You should start preparing for the interview well ahead of time. That said, there’s no point preparing months in advance and not being able to remember stuff during the interview!
Starting your final prep a week in advance will give you the time you need to cover all your bases, while also being able to attend the interview with your preparation fresh in your mind. Let’s use the following interview checklist and go over what you should be doing and when:
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A Week Before Your Interview
A week before your interview takes place, you should develop an idea of the company, where you fit in the scheme of things, how much you may get paid, getting your business cards done and preparing for the technical aspect of the interview, if applicable. Lets get into the details:
1. Researching the Company
No matter your role in the organization, it’s always good to understand how the company runs its business. To stay competitive in the marketplace, every business needs to have a slight edge in one aspect or the other, that keeps customers or clients coming back every time. You need to know what the company’s strengths are. Make it a point to understand the general direction of the industry and what the company is doing to get ahead.
At the minimum, do a Google search and read news reports or press releases that inform you about recent happenings related to that company. You don’t need to know how much their stock is worth on the day of the interview (in some cases it might be good – if you’re applying to be a financial analyst maybe), but you do need to understand the general financial health of the business (if this information is available publicly). In case it’s not a publicly traded company, you probably won’t find a lot of financial data online, and that’s fine.
If you’re going in to an interview for a large, multinational company, then you probably also know what division or business unit you’re going to be working in. Treat this business unit as a company in itself, and ensure your research gives you the information you need to talk about this business unit in particular with your interviewers.
On the company website, you should probably familiarize yourself with the vision and mission of the company. While you’re on their website, check out the corporate blog if there is one. Follow the company on social media (especially LinkedIn) and see how they interact with people. Try to find someone in the company (on the same level you’re applying for) and talk to them using LinkedIn messaging. All of this should give you some insight of how the company views itself and conducts its business; at least on the outside.
2. Understanding Your Role in the Business
Unless you’re applying to be CEO and the company is going to rely on you for direction, you should probably dig deeper to understand where you actually fit in the scheme of things. The business is a living machine, and you will be brought in to assist in one of its functions. Chances are it’s not a vital function, but one that can help you get into the position you want in the future.
Understanding your role in the business could be as simple as understanding the business, the specific job requirements and then correlating the two. For example, it’s not enough just knowing that you’re going to work as a programmer, but you need to understand what product you’re going to be working on, and the skills you need to succeed in this role.
During the interview, your interviewers are trying to make the same determination: “Will this person be able to do what we need them to?” If you lay the groundwork by understanding how you can use your skills to do the job and do it in a way that helps the company meet its vision, then you show them that you take this seriously and are probably an A+ hire.
3. Salary Requirements and What You Want
Every job has an average salary that reflects what employees with this profile and designation get paid, across companies. While the company you’re going to interview for may have a salary above or below this number, you need to know what the average salary is. This will help you when you need a baseline amount to negotiate your salary. You can use resources like PayScale or Salary.com to find out the average salary for this position in the city you’re going to work in.
That said, you probably have a baseline requirement for salary that you’re not willing to go under, and that’s good. Unless your job profile is really obscure or your industry is declining (in which case you need to start working on alternate skills), you might want to hold out for another interview if this company refuses to meet your minimum salary requirements. This is purely personal choice and you would not be faulted for taking the job if you think the experience will be valuable or it will take you too long to land another interview.
To find out what the company pays people in the position you’re applying to, you can check out salary data that has been submitted by real employees, at Glassdoor. I’ve personally used this tool and found it invaluable to developing an understanding of the salary I would be offered, even before I actually went to the interview. By doing this, you’ll get an idea of your negotiation range as well as the average salary for this position for the amount of experience you have.
4. Business Cards
Although you might not even have a job right now, you need to have a set of business cards that you can hand out at the interview. This shows professionalism on your part and would also get you everyone’s business card in return. This is a good practice no matter what stage of your career you’re in.
You don’t need to go all out and have a thousand, high-end, snazzy business cards made. 50-100 should be enough to last you for a good number of interviews. On these business cards, list your name, your desired position, your email and phone number. List any qualification or certification at the end of your name.
Although you can design and print your business cards out yourself (a good idea if you’re a designer and want to uber-personalize your business cards), you can use online services that have a bunch of designs available and are pretty inexpensive to get a set of business cards made and sent to you. Vistaprint and Zazzle would be great places to start – you have business card designs costing as low as $5 for 50, all the way up to $100 and more.
5. Preparing for Technical Questions
Not every interview will have a technical round, but if you’re applying for a technical job (especially programming related), then you will be tested on how good your technical fundamentals are. Glassdoor Interviews should help you understand the kind of questions that have been asked in the past for this company and role.
