Interviewing for a new role can feel like being called off the bench with minutes left in a championship game. The stakes are high and you have a limited window to let your skills shine. The key to navigating the pressure of this moment and leaving it all on the field is preparation. Interview preparation is more than just picking out professional attire, arriving early (but not too early), and greeting the interviewer with a firm handshake and a smile—although, those things contribute to their first impression of you and first impressions matter. It’s about making sure you’re ready and focused to communicate your interest in the job and the value you could add to the company in a clear, concise and engaging way.
Tack these 10 to-dos onto your job interview prep checklist to ensure you stand out from the crowd during your next big moment.
1. Do your research
Knowing about the company you’re interviewing with provides assurance to the interviewer that you’re invested. Learn where they fit within their industry. Are they an industry leader? Are they growing quickly? Who are their strongest competitors? What is their corporate mission statement, and how can you apply it to your own goals? How will your presence contribute to their success? What do you bring to the company?
Company websites only go so far to give you the information you need. People who work at the company, however, can provide honest and more meaningful insight. So, reach out to people you may know that work there—or tap into your network to get introduced to them—and get the inside scoop.
2. Practice answering common questions
Go over potential interview questions in advance and practice providing clear, concise and positive responses. Have a friend or family member conduct a mock interview and give you honest feedback. Make sure you are prepared with specific examples of times you resolved challenges in the workplace, completed important projects well and contributed to the success of the team. Also practice a response for “Tell me about yourself” (which should be 100% focused on your professional career) and “Why are you leaving your current job?” (which should showcase your current position as sufficient and the new opportunity as more aligned with your career ambitions).
As you practice your answers, remember to highlight your strengths. Speak highly and truthfully of your achievements. (Side note: Don’t give too much airtime to your weaknesses. You might be asked what your biggest weakness is. In this case, share your weakness and the active way you address it. If your weakness is time management, for example, and you mitigate it by following guidelines you’ve designed for yourself, share that.)
3. Refresh your memory
Your interview will likely start by covering the basics—and progressively get more in the weeds. Be sure to review basic tech terminology before going in for your interview. And also refresh your memory of your previous jobs, reevaluating your responsibilities and experiences. You’ll want to make sure you have plenty of examples to share. You don’t want to replay the interview in your head later and wish you would have shared a specific accomplishment. Practicing common interview questions should help you recall a lot of the anecdotes you may want to share.
4. Prepare questions to ask the interviewer
At the end of your interview, the interviewer may ask you if you have any questions for them. Your answer should be yes. Always. If you don’t have any questions, it can make you appear less interested in the position. Ask questions that may have crossed your mind as you were researching the company or going through your interview. If none come to mind, a general question about how they envision the position will suffice. For example, “How would you describe the ideal person for this position?” or “What does a typical workday look like for this role?” or “How do you see the position evolving over time?”
5. Express your appreciation
First impressions are the most important part of any meeting, so try to be amiable from the get-go. Express appreciation for the interviewer taking time to meet with you and let them know you are excited to learn more about the position. Don’t be that person who wants to get hired just to be employed. Make it clear that this job, specifically, is important to you and you want to see if it is a good fit for you. Remember, you are the prize and they will benefit from having you on their team if you choose to accept. However, keep it under control so you appear confident, but not arrogant.
6. Stay on topic and be genuine
Interviewers are generally pressed for time, and their objective is to identify the viable candidates from the weak ones. Small talk doesn’t help here. Don't get on the wrong side of the interview by asking irrelevant questions and definitely do not compliment to try to win brownie points. It will work against you.
7. Listen closely
Listen to every word the interviewer has to say. It’s paramount that you do this; your answers must be in line with what the interviewer has asked of you. Also, don’t interrupt when they are speaking. Keep quiet until the interviewer expects you to talk.
8. Let the company rep bring up compensation
Don’t ask about money or benefits during your interview. Let it come from the person representing the company you intend to join. Although finances are crucial, interviewers don’t want it to be the focus of your attention as a potential employee of their organization, because it may look like your faithfulness would be attributed to money rather than the role you are offered. Let them bring it up.
9. End on a good note
There are a few keys to wrapping up your interview experience on a positive note. The first is to, once again, share how you can be of value to the team. No need to go on and on and recap everything again, but do put in one last plug for yourself.
Second, be inquisitive enough to ask about the next steps in the process. You can ask something like, “Can I expect that HR will get in touch with me for subsequent actions?” By saying this, you are signaling that you feel the interview went well and that you are looking forward to what lies ahead.
Finally, thank them for their time. Express to them that it was a pleasure meeting with them and you look forward to hearing from them. This way, no matter how everything else went, you end on a positive note.
10. Follow up
Don’t be the person who doesn’t follow up. It’s never a good idea. Send an individual, customized email to each person who interviewed you to thank them again. Be sure to include something that stuck out to you during the interview and remind them that you’re looking forward to the next steps.
In this competitive job market, stealing the spotlight during (and after!) an interview is harder than ever. But with careful preparation, lots of practice and enthusiastic follow through, you’ll be sure to stay top of mind against the stack of applicants for your next role.
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