You’ve been selected for a job interview at the company you’re excited about - congratulations! Seriously, take a moment to celebrate and be proud of yourself! While it might have felt like a grind, your hard work has gotten you this far. Now it’s time to build on that and prepare for the next step.
Interviews are an opportunity for you, the job candidate, and your potential employer to get to know each other. Making a strong first impression matters, and careful preparation will ease your nerves and help you show up with confidence. Here are some strategies to help you present your best self and land the job:
Know The Company
Learning about the company prior to the interview will help you to ask specific questions and show that you are up to speed. You can learn about them by diving into their website, their social media, and by reading current news related to the company.
Get to know about the opportunity you’re interviewing for. It’s important to have a good understanding of the context. Here are some of the basics to research:
1. What does the company do and what industry are they in?
You should know the ins and outs of how companies like the one you’re applying for operate within their specific industry. This is even more important if you’ve never worked in that field before; in that case, you’ll want to speak to why you’re making a change and how your prior skills will transfer. Is there something the company is doing differently that makes them stand out? Have some concrete examples to highlight why you’re excited to work with them.
2. What are the company’s values? What does it stand for, and how does it achieve its purpose?
Learn what the company stands for. Purpose-driven companies will present their vision or mission statements along with their values somewhere on their site. Make sure you know what those are and how they align with your values. Some companies will also include impact reports where you can read more about the progress they’ve made towards achieving their vision. These are great resources for current information.
Bonus tip: If available, take a look at their financial statements. Sometimes knowing how a company is actually spending its money can be an indicator of its values in action. Publicly traded companies will have these available on their websites.
3. What is the brand? How does it feel to you? How do you see yourself fitting into that picture?
Understand what the brand is known for. Is it their products or services, their mission, or something else? Read any content the company has shared publicly to get a feel for their tone of voice and how they talk about themselves. This will help you show up to the interview already speaking their language. Also check out any content published by others that may shed some light on how the company is perceived by the public, what they’re celebrated for, and what challenges they face.
4. What is the job? What would your key tasks and responsibilities be?
Make sure you understand the job you’re applying for. It might have been a while since you last read the description so read it again. Make sure you’re clear about the work you would be doing. Note anything that seems ambiguous so you can ask about it in the interview. Another way to learn more about what to expect is by searching for articles that specifically address areas of the company you’d be a part of if hired.
Doing this research will help you demonstrate that you are up to date and ready to jump in. You will be able to provide responses to interview questions from an informed perspective, with specifics to the company and industry. Researching will also help you to come up with your own thoughtful questions to ask them during the interview.
Practice, practice, practice
Depending on your level of comfort and experience, doing some solo interview preparation might be all you need to feel ready. A quick browser search will lead you to plenty of websites with interview FAQs to get you started.Look at multiple sources to curate your practice list and make sure to include role-specific questions. Once you’ve got a list of questions, go through and answer them aloud to get a sense of what you’re already comfortable talking about, and make note of what you need to practice. Consider recording yourself so that you can play back your responses and get a different perspective.
If preparing alone doesn’t work for you, ask for help. A friend, family member, or colleague might be a safe and supportive person to practice with. If possible, choose someone in your network with experience interviewing and/or hiring for a similar role to the one you’re interviewing for. Make it easier on them by providing your list of curated questions, but also give them the opportunity to include their own. They might come up with some really good ones that could help you prepare for a broader range of topics and keep you on your toes. Ask your practice interviewer if they’re comfortable with you recording the session (including feedback) so you can refer back to it later.
Sometimes you’ll need to look outside your network for your practice interviews. The right career coach or recruiter can be invaluable for helping you fine-tune your skills. Someone familiar with the industry or company you’re interviewing for might provide particularly helpful insight. Most career support professionals will have their own list of practice questions and will give you actionable feedback to help you refine and clarify your responses.
The more you practice interviewing, the more natural it will feel - you'll present as more confident and personable when it really counts! Lastly, don’t forget to practice for remote interviews using video conferencing apps (Zoom, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, etc). Like much of our work, many interviews are being conducted remotely these days.
Be Prepared to Ask Questions
Your background research on the company likely spurred a lot of questions - this is great! When you ask well-informed questions about the role or company, you’re more likely to come off as interested and engaged. Remember, you're not only there for them to decide if you’re the right candidate for the company. You are also interviewing them to make sure they are the right company for you. So be sure to get the answers that matter to you.
