You wrote an excellent cover letter, you perfected your resume, and hallelujah! You got called for an interview! Now is not the time to slack. Put your game face on and keep reading to make sure you do all you can in preparation for your big interview.
Types of Interviews:
What kind of interview are you preparing for? Here is a list of the most common types.
- Phone: Companies usually use phone interviews as a first interview to see who they want to invite for a second in-person interview. They are also done for candidates that live far away. These include interviews over the phone and on Skype or FaceTime.
- In-person: The in-person is the traditional interview where one company representative (usually a manager) interviews one job candidate.
- Panel: In this type, a panel of interviewers interviews one job candidate. The panel may include representatives from management and human resources, and other employees. The purpose of panel interviews is to save time (avoiding multiple one-one interviews) and to get input and opinions from multiple people in the company regarding job candidates. Questions may be asked by any member of the panel.
- Group: In this interview, multiple job candidates are interviewed at once. A presentation about the job and company is often given first, and then the candidates are asked questions. Besides asking questions to each individual, group interviews are used to see how the candidates interact with each other. Characteristics of leadership, competitiveness, and submissiveness are more easily seen in a group setting.
- Lunch/Dinner/Coffee: After a first interview, candidates are sometimes invited to a lunch interview with a few other employees. This is an opportunity to see how the candidate fits in and to get to know the candidate better. When at an interview like this, order a meal that is easy to eat and that allows you to have a conversation. Choose something that is not too expensive, and don’t offer to pay (this is never expected). Prepare questions to ask about the company before going.
How to Prepare:
Three days before, find out what the interview will be like. Who will you be meeting with? What is the dress code? Then, start doing your research. Take some time to learn what you can about the company. Search online to learn about the company’s size, products, recent activity, etc. Concerning pre-interview research, The Muse says,
“Get a sense of “who” the company is and how to embody a similar personality during your interview. Start by reading the company’s blog and Facebook page—the tone of the company’s content on these sites will speak volumes. Or, try reading individual employees’ blogs to figure out what type of people work (and excel) there….Twitter can also be an excellent resource because you can see what the company and its employees are talking about. Are they sarcastically bantering with each other? Feel free to throw a few jokes in as you’re meeting with people. Are they tweeting up a storm about an event or product launch? Use it as a conversation starter.”
While researching, come up with insightful questions you could ask the interviewer. If possible, look for information on the people that will be interviewing you as well. What are their backgrounds? Their reputations? Their interests? This information can help you think of good conversation starters as well as topics to avoid.
Prepare a reference list in case you are asked for one. Start thinking of memorable stories about you that show your success and achievements (work related or non-work related). Prepare answers to common interview questions that could be intimidating in the moment (see below).
The day before the interview, get directions to the facility where your interview will be held. Make sure you are familiar with the route and will not have difficulty finding the business. If you have time, you could even do a practice drive to really make finding it a piece of cake the next day. Have a phone number on hand that you could call in case something goes wrong on the way there.
Print five copies of your cover letter and resume on quality paper to bring. Review the job description and requirements so that you have exactly what they are looking for in mind. This will help you focus on the most relevant information about yourself when answering questions. Also, review your research about the company and your interviewer(s).
It is a psychological fact that how we dress affects how we act. Looking your best puts you in the right frame of mind to act professional and confident (see more on what to wear below). Therefore, put thought into picking out your perfect outfit, and set it out the night before so you aren’t stressing about what to wear the morning of the interview. Also prepare your bag that you are bringing to the interview (see what to bring below).
Get a good night’s sleep. Set two alarms to wake up to in the morning. One should do the job, but two will decrease your worry of oversleeping and help you get a better night’s rest.
The day of the interview, change out of your PJ’s, shower, and dress for success. Eat a good breakfast so you are feeling your best and are able to focus. Aim to arrive approximately 15 minutes early, and allow yourself a few extra minutes in case you hit traffic or some other obstacle along the way. You want to arrive calm and put together, not running in all sweaty and stressed. Turn your phone off when you get there!
