How to prepare for a job interview - The Ultimate Guide
September 11 2016, 1 Comment
Being selected for interview is a great result… but the interview process can be tough and even a bit scary.
However, good preparation will make any job interview 10 times easier.
In fact, I would say that interview success is 90% down to preparation.
So how exactly do you prepare for an interview?
Drawing on my years of experience in the recruitment industry, I’ve compiled the most comprehensive interview preparation guide on the web.
This guide shows you step-by-step, how to prepare for any interview; from the day of the interview request – to the moment you walk into the interview room.
- Understand the company and role
- Know why you are a good fit for the role
- Know your weaknesses
- Plan your journey & equipment
- Practice common interview questions
- Prepare questions to ask the interviewer
Before I delve into the full details of the guide, this infographic gives an overview of the process you will need to cover in order give yourself the very best chance of landing the job.
Guide continued below
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Intro - You’ve been selected for interview
So you’ve made it through to interview stage, which means you’ve already beaten hundreds of other candidates and the employer sees potential you.
The interviewer already suspects that you can do the job - all you have to do is prove them right when you meet.
That’s obviously a lot easier said than done, but if you prepare properly, then there should be no reason why you can’t land that job offer.
When you receive the interview request, do 2 things straight away.
- Send the requestor an email thanking them for the invite, and confirming you will be attending. This is small touch, but will show that you are professional and will start to build a good impression before you even attend.
- Book the necessary time off. Whether it’s getting the time off work, or booking in childcare, get your time freed up ASAP so that you can focus your full attention on preparing for the interview.
Now the preparation begins…
A few days before the interview
Most employers will give you at least 2 days’ notice for an interview, but in the rare case that they don’t, you’ll just have to squeeze this section in a little earlier.
The few days in the build up to the interview is where most of the hard work lies. It’s where you will be doing the bulk of your research and preparation.
The work is split into the following categories:
- Understand the company
- Understand the role
- Know why you are a good fit for the role
- Know your weaknesses
- Plan the journey
- Prepare what you need to take
- Practice common interview questions
- Prepare questions to ask the interviewer
Understand the company
If you want the interviewer to take you seriously as a candidate, you will need to have at least a basic understanding of what their organisation does.
It will also help you to make your decision as to whether or not the role is right for you.
So what exactly do you need to know?
- What services/products/solutions they offer
- Who their customers/clients are
- Who their competitors are
- Which markets/areas/countries they operate in
- Recent news or achievements
- Company culture and values
- Key people in the business
If you are applying to a fairly small company, then it will be enough to simply research the company as a whole – but if you are applying to a big organisation, then you will need to research more specifically into the area or team you are applying for.
Where can you find this information?
The company website
Your first port of call should be the company website, which should at least give you a general idea of their offerings and the markets they operate in, along with any key figures in the business.
Many companies will also have a blog which will give you an insight into some of their recent work and company culture.
News & industry websites
In order to find about the firm’s current affairs you can try scanning through some relevant industry publications online, or even running a News Search on Google – like below.
Social media can give you some big insights into a firms recent campaigns and even how they interact with customers sometimes.
Search them on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and scan through some of their recent activity and even check out some of their employee profiles if you can find them.
Ask the recruiter
If you’re vacancy is being managed by a recruiter (either internal or agency) then don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and ask them about the company you are interviewing at – you may acquire some insider knowledge that you aren’t able to find on the internet.
Check your LinkedIn connections
It’s a slightly long shot, but search your LinkedIn connections for employees of the firm. If you can find a friendly face who already works there, you can pick up some great information.
There are no hard and fast rules on how long you should spend researching and revising this information, but just ensure that you can remember enough to speak confidently about the company on interview day.
Quick tip: Search for the interviewer on LinkedIn and see if you can find out a little bit about their role and background – this may reveal some insights into your team/area. Don’t add the interviewer as a connection at this stage though, this could be seen as a little forward.
Understand the role
Employers will not offer a job to someone who reaches interview stage and doesn’t seem to grasp the role – so make sure that you fully understand the job being offered.
Familiarise yourself with the job description thoroughly and be sure to ask for one if you haven’t already received it.
