Everyone who fills out a job application hopes to “land” an interview, but the notion of an impending interview can strike fear and anxiety in even the most composed of candidates.
As with every part of the job search process, research and preparation is key. Going into an interview with an idea of who you are meeting with, what they might ask, and what you plan to say, can have a significant impact on your confidence level, and your overall presentation.
As a part of our continuing job search series, we have compiled a list of preparation tips that will hopefully ease uncertainties, and put you on the path to “landing” your ideal job.
As we previously mentioned in our Skype interview guidelines, it is critical that you thoroughly understand the company’s mission, values, overall objectives, and goals.
Devote several hours to online research, including the company’s webpage, blog and social media accounts. For a balanced perspective, look to secondary sources. What is being said about this company in the press? On Linked In? Within Glassdoor reviews?
If possible, find out who will be conducting the interview, and what other members of the search committee will be present. You should then try to learn about each member’s professional background, and their role within the company. If the committee member has a public LinkedIn profile, you can use that (with privacy filters in place, if desired) to assist with your research, however, this is not an appropriate time to try to initiate a connection.
Carefully review the job description, as well as your resume and cover letter. Make sure that you are prepared to answer questions about your employment and academic background, and can relate that experience to the job qualifications.
There are many lists available online that offer examples of common interview questions, and it can be helpful to review these lists, and practice hypothetical answers.
While these lists can serve as excellent guides, it is also important to remember that questions can be asked in a multitude of ways, and that an interviewer may ask you something deliberately unexpected.
Make sure that you can generally address common themes, including: professional qualifications; employment history; strengths and weaknesses; knowledge of the company/position/industry; aspirations; reasons for pursuing the position/leaving current position.
It is quite likely that you will be asked to “tell us about yourself,” or some similar variant, so you should have a 60-90 second response at the ready. Think of it like a mission statement: a succinct description of your personal brand.
It is also likely that you will be asked about your greatest achievement, or a time when you encountered a challenge or conflict. Be prepared to offer an explanation of what you did and/or learned, for instance:
“In my first supervisory role, I discovered that some team members struggle with authority figures.” This should then be followed with brief story that lends context to your statement, and highlights your strengths. You then have an excellent opportunity to connect the experience to desirable qualifications: “Regardless of a team member’s attitude, I always try to remain fair and approachable.”
Questions to Ask
At some point in the interview, candidates are usually asked if they have any questions for the interviewer or search committee. It can be certainly be tempting for a candidate to demur, especially when the interview has been particularly long or arduous, but you should not bypass this critical opportunity.
As you are conducting your pre-interview research, make note of any questions that arise, either about the company, the position, or the hiring process. While you should be generally focused on how your hiring will benefit the company, this is your chance to see whether this particular position is a good fit for you. Some areas to consider include job responsibilities, performance evaluation, office culture, and professional development.
Write out 5-10 of your most pressing questions on a notepad, leaving space to jot down notes if necessary. Do another quick search to ensure that your questions have not been addressed on the company website, or on social media. Try to add at least one question that addresses the interviewer/committee’s own experiences, such as “what do you most enjoy about working in this department?” This will both affirm your interest in the company, and help establish a friendly rapport.
Attire and Accessories
Based on your knowledge of the company culture, select an outfit that is likely to make a positive impression. It is always best to err on the side of being too formal and conservative, than too casual or flashy.
If possible, choose your outfit at least two days before the interview, in case something needs to be dry cleaned, tailored, or repaired. Try the outfit on to check for fit, and examine carefully for stains, loose threads or tears.
While this might seem excessive, your attire is a significant contributor to the interviewer’s first impression.
You should also have a briefcase or other suitable bag ready along with your notepad, 2 pens, and a portfolio. The portfolio containing at least 5 copies each of your resume, cover letter and professional references, as well as any other documents that will be needed. Whenever possible, copies should be printed on high-quality watermarked paper.
With all your preparations made, take some time to rehearse. Either by yourself, or with a friend or family member, practice your statements and stories aloud, so that they will come naturally when the questions are asked. It's fine to reference a few point-form notes, but you don't want to seem as though you are reading from a script!
Job interviews can be nerve-wracking, but with proper preparation, you can appraoch the situation with confidence, and emerge feeling that you have made a positive impression. Best of luck!
Coming soon: In the next installment in this series, we'll offer suggestions for addressing specific interview questions, including those related to career changes, non-traditional academic plans, and employment gaps.