How to Prepare for an Interview: 6 Top Tips + Sample Questions
It’s time to send your best suit for dry cleaning and find Eye of the Tiger on your music app. You’re pulling out all the stops to impress and that means you’re bringing out the big guns: teeth whitening strips. You might even fish out your retainer. Just in case.
Hold up. Sure, image plays a role in the interview. But do you know how to prepare for an interview?
I mean, what if you’re like, really bad at interviews? Would you even know if you were? Do all those failed job searches make sense?
We’ve seen it all, from the motor-mouth newbie to the one-tone-drone bore. This is why we want to take you through some pre-interview best practices that will not only guarantee a great interview but also help you figure out why you’ll make a difference. No pressure.
1. Put yourself in your interviewer’s shoes
Interviewers have an odious task. They have to work their way through a stack of resumes to find the candidate that not only looks good on paper but can add value to their organization. That’s pretty damn hard.
It’s like speed dating, but a broken heart is not at stake here. Instead, recommending the wrong applicant can be a tremendous waste of resources. By learning how to prepare for an interview, you can build a rapport with the interviewer. He knows you’re not going to waste his time when you show up prepared.
Studies show that a bad hire can cost the company around 30% of the recruit’s annual salary. It’s a big deal. Not just from a cost perspective, but also from a company culture one.
So the interviewer wants to know why they should hire you over everyone else. This is not the time to pull out your recently printed business card to show how savvy you are. No. It’s not uncommon for the underdog in the interview waiting room kick up dust and snuff out college grads.
Even Ramit’s managed to snag a few high-title jobs at companies from interviewees who were way more qualified than he was.
But it’s because he has a secret arsenal to help him endear himself to the interviewer. I simply use The Briefcase Technique.
This technique reveals how astonishing preparation can lead to a great interview. Your preparation needs to include a way you can make a difference in your client’s business. You need to know the potential challenges they face and how you can help them solve them.
The interviewer might want to hop into price right away, but hold off on the remuneration conversation for a moment. Instead, take out a carefully prepared analysis from your briefcase and show them how you can help them.
Now, here me out on this. Pull it out of your briefcase. There’s something poetic and strangely mesmerizing about that move. Kinda like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, only better.
3. Research the Company and Role
There’s nothing as thrilling as getting a call from a recruiter after you’ve decided to start your job hunt for that dream job. The fact that you’re called into an interview makes you feel important and sought-after. But don’t keep those rose-tinted Ray-Bans on for too long. You need to get to work and find out as much as possible about your potential employer.
Roll out the cyberstalking, only, this isn’t the Facebook variety. You’re going to don your sleuthing hat, smoke the empty pipe, and work your way through sites such as Glassdoor and Payscale to find out whether employees are happy with the company. While you might get the occasional nut job who will simply hate on every company or employer they end up with, you can place some stock on what these raters write in their reviews.
Warning bells should start chiming when the employee satisfaction rating dips below the 3.5 out of 5 mark. Read through the reviews. What are common nopes from employees?
Things that should make you take a step back, put my photos back on your desk, and place an auto-reply to recruiters, include:
- Remuneration issues – duh right? Who the hell wants to ask to get paid? And, more importantly, why should you?
- Company culture – a quick tip here is to see whether there is a strong divide between management and their subordinates. Are there many complaints?
- Career stunting – raters complain about getting stuck on the totem pole. Little scope for growth. No training. You get the picture?
- Bad to the bone – it’s not just employees complaining. Customers are lining around the block to return products or close accounts.
However, things that should cause you to take a deeper look is when the company shows a strong employee focus. For instance, low staff turnover, CEO satisfaction, and a general sense of cheeriness. Believe me, just a few ratings and you’ll know whether you’re dealing with the next best place to work for or a Gulag.
You might not get all this info online though. You may need to reach out to current and previous employees to get a feel for the company. Having conversations with real people is far more effective than anything you read online.
4. Take Notes From the Job Description
You can learn a lot from where the interviewer is planning to take the interview just by reading the job description notes. Job posters that are worth their salt will have interviewees do some homework first before setting foot in the interview. You’ll also know from the job description whether you want to pursue the interview.
