Research shows that 30 percent of interviewers decide within the first five minutes of an interview whether or not the person is suitable for the job. This is why polishing your people skills, acting professionally, and preparing for an interview are all essential aspects of landing a job.
Statistics presented by Simplilearn and Zippia show that 75% of candidates who apply for jobs aren’t qualified for the roles and that only up to 20% are asked to interview. This is good news, as it suggests that if you’ve landed an interview and actually have the skills listed in the job description, you’re already ahead of most applicants.
It’s normal to feel somewhat intimidated and uncertain leading up to a job interview. However, by following the interview preparation tips below, you’ll feel more confident and ready to ace your next interview. After all, surveys show that around half of job candidates fail their interviews because they didn’t gather enough information about the company beforehand, meaning that being prepared is a major advantage.
In this article, learn how to interview well by improving your body language, researching the company’s mission and needs, and displaying your knowledge, strengths, and willingness to grow as an employee.
How to Prepare for an Interview: Top 14 Tips
1. Research the Mission, Vision, and Core Values of the Organization
Researching the company you’re interviewing with helps you understand how you’ll fit into the bigger picture of the company’s mission. You can also use the knowledge you uncover about the company’s mission to showcase how your core values align with the company’s which can help the business reach its top goals.
Connect your skills to the company’s objectives in the following ways:
- Read up on the company’s founders, history, main offerings, and goals.
- Ask yourself: “Where do I fit in?” “What role do I see myself playing?” “How can I create change?” Write down answers to these questions beforehand. The more details you include, the better.
- If there’s an appropriate opportunity to mention your future goals, give a snapshot of where you’d hope to be in your career in five or ten years.
Think through the vision you have for yourself and how this relates to the business you’re hoping to work for. Paint a vision of yourself in the role they need fulfilled and show them you’ve already thought about your purpose there.
For example, explain what motivates you most and connect this to the specific role you’re being considered for. Deborah Acosta for the Wall Street Journal even suggests “studying the job description” over and over to absorb all the details.
2. Be Prepared to Discuss Company Specifics
When a senior-level executive is conducting an interview, they want to see that you’re serious about the role and understand the trajectory of the company. Avoid entering an interview without knowing anything about the business or what they need help with. “Researching the company and role as much as possible will give you an edge over the competition. Not only that, but fully preparing for an interview will help you remain calm so that you can be at your best,” says Hanne Keiling, a communication expert.
Here’s how to prepare for a job interview by gathering important information about the company beforehand:
- Get clear on the company’s position in its industry. Learn about the firm’s main competitors plus its competitive advantages.
- Understand if and how the company has grown recently and why more employees are needed at this time.
- Figure out if the company has dealt with any big obstacles or unexpected challenges. This might indicate why they are looking to hire you and other specific employees.
- Research any major company projects or launches that are happening in the near future.
3. Think Through Answers to Common Interview Questions
Part of your job search will be answering various questions about your experience, education, background, and goals. The U.S. Department of Labor recommends prepping for interviews by thinking over your willingness to work and learn, flexibility, leadership skills, key contributions to past organizations, and creativity in solving problems.
Below are interview tips for handling questions professionally:
- Before your meeting, write down answers to some of the most common job interview questions you’re likely to encounter, including: “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” “How do you think you’d fit into the culture here?” “How do you do your best work (in teams or alone)?” “How do you handle criticism and feedback?”
- Be prepared to talk about your favorite aspects of past roles and those you didn’t enjoy. Avoid being overly negative about challenges you’ve had to overcome. Instead, keep things positive and hopeful.
- Have an answer as to why you want this specific position. What drew you to the role, and why is it a good fit?
4. Know Your Strengths, Skills, and Weaknesses
The goal of the interview is to showcase why you’re the best candidate for the position, which all comes down to learning how to market yourself. Instead of drawing a blank when you’re asked about your skills and advantages, speak specifically about your greatest strengths. You can also display humility by balancing mentions of your strengths with an honest discussion about your weaknesses and where you’re most excited to grow.
Here’s how to speak about what you bring to the table:
- Make a list of your specific skills: Think about what you’ve gained from your recent positions, projects, and classes. For example, have you successfully managed teams, landed new deals, launched new products or projects, or driven profit growth?
