Preparing for a job interview
Over the years I have done many many, many job interviews. In fact, I had my first job interview just before I started college. It was a summer job at in the baggage department at an airline.
My neighbor was a flight attendant and I asked her to submit my resume for their summer internship program. I was really excited when I got the call to come down to the airport for the interview. I stayed up late the night before to prepare for the big day.
Long story short, I didn’t get the job, but I walked away with a much better understanding of how interviews work and over the years I have fine-tuned my approach to interviews and have developed a four-step strategy for interview success.
What is a job interview?
A job interview is a formal way for both candidates and employers to assess each other to see if it would be a good fit for working together.
Contrary to popular belief the job interview is not just about the employer deciding if they want to hire you, it’s also an opportunity for you as a candidate to properly assess the employer to see if you even want to work for them.
The interview can take many formats and is largely dependent on the employer, the role, the location of the job and their process.
Generally, the interview process can involve a face-to-face sit-down or it can be a phone or even a video interview. It can also be a combination of both depending on the situation.
Preparing for interview success
There is usually a lot of pressure placed on job seekers during the interview process because they feel they have to prove something to their potential employer when in reality what’s important is being confident in your skills and ability.
You already know what you have to offer so don’t feel intimidated by the interview process.
Four-step strategy to ace any job interview
In preparing for a job interview, there is a four-step strategy that I have adopted over the years.
- Learn about the company
- Summarize your professional background and experience
- Demonstrate what you can bring to the table
- Write down a list of questions to ask your employer
Step 1: Learn about the company
Before you go into any interview make sure to learn as much as possible about the company and its background. Read about the history of the company and know the company’s values and mission.
This initial research is important for two reasons:
- You get to learn more about the company and its culture
- You can use this information to decide if this is somewhere you want to work
It’s not a test for you to memorize historical dates and happenings at the company. It’s just to get a clear understanding of the company and what it does.
A good source for information is the company’s website, (if they have one). Most companies should have a website because these days it’s so easy to make a website. If they don’t have one that should be a red flag.
If they do have one, take a look at the website and click around. From the website, you can learn a lot about the company. Is the website professional and well organized? Or does it look old and disorganized?
After you assess the website, dive deeper into the content on the website. Look at the company about page and the products and services page.
Most companies also have a career section. Take a closer look at that section to see if there are testimonials from other employees or what you can learn about the company’s culture.
As you are doing your research on the company, jot down a few notes on paper. This will help you to remember key points of interest.
You can also check GlassDoor to see how the company ranks among its employees. Some companies also have a LinkedIn page that provides insight and information.
Lastly, do a Google search of the company to see what other information you can find out about the company from other sources.
Step 2: Summarize your professional background and experience
In most interviews, the interviewer usually asks the question, “tell me about yourself.” They aren’t asking about your personal life they want to know about your professional background and career experience. When asked this question you need to have your answer already prepared.
Before the interview write down a brief summary of your professional background and experience. Include experience that is relevant to the job that you are applying for and show how it relates to the position.
Make sure to elaborate on the big wins and achievements that you experienced throughout your career. Where possible give specific examples as well as numbers and stats that speak directly to your accomplishments.
Also, try not to speak in terms of “we did this” or “my team and I.” It’s your interview so you want to highlight the things you did personally that led to the overall success of the team.
Step 3: Demonstrate what you bring to the table
Drawing on your research of the company and reflecting on your past experiences and career background, start to think about ideas and proposals that you would implement if you were hired for the role.
What projects do you think would benefit your department and the company at large. What ideas would you love to bring to life? Examine some of the projects you have worked on in the past to see if these are ideas you could use in your new role.
This shows the interviewer initiative, thoughtfulness and creativity and is a good way to score extra points in the interview. Not everyone takes the time to share new ideas the company can implement so you will surely stand out if you do.
Step 4: Write down a list of questions to ask your employer
As mentioned earlier, the interview is not just a one-way conversation. The interview is an opportunity for you to gather as much information as possible about the company, and the role so you can make the best decision for yourself and your career.
Key questions to ask during your interview:
- How performance is measured?
- What is the culture like at the company?
- What is the vision for this role?
- What does success look like in this position?
- Are there opportunities for growth?
- How do you help employees to grow?
By pre-preparing these questions before your interview, you will know exactly what you want to ask and you are less likely to forget the questions you want to ask. Avoid bringing up salary expectations and benefits until after you have secured a job offer.
The interview is so you can demonstrate your skills in order to get the job. Once you have an offer on the table you already know they want to hire so you have more bargaining power at that point to discuss salary expectations and other benefits.
After you have completed each step, you should have a list of notes under each section. Use these notes as your interview prep flashcards. Keep them close and go over them. Add any new thoughts that come to mind and review them just before the interview.
The job search process is tough. It can be long, tedious and sometimes boring, but with the right approach and attitude you can secure a great job that you enjoy and that has opportunities for growth.
These are the steps I have used over and over again to find jobs around the world, including at a Big 4 company and global companies.