The best way to prepare would be to use a book common for your field and practice questions related to the job you’re applying to. A week’s preparation might not be enough, so start this even earlier if you can.
Forbes has a great article on preparing for the technical interview that we recommend you check out here.
The Day Before the Interview
Things are heating up! The next points in our interview checklist tell you that a day before your interview, you should concentrate on preparing yourself mentally, relax and go over what you’ve learned during the past week. Now is not the time to cram information or work on technical interview questions. Instead, use this day to confirm schedules and lock down logistics for the big day.
6. Confirm Interview Schedule
This isn’t really a ‘preparation’ action point, but you should still confirm your interview time for the next day (especially if you’ve not heard back from them after they scheduled the interview the first time). You can send an email that looks like this:
I just wanted to confirm that I’ll be coming in for my interview at 9:45 AM tomorrow at your office in Wherever, NY. Please let me know if anything changes.
7. Interview Attire and Personal Grooming
You should have your business suit (if you know that the interview requires it or will be conducted in a formal setting) or whatever you want to wear to the interview dry cleaned and prepped for the next day (this includes footwear). If you want to know what kind of interview attire is considered ‘interview worthy’, check out our post on what to wear to an interview.
In general, dark and sober colors work well, but make sure that you follow whatever interview dress code is expected (casual, business casual or business).
This goes without saying but we’ll say it anyway: Clip your nails, get your hair under control and also trim your facial hair (if you’re a guy).
8. Directions and Weather
We’re sure you know how to get to the interview location, but it doesn’t hurt to look up the directions one last time on Google Maps and also get an estimate for travel time. You should plan to be at the interview at least 15 minutes in advance, and not more than 30.
Also look up local weather forecasts for the region and make sure you’re prepared for any possible disruptions, like rain, which can also take up precious minutes from your travel time. You can choose to carry your suit jacket in its cover and wear it just before you get into the interview so that you don’t get it dirty or wrinkled beforehand.
9. Revise Your Answers to the Important Questions
Preparing for an interview by blindly committing answers to rote is not the way to go. There’s no 100% guarantee that the questions you prepared so diligently for will be asked. Instead, understanding the business, your role, your strengths and weaknesses and other personal characteristics will automatically give you the answers to most questions that might be asked of you. That said, not preparing for common questions at all and choosing to go in unprepared is not recommended.
So, you need to strike a balance between both. You need to do the groundwork (researching the company and understanding your role in it) as well as prepare for the common interview questions and answers. Some of the most common interview questions candidates should be prepared for are:
Question #1: Why should we offer you the job?
Solution: You’re going to call on the research that you did last week to construct an answer to this question. You know what the company does, and you’ve worked out why you’re a great fit for this role. Now’s the time to let that information fly! Try to avoid canned responses like “I know I’ll be a great fit for your team”; instead, try to qualify your statements with examples of work you’ve done in the past and relate that to what you could be doing for them. A better answer would be:
“I have had a number of experiences handling projects using this technology, two of which I was able to mold into revenue generating products for my company that brought in $151,120 in just three months. I am sure that I will be able to replicate successes to an even greater degree in your company with the support I know I will receive.”
Question #2: What are your weaknesses and how do you deal with them?
Solution: This question stumps more candidates than you imagine. A common mistake people make when answering this question is going too personal on a weakness that doesn’t really relate to the job you’re going to do.
Also, don’t try to mask your strength as a weakness by saying something like “I work alone and that’s a weakness. I turn it into a strength by being very productive”. Its cliched, everyone does it and your interviewers are tired of hearing this.
Be honest, but show that you’re improving. A good answer can be:
“Managing projects sometimes doesn’t come very easily to me, since I have a largely technical background. To improve my PM skills, I’ve started taking an online class in Project Management which has helped me understand the mistakes I am making. I’m confident I can handle projects much better now, and by the end of the course I know I’ll be quite proficient.”
Question #3: Why did you choose to interview at our company?
Solution: Again, here’s where your research will serve you well. You’ll know exactly what the company does well and how that fits into what you want to align with. The way you should answer this question should also involve an aspect of how your work can translate into benefits for the company.
A good answer to this question could be:
“I’ve been looking for an opportunity to move to an environment that is open to innovation and is able to recognize contributions from employees. I have been working on a few ideas that I wasn’t able to popularize in my old job. I think these ideas have the potential to be great, especially for the markets you serve. Since I know your culture fosters innovation among employees, I am confident I will be very happy here.”
Question #4: Why did you leave (or are leaving) your last job?