What to Wear
Different organizations vary greatly in their employee dress codes. Some require a suit for men, others require panty hose for women, and some are ok with a t-shirt and flip-flops. So when preparing for a job interview, how do you know what to wear?
The best answer is to ask the hiring manager, HR person, recruiter, or whoever invites you to interview, what the appropriate dress is for their company. If for some reason this is not an option, try looking on the company website for cues as to how the employees dress. When in doubt, it is better to overdress than underdress. Before you even open your mouth, an impression has already begun to form in the employer’s mind based on your appearance, and first impressions stick! A bad choice of clothing, makeup, or hairstyle could distract the employer from your qualifications or make him not take you seriously.
Here are a few tips on how to dress for success:
- Do not dress too casual. Even if the average employee dresses down, avoid shorts, jeans, sneakers, flip-flops, hats, or clothes with text or big logos on them.
- Look clean. Avoid wearing anything stained, tattered, wrinkled, or covered in your pet’s fur.
- Dressing professional helps you act professional.
- Make sure you feel comfortable in your outfit. Don’t wear something itchy, hot, or awkward that would distract you or prevent you from feeling at ease. Don’t wear an outfit that does not fit you, especially if means you’ll need to constantly pull it down or adjust it.
- Avoid perfume and cologne. Your interviewer may be allergic or sensitive to smells. Even if they aren’t, strong scents can be a distraction.
- Stick to dark or neutral solid colors such as black, brown, gray, navy, and white. You can add a pop of pale color in a scarf or tie, but avoid busy patterns and bright and distracting colors that seem too authoritative. That being said, if you are applying for a managerial type position, a pop of one bright color, such as a red tie, might be effective. However, limit it to one.
- Women, look nice but be conservative with the makeup and jewelry. Avoid earrings that will jangle and make noise. Avoid excessively high heels, excessive makeup, and revealing clothing.
- Nails should be tidy. For women who do their nails, a French manicure is classy.
- Women’s hair: you can wear your hair down or in a neat up-do, but keep it out of your face and avoid touching it or playing with it during the interview.
- Men’s hair: keep it neat. Avoid spikes and extreme hairstyles.
Companies often prefer “business casual” dress. What exactly does that mean? For men, business casual means dress slacks, a collared shirt (but avoid polos), dark socks, and dress shoes. A tie is optional. For women, business casual could be a skirt or dress pants, a blouse and/or sweater, possibly a jacket, and hose with closed-toed shoes.
If you show up for an interview overdressed, take off your suit jacket after the introduction, or discreetly roll up your sleeves to show a more casual look. If you show up underdressed, try to compensate by being more formal in your manner of speaking and presenting yourself.
In short, look professional, dress comfortably, and avoid wearing anything distracting.
What to Bring
You don’t have to bring much, but don’t forget the essentials. Be sure to bring a few copies of your cover letter and resume on quality paper in case you are asked for a copy again or you want to refer to them during the interview. Bring your reference list. You may be asked for one, you may not, but it is always good to have on hand. Bring a pen and paper. Sometimes the interviewer will teach you more about the company, and you may want to take notes or write down any information you’re given, and old-fashioned paper looks more polite than pulling out a phone or tablet. Have your planner on hand in case any future dates come up in the conversation. It’s always a good idea to pop a breath mint a few minutes before your interview. Bad breath is always a turn-off, but gum looks unprofessional. Put all of these in a clean and organized bag or briefcase. Everything the interviewer sees is informative about you. If your bag is a deep dark hole and it takes you three minutes to find anything in it, you look disorganized and messy.
Intimidating Interview Questions
When preparing for an interview, come up with answers to common challenging and intimidating questions beforehand. It is much more difficult to form answers to questions like these in a way that shows your quality on the spot. Here are some guidelines on how to handle five of the tricky questions that might be thrown at you.
