Most of us put a lot of time and energy into creating the perfect resume and applying to jobs. Once the call comes in for an interview though, it’s surprising how many people think the prep work is done. But going into an interview without preparing ahead of time is the same as going into a final exam without studying. You’re basically setting yourself up for failure.
Besides, just a couple of hours of prep work before your interview can mean the difference between getting a job offer or going back to the job boards. You’ll be better prepared to discuss your strengths and past experiences. Plus as a bonus, preparing for the interview will give you a huge boost of confidence and will avoid any major surprises.
Here are the steps you can follow to feel confident you’re ready for your next interview.
1. Do your research! Know the company and industry.
You don’t need to be an expert in what the company does, but you do need to have some idea. Knowing the company will help guide your answers to question and can also save you some major embarrassment.
I was once interviewing with a consumer goods company and the hiring manager asked me which of their brands I was most interested in. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t know the name of a single brand. Something I could have easily avoided with a quick google search before the interview. And no, I didn’t get that job.
Long story short, when the interviewer asks you which company values speak to you, you’ll be happy you actually took the time to read through them.
It’s also important to know more about the company so you don’t shoot yourself in the foot with an misguided answer. If you’re interviewing at a global company with 5000+ employees, you might mention your interest in working with a diverse team and large-scale problems. You probably shouldn’t mention your life-long dream to build a company from the ground up.
It’s not about telling the interviewer what they want to here. It’s about doing your research so you know enough about the company or industry to find something that genuinely excites you about it.
Above all else, it’s important to be genuine in an interview. Especially if you want to end up in a role that’s a good fit for you.
You don’t need to spend hours combing through the company’s website, especially at the earlier stages of interviews. The deeper you get into the interview process, the more you’ll want to learn about the company as part of your own due diligence in making sure you want to work there. You should also ask more about them during the interview.
But as a good rule of thumb, these are the things you should spend the time to learn ahead of your interview (all of which can be found on a company’s website or financial reports).
1. Size of company
How many employees, offices, countries do they have? Remember, the size of a company reflects the maturity of their business and processes.
2. What they do
Understand the business model. What products and services do they offer? What do they think differentiates them from their competition?
3. Major firm developments
Has anything happened that would make it into the news? Have they recently acquired a company or have they been acquired? Have they entered a new market or formed a new partnership? Even if it doesn’t come up in the interview, these things can impact your work and are just good to know. Plus, the interviewer would be impressed that you’ve looked into it.
4. Competitive environment
Different positions have different expectations when it comes to your industry knowledge. But even if your position isn’t in business development, knowing more is an easy way to impress.
What do I mean by knowing more? Be familiar with the general threats and opportunities in the industry, like changing technologies. Who are the market players and direct competitors? Are there any major developments in the industry, like a major foreign entrant?
Tip: There are global trends that affect almost every industry that you can consider such as the effects of developing technology, the aging population, global competition and expansion, etc.
2. Practice the basic questions.
Most interviewers (especially recruiters) have a routine set of questions. These questions are meant to quickly judge overall fit for the role and company.
Good interviewers aren’t trying to trick you. They won’t ask you curve-ball questions. They want to know more about your experience and how you would fit into the role, and they won’t know that by asking you about the kind of tree you would be.
This curve-ball question interview style used to be more of a thing. For example, in the past you might be asked to estimate how many golf balls could fit into a truck. But it’s gone out of fashion for the most part. Because people realized it doesn’t make sense to interview serious candidates like that.
Below you’ll find a list of questions you’ll likely encounter in an interview. There are a lot of different ways to ask the same question, but you should expect to get some version of the ones listed below.
Go through each question and write down the major points you want to communicate in your answer. Then practice them out loud a few times until your answers flow naturally.
Basic questions to practice before an interview:
- Tell me about yourself.
- What interests you in this position/company? Similarly, what things are important to you in a position/company/manager?
- How does this position fit your career path?
- Why do you want to leave your current position (or why did you leave your last position)?
- What makes you a good fit for the role (aka what are your strengths)?
- What are your weaknesses? While this question is losing popularity in North America, it’s still very popular here in Sweden, so you should be prepared to answer it. You’ll rarely hear it asked so bluntly – you might hear “What skills do you think you need to develop” or something along those lines.
- What salary are you looking for?
Writing down your answers and practicing them out loud is useful, but having someone else listen to your answers is priceless. If you’re unsure how you come off in interviews, or if you’ve had many interviews but no job offers, it’s a good idea to have a mock interview with a friend. If you can, try to find a professional friend that’s willing to give you some open and honest feedback. Someone from your industry or that has interviewed candidates is a bonus.
3. Practice talking about your experience.
It can be hard to remember and discuss past achievements on the fly if you haven’t had to talk about them for a while. Especially, when it’s been years since you did them.
If it has been more than a month since your last interview, it’s a good idea to refresh your memory about your accomplishments and major pieces of work.
Start off by writing down the experiences you can call on during the interview (or just look at your resume). Then spend the time to talk about each experience from different angles. How would you discuss this experience if you wanted to highlight your role as a leader? How would you discuss it if you wanted to show your analytical strengths instead?
Look at the job description and at the company’s website to see which skills and qualities they’re looking for, then imagine being asked to talk about your experience with those skills/qualities. Can you answer their question in a clear and concise way? Because there’s a good chance they will ask you about it during the interview.
When it comes to talking about your experience, I believe the best way to communicate is using the STAR method. If you haven’t heard about this before, you can read more about it here (where you can also find some practice questions).
The crash course STAR method goes like this: you start by providing context and describing the Situation and the Task you were presented with at the time. Then you go over the Action you took and the Result it achieved. You should spend more time on the Action and Result, but it’s important to provide the right amount of context as well.
By practicing talking about your experience in this way, you’ll be able to effectively communicate your message in a concise and smooth way.
There’s a lot you can do to set yourself up for success before your interview. Spend a couple of hours following the steps above to prepare. Then you can leave the interview satisfied knowing you presented the best version of yourself.