Solution: For this question, don’t make the mistake of telling them that your last job sucked, or your manager had a thing against you, or any other petty reason. This question should be answered similarly to the previous one, but in a way that does not show your previous employer in a bad light. Also be careful not to give an explanation for leaving a previous job that could very easily be the reason for leaving your new job too – Even if you don’t like working late and that’s one of the reasons you’re leaving, ‘long hours’ could very easily come up even in your new job, and it’s not something you can totally avoid.
NOTE: Questions to ask your interviewers
Always prepare a list of questions (3-4) that you can ask your interviewers at the end of the interview. These questions can be related to how your role can progress, what other opportunities or projects you can work on in the company or even the training opportunities you’ll get. Although salary negotiation is something that probably needs to happen at the end of the interview (provided it’s the final stage), we’ll deal with that separately.
It’s finally here. Today’s the day all your preparation and hard work will bear fruit. Try not to get nervous and do any last minute preparation – just relax, concentrate on getting there on time and be your natural, awesome self! Let’s see what action points you need to keep in mind for the day:
10. Carry Everything you Need in your Interview Briefcase
The briefcase itself needs to be professional. Please don’t use an everyday bag or the book bag you used back in college. If you don’t have one, borrow it from someone you know. If that doesn’t work, go down to the store and try getting one that’s on sale.
Your interview briefcase, at the minimum, should have the following items:
- ID – Carry a form of identification (government-issued if possible) that verifies that you are who you say you are. A driver’s license is usually sufficient.
- Notepad and Pen – You don’t know if you need to write anything down or solve a problem on paper. Don’t embarrass yourself during the interview and ask your interviewers for these materials. On the first page, write down who your interviewers or hiring contacts are (from your previous communications).
- Interview Confirmation – Carry a printout of the confirmation you received for your interview. Also carry a set of directions, just in case.
- Copies of your Resume – In case you need to fill anything out or give out a few copies of your resume to different people at the company, carry a few extra copies.
- List of References – Carry a list of references (2-3) that you can quickly hand over to your interviewers in case they ask for them. Make sure your references relate your skills to the job you’re now interviewing for.
- Work Samples/Portfolio – If the interview requires you to display your previous work, it might be a great (if not necessary) idea to bring along your previous work samples, or design portfolio if you are a designer.
11. Your Behavior at the Interview
Your behavior at the interview is critical, because that’s what your interviewers will base their first impressions of you on. First impressions are very important, and can sometimes lead to interviewers willing to overlook other minor gaps in your profile. That doesn’t mean that you can land a job through only charisma, you’ll have to still show them you have what it takes.
- When you first enter the room, greet your interviewers with a “good morning” or anything else depending on the time of day.
- Your handshake should be firm and brief, but don’t squeeze your interviewers hand as if it’s a contest!
- Sit down, sit upright and look at your interviewers when you talk or are being spoken to.
- Be confident – smile when you talk, but please don’t overdo it – you’ll just look sleazy.
- Relax! You got this far – this means they are interested in hiring you. They just want to know that you are who you say you are.
12. Listening and Speaking
Listen, listen and listen. This cannot be stressed enough. Instead of imagining what is being asked and coming up with an answer when your interviewers are telling you something, take the time to listen to them completely, take a few seconds to compose an answer in your head and then tell them what they’re waiting to hear.
If they ask you open questions like “So, tell us about yourself”, it doesn’t give you license to start regaling them with your life story, of you being a young boy who always dreamed of one day working in a company like this (yes, this happens). Instead, tell them where you are in life right now, what you want to do and why you think you’ll be good at it.
Keep your responses short, but not curt or abrupt. Observe their body language and respond accordingly; you don’t want to lose their interest.
Immediately following the interview (after a day or two), send a thank you note to your interviewers, preferably by snail mail. If you can’t do snail mail, do email. If you can’t do email, don’t bother texting.
[We first promoted writing a ‘hand-written note’. BigSwedenMan on Reddit alerted us to the fact that it is archaic, and we agree. Sticking to email should still work well for everyone!]
The thank you note after interview can go something like:
I wanted to thank you for your time and the opportunity to interview at your company. I had a great time talking to you and learning about the work _______ does. I’ve only become more confident that I’m making the right decision in choosing to join your firm.
If there’s any more information you need from me, please let me know.
Have a great day!
When the day for the result comes (if it’s come and gone, you better ask them what happened), you should try to be courteous, no matter what the result. With the amount of preparation you’ve put in, you are almost guaranteed to land the job.
But in some cases, companies can decide to just close a position and let candidates know that it’s no longer available. Yes, they can do that. If you’re not selected, ask them where they thought you could have improved or done better. Learn from the feedback and focus ahead.
If you did get the job, why’re you reading this? This concludes our interview checklist.
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