Preparing for the Interview

Your cover letter asks for an interview. Your résumé shows why you should be invited for an interview. The purpose of the interview, from your perspective as a job-seeker, is for you to learn more about the position, the company, and decide if you are a good fit, and, if so, gain a job offer. At the same time, the interviewer will be learning more about you and assessing you as a fit for the company. It is time and opportunity for both of you to get more information. Yes, the primary focus will be on how you answer the interviewer’s questions. However, it is also a time for you to ask about the position, the company, and to get a sense of the company culture.

Also, remember that the purpose of the interview is not to get a job; it is to get an offer. This is an important distinction. Why? Without a job offer, you have no decision to make. Also, if you go to every interview seeking an offer, you can hone your interview skills. In other words, take most interviews offered you, unless you know for certain you are not interested in the job. There is no point to wasting the interviewer’s time if you have absolutely no interest, but if you have even a little interest, take advantage of the opportunity. As someone new to the job market, the more practice you can get interviewing, the better off you will be, and you may find that the position and company is more appealing than you originally thought. If you turn down an interview, you will never know if the position was a good match for you. It can also be a great way to network. If you connect well with the interviewer, this can be a business relationship that you want to continue, even if you are not selected, or if you (politely) turn down an offer. Keeping these points in mind can help with interview jitters.

Very few people actually like to be interviewed, and when stakes are high, such as those who have been out of work for some time, those feelings can be amplified. That said, those conducting the interview are not always comfortable with the process, either. Studies have shown that many people conducting interviews feel anxious and unqualified when doing so. Additionally, many people are not trained in conducting interviews. So in your job search you will run into all types of interviewers, from the inept, to the skilled and trained professional interviewer. You need to be prepared for all types and a variety of situations, which can include a one-on-one interview, facing several interviewers, or being part of a group situation where many of you are being interviewed together.

While there is no way to be prepared for every type of situation you may encounter, being prepared, to the extent possible, is a must. Interviewers are looking for someone who is qualified, communicates well, and fits the company culture. This is why your company research is vital. The more you know about the company the better, and the more prepared you are for the unexpected, the less likely you are to be thrown off by an unexpected situation (such as a group interview) or by tricky interview questions.

Interviewers are looking for someone who exudes professionalism. It is hard to define professionalism because it is a way of being that is learned over time. For someone with little "real world" experience, professionalism is, in all honesty, hard to come by. How do you combat this issue? It is like the age old dilemma of "How can I gain the experience needed to get a job if no one will hire me in the first place?" There are a number of steps you can take to help you on your way. If you follow the suggestions given here, you will be off to a good start. As you progress through your career, you will naturally develop your own professional style.

Create Your Brand

Your resume is designed to showcase your history in a manner that shows the reader how you are prepared to take the next step and move forward in your career. This “you” is your brand. It is your skills, qualities, knowledge, and abilities that create the unique person that you are. In the interview, you need to know how to communicate “Brand You.” Whether you are feeling very clear in your career path or have just graduated with a specialized degree and are trying to determine a career path, getting a good grasp of how to present yourself will help you immensely in the interview process. Because you will be required to answer difficult questions not only about your skills but also about your behavior, you need to know what you would do in a hypothetical situation and how to tell that story in a way that promotes your brand.

First and foremost, review your information and practice presenting it. Otherwise, you may have trouble communicating your strengths in an interview, and part of the interview’s purpose is for the employer to determine who you are, what you can offer, and to get a glimpse of your personality. When you have a thorough understanding of how to best present yourself, you can do so in the best possible light. You can show employers what you want them to see.

In your preparation, take advantage of the various tools available to you (career tests, skills assessments, the resume writing process, etc.), seek the guidance of career counselors, and if you are in school or have recently graduated, use the career resources available to you through your school (most colleges offer career services to alumni, so if you graduated without using these resources, it is not too late). Too many people do not take advantage of these resources; those that do will be ahead in the game.

Just as important, having a good grasp on who you are will help you determine if you like what you learn about a company and its culture; you are conducting an interview yourself, so you need to know what it is you want and what type of atmosphere is best suited for your personality. Just as you would not buy an expensive suit without first trying it on, nor do you want to "buy" a job that way, either.

Assessments can be a helpful tool to determine your attitude toward work and your skills. You need to clearly articulate your skills and personal attributes in the interview, but without fully exploring these issues, you may come up short when answering questions during the interview. Knowing your behavioral traits will also help you in the interviewing process. You will be asked hypothetical questions, such as, "What would you do in this situation?" followed by a specific problem you may encounter on the job. Many grads have limited work experience to show what they have done in the past. You need to have a strong sense of self to know how you would most likely react in the given situation and why; and be able to show why that response is appropriate. Additionally, when you know your values, motivations, etc., your enthusiasm when discussing them will come through in the interview. When you are being genuine, interviewers will sense that, and you will make a positive impression. If you are not at a point where you are willing to put in the time and effort, you can "go through the motions" but it will not mean as much. If you are serious about finding a career and succeeding in the interview process, you must be willing to take a good look at yourself.

The bonus to learning more about yourself is that you are the only person who can present your brand in the interview. No one else is going to go in there and do it for you. When you know what your best skills are, your most desirable attributes, and your personality traits that will help you succeed in your chosen career, you can then go in and speak to those things in the interview, showing what makes you unique and a good fit for the position and company. Those who do not do this self-research will not have as good an idea of what to highlight during the interview, so you will be ahead of your competition. Reviewing your strong points is also a huge confidence booster that will further help you in the interview. If you are able to exude confidence and show conviction in your answers because you know these things to be true about yourself, you will be much more successful.

Know the Company

Company research is vital when you are going into an interview. You will be asked questions such as, "Why do you want to work here?" and "What do you know about the company?" You need to be able to answer these questions, so do your research.

A Web search will likely lead to helpful information, and there is no excuse for not studying the company’s Web site. Read the entire Web site. Get a feel for how the company operates. If the company is public, look up its stock information. Then cover the basics. What does the company do? How big is it? Is it national or international? How many employees does it have? How often does it hire? Does it promote from within? Who are the major competitors? How does this company's philosophy differ from those of its competitors? Also review any employee biographies that may be listed on the site. You never know; one of those people might be interviewing you. If you have an idea what the personnel are like, you have a better chance of striking a chord with them. Next, check the company on LinkedIn, again reviewing the company’s profile and those of employees to get a sense of the company culture. Also consider visiting sites that provide reviews by employees; however, keep in mind that these are often not the best representation, as those who post reviews tend to be overly positive or overly negative.

If possible, consider visiting the company as well, depending on the type of business and what, if any, security measures they have in place (and finding the business ahead of time helps you plan accordingly to arrive on time for the interview). At the very least, you can get a sense of the company dress code, which will help you determine how to dress for the interview and give you clues about the company culture. A company where employees show up in suits is much different from a company where employees show up in jeans.

For more information, if you were referred by someone in the company, ask as many questions as you can if the person is willing. The more inside information you can obtain, the better. Go in prepared.