If the job spec is missing any information that you need, speak to the recruiter and ask them to fill in the gaps for you.
In order to fully understand the role you should be able to cover most of the points below fairly confidently:
- What the overall goal of the role is
- Which area/team you will be working in and who you will be reporting to and/or managing
- People you are required to interact with (customers, suppliers, regulators etc.)
- Tools and software packages you will be using
- Product or service knowledge required
- Work you will be producing (depending on your industry this could be anything from reports, design work and web applications, through to physical products like cars or buildings)
- Environments you will be working in (e.g. busy sales floor, high profile government building etc.)
Know why you are a good fit for the role
Once you understand the company and the role, this part should be fairly easy.
You just need to match your skills and knowledge up to the job responsibilities.
Look at each requirement on the job description and make notes on how you meet them with your skills and experience. Doing this should prepare you for most questions the interviewer asks you around your suitability.
Much of the interview process is based around proving why you are suitable for the role; so having it mapped out like this is really helpful.
Go over these notes a few times in the build up to your interview in order to properly familiarise yourself with them.
Know your weaknesses
Now that you know your strengths, it’s important to know your weaknesses – as interviewers will usually ask you about them.
There are likely to be some elements of the job where your skills don’t quite match up to the employers expectations… but that’s OK. How you handle those shortcomings is what matters.
The idea is to recognise your weaknesses and have a plan of how you will combat them in the workplace to ensure you perform well in your job.
For example, you may be applying for a job where you tick most of the boxes except one qualification.
In case you are asked about this, you should have a rough answer prepared along the lines of:
“Although I don’t have the technical qualification, I feel that my 5 years of experience has given me the knowledge to deal with any situation in this area. I am also working towards the qualification this year.”
Knowing your weaknesses like this will reassure the interviewer that you they will not stop you from doing a good job.
Showing that you are looking to improve your skills in that area with training or study will also get you some brownie points tooo.
Plan the journey
If you’re travelling a significant distance to your job interview, then plan your route well in advance.
Whether you’re driving or taking public transport, learn your route and even a backup alternative in case of travel disruptions.
Essentially, do whatever you can to avoid being late.
If you are not familiar with the area of the building, it may be worth making a practice journey if you have the time – it will alleviate some of the pressure on the day.
Prepare anything you need to take
You’ll need to take a few interview essentials with you on the day along with anything you’ve been asked to bring specifically by the employer.
Make sure you have all of these items ready well in advance – you don’t want to be rushing around trying to locate them at the last minute on the day.
What you need to take
- Multiple copies of your CV to ensure you have a copy for everyone you meet – print them off nice and early to avoid any printer mishap issues
- A pen and pad to take notes
- Some prepared questions – I cover this in more detail here
- The job description (including your notes) – handy to revise on your journey
- The interview details (either saved to your phone or printed)
- Relevant certificates or anything the interviewer has asked you to bring specifically
- Examples of your work - If you are in a creative industry such as graphic design then you may have a portfolio of your work to take with you. Non creative professionals need to think outside the box a little and use things like sales figures, awards and client testimonials.
- A smart folder or bag to put everything in will help you to stay organised and look professional.
- You also need to make sure that anything you are planning to wear is clean and ready to wear
Practice common interview questions
Although you can never predict every question that’s going to be asked at an interview, you can be sure that some of the more common interview questions will arise in some form or another.
Why do you want this job?
Why should we hire you?
Why are you leaving your current job?
You need to know how you will answer these 3 questions in particular, well before you walk into the interview.
To help you plan your answers to these questions and more, check out our list of 20 common interview questions and how to answer them.
If possible, practice answering the questions with a friend or at least reading the answers out loud to yourself – it just helps to get you in the habit of reeling them off naturally.
Prepare questions to ask the interviewer
There will likely be a point in the interview where you will be asked if you have any questions, so it’s good to have some prepared.
Asking the right questions can make you appear keen and diligent, which will impress the interviewer.
You may already have some questions about the role, but if not – try to ask something on the subject of progression and development; to let the interview know that you are looking to work hard and make a commitment.
