There are very few events in your career that will cause the level of simultaneous anxiety and excitement as a job interview. The chance of being rejected after laying it all out on the table can be enough to intimidate even the most experienced professionals.
But having an interview doesn’t have to be a terrifying experience. It can also be educational, and a great chance to review your work history and highlight your skills. Although many of the interviews that you might experience throughout your lifetime might not come to fruition, they are vital to your career trajectory. Without taking chances, you’ll never know how far you can go.
However, preparing for interviews can still be tough. There are so many possible questions they might ask you, and you have to remain professional and calm through the entire experience in order to leave an impression. How can you prepare if you’re not sure what they’ll ask you?
Luckily, most hiring managers don’t stray too far from the most typical set of questions, but some hiring managers might also throw in some curveballs just to see how you react to surprises. Additionally, no matter what field you’re interviewing for, there is still some general advice that you can follow that is applicable to all job interviews.
Let’s look at how you can prepare for the interview, practice some common questions, and explore some additional prep work for this important career event.
Table of Contents
- 1 Do Your Research Before the Interview
- 2 Practice Answering Common Job Interview Questions
- 3 Bring Your Own Questions for the Interviewer
- 4 Plan to Arrive Early
- 5 Mind Your Body Language
- 6 Stay Relaxed and Confident
- 7 Follow Up After the Interview
Do Your Research Before the Interview
The most important step in preparing for any interview is to do your research. This includes researching the role, the company, and the industry standards for that position. You should expect hiring managers to do their research into you — including reviewing your resume, checking your public social media profiles and LinkedIn pages, and possibly checking your credit, depending on the position and what interview stage you are in. It pays to be similarly prepared.
When doing your research about the position, make sure you do more than just read the job description. Dive deep into the company’s world and learn more about the specific roles you might be given. Do you have experience in this field or industry, or are you branching out and trying something new? If you know people within the company already (such as friends or family members), ask them what their daily schedules are like, what works they’re doing, and how they enjoy the company.
Look into the management structure of the company. Will you have a direct manager, multiple managers, or will you be working primarily on your own? If you can’t find the answer, be sure to make a note and ask this question during the interview process.
There are a lot of ways to find out more about the company as a whole, as well. Googling the company is always helpful, but job review sites like Glassdoor can often get you a peek behind the curtain. Past employees can leave reviews of managers, the CEO, and the overall workflow. They can also make notes about their salary, which can help you get an idea of how well or how poorly they pay their employees. You can also research how or why past employees left the company — was there a layoff recently, or were many of the past employees voluntarily leaving and for what reason?
When you’re going through internal reviews, make sure to write down any questions if you have any. Keep your questions positive, even if some of the reviews aren’t. Unless the reviews are bad enough to scare you away from the company altogether, you don’t want to come off as having a negative view of the business when you enter the interview room.
Lastly, be sure to research what your position is worth within the industry and within your geographic location. Is the business overpaying or underpaying workers? Should you negotiate your salary before you accept the position? Knowing what your experience is worth is both personally empowering and can help showcase your knowledge about the industry.
Practice Answering Common Job Interview Questions
Interview questions can range from the predictable — “Describe a time you dealt with a difficult customer” — to the bizarre — “What sort of animal best describes your personality?”
Many hiring managers won’t just be testing you on your experience and knowledge, but will also be asking questions that demonstrate how you think and respond under pressure. The best way to do this is often to ask obscure questions that keep you on your toes. You can’t do a lot to prepare for these other than doing as much research as possible into the company, and trying to stay calm and confident during the interview. If you are comfortable, it can be easier to answer creative questions with your own creative answers.
However, most questions don’t need to be oscure to get the idea across. There are still some common variations that interviewers will ask to get a better idea of how you work and how your experiences have shaped you. Here are some of the most common questions they may ask, as well as some information on how you should respond.
Bring Your Own Questions for the Interviewer
Many believe that the purpose of an interview is one-sided: a person is interested in the business and is trying to win over the hiring manager to gain a position. However, the true purpose of an interview is also for the interested person to interview the business. It’s a chance for you to determine if this company fits with your career plan, your personality, or fulfills your personal needs.
Because you are also interviewing the business, you should always come prepared with questions to ask the interviewer. This gives you an opportunity to explore different aspects of the company — its history, culture, workforce, day-to-day routine, and overall purpose — as well as show that you’re really invested in learning more, and that you spent time researching the position.
Plus, if you do get offered the position, you will most likely be better prepared for your first day.
Sample Questions to Ask the Hiring Manager
In general, your questions will be dependent on the company and the position you’re vying for, but you can still ask some general questions to help illustrate the position in more detail. Here are some questions that you can prepare for the interviewer:
- How would you describe the typical day-to-day workload of this position?
- How many people are in the department/team/company?
- How is management structured, and who would I report to?
- Is travel a requirement of the position?
- Would this position require me to relocate?
- Does this position allow remote work or work from home perks? (sometimes this is included in the job description)
- Is overtime common or expected for this position?
- What is the typical work week?
- How has the company evolved over the past few years?
- What do you enjoy most about the company? (directed at the interviewer)
- What is rewarding about working here?
- What is the biggest challenge about working here?
- What is your least favorite part about working here?
