How to Prepare for an Interview

We’re excited to introduce this 3-part guide covering everything from how to prepare for an interview with a list of questions to ask a recruiter, common interview questions, research the hiring organization, and even help plan your introduction.

Whether you’re confident when meeting new people or feel incredibly anxious at the thought of a formal interview, when you land an interview–especially when it’s with your dream job–it can carry a lot of emotions. It’s exciting, intimidating, and full of incredible potential. It’s time for the tricky part: how do you convert that interview into a job? Preparation is the key to acing an interview, so let’s dive in!

Start With What You Know

Before you sit down to prepare for an interview, start by assessing what you already know. Take some time to review your skills, qualifications, and experiences and think about how they align with the job description. This will help you identify areas that you may need to brush up on or highlight during the interview.

Understanding the nature of the job and the industry you’re targeting is fundamental in preparing for an interview. Thoroughly researching the job description and matching your skills and experience with the requirements listed will help you clearly articulate why you’re a good fit for the role.

To thoroughly research the job description, first, read through every point listed and take note of the key responsibilities and requirements. Look for specific skills or experiences the employer is seeking. Once you’ve understood these, reflect on your own background. Match your skills, qualifications, and past experiences with each employer’s requirements. Draft a list of concrete examples from your past roles that demonstrate these skills. For instance, if the job description seeks a candidate with strong project management skills, you might note a project you led successfully to completion. By doing this exercise, you can walk into the interview with a clear understanding of how your capabilities align with what the employer is looking for.

Next, dive into the industry. Is it a growing field or a stable one? What are the current trends and challenges? Keep tabs on industry news and arm yourself with this knowledge. It will not only help you in answering questions but also enable you to ask insightful ones. Never forget that an interview is a two-way street. The more informed you are, the better the impression you make.

Research the Company and the Interviewer

You’ve likely researched the hiring organization since you landed the job interview. Let’s take an even deeper dive into the company.

In the pre-interview phase, researching the company and the people/person interviewing you will pay off more than you can imagine. The more information you have about the hiring organization and the roles that your interviewer(s) play in the company, the more you will be able to impress the interviewer.

You want to understand the company’s history and background, as well as its values and mission. Learn the company’s language and plan to implement it into your interview answers. You want to go in-depth in your answers to questions, and the more information you have on the company, the more you’ll be able to offer in your answers.

Understanding the Company Culture and Values

The next crucial aspect to understand when preparing for an interview is the company culture and the values that the company upholds. Company culture is the environment that surrounds you at work and can include various elements such as the leadership style, the work environment, the company mission, values, ethics, expectations, and goals.

You can explore a company’s official website and social media profiles to gain insights into its culture. Look for their mission statement, company values, and information about their work environment or employee experiences. An organization’s website often has a wealth of information about its culture and values. Pay attention to the tone of the content, the images used, and the company’s self-description, as these can provide clues about what it values.

For instance, a company that frequently mentions teamwork or collaboration probably values those traits in its employees. They might also share initiatives that speak to their values, like involvement in community volunteering, commitment to diversity, or emphasis on continuous learning.

Look for reviews from current and former employees on platforms like Glassdoor and Indeed. Remember that these reviews represent individual experiences and may not provide a complete picture of the company culture.

Understanding a company’s culture and values can help you determine whether you’d be a good fit and can guide your responses during the interview. For example, knowing that a company values innovation, you might share experiences where you have taken an innovative approach to solve problems. Ultimately, showing that your values align with the company’s can help convince the interviewer that you’d be a valuable addition to the team.

Identifying Leadership Profiles of Key Personnel

Apart from understanding the company culture, it’s also important to research key individuals within the organization. Learn about their backgrounds, career paths, and achievements. This information can help you better understand the company’s leadership and what they value in employees.

Reviewing LinkedIn profiles, podcast interviews, or even speaking with current or former employees can provide valuable insights into leadership styles and expectations. This knowledge can also help you tailor your responses during the interview to showcase how your skills and experience align with what the company values in its leaders.

Having a strong understanding of the leadership profiles within a company can also give you an idea of potential opportunities for growth and development. For example, if the CEO is known for promoting from within, it may be a good sign that the company offers a clear path for career advancement. These individuals often influence the company’s vision, mission, and operations.

