So you’ve been sending out your resume and you’ve scored a few job interviews. Well done!
To get the most out of your job interview and to give yourself the best chance of succeeding, it’s essential to invest some time in interview preparation. Here's how to prepare for a job interview to put your best foot forward and increase your chances of securing employment.
1. Know your prospective employer
Do your homework about your prospective employer. The easiest way is to head over to the company’s website. What do you like about the company? Where is it located and what size company is it? Can you get a sense of the company’s culture from their website?
You will make a much better impression at the interview if you can demonstrate you actually care about where you’re going to work, and you might even calm some of those nerves if you know a bit about the place you’re stepping into.
“Learn about the company’s mission, vision, values, and history,” says Kandi Mensing, owner and founder of EliteHRTeam.com. “Prepare to use that knowledge to position yourself as a good fit in the interview, and to showcase that you did your homework.”
Don’t forget that part of the interview process is that you are interviewing the company too! Nisa Chitakasem, founder of career development specialists Position Ignition says, “It is important to realise, and to remember, that finding a job is as much about your choice as it is about being chosen.”
2. Prepare some basic interview answers
Each job interview will be different. However, there are some common interview questions that most interviewers will ask. Take some time in the days leading up to your interview to think about how you would answer those common interview questions. Many employers will base their questions on the selection criteria in the job ad, so back to the job ad to refresh your memory, and think about how your skills dovetail with those requirements.
You might even like to practise your answers out loud - don’t memorise a script, but get the essence of what you want to say straight and then you’ll sound confident even if nerves kick in on the day.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Keep your answers mostly relevant to the role you’re interviewing for - what experiences and training have you had that equip you for the role? Sure, you can mention that you like to go kayaking on the weekends but don’t ramble on about it for five minutes.
Why do you think you’re a good fit for this job?
“Be prepared to explain why you're a good fit for that position, what you know and what you'll need to be trained on,” says Mensing.
What are your strengths?
Think of some specific examples where you have demonstrated strengths that will be an asset in the role you’re being interviewed for.
What are your weaknesses?
Be honest here, but also state how you are working on overcoming those weaknesses. Avoid clichés like “I’m a perfectionist” or “I work too hard”. They mean nothing and the interviewer has heard it all before.
Tell me about a time when you faced a challenge or problem at work, and how you dealt with it.
This is a great one to prepare, as it can be hard to come up with good examples on the spot. The interviewer wants to know how you cope with pressure and conflict.
What do you expect in terms of salary?
It is worth preparing here so that you can answer confidently, however bear in mind that if you’re just starting out you won’t have much power to negotiate. Research what the average salary is for that type of position and base your expectations for a discussion around salary on that.
Is there anything you’d like to ask us?
Prepare a couple of questions of your own. Did anything come up that you’d like to know more about when you were researching the company?
3. Prepare to make a great first impression
We hate to say it, but it’s true - we all make snap judgements based on appearance, and job interviews are no different. The interviewer might be seeing multiple candidates that day, and you don’t want to stand out for the wrong reasons.
Make sure that from the moment you walk through the door, you are showing the interviewer that you value their time and yours by making an effort. You can reduce the stress on the day of your interview by preparing to make a good impression.
- Personal care - brush your hair, scrub your nails and clean your teeth.
- Wear clean, ironed, professional attire that you feel confident and comfortable in. Even if the company you are interviewing with is a little more relaxed in day-to-day operations, don’t turn up to your interview in a crumpled t shirt and ripped jeans. You might like to set out your outfit the night before so you know it’s all ready to go the next day.
- If you have been asked to bring anything along to the interview, make sure it’s packed and ready to go.
- Plan how you’re going to get there - if taking public transport make sure you know which bus/train to catch. If driving, make sure you find out what parking is like in the area and leave enough time to find a spot.
- Get a good night’s sleep the night before your interview so you can go into it well rested and with a clear mind.
4. Reduce stress going into the interview
Don’t be late…or too early!
“Leave in plenty of time that even if you hit traffic or an accident you wouldn't be late. You'll inevitably arrive a bit early, but use that time to get in the right mindset for the interview,” says Kandi Mensing of EliteHRTeam.com.
“However, arriving more than 10 minutes early is not a good thing,” she adds. “It may annoy the interviewer or recruiter because they likely have other interviews they are conducting, or meetings.” If you do arrive early, find somewhere nearby to sit, collect your thoughts, have a drink of water and take some deep breaths before the interview.
Switch your phone off
Or put it on airport mode before you arrive. Even if it’s on silent, there’s nothing more distracting than the buzz of a phone in your bag.
Keep reminding yourself that the employer has seen something in your resume that they like - now’s the time to build on that. Just remember to maintain good posture, make eye contact and smile.
5. During the interview
Set the stage
There are some essentials you should be bringing to the interview to show you're serious about getting the job. Take out any extra material the interviewer has requested, as well as your portfolio if it’s relevant. Mensing advises not bringing too much along, however.
“You don't need to be lugging around a bunch of stuff. Just bring in your meeting binder, portfolio, calendar, and a pen and paper to take notes,” she says. If the employer hasn’t already got your references, make sure you have a copy of those to give the employer if requested.
Expect the unexpected
Remember those top questions and answers you prepared before the interview?
What happens if you sit down in the interview and the interviewer doesn’t ask any of them, or throws out an odd-sounding question like “What do you think about when you’re alone in your car?” Don’t let it throw you. This interviewing technique is aimed at seeing how well you perform under pressure, and perhaps even to assess your creativity.
Take a few deep breaths and don’t be afraid to think about the question for a moment or ask for clarification, rather than blurting out the first thing that comes to mind. Try to stay calm and professional, and avoid saying, “I don’t know.”
You may be asked about your previous workplaces; if you had a negative experience, do not badmouth a former employer. It comes across very negatively and ultimately reflects poorly on you.
Try instead to say something neutral in response. Also remember that you’re taking part in a conversation; listen and be engaged. There is nothing more off-putting to a prospective employer than a candidate who appears arrogant or disinterested.
While it’s important to be yourself, remember you’re in a job interview, not mingling at a party. When answering questions about your life outside of the workplace, you don’t need to go into every detail of your personal life.
Share the basics about who you are, and any hobbies or interests that might be relevant to the role. They can get to know the details about you once you have the job!
Ask your questions
Hopefully at the end of the interview, you’ll get a chance to ask any questions you might have had - some which you may have prepared before the interview. Don’t waste this opportunity!
Asking questions shows that you’re paying attention and you’re curious about the role that you’re being interviewed for. Although it can often feel like a blur when you’re in an interview, try to listen carefully to what the interviewer says throughout so you don’t ask a question they may have already answered.
Don’t just ask about salary and hours, but ask questions that show you’re interested in the company and have already pictured yourself working there.
Leave a good impression
No matter how you felt the interview went, as you get up to leave, make eye contact, shake hands firmly and smile. Thank the interviewer for their time, and say you look forward to hearing from them.
Ask for their business card and their time frame for making a decision - this will help you with your follow up.
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