If you’re going to be that guy that doesn’t bother reading instructions before assembling the flatpack, you might want to take a few minutes and read through to the end. Talking points are a big thing and if you’re going to uhm and ah, you might just lose the interviewer’s interest.
A common talking point is talking about something you did that you’re most proud of. This is a tough one and for some, it could be raising their babies, for others it could be attaining a high educational accolade, and for a few, it could be achieving wealth. But you have to understand that the interviewer has an agenda with this talking point, and you need to answer it better than, “Well, I won the sack race at the neighborhood picnic.”
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5. Practice With a Mock Interview
You’re going to phone up your friend who has conducted several interviews, and you guessed, have yourself a mock interview. While this might seem a little juvenile, just remember that even attorneys stage mock trials to work through kinks that might pop up.
The more you practice, the easier it will be for you to work through your toolbox. Oh, right, we haven’t discussed the toolbox yet. Prepare to be dazzled!
When we refer to the Toolbox, it’s your personal collection of stories that can be molded to suit an interviewer’s questions. It helps you to stay focused and respond with the right answers. When you’re working through your mock interview, be sure to make notes and change the script where you might be open to uhms and ahs.
It’s also an opportunity for your interviewer to let you know where you’re doing well or need some improvement.
We all know life can be weird, right? So there are going to be those times where you can’t round up a single friend who can take you through this. Put that impressive videoing capability of your latest mobile phone to the test and, cough, video yourself. Now, watch the video. If it makes you cringe, you guessed it, the interview is going to suck. Make notes of things that stick out to you.
- Are you talking too fast?
- Is your posture too slack or too upright?
- What about your body language?
- Are you making enough eye contact? You can make too much eye contact, don’t be Creepy McCreepster!
- Are you… boring?
This advice is not just for a first-time job-seeker. You might not be a strong interviewing candidate even if you’ve been in the industry for several years.
The lack of exposure to interviews is not the only obstacle to consider. There are serial job applicants that seem to tick all the boxes on paper but when they enter the interview room, the interviewer is already thinking about the next interview. You must dig deep and have some honest internal dialogue. Have you applied for a lot of jobs, landed many interviews, but never land the job?
Interview prep also allows you to focus on your objectives. Would you be able to work on a question or two? While you might only know this during the actual interview, it’s worth being prepared.
6. Prepare to Answer the Most Common Interview Questions
While it may seem like hiring managers just scour the net for the top questions to ask in an interview, most interview questions are carefully curated to elicit the right responses from the interviewee.
And yes, you may hear the same questions, or variations of them, at different interviews. Now, just to be clear, they’re not looking for a generic answer. They’re looking for your personality quirks, leadership qualities, how you follow instructions, and whether they actually like you. If they don’t, meep. If they do, you are one step closer to a second interview.
Fear not, we’ve got this covered. We have a simple three-step process that will make even the toughest question seem like a cakewalk.
Step 1 – Find the Question Behind the Question Your interviewer doesn’t want to get to know you so you can exchange cards over the holidays, they want to know whether you’ll make a great new addition to the team.
- Do they care about my response?
- Are they interested in my reasoning skills?
- Does this relate to the job role in some way?
- Is there an opportunity to learn more about my interviewer with this question?
Step 2 – Find the Plain English Answer Eloquence can lead to ambiguity and if that little phrase doesn’t convince you to keep it simple, nothing will. Find the simplest, easiest answer as if you were responding to a friend that couldn’t care less about academics.
If the question is, “What did you in this gap year after college?” try not to bore them with an in-depth explanation of the cultivation of citrus in the Kibbutz or your spiritual awakening in India. Instead, use the simplest language and offer the simplest option.
- You traveled
- You immersed yourself in local culture
- You volunteered at various charitable organizations
The reply should sound like this, “I spent the year traveling and immersing myself in local culture in countries such as India and Israel. I managed to learn a lot by volunteering at several charities in these and other countries.”
Step 3 – Polish to Perfection Let’s face it, the storyteller friend in your friend circle is the one who gets invited to cigar evenings and the country club. Learn from the storyteller and cultivate great stories.
