How to Prep for and Ace a Job Interview

job interview

On the job: It’s where most of us spend the majority of our waking hours. It is a relationship of mutual dependency, and for most it is a necessity. So, like any relationship, why not find one that you love? Here are a few tips on how to make sure that dream job doesn’t slip through your fingers.

Do Your Homework

Take time to learn about the company. Your interviewer wants to know that your interest in their company extends beyond a paycheck. Letting them know that you are aware of their current products, programs, or achievements makes a great impression. This kind of enthusiasm shows a drive and substance that all employers are looking for.

Dress Rehearsal

For a day or two prior to your interview, take time to review your previous positions in your head so that you are easily able to pull information out of your brain’s fact files. Let’s face it, that job that we had five years ago is not so fresh in our minds anymore, but one of your duties at that previous position may show your ability to successfully tackle a task at the new company. The more strengths you bring to the table, the more valuable a candidate you are.

Now that you have that information refreshed in your cranial hard drive, prep for questions you may encounter. Go through standard questions you may be asked and rehearse your answer (go online or pick up a book on the subject for a multitude of example questions). Also remember to prepare yourself for tangents and follow-up questions. Interviewers want substance in your answers, so avoid the clichés (“I’m a people person”, anyone?).

Bring your resume, references, and any paperwork you have submitted prior to the interview. That way you and/or your interviewer will be able to reference them easily.

Dress the Part

Miniskirts have no role in any job interview unless you are interviewing to answer phones at the Playboy mansion. Dress conservatively in subdued patterns with minimal accessories. Keep makeup neutral and basic and leave the perfume at home. Scent is a very personal thing that is an unneeded distraction in a job interview. Rather than surrounding your interviewers in a cloying fog of “eau de Don’t-Hire-me”, keep the focus on your words and qualifications, not your clothing or cosmetic choices.

Be on Time

This is absolutely critical. If you show up late for a job interview, you can almost 100% guarantee that you have lost your chance at the position. An interview is when we are exhibiting our best behavior, but you couldn’t bother to be on time? What does that say to your potential employer? It says you can’t be depended on and they should probably talk to the next candidate instead.

Leave yourself plenty of commute time. You never know when you will encounter traffic. Leave 45 minutes to an hour early. If you arrive in the general area of your interview with plenty of time to spare, hit a Starbucks and have a (decaf) coffee while you review your notes.

Arrive 10 minutes early. Anything less than 5 minutes could appear as late due to differences in clock settings and anything over 10 minutes could stress an interviewer if they are not ready yet.

If you are interviewing in an area you are completely unfamiliar with, consider taking a drive to the building a day before hand so you can get your bearings. Getting lost on the day of the interview can escalate stress levels, or worse, make you late.

Playing the Part

From the moment you are introduced to your interviewers and you shake hands, make sure that you employ direct eye contact, strong posture, a smile (when called for), and a professional demeanor. Sometimes nerves get the best of us and we forget the basics, but they play such an important part in how others perceive us and formulate their opinions of us.

Speaking of nerves, remember to speak clearly and at a reasonable pace. Sometimes our tongues get away from us when we encounter a stressful situation. Take a breath, think, and then speak.

The Questions

Remember those questions you rehearsed in your head? This is where your homework pays off. However, you can’t predict it all, so be prepared to tackle some questions you weren’t expecting.

The interviewer may very well ask you a problem that you couldn’t possibly know the answer to. They are looking for your ability to approach, digest and solve a problem. If you don’t know the answer, tell them that, but explain how you would go about solving the problem. Honesty and common sense score much higher than fibs, fluff and clichés.

Consistency is important, as well. Interviewers will often ask the same question, but in different forms and at different times within the interview. This is their way of testing your truthfulness by way of consistency.

One of the most important and difficult questions you will run into is the salary question. What are you asking for? Make sure that you do your homework ahead of time. Know what a reasonable range is for your position in your geographic area (factoring in other benefits like vacation, 401ks and medical).

Lastly: Believe in your worth. A lot of us are guilty of selling ourselves short, because a) we don’t believe in ourselves and/or b) we don’t want to appear greedy. Remember, if you are within a range commensurate to your position, education, and experience, don’t be afraid to ask for it. You have earned it and you are worth it!

Know When to Stop Talking

On the subject of talking, interviewers love it when you keep talking. Why? Because when we begin to babble nervously, we loose our train of thought and let’s face it, perhaps get a bit too honest. Keep your answers concise and under control.

When the Interview is Over

Often at the end of the interview, an interviewer will ask you if you have any questions. Make sure that you make a mental note of any questions that arise during the interview process so you can address them at this time.

What an employer wants to hear: Questions you may have about your position, the set-up of your department, and logistics such as hours of employment.

What your employer does not want to hear: You raise a red flag in the eyes of your employer when your only questions are, “How long is lunch?”, “When do I get vacation time?” and “When can I get a raise?” Yes, these are all legitimate questions, but this is not the right time. Address these questions with the human resources professional when you are contacted for further follow-up.

Remember to ask when you might expect to hear from the company with their hiring decision and thank everyone for their time.

No, Wait… The Interview Isn’t Over

Just because you have left the interview room it doesn’t mean the interview is over. One human resources professional I know always makes a point to walk each candidate out of the room and engages in idol chit chat along the way. A lot of candidates let down their guards and say things that cause them to loose their shot at the job. Remember, from the moment you pull into the parking lot until the moment you drive away, the spotlight is on you. That means no chatting on the cell phone in the lobby, smacking away at gum, and even driving poorly in the parking lot. You never know who is watching and making mental notes.

Thanks… and the Winner Is?

As soon as you get home, write a thank you email or letter to your interviewer. This simple gesture speaks volumes about your professionalism, interest, and respect for your interviewer’s time.

On the note of follow-up, feel free to make a follow-up phone call if the decision deadline date has passed. Express your continued interest and find out when the decision might be made. Be careful though, there is a fine line between persistent and pesky.

It’s Time

Work is an essential part of most of our lives. More than a paycheck, it should give you satisfaction. Life is too short for a miserable job, and there is no time like the present to make a change if you need it. You’ve got the tools to ace that interview, so go out there and find one that you love!

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