- Give at least two examples: Show how you’ve used your knowledge and skills in the past to perform well in your previous jobs. Have 1–2 examples for each selling point.
- Get to the point: Be direct about your strengths and skills rather than telling long-winded stories. Stick to mostly information that is related to the role.
- Embrace your weaknesses: Talk about your weaknesses as opportunities to become wiser and more experienced. Avoid saying that you have no weaknesses at all, which isn’t realistic and can come off as arrogant, or that you’re a “perfectionist,” which is seen as cliché.
Margaret Buj, interview and career coach, recommends providing examples of your achievements using the STAR format, which stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. To do this, explain a situation you were in during your past position, the challenge you faced, which steps you took to solve the problem, and how it helped the company.
5. Create Well-Developed Questions About the Company
You’ll likely be asked if you have questions during the interview. Make sure you have a few well-thought-out questions ready to ask rather than delaying or saying no. Drawing a blank at this moment misses an opportunity to connect.
Below are tips for asking the interviewer the right questions:
- Show you’re serious: Prepare engaging questions, such as those related to specific responsibilities, expectations, and the company’s culture.
- Engage the interviewer: Experts suggest asking the interviewer what attributes they’re ideally looking for in the right candidate and why. You can also ask about unexpected aspects of the job and what the interviewer finds most rewarding about working for the company.
- Be specific: Avoid generic questions such as “Is there anything I said that wouldn’t make you hire me?” Instead, say things like: “I’d love to inquire more about the expansion of the marketing department and my potential role in this. Could you describe to me the vision you have for the team within the next 6 months? How can I help you hit the ground running?”
- Clarify anything necessary: Use this time to clear up what’s expected of you, this way there aren’t any misunderstandings.
- Avoid bringing up money: Wait for the interviewer to ask about salary or promotion questions instead of raising these topics yourself.
6. Display Enthusiasm About the Position
Be prepared to tell the interviewer why you want that job—including what interests you about it, what rewards it offers that you find valuable, and what abilities it requires that you possess. If an interviewer doesn’t think you’re interested in the job, they won’t give you an offer, no matter how good you may seem.
Leave a good impression in the interviewer’s mind by doing this:
- Show that you want the job: You might assume that the interviewer already knows you’re very interested, however, it helps to make your intent clear.
- State that you’re excited: Convey your happiness to be at the interview and how you are looking forward to learning more about the position and company.
Enthusiasm sticks out in interviewers’ minds and makes hirers more confident that you’d accept the position if it were offered to you. Showing eagerness also separates you from existing employees at the company who may be considered for promotions but who are not very ambitious or qualified (a concept called the Peter Principle).
7. Practice a Mock Interview With a Friend
Doing a mock interview with one or two friends helps you become more comfortable with speaking about your experience, hearing yourself talk, and answering questions on the spot. It’s also a valuable way to obtain feedback and tweak your approach. Just like with any other skill, the more you prepare and practice, the more confident you’ll be in your abilities.
Here’s how to benefit from a mock job interview:
- Have a friend or mentor ask you interview questions: This will help you build muscle memory and confidence in your answers. If there are any questions that trip you up, practice these several times.
- Ask for feedback: Have the other person provide advice on your answers, tone, speed, and body language.
8. Select an Appropriate Interview Outfit
J.J. Hebert of the Forbes Council explains, “While being sloppily dressed or less presentable could lead others to perceive you as lazy, unreliable, or unprofessional, dressing like a professional can help you make major strides toward landing partnerships that matter.” How you dress says a lot about your personality and social awareness. Therefore, be sure that your outfit choice represents you well.
Here are tips for dressing for interviews:
- Make sure your clothes are clean and unwrinkled: This shows you took time to prepare an outfit.
- Choose something tasteful and mature: It is better to be overdressed than undressed for a job interview.
- Don’t wear perfume or cologne: Doing so can irritate and distract some people.
- Keep the focus on you: Too much makeup, piercings, or other accessories can be distracting or make the wrong impression.
If you’re interviewing online, such as over Zoom, follow the same tips above: Look prepared, neat, professional, and the same way you’d look for an in-person meeting.