What is your greatest weakness?
This is a common interview question that can be difficult to answer because you want to present yourself in the best light possible, and discussing your flaws seems counterproductive. However, when asked this question, keep in mind that the interviewer not only wants to know your weaknesses, but how you handle them. Everyone has weaknesses, so never say, “I don’t have any.” Avoid the cliché answers like, “I work too hard,” “I’m to much of a perfectionist,” or “I’m too excited about work!” Instead, be honest and pick a real weakness that you have, but then put a positive light on it and explain how you try to offset that weakness. For example, “I am naturally a little scatterbrained. I tend to forget things. Knowing this about myself, I have made the habit of writing everything down in my planner, which I refer to often. Since doing this, I have become much more organized and never miss appointments or deadlines. “
It is also a good idea to discuss a weakness that is not long-term. For example, “I don’t have a lot of experience in this kind of position yet. However, I am a quick learner, I have a good memory, I work really hard, and I am enthusiastic about this job.”
Tell me about a time that you failed.
This is another question that could make you squirm because it involves a negative experience in your past. Like weaknesses, everyone has failed at something. Failure is proof that you have taken risks and tried! Use this question as an opportunity to show that you are self-aware, you have the ability to learn and grow from experience, and you see risk as worth taking.
When telling about an experience, first define failure in the context of your story. For example, failure might mean not meeting expectations/goals, not satisfying a customer, etc. Next, tell about a real failure. Be careful not to pick a story that just makes you and your character look really bad. The best stories are ones you learned from and that you can show through a subsequent story how you used what you learned.
Why did you quit your last job? / Why were you fired?
The key to this question is to avoid speaking negatively about your previous boss and coworkers. Avoid blaming others, talking about work gossip and drama at your last job, and whining about how you weren’t appreciated. Avoid complaining, and instead give the impression that you are a good team player. Employers see how you talk about your last job as a good indicator of what kind of employee you will be at your next.
A good response to, ”Why did you quit your last job?” could include how the job wasn’t a good fit, you decided to pursue other interests, or you wanted a job in which you could grow, learn, and be challenged. If you left your last job for reasons out of your control (family, medical, etc.), then explain why without being too detailed, and then conclude with a positive attitude about how you are eager and ready to work again.
When explaining why you were fired from your last job, be honest. However, be careful and professional about how you explain. Tell what happened, what you learned from the experience, and why it will not be a problem in the future. Tell the truth—the interviewer could always call your previous employer, and you don’t want to be stuck in a lie. If you weren’t fired for a mistake you made, explain that your previous employer had to let some people go due to the economic situation. This is very understandable.
What are your pay requirements?
Normally, this is best discussed when you are further along in the process and in a better position to negotiate. However, if the interviewer asks this question, never respond by saying, “anything is fine.” This makes you seem desperate for a job and not specifically interested in their company. Don’t respond with an unreasonably high pay and make it seem like they can’t afford you, but don’t sell yourself short either. Before going to the interview, research similar positions in your area and what they are paying and respond accordingly with a reasonable range taking your experience and your previous pay into account. However, it is always good to include that the pay you suggested is negotiable.
Do you have any questions?
Always have a question ready to ask! However, avoid responding with questions about pay, other interviewers, when they will get back to you, vacation days, or any others that are similar. Your question should show your sincere interest, your attentiveness to the conversation, and your knowledge of the company. Before you interview, it’s a great idea to do research on the company and the interviewer and then ask for further information on something you read. Other ideas of insightful questions could be, “What would a regular day in this position be like?” or “What is the most challenging aspect of this job?” Or, you could ask about the challenges the company is dealing with (this will help you get ideas of how you could help benefit the company).
Go Get ‘Em!
Do all you can in preparation for your interview and then be confident going in. You can do this! Good luck!
For Part 2 of “Getting Ready For Your Big Interview,” click here.