I’ve written a lot on Cube Rules about interview questions. What I’d like to do is go through how to prepare for a face-to-face interview. Here are nine practical ways to prepare for the interview.
1. Use the job description
Usually, the only concrete evidence you have for a job is the job description. Now, there are plenty of poor job descriptions out there (must know Microsoft Office, must be a self-starter, blah, blah, blah), but the description is a good place to start.
What you want to do with the job description is to match your job skills with the job description. This is to show the hiring manager that you have the skills to do the job. If the job description says you need to have managed energy projects for the last three years, you need to write the energy projects you’ve done over the last three years so can quickly talk about the projects and your role in them during the interview.
When you find items in the job description that don’t necessarily match your job skills, write what skills are similar to the ones asked for on the job description. No one has 100% of the job skills necessary to do a particular job; your work here is to get you as close as possible.
2. Research the company
Standard advice here. If you don’t know what the company does, what it’s products are and who their customers are, you won’t relate your work to the company. Plus, it will be a clear sign to the hiring manager that you haven’t done your homework.
Having similar products or the same customers in your earlier work will tell the hiring manager that your ramp up time on the job will most likely be less than someone without a similar background.
3. Research the interviewer
My father was an attorney and I have this little saying on my desk: A good lawyer knows the law; a great lawyer knows the judge.
It’s great to know the company; it’s better to also know the interviewing manager. Now, a great many pundits suggest that it is great to throw out things you know about the hiring manager during the interview, but I don’t advocate it. The reason? It’s too tempting — and easy — to come off like an online stalker to the hiring manager. And, you might get the wrong person with the same name and look like a total fool.
Instead of spouting off all the online facts you know, use the information to start determining what you have in common with the hiring manager. In the interview, you bring up what you think of as the common interest and see if the hiring manager picks up on it. Whether the hiring manager mentions it or not, you still can set a point of commonality during the interview. So don’t stalk.
4. Practice answering interview questions
Practice, practice, practice. Your answer to every interview question should show either your job skills, your reasons for wanting the position, or how well you work with others because that is what the hiring manager is ultimately looking to find. And you need to show your accomplishments by using numbers, reports or statements to help prove your accomplishment.
We don’t talk like that. Which is why you need to practice.
5. Determine your interview questions to ask
You should have goals for this position. Sure, it may be simply to get the job so that you can survive, but once you have the job, you will want to do something with the work. What will those accomplishments be? And can the job offer them?
Consequently, you want to come out of the interview knowing a few things. Can you work with the team? Can you work with the manager? Is the work going to be challenging? Easy? Hard?
Looking at the job description and knowing the environment that you work best should give you the starting points for your planned questions to ask the hiring manager.
6. Know how long it takes to get to the interview
Everyone says “be on time,” but that is actually poor advice. If it’s a large corporation housed in a 40-story building, it’s going to take time to find parking, get in line at the security desk, time for the person to descend the elevator from the 30th floor to come and get you. And all that is beyond the time it takes to commute to the site. The commute can take 50-minutes if you need to go during rush hour or 20-minutes if it is in the middle of the day.
Practicing a one-time commute during the time frame of your interview will give you more confidence simply because you have done it once already. And gauge how long it will take once you get to the building to find parking, get to the right floor, and all the other logistics.
7. Dress for success
I’m not one to set standards, for sure. But off the top, if your interview is in a law firm, you better wear something equivalent to a suit. If it’s a corporation or a place that has uniforms (like a hospital…), you need to wear business casual. I’m not an advocate of showing up in a suit for an interview when the standard in the company is casual. It makes you look like you’re trying too hard or can’t read the crowd right or, most importantly, you won’t fit in with the team.
I always ask what the “dress code” is and wear a suit if it is suits and business casual if it is anything else.
But dressing sloppy, or not hitting the dress code, or not looking like your shirts have ever been ironed will hurt you.
8. Have ten copies of your resume and bring a notebook and pen
Who knows how many people you end up interviewing with? Maybe the Vice President of the division happens to come into the office while you are interviewing. Wouldn’t it look like poor planning if you weren’t able to give a resume? Yes.
The more people who have your resume in a company, the better.
During the interview, you will want to take notes. It will help you later when you are relating the interview to your partner and friends and can help with building follow-up questions for a second interview later.
9. Display energy during the interview
There is a difference between nerves and energy. And it’s tough to find the right amount. But too many people shut down the natural energy they have during an interview and it comes across to the hiring manager as you being bored. Or not interested in the job. Or not willing to learn. All bad.
I relate it to the energy and curiosity you bring when you are interested in something new. There is a sense of curiosity and questioning and starting with a “beginner’s mind” when you find something new that interests you. That is the energy to bring to the interview. The energy shows you interest in life.
All you can do is prepare well for the interview and then use that preparation well during the interview. The reasons for hiring or not hiring someone for a particular job are so varied and changeable over time that thinking you have something nailed or not isn’t worth the worry. What is worth the worry is ensuring you’ve done a first class preparation for the interview.