Lesson 2: Preparing for an Interview
Preparing for an interview
Knowing that you have an interview coming up can be stressful! However, if you use the time before your interview to prepare yourself, you will likely look and feel more confident during the interview.
This lesson will guide you through different ways to prepare for an interview. It will explain how to research the organization beforehand. It will help you identify appropriate attire and provides you with a checklist of items to bring along with you. Finally, it will help you both prepare to ask the right questions and practice answering questions you are likely to be asked.
Researching the employer
During an interview, you will need to show an employer that you know about the needs of their organization. One way to prepare for this is to do your research In general, you want to find out:
- what products or services they offer or sell
- who its customers or competitors are
- how the organization is doing within the industry
- what the company culture is like
- Use our Company Research Guide to gather essential information.
Don't worry if you can't find every answer to every question. You'll likely use only part of this information in your interview, but it's better to go in with a good understanding of the company. Print it out, take notes on it as you research, and take it with you to your interview.
- If you can't find information on their website, consider using LinkedIn or another networking site to find someone who can tell you about the organization.
- If you are a student or recent graduate, you can visit your college's career services office.
- If you are willing to pay for the service, LexisNexis offers various types of information about many different companies. If you don't want to pay, you may be able to access these websites for free through your local public library.
- Consider driving to the interview location beforehand—preferably at the same time of day as your interview—so you can get a good estimate of how long the travel time will be on the actual day. You definitely don't want to be late!
- The job description/posting will likely contain information about the organization. Look for key phrases that describe what they're looking for, and be prepared to explain how you fit this role. Don't forget to thoroughly click around on their website.
Deciding what to wear
Like most people, interviewers are susceptible to first impressions, and one of the first things an interviewer will notice is how you're dressed. Since you want to make sure your first impression is a positive one, here are some things to keep in mind when choosing an outfit:
- Your clothing should be relatively formal, so don't wear jeans, T-shirts, or sneakers unless you've specifically been asked to wear them. Business attire is usually a safe bet for either a man or a woman.
- When you choose your clothes, make sure they fit well and are not visibly worn out. Both men and women should avoid wearing clothes that are too tight so that you're comfortable. Consider wearing dark or neutral colors, even if these aren't colors you ordinarily wear.
- Make sure you're well-groomed when you're going to an interview. Check that your hair and nails are neat and clean, and that your clothing is unwrinkled or ironed before leaving the house. This shows the interviewer that you took time to prepare for the interview and are taking it seriously.
- Keep in mind that not every tip on this list will apply in all situations. For an audition interview, for example, you may be expected to dress less formally, depending on what you'll be asked to do. Ask a friend for feedback if they've worked in a similar environment.
What to take with you to the interview
After you've decided what to wear, it's time to think about what you should bring along with you. It's also important to know what you should leave at home or in your car.
Take a look at our interview checklist and decide which items to have on hand...
- a few additional clean copies of your resume
- your own list of questions about the job/organization
- a pen and some paper
- water, in case you get thirsty (but try to drink it before/after)
- a list of references, including titles/contact information
- the phone number of the person interviewing you
- identification and your Social Security Number, in case you're asked to fill out an application on the spot
- directions to the interview location
And here are a few things to avoid...
- having family or friends wait for you in the building while you're being interviewed
- chewing gum during the interview, as this looks unprofessional
Practice answering questions
Because the largest portion of your interview will be spent answering questions, the best way to prepare for an interview is to anticipate the questions you'll likely be asked and then practice your answers.
All interviewers will ask some common interview questions to determine if you are the best candidate for the job. These questions usually deal with your career goals, your level of interest in the job and company, your job skills, and your interpersonal communication skills.
Here are some common interview questions you may be asked...
- Tell me about yourself.
- Name your three greatest strengths.
- What is your greatest weakness?
- What are your most significant accomplishments within and outside of the workplace?
- What attracted you to this company/position? Why do you want to work for us?
The STAR methods for answering questions
You may not know exactly which questions you'll be asked during your interview, but there is something you can do to make sure you are as prepared as possible to answer them: practice using the STAR method.
The STAR method begins with a description of a Situation, then describes the Tasks that were necessary for the situation, the Actions you took to address that situation, and the Result.
Have a few of these STAR stories prepared before going into the interview. Use the accomplishments you included on your resume as a starting point, then mentally outline two STAR stories to talk about in your interview.
For more advice about how to answer questions specific to your role/situation, check out the articles about interviewing on Indeed.com.
Coming up with your own questions
An interview is as much for you as it is for the hiring manager. It is your chance to find out more about the job, the company, the industry, and your potential boss. Your questions should show your genuine interest in or understanding of the company. Knowing which questions to ask and which to not ask can help you get more out of your interview—and can perhaps even get you the job!
Here are the types of questions you might consider asking during your interview...
- What is the primary goal of this position in the first year?
- What does a typical day look like for someone in this position?
- Who will I be working closely with in this role?
- What resources will I have access to in order to perform my job duties?
If you don't ask any questions during your job interview, the hiring manager might think you're not really interested. And remember to avoid questions about salary or benefits until you've been offered the position.