  1. CEO, CFO, COO: The C-Suite is made up of the highest-ranking individual in the organization. They are responsible for making major corporate decisions and setting the company’s strategic direction. The CFO manages the company’s financial actions and is crucial to financial planning, record-keeping, and financial reporting to higher management. At the same time, the COO oversees the company’s day-to-day operations, ensuring the efficiency of business operations.
  2. Department Heads: These individuals lead specific departments within a company, such as Marketing, Sales, Human Resources, or Engineering. They play a significant role in implementing strategies and meeting departmental goals. Understanding their leadership styles and priorities can help you align your skills and experience with the company’s needs.
  3. Managers/Supervisors: In most organizations, these individuals link upper management and employees. They are responsible for overseeing tasks, providing guidance and feedback to employees, and ensuring the smooth operation of their teams.
  4. Board of Directors: This group of individuals is elected by the shareholders of a company. They meet regularly to make important decisions about the company’s direction and oversee the performance of the executive management team.

Knowing who these key players are before an interview can be highly advantageous. By understanding their roles and contributions, you can tailor your responses to highlight your potential to contribute to the company’s objectives, effectively demonstrating how you could be a valuable asset to the team.

Key Questions to Ask to a Recruiter Before an Interview

The recruitment process can be confusing, so learning how a recruiter advocates for you during your job search, hiring, and interviewing process can be incredibly helpful. You can ask the following questions to the recruiter once you get invited to interview so that you can be more prepared:

  • How would you describe the culture of the organization I’d be hiring into? What kind of work-life balance do they have?

The purpose here is to gain insight into the company and how it treats its employees. It gives you a glimpse into the day-to-day life, the relationships among colleagues, and how the management values work-life balance. A recruiter should be able to describe the company culture in terms of values, work ethics, and overall atmosphere. They may also mention policies related to working hours, flexibility, remote work options, and how the company supports employees in maintaining a balance between their work and personal life.

  • What are the key skills and experiences the company is looking for in this role?

This question takes a deeper look into the specifics of the role you’re applying for and helps you understand what the company values most in potential candidates. The recruiter’s response will provide you with a clear picture of the skills and experiences that are most relevant to the job, allowing you to tailor your interview responses accordingly. You can expect the recruiter to mention technical skills related to the role and soft skills such as communication, problem-solving, or leadership.

  • How did this position become available? How long has the position been open?

The objective of this question is to uncover more background about the role. It helps you understand if the position is newly created, which may imply company growth or restructuring, or if it’s a replacement, giving you some idea about staff turnover. Furthermore, knowing how long the position has been open can give you a sense of the company’s urgency to fill the role. If the position has been open for a long time, it could potentially indicate challenges in finding the right candidate or internal issues within the company. You can expect the recruiter to be honest about the circumstances surrounding the availability and duration of the vacancy.

  • What recommendations do you have for researching the salary range for this position and level?

This clarifying question will give you insight into the salary expectations for the role you are applying for. It can also provide a perspective on the company’s compensation philosophy and competitiveness in the market. You can expect the recruiter to provide some guidance on where to find accurate and industry-standard salary data for similar positions and levels. They may refer you to online resources and industry reports or suggest you connect with professionals in the same role. This information can assist you in negotiating a fair compensation package if you are offered the job.

  • What will this recruitment process look like from start to finish? How many interviews can I expect, and what interview types should I be prepared for (phone screen, virtual, etc.)?

Understanding the recruitment process from start to finish helps you prepare accordingly and manage your expectations. By asking this question, you can glimpse the company’s hiring process – how thorough it is, the stages involved, and the timeline. Additionally, it gives you an idea of what to anticipate, be it a phone screening, a panel interview, or a one-on-one discussion. You can expect the recruiter to provide a clear outline of the process, including the number of interviews, the people you will be meeting with (potential team members, managers, or executives), the type of interviews (phone, virtual, or in-person), and any assessments, presentations, or tasks you might be asked to complete. This information can be essential in your preparation, ensuring you are ready for each stage of the recruitment process.

  • Will I be expected to produce writing samples, videos, or work assignments?

