Congratulations! You’ve landed an interview. Maybe this is your first ever professional interview, or maybe you’re used to job-hopping every couple of years. Whatever it is — sincerely, congratulations, because it means your resume ranks within the top 10% (or even higher!) of applying candidates.
After the excitement wears off, a new wave of emotions rush in. Like: how do you prepare? What should you wear? Are you meant to talk yourself up or do you focus more on the company’s problems?
Don’t worry. At Rapid Screening, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide on how to prepare for a job interview.
Complete your preliminary research
The first step to interview preparation is to make sure you’ve done your research. No, just reading the job description isn’t enough. It’s impossible to impress someone if you don’t know anything about them — imagine if you go into an interview with a marketing agency and talk about how good you are at translation services!
Obviously, hopefully you won’t be making any extreme interview mistakes like this. However, even some of the smaller misunderstandings about what a company does can come back to bite you.
If you’re stuck on what to research, here are some initial avenues to take:
- Look up the company website (duh)
- Search for reviews, news or outside opinions about the company
- Investigate the company’s leadership team, especially their social media
- (If possible) Research your interviewer or the hiring manager
The next step is to research the company at more depth, if needed:
- What differentiates this company from their competitors?
- Who is their target audience?
- What important advances, technological or otherwise, are affecting their industry?
You’re just getting a big-picture snapshot of how the company operates, what they do, their main services or products, and what they’re like at the senior leadership level. Also, crucially, you’re going to look what other people think of them, which is something you do to protect yourself — you’re finding out whether you want to proceed with the interview.
There’s no need to think too hard about this initial research, because these opening questions are really just to give you an overview of what the company is like. Plus, no matter how hard you research the company online, it’s still going to be completely different going out to their office (which unfortunately may not happen during COVID-19).
Do the little things to make a great first impression
To prepare well for job interviews, you need to control how you make your excellent first impression.
That basically depends on three things: arriving on time, dressing well, and giving a firm handshake. The third one, obviously, won’t be relevant for quite a while, so you only have to worry about the first two for now.
Prepare to arrive on time for your interview by researching how to get there and planning your route. Make sure you also get a good night’s sleep.
You can’t just assume that you can simply give yourself one hour or however long it says on Google Maps. It’s best to look through the map on a computer, using Street View to remember which turns you need to take, and aim to arrive at least 15 minutes ahead of time.
Remember, this is their first picture of you, and while it’s realistic that you get lost driving to a destination for the first time, they’re not going to appreciate it. No excuse will cut it if you’re late. In fact, you can pretty much assume you’ve failed the interview if you don’t arrive on time.
What about the dress code?
Here’s a quick guide for interview dress code: a little more professional, and a little more conservative.
But that leads to the next questions — more professional than what, and more conservative than what?
The best way is to go back to your research in Step 1 and look at how the company’s senior employees usually dress. Then, try to be a little more professional than that, and a little more conservative.
You can also check out the job description again — if it’s written in a formal tone, chances are the company values professionalism; if it’s written breezily and inspires fun and passion, you can choose something a little more casual.
If in doubt, it’s always better to overdress rather than underdress for an interview. People rarely lose a job for dressing in a sharp suit, but rock up in shorts and a sweater with toothpaste smeared over the top and you can kiss goodbye to all your chances of passing the interview. It’s well known that a lot of startups and IT companies promote casual dress in the workforce, but for a job interview you usually won’t lose out just because you chose to dress a little more professionally.
Still, you’re there for an interview, not to walk on a runway as a high fashion model. In fact, while it’s an unfortunate fact of life that looking attractive does have its advantages in an interview, you’re actually not hoping to impress too much with your looks. You just want them to think you dress well, and then move on to the more important things — like how you answer interview questions.
What about more specific guides on what to wear?
For men, a two-piece suit, collared shirt, and tie is always appropriate. For women, a blazer with pants or a pencil skirt works very well. For everyone, lighter colours are a little less formal, while black, navy blue and dark grey have always been professionally appropriate.
Of course, there’s plenty of other combinations that work for an interview. Loads of style guides out there explain professional business attire at length. Feel free to even depart from it if you fancy yourself to be a fashion maestro, but remember the two key rules for interview dress code — look a little more professional, and a little more conservative.
Rehearse your answers to common interview questions
We’ve finally arrived at what you’ve probably been expecting. To prepare properly for an interview, you need to undergo lots of practice. Rehearsing answers to job interview questions is no doubt the most important part of interview preparation, and it genuinely makes and breaks your interview technique.
It’s the main course to your meal, the chorus to your song, the blanket to your bed, the weights to your workout, and the insert-indispensable-characteristic to your whatever-the-hell-hobby-you-like-best. Practising answers is essential to acing an interview.
Of course, an in-depth guide to how to answer common interview questions is so important that we can’t cover it all here — so Rapid Screening will be dropping another complete, comprehensive guide on how to answer questions asked in a job interview as soon as we can.
That guide, for example, will cover how to answer the most deceptively tricky interview question of all, ‘Tell me about yourself.’ (And yes, you grammar gurus, that isn’t even a question, but it’s important anyway.)
However, as a general guide, job interview technique is just as much about how you say it compared to what you say. Your tonality, energy, passion, enthusiasm, and body language are really important. So how do you improve these things?