Ask questions like;
What opportunities are there for career progression?
Do you offer training and development?
Where could I expect to be after a year in this role?
Avoid asking questions about holiday and lunch breaks at this stage, it’s a little too early to be asking for time off :)
The night before the interview
The night before your interview should be fairly relaxed evening, you don’t want to be doing anything too stressful.
You’ve done most of the hard work in the previous few days, there are just a few final bits of preparation left.
Prepare your outfit
To save any last minute panic on the morning of the interview, pick out what you are going to wear the night before.
Make sure that clothes are clean and ironed, shoes are polished, and everything is laid out ready to put on in the morning.
Work dress code has changed in recent times with many offices now promoting a more casual style, but when it comes to interview stage, it’s always a safe bet to go smart.
For guys you can’t go wrong with a full suit and tie with a smart pair of polished shoes. For ladies, a smart skirt with a collared shirt and blazer will work.
Go over your preparation
So over the past few days you will have:
- Researched the company
- Studied the job spec and made notes on your suitability
- Noted how you will overcome your weaknesses
- Practiced some common interview questions
- Prepared some questions to ask the interviewer
So just spend about 30 minutes to an hour re-visiting all of your preparation to keep everything fresh in your mind for the big day.
Pack your bag or folder
Once you’ve finished up your preparation, pack your bag or folder with everything you need to take to the interview.
As I mentioned earlier, this includes:
- A few copies of your CV
- The job description (with your notes on)
- A pen and pad
- Relevant qualifications
- Examples of your work if possible
- Questions you have prepared
- The interview details (if you’ve written them down as opposed to saving them on your phone)
With your things packed and outfit ready, you will save lots of valuable time in the morning and avoid any last minute worries.
Quick tip: Check the travel news for the next day – make sure that your route is still in operation
Get a good night’s sleep
Spend some time relaxing before getting off to bed nice and early – you will function much better after a good night’s sleep. In fact most adults need between 7.5 and 9 hours of sleep to perform at their best.
Set a couple of alarms for the morning if you can – you don’t want to wake up late.
On the day of the interview
When the interview day arrives, there are only a few more things left to do in order to give yourself the best chance of success.
Aim to arrive in the area 30 minutes early
When you set off, check the travel news again and aim to arrive in the general vicinity of the interview building around 30 minutes before it starts.
There are 2 reason for setting off in this time:
- If you have any unexpected travel disruptions, the extra time should hopefully mean you still arrive on time.
Hopefully you should arrive to the area with time to spare and you can do the following:
- Find the entrance to the building (do this first!)
- Find the nearest coffee shop or café
- Grab a drink whilst you go over your notes again one last time
Do not actually arrive to the interview 30 minutes early though – you don’t want to be sitting awkwardly in their reception for half an hour. Arriving 5-10 minutes early is perfect.
Start a conversation with a stranger on the way
Like any skills, social skills get better with practice. And it’s good to get some practice in on the day of your interview.
On your journey to the interview, give your social muscles a warm-up by starting a conversation with a stranger.
This simple act will help you to become more comfortable talking to people that you’ve not met before, and can be a great way to shake pre-interview nerves.
Approaching random people in the street could be perceived as slightly odd, so the easiest way to do this is pop into a shop for a pack of chewing gum and simply ask the person on the till how they are.
And lastly, a couple of confidence boosters
If you suffer from nerves or just need a little confidence boost, remember the following 2 things…
- The employer invited you in for the interview! So you must have impressed them already. Having interviewed lots of people myself, I can tell you that I wouldn’t drag somebody in if I wasn’t interested in placing/hiring them.The interviewer has already shown faith in you by inviting you in… so just prove to them that they made the right choice.
- It’s just another interview… If you managed to land this interview then it’s likely you will be able to land more. So yes, take it seriously, but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get that particular job – there are lots out there.
How to prepare for a job interview - Conclusion
Hopefully this guide has given you everything you need to prepare for your upcoming interview. Essentially you just need to understand why you are the best candidate for the job, and present this case to the interviewer in a professional manner.
If you follow all the steps above then you will walk into the interview with 90% of the work already done.