This question clarifies if the recruitment process requires additional materials such as writing samples, videos, or work assignments that demonstrate your skills and expertise. It’s critical to ensure you’re prepared and have ample time to gather or create these materials. The recruiter’s response will likely specify the required materials type, if any, and the context in which they will be used. They may also provide guidelines on what these materials should include or represent. By asking this question, you can ensure that you are fully prepared and have the best chance to showcase your abilities effectively.

  • Who will I be interviewing with? What kind of interview questions should I be prepared to answer? Is there a recommended format for my responses (ex, S.T.A.R. method)?

Asking this question serves a dual purpose. First, it informs you about the interviewer, their role in the company, and their involvement in decision-making. This knowledge can guide your approach to the interview and help you customize your responses to cater to the interviewer’s perspective. Second, it equips you with the necessary information about the nature of the interview questions and the preferred response format. Knowing whether to use the S.T.A.R. method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) can help you structure your answers strategically, providing comprehensive, well-articulated, and results-focused responses. The recruiter’s answer will provide you with the names and roles of the interviewers, a preview of the type of questions to expect, and guidance on how to construct your responses.

  • How long will the interviews last, and how many people will I be interviewing at one time?

Understanding the duration and structure of your interview is crucial to effective preparation and performance. Asking this question gives you insight into how much time you’ll have to articulate your skills, experiences, and ideas. Additionally, knowing the number of interviewers enables you to prepare for a one-on-one discussion, a panel interview, or a group interview. The recruiter’s answer will detail the expected interview duration and the number of people you’ll interact with concurrently. This information helps you plan your time, develop appropriate interview strategies, and manage any potential anxiety regarding the process.

  • What, if anything, should I be prepared to bring with me for the on-site interviews, and what dress code do you recommend?

Asking this question allows you to arrive at the interview well-prepared and professionally. Awareness of specific items to bring, such as physical copies of your resume, portfolio samples, or reference letters, ensures you’re ready to provide any necessary documentation to support your candidacy. By inquiring about the dress code, you can present yourself appropriately for the company’s work culture, demonstrating your understanding and respect for its norms and values. The recruiter’s answer will specify any materials you should carry and suggest whether the company favors formal attire, business casual, or a more casual dress code.

  • What are your recommendations for effective interview prep for this team? Can you tell me more about how they operate day-to-day?

This question targets two major areas. Firstly, it’s about understanding the expectations of the team you’re applying to join and how to tailor your interview preparation accordingly. Secondly, it’s about gaining insight into the team’s daily operations and workflow. The recruiter’s response can provide a glimpse into the team’s work dynamics, tools, collaboration style, and other relevant operational details. Moreover, they might share specific focus areas for your preparation based on the team’s current needs or challenges. Getting this information before the interview can help demonstrate your fit and readiness for the role during the discussion.

  • Is it appropriate to bring examples (or a portfolio) of my work? Have other candidates done this successfully? Do you recommend it?

The purpose of this question is twofold. Firstly, it demonstrates your initiative and preparedness to concretely showcase your skills and accomplishments. Secondly, it seeks advice on this approach’s acceptability and potential impact during the interview process. The recruiter’s response will indicate whether presenting work samples or a portfolio aligns with the company’s interview practices and may also give a sense of how such actions have been perceived in the past. You can expect to gain clarity on whether this strategy could enhance your chances of success or whether other methods of demonstrating your capabilities might be more effective.

  • Can you accommodate my disability or special needs?

This question aims to get assurance about the company’s commitment to inclusivity and its willingness to provide necessary accommodations for candidates with disabilities or special needs. It showcases your assertiveness in ensuring a fair and comfortable interview process for yourself. The recruiter’s response will reflect the company’s adherence to equal opportunity laws and its steps toward maintaining diversity in the workplace. You can anticipate understanding the type of accommodations they have granted in the past or are prepared to provide, which could range from physical adjustments to the interview location to modifications in the interview process itself.

Practicing Common Interview Questions

When preparing for an interview, it’s essential to anticipate the most common questions that may be put forward. These questions will uncover your qualifications, assess your fit within the company culture, and identify your professional goals.