- How does career advancement work within the company? How often do employees receive/have a chance for promotions?
- What background are you looking for in an interviewee?
- If extended a job offer, how soon would you need me to start?
- Is there anything I can clarify for you about my background or qualifications?
- Would you like a list of references?
- Do you have any feedback for me on my interview?
- When can I expect to hear from you?
- Are there any other questions I can answer for you?
Questions to Avoid
In general, there are also questions that you might want to avoid until you are extended an offer for the position. These questions typically revolve around benefits or more personal issues.
Be sure to avoid questions that … :
- Only focus on you: During an interview, your purpose is to convince the company to hire you, so you don’t want to put pressure on what they can do for you just yet. Once they extend an offer, you can ask them more specific questions about health insurance, vacation time, salary negotiation, and other perks.
- That only focus on one subject: You want to ask a variety of questions, and not just focus on one particular aspect of the job. For example, if you only ask questions about management, they might see you as having issues with authority figures. Instead of focusing on one subject (even if it’s very important to you), come up with a variety of questions to prepare. It’s better to seem interested in the whole position than it is to seem focused on one aspect of it.
- Ask multiple questions at a time: Ask one question at a time, so you don’t overwhelm the interviewer with layers questions.
- Only require “yes” or “no” answers: You want the interviewer to explain in more detail, so ask open ended questions and avoid simple “yes” or “no” questions. Plus, those questions can usually be answered while you’re researching the company beforehand, so it might make it seem as if you’re ill-prepared.
- Require the interviewer to divulge personal information: Although you want to appear friendly to the person interviewing you, there are still some lines you should not cross. Avoid asking the interviewer extremely personal questions about their family, race, religion, or other probing questions that might seem a bit discriminatory.
Plan to Arrive Early
This is a fairly simple concept, but is still important to highlight: arrive early for your interview.
Hiring managers will take any tardiness very seriously, and are much less likely to hire someone that is late to an interview. Avoid getting stuck in traffic, lost in the building, or having other issues by planning an early arrival. Additionally, arriving early gives you a chance to collect yourself before the interview starts. If you show up right at the time of the interview, you might have to rush yourself and appear as if you’re not quite prepared to meet the hiring manager.
If you do have an issue while on the way to the interview, be sure to call ahead of time and explain your situation. If you need to cancel the interview altogether due to an emergency, you can ask the hiring manager to reschedule your interview for a more convenient time.
Mind Your Body Language
Researching the job, asking questions, and having a solid resume with peer references is all well and good, but they won’t guarantee you the job. Your presence and demeanor at the interview are vital aspects that should not be neglected.
First impressions are extremely important in business, and that includes the first impression you make during an interview. If you come off as uninterested or bored, the hiring manager will notice based on your body language. However, if you come in to the building (even before the interview starts) looking attentive, excited, and can show open and expressive body language, you’re more likely to make a memorable impression on the interviewer.
Be aware of how your body language is perceived during an interview. Even if you have a hard time making eye contact when you’re nervous, you can still be conscious of:
- Make sure your posture is straight while you sit.
- Smile warmly and enthusiastically, but also make sure your face is authentic. Fake smiles can be obvious.
- If you gesture with your hands while you talk, go for it, as long as it doesn’t take away from what you’re trying to say.
- Suppress nervous fidgeting habits if you can.
- Try not to look down or away from the interviewer too often, if you can help it. Looking down while answering questions can often seem dishonest. However, you also don’t want to make too much eye contact, as that can come across as aggressive.
Show through your body language that you’re giving them your full attention, and they will be sure to notice and appreciate it.
What to Wear to a Job Interview
Clothing also is an important part of making a positive first impression. Be sure to take the time to plan out your outfit, and take into consideration the environment of the business. Does it seem like a “business casual” place, or is it more formal? Does the job description mention anything about dress code? Do posts on their social media sites give you any indication of the work environment?
If you’re unsure of the business setting, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and dress more formally. Here are some other tips you should consider:
- Business professional means suits and a tie for men, and skirts or pants suits with heels for ladies. If you’re wearing a collared shirt, be sure to button it to the top and include either jewelry or a necktie to accompany it.
- Business casual means suits might be overdoing it, but you should certainly not wear jeans and a t-shirt. For men, consider slacks, a tucked in polo (or collared shirt), with a belt and nice shoes. For women, consider a dress, skirt, or slacks, a nice top or blouse, a blazer, and include either minor heels or nice boots.
- Casual offices still require a bit of polish during the interview process. Certainly don’t show up in your sweatpants, jeans, or flip flops for an interview. Instead, opt more for a business casual look, but toned down just a touch. Instead of a polo or collared shirt, men could wear a long-sleeve dress shirt with slacks and a belt. Women can opt for a more casual dress or skirt, or have khakis with a nice blouse.
- Details matter, so make sure that everything is tucked in, you don’t look rushed, and your clothes are ironed and properly fitted. Avoid stains or wrinkles, and consider keeping a small grooming kit with you to ensure you don’t have any wardrobe mishaps on the way to the interview.
- Avoid strong odors such as perfumes, cologne, or other body spray. You never know if the interviewer or someone else in the office might be sensitive or allergic to perfume, so it’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid it all together.
Stay Relaxed and Confident
Although interviews are