9. Show Up to the Interview Early
Time management is key for business success and appearing reliable. You don’t want to arrive frazzled, in a rush, or late. Instead, you want to appear cool, calm, and collected.
When planning to arrive at your interview:
- Don’t rush to make it on time: Make sure you clear your schedule to arrive 10 minutes early in person or a few minutes early to a video call. Keep in mind things like traffic or other obstacles that may make you late. When in doubt, get there early!
10. Make a Good First Impression With Friendly Small Talk
Studies show that when we first meet someone, we tend to form an opinion of them—including how trustworthy, high-status, and attractive we think someone is—within seconds. Therefore you want to make a great first impression by displaying a high level of positivity, professionalism, and enthusiasm. Engaging in small talk as well as actively listening can also highlight your personality strengths and make the interview go more smoothly.
Here’s how to show you have a great personality and are also professional:
- Watch your body language: Smile and appear to be open and engaged, maintain eye contact, stand up straight, and avoid coming off as aloof, uninterested, or nervous.
- Be curious about your interviewer as a person: This drives a connection between you and them. It also shows appreciation for the opportunity to be interviewed and for the interviewer’s time.
Sara Shine of Johnson and Whales University suggests: “Pick up on cues—making a personal connection over interests, hobbies or even the weather can help you build that professional relationship . . . and silence anything that could interfere with your conversation, including your phone and email.”
11. Know and Communicate Your Value
Knowing your worth makes you comfortable, confident, and genuine when you interview. It also comes in handy when discussing salaries and benefits, which may involve some negotiation.
To feel firm in your value and express it in a polite way:
- Know your numbers: Discuss your experiences with sales or revenue generated.
- Have stories prepared: Talk about how you’ve acted as a leader in other businesses. This shows you know exactly what you bring to the table.
- Allow the interviewer to bring up your salary: During a salary negotiation, use your track record and worth to your advantage. Have a specific salary range ready in case you’re asked about your desired amount. Jennifer Herrity, a career services professional, suggests using a salary calculator if you’re unsure what salary is appropriate to ask for.
12. Practice Being Confident, Relaxed, and “Yourself”
Career coach Thea Kelly says, “Hiring managers can sense how guarded you are when you walk into the room, and it doesn’t make you look good.” Therefore, it’s important to feel confident in an interview and be yourself. This is the best way to connect and appear authentic. To get into a positive and relaxed mindset before the interview, try doing things like taking a walk, meditating, reading something inspirational, or listening to uplifting music.
Here’s how to build confidence before an interview:
- Try repeating a positive mantra: Say things like “I will ace this interview” or “I feel confident and relaxed.” This can help keep confidence levels high and maintain your positive energy.
- Visualize success: Imagine yourself nailing the interview and being offered the job.
- Be kind, polite, and humble: Show confident body language like a firm handshake, looking someone in the eye, and sitting up straight with relaxed arms. However, during the interview, communicate your humility and explain how others have contributed to your success.
13. Bring Extra Copies of Your Resume
Bring along an extra two or three printed copies of your resume in case the interviewer doesn’t have one on hand. You should also have an electronic version handy that can easily be emailed to whoever will benefit from receiving it.
14. Send a “Thank You” and Follow-Up Note
Writing a “thank you” note within 24 to 48 hours after an interview leaves the interviewer with a positive memory of you. You can either send a thank you by email or send a note in the mail. Be sure to customize your note by mentioning something specific you discussed.
How to Follow Up With the Hiring Manager
After an interview, always follow up with the hiring manager or the person who interviewed you to keep the established connection going. Within 24 hours after the interview, write a compelling follow-up email showing appreciation and interest. You can also send a handwritten note if you’d like. This displays that you’re eager and excited about the opportunity to become a new team member.
Here are tips for putting together a follow-up email after a job interview:
- Make it personal and specific. Include details about things you talked about and something you found interesting.
- Be thankful for their time and the opportunity.
- Show excitement, making it clear that you want the role.
- Mention when you would be available to start the position if you were offered it.
- Include your contact information, making sure to add your phone number and email address so that you’re easily reachable.
Want to learn more about the hiring process and what managers often look for in potential employees? Check out this article: The Top Job Interview Questions That Matter Most.
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