  1. Tell Me About Yourself: This open-ended question is often used to break the ice and get a concise overview of your background, experiences, and skills. Aim to focus on key aspects of your career journey and professional achievements that align with the job description.
  2. What Are Your Strengths?: This is your chance to highlight the skills and qualities that make you an ideal candidate for the position. Tailor your answer to match the job’s requirements, providing concrete examples from your experience.
  3. What Are Your Weaknesses?: Interviewers use this question to gauge your self-awareness and honesty. It’s best to mention a weakness you have actively worked on improving and describe the strategies you’ve implemented.
  4. Why Are You Interested in This Position?: Here, interviewers are looking for evidence that you’ve researched the company and the role and have a genuine interest in it. It’s important to demonstrate how the position aligns with your career goals.
  5. Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?: This question determines if your career goals align with the company’s future. Be honest, but remember to show your commitment to the role and the company.
  6. Why Should We Hire You?: This is your opportunity to summarize your qualifications for the role and convince the interviewer that you will add value to the company.
  7. Do You Have Any Questions for Us?: Always have a few thoughtful questions ready, as this shows your interest in the company and the role. These could be about the company’s culture, the role’s responsibilities, or the team you’ll work with.

Remember, an interview is not a one-way interrogation but a conversation between you and your potential employer. It’s an opportunity to showcase your skills and experiences and to learn more about the role and the company.

Preparing Your Responses: Tactics for Successful Interviews

Improving how you communicate your skills and experiences during an interview is fundamental to securing your desired position. It’s essential to remember that effective communication isn’t merely about listing your skills but instead weaving a compelling narrative about your career journey, the challenges you have overcome, and the unique experiences that make you the right fit for the role.

  • Convey with Clarity: Begin with a concise summary of your skill set. Avoid jargon and ensure your skills are relevant to the job description. Emphasize how these skills have been used in your previous roles to achieve results.
  • Use the STAR Method: When discussing experiences for behavioral interview questions, it’s beneficial to use the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result). Describe the situation, explain the task you were faced with, detail your actions, and then discuss the result. This approach lets you present a comprehensive narrative highlighting your problem-solving and critical-thinking abilities.
  • Provide Quantifiable Results: Where possible, try to quantify your achievements. For example, if you helped increase sales, don’t just say you increased sales; specify by how much. Concrete numbers can help interviewers understand the magnitude of your accomplishments.
  • Show Enthusiasm: Show genuine interest and enthusiasm for the role and the company. It helps to demonstrate that you’re qualified and passionate about the job opportunity.

Preparation is key. Practice your delivery until you feel confident. Listen carefully to the questions asked, answer concisely, and remember to breathe. Effective communication in an interview is an art that, when mastered, can set you apart from other candidates.

Physical Presentation in an Interview

Your physical presentation is equally important as your verbal communication and can make a significant difference in the impression you make. Your appearance and non-verbal cues are integral to your overall communication. They should project confidence, enthusiasm, and professionalism.

  • Dress Appropriately: Your attire should match the company’s culture and the role you’re applying for. If the company is formal, a suit would be appropriate. If casual, opt for business casual attire. When in doubt, it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed.
  • Body Language: Maintain good posture; stand or sit up straight. Shake hands confidently and maintain eye contact to show you’re engaged and interested. Avoid fidgeting, as it can be distracting and make you appear nervous. Use hand gestures sparingly and naturally to emphasize points.
  • Facial Expressions: A friendly smile can create a positive, receptive atmosphere. Make sure your facial expressions align with your words and emotions.

Research and Prepare for Salary Conversation

You should always be prepared to discuss your salary expectations in an interview. Knowing what the company pays their employees and what someone in your field should be making will help you confidently discuss your potential salary in an interview. 

The hiring manager generally wants to ensure your pay expectations align with their budget for the job. They should generally be the first to address pay during the interview process. It’s not your role to bring it up. That way, you can avoid coming across as presumptuous, and you’re not left requesting a figure higher or lower than the employer’s range.

If you allow the hiring manager to start the conversation, they will likely start with a figure. You can say, “I feel an annual salary between $X and $X aligns with the industry average and reflects my skills and experience level. I am, however, flexible and open to hearing about the company’s compensation expectations for this position.”

