (Brisbane’s central business district, for example, has a high proportion of one-way streets making access tricky) and where you will be able to definitely get a park. There is enough pressure in an interview situation. You don’t need to create more by worrying about getting lost or arriving late.
This article was adapted from Campus College’s “Career Edge” program – a free personal development course designed for those seeking to maximise their career opportunities and set themselves apart.
- Kelly Services Australia. (2016a). Job interview questions and job interview tips. Kelly Services, Inc. Retrieved on 2 March, 2016, from: hyperlink
- Pollak, L. (2011). Change is in the air: 7 LinkedIn tips for career changers. LinkedIn.com. Retrieved on 3 March, 2016, from: hyperlink
- Youshaei, J. (2014). 12 surprising job interview tips. Forbes. Retrieved on 2 March, 2016, from: hyperlink