Your questions could cover anything from company culture, to work environment, leadership style or the team you’ll be working with. Ask about the company’s achievements, but also be sure to ask them about the challenges they face and areas that need improvement. It’s just as important to know the company’s flaws as it is what makes them great. Don’t forget to include specific questions about the role. Here are a few you might want to consider:
Can you tell me more about the day-to-day responsibilities of this role?
If I were in this role, how would my performance be measured?
What’s the mission of this position?
How would you describe the characteristics of someone who would succeed in this role? What does success look like?
What are the biggest challenges facing this role?
No need to memorize your list of questions, but feel free to bring a copy of these with you for reference. Try not to read the list of questions word-for-word if you can avoid it.
Put Your Best Foot Forward
You know what they say about first impressions - you only get one chance. Be sure to get a good night’s rest the night before, and don’t go into it with an empty stomach. Look your best and dress appropriately for the job (in most cases this means somewhat formal, even if the day-to-day job might be more casual in practice). Hopefully, doing these things will have a dual benefit: your interviewer will see that you’re taking this seriously, and you will feel more confident. Even if you’re interviewing remotely, make sure you take the time to compose yourself and dress just as formally as you would for an in-person interview.
In a remote interview, you’re in control of your environment. Your camera should be roughly at eye level, not looking up or down at you if you can avoid it. Make sure your face is well lit, and that there is nothing you wouldn’t want to have seen in the background. You can also try using a virtual background if that’s an option. Use headphones to reduce interruptions from background noise. And finally, test out the tech and make sure your internet connection or other computer issues won’t detract from your interview experience. Following these simple guidelines will help the recruiters focus on you without distraction.
Have your Materials Ready
Some companies will ask you to bring examples of prior work with you to the interview. Have them ready to go in a presentable format. It’s also a good idea to bring extra copies of your resume just in case. If you’re interviewing remotely, you’ll want to make sure you have these materials ready to be shared on screen or by email. The last thing you want is to waste precious interview time searching for your resume or portfolio.
It’s the day of the interview. You’ve got all your materials ready, including your questions. Settle in a little early and take some deep breaths to calm any remaining nerves. Get ready to listen fully. You don’t want to miss any valuable information. Be present when the interviewer is speaking, and wait until they're done talking before you speak. Have a notebook handy to keep track of your thoughts and any points you might want to circle back to. By being an active listener, you’ll be able to provide better answers and ask more pertinent questions.
Always follow up with a thank you note after the interview. This can be an email, or a handwritten note (as long as you mail it that same day). Make sure your note is authentic and that you express gratitude for your opportunity to interview. Remember, they might be hiring for many positions at once, so be sure to include a clear reference to the specifics of the position and your interview. This will help the recruiters or hiring managers to keep you top of mind as they review candidates and make decisions.
Congratulations, you made it to the next round! It’s important to go into this second interview being just as prepared as the first. Find out who you will be meeting with - you’ll want to know their name and function at the company, and be prepared to ask specific questions about their work and experience. Assume a fresh start; you’ll likely repeat some of the same information you provided in the previous go around.
The next step is to create a new list of questions. Start by reviewing any notes you took during the first interview. If there was something you didn’t feel clear on, follow up by doing another round of information gathering. Don’t be afraid to ask the same questions again to get another perspective on the topics that are most important to you. Is there anything you forgot to ask in the first interview? If so, add it to your list.
Follow the same preparation tips from the first round, and make sure you send a thank you note after this interview as well.
Preparation and practice are key to feeling comfortable in your next interview. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. And while you could gather information and practice endlessly, this is just a means to an end. The goal is to build your confidence, improve your ability to articulate your value, and be more prepared to make important career decisions.
The job search, application, and interview process is a journey to find the best place for you and your work. Remember that interviewing is both a way to gather all the information you need, as well as an opportunity to impress a potential employer. There are two decisions being made here, and yours is just as important as theirs. If it doesn’t feel right for you, don’t be afraid to trust your gut.
Finding the right job can take a little time. If the first company you try doesn’t work out, don’t worry. It’s common for people to interview with several organizations before finding the right fit. Proceed with patience and clarity, and you’ll eventually land a job that feels just right.
And once you get the job, check out our post on preparing for your first day of work.