If you’re not ready to discuss the salary yet, you can deflect the questions for later in the conversation. If they ask about your salary range, you can say, “I don’t usually discuss compensation until I have a job offer. Is that the case here?”

Alternatively, you can say, “Before I answer, I’d like to ask a few more questions to understand better what the position entails. That way, I can provide a more realistic expectation.” You can also ask questions about bonuses, commissions, or other types of compensation.

Location, experience, and the industry all play an important role in your salary. Take time to research where you’re at in your career and how this compares to others in similar roles. It would be best if you considered the following to help determine a reasonable salary for your work:

  • Industry: Salary ranges vary widely, but there are general industry norms you need to know. View the complete industry list here.
  • Role & Responsibilities: Your responsibilities, seniority of the position, and title play into your salary.
  • Experience Level: Your years of experience are crucial to your target salary. 
  • Expertise & Education: If you’re in a high-demand field or have a highly specialized degree, you can probably ask for more money.
  • Location: Where the job is located may have the biggest effect on your realistic salary range. The cost of living is huge, and the same role will have different salaries in different cities. 

Techniques to Manage Stress During Interviews

It’s natural to feel stressed during an interview, but it’s crucial to manage this stress effectively, as your level of anxiety can heavily impact your performance. Here are some strategies:

  • Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle: Ensuring you get enough sleep, eat nutritious food, and engage in regular physical activity can help manage your overall stress levels. Being in good physical condition can improve your mental resilience and help you stay calm during the interview.
  • Preparation: Familiarize yourself thoroughly with the job description, the company, and the culture. The more prepared you are, the less uncertainty there is, and the lower your stress levels will be.
  • Practice: Spend time rehearsing answers to common interview questions. This helps you articulate your thoughts more clearly and boosts your confidence, reducing stress.
  • Body Language: Maintain an open posture, make eye contact, and remember to smile. Not only does this portray confidence, but it also helps you feel more confident and less stressed.
  • Pause before Responding: It’s okay to take a moment to gather your thoughts before answering a question. This prevents hasty responses and allows you to deliver well-thought-out answers.
  • Deep Breathing: Deep, controlled breathing can help to reduce stress and promote relaxation. Before answering a question, take a moment, inhale deeply, hold it in for a few seconds, then exhale slowly. This can help to lower your heart rate and calm your nerves.
  • Positive Visualization: Picture yourself succeeding in the interview. Visualizing a positive outcome can boost your confidence and reduce anxiety.

Remember, it’s perfectly acceptable to feel nervous during an interview. What matters is how you manage and channel these feelings. You can turn your stress into a catalyst for delivering a strong interview performance.

The Night Before a Job Interview

Prepare the call/meeting location, your wardrobe, lighting (for virtual meetings), charging the phone, bluetooth headset, etc. Use a landline whenever possible, and disable call waiting to avoid interrupting calls.

If your interview is online, ensure that your computer is fully charged and that you have a location set up for your interview. You want to have good lighting, and you should try to eliminate any background clutter. Ideally, the background behind you should be a blank wall or office. If other people will be in your space during your interview, you may want to kindly remind them that you would appreciate it if they were respectful during your call.

If your interview is a phone call, ensure your device, headphones, or Bluetooth set are charged. You may also find it helpful to have a backup option in case of technical difficulties. Remember that an interviewee can’t see you in a phone interview, so you want to be enthusiastic with your answers.

  • Pro Tip: print out your resume and create a cheat sheet.

A physical copy of your resume and a cheat sheet with key points you want to remember can be extremely helpful during a job interview. This way, you won’t have to rely solely on your memory and can refer back to important information without navigating through your computer or phone.

In conclusion, interview mastery results from comprehensive preparation involving reading the job description and aligning your abilities and experiences with the role’s requirements. Deep dive into the company’s culture, values, and standing in the industry to frame your responses in a way that highlights your relevance and understanding of the company’s ecosystem.

Prepare to confidently articulate your achievements and their value to the potential role. To ensure clear and confident articulation, prepare to address common interview questions and practice your responses. It’s important to remember that your questions for the interviewer can be as impactful as your answers, demonstrating your interest and proactive attitude. In essence, an interview is an opportunity to create a lasting impression, and your thorough preparation can determine the job offer.

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