- The broad open allows you to tell the interviewer what ground you’ll cover in your response.
- Go into specifics to drill down to the heart of the response.
- Highlight the important takeaways to affirm why they need to take your response seriously.
Question: Can you tell me about yourself?
Now, this is probably the worst of the lot. Suddenly you’re thinking about everything that has absolutely nothing to do with the actual question. However, top performers know that to answer this question effectively, they need a tight narrative.
The interviewer’s goal with this question is why they should hire you instead of the ten other candidates with better references, shinier shoes, and more degrees.
- Research: How does the company research you did on the company and role tie into this question?
- Experience: How your current and past experience ties into this role
- Relevance: Your contribution needs to be recent enough to be in upkeep with the latest practices, advances in technology, etc.
- Add Value: Simply, the briefcase technique
- Professionalism: Stay on topic and don’t ramble.
Now, formulate your response.
Answer: Great question! I’m currently a social media manager for a non-profit that provides training on building hydroponic greenhouses in underdeveloped countries. I handle all the social media accounts and do drip campaigns at certain times to ensure maximum reach to our donors. Since starting these campaigns, the nonprofit has secured four times the donations they have before. Before this, I ran the newsletters for the local schools to ensure parents and students have easier access to upcoming events. I volunteer as a swim coach at the community center in my free time, and I’m studying towards my MBA. I’ve noticed that your organization has quite a few community projects running, but that there are areas where drip campaigns might have an impact. Here, I’ve compiled a report just on the first three. If we do this, this, and this, the figures will go up to this.
Question: What’s Your Biggest Weakness
This one could bite you in the big toe if you’re not careful. If you’re going to blurt out things like “Chocolate” or “Wine”, pack up that shiny suitcase and look for another job because this one is not it.
It’s important to see a question as an opportunity to position your weaknesses positively and allow the interviewer to see how you problem-solve. But a word of caution, be honest. Any interviewer worth their weight in truffle oil will sniff out a chancer faster than a pig will sniff out a prized black truffle.
Now, you know your biggest weakness. What if it’s something like procrastination? Position it like this:
I tend to have bursts of genius when the timing might not be ideal. So to curb this, I’ve implemented systems that allow me to pace myself through projects to optimize deliverability.
Or what about impatience?
Try: I get passionate about projects and deadlines, so it may come across as impatient. To help me create a more fluid approach, I have a soft target that allows me to ease into a deadline without putting the team under undue stress.
Question: Tell Me About a Time You Faced A Challenge With X?
Problem-solving skills, anyone? They want to know how you handle tight spots and tricky moments, perhaps even some hairy inter-office politics.
Thankfully, you can get behind the question by knowing what the interviewer wants. They’re using the STAR interview technique which means they want to know the situation, task, action, and result. If your answer succinctly combines the STAR method, you’re good to go.
For instance, you can say something like, “I managed a pet store in the Valley and a customer needed some specialized pet food for her dog. It was during the snow season and our supplier got snowed in a couple of towns over. The client came in to pick up her order, and when she found out it wasn’t there, got angry and demanded to speak to a manager. Unfortunately, the manager was unreachable as their telephone lines were down. I could tell the client wasn’t going to budge until someone dropped off the pet food. I asked her whether she wanted a cup of tea while I made a few phone calls, which seemed to calm her. She opened up about the condition her dog had, and only this pet food agreed with him. I remembered that the rep came around just a few weeks ago and had an appointment to see the vet after he visited our store. I phoned the vet and managed to secure the delivery of pet food for the client. She now refers all her friends to our store.
7. Follow Up With a Thank You
It takes a few moments to send a thank you card or email, and it allows you to stay top of mind. Include a solution to a talking point in the interview or a response to a tip or piece of advice they gave you. Even if you’re not the right fit for this role, they might refer you to a colleague or friend.
Now You Know
We’ve unleashed absolutely every treasure known to teach you how to prepare for a job interview. Take notes, do research, and work on those little kinks that need to be ironed out before impressing the socks off any interviewer and securing that coveted job offer.