Well, nobody likes the truthful answer: you should record yourself in a mock interview.
And then there’s the second, just as important follow-up step: you send it off to a friend or mentor, and get them to offer criticism on your interview technique.
Honestly, this is the number one thing that separates someone who’s dedicated to improving their job interview skills compared to someone who isn’t. Yes, it’s uncomfortable and torturous and ridiculously awkward to watch yourself on camera, but you should do it anyway. And yes, it’s possible to rationalise it away by saying you don’t need to, or that you probably won’t get the job anyway, or that other people have received job offers without going to all this mess.
All of these are true. You should still record yourself anyway.
Honestly, it’s an undeniable fact that recording yourself in a mock job interview will make you better, and the only reason to refrain from doing it is because it makes you uncomfortable.
But be authentic
This is a complement to the last step. Prepare and rehearse your interview answers, yes, but make sure it still sounds authentic.
Really, this tip should be more broad than just ‘be authentic’ — it’s about being confident but humble, about respecting the company and the interviewer but recognising your own value, about trying to impress but viewing the job interview as a learning opportunity. Ideally, you strike a balance between all of them then you can deliver the perfect interview.
But here’s the secret — there’s no such thing as a perfect job interview. Instead, Instead, make sure to just remember the one instruction: ‘Be authentic.’
Plus, if you try to remember all of this on the spot under the pressure of a live interview , you’ll spend too much mental energy worrying about all the thousands of ways you can come off as slightly more arrogant than you want, and then you’ll flub all your answers anyway.
Being authentic a good mantra to remind yourself right after rehearsing your interview answers. (Because you are taking a video of yourself in a mock interview, right?) Rehearsing and practicing and exuding the right body language is important, but none of it matters if it doesn’t sound enthusiastic anymore. And in order to sound enthusiastic, you have to be authentic; you have to genuinely believe what you’re saying.
There’s also an extremely important aspect to being authentic in an interview: what if you actually get the job?
Let’s suppose you were completely inauthentic and sold the company on a version of yourself that doesn’t exist. Let’s be more specific: suppose you’re an accountant who’s only done bookkeeping, but you told them you were an expert at management accounting in the interview.
And now you’ve got the job.
Now what? How long can you keep up the façade that you’re a management accountant? Eventually, the company is going to see through your lie, and that’s probably even worse than getting rejected for the job in the first place, because they’ll tell their connections about how you lied in the interview.
Really, tempting as it is to exaggerate your strengths, being authentic and truthful in your interview is something that will genuinely get further in your career.
Ask the right questions to the interviewer
Finally, your preparation has paid off and you’ve made it through the interview process — you did your research, you got there on time, you dressed well, you practiced your answers, and you exhibited your own authentic self.
But now comes (for some people) the most nerve-racking part of the interview: asking questions of the interviewer.
Most people don’t spend as much time on this, but it’s very important for two reasons — 1) because other people aren’t spending as much time thinking of good questions, this is your time to shine; and 2) it’s a genuine opportunity to actually find out if this company is right for you.
The first and most important thing is, if you have a burning question, or something you’re curious about in the company — you should ask it. Don’t worry too much about asking the ‘right’ questions to impress the interviewer (no matter what our section heading says).
So, what about if you don’t have questions? Here’s a list of sample questions for you to prepare for your interviewer:
1) What would I do in a typical day in this role?
2) What opportunities are there for professional development?
3) What’s your favourite part about working for this company?
4) What’s the most challenging part of this job?
These aren’t exhaustive, and there’s a lot of other questions that work. However, the one thing in common with all of them is that they’re about what you’d actually be like in the company — that is, you’re getting the interviewer to imagine giving you this role. That’s a very powerful psychological trick.
If you’re stuck, these four questions are more than enough, even if they’re a bit stodgy and uncreative. Plus, you won’t have time to play 20 questions with the interviewer, who’s probably got another candidate after you, so limiting yourself to just a couple of questions is best.
However, there is one more, unbelievably crucial question, more important than any of the ones above, that you should always ask, as long as you’re brave enough.
Do you know how good this question is? It’s something that will instantly demonstrate to the interviewer all your sublime intelligence and exceptional skills and awe-inspiring cultural fit in one go.
(OK, not really — but still, it’s the most powerful question you can ask in a job interview.)
5) Is there anything about my career history or resume that concerns you?
Don’t worry about the specific wording, just getting the main meaning across is good enough.
Let’s look at why this is the most important interview question of all.
Basically, you’re giving the interviewer a chance to bring up some criticisms of you, and you’ve got an opportunity to explain them away. In business, it’s called objection handling — when one party has a problem or concern (objection), and the other party helps assure them how they can work around it, improve on it, or how it’s not as big of a problem as it seems (handling).
By asking this question, you’re inviting the interviewer to help you. They’re going to tell you the main reason you might not get the job, and you have an opportunity to assure them that this won’t be a problem.
It’s an immensely powerful technique, and it’s enough to sharply boost your chances of succeeding in the interview.
Congratulations! You’ve read Rapid Screening’s comprehensive guide on how to prepare for a job interview. Remember, our companion piece on the most common interview questions and how to answer them will be dropping shortly. Don’t miss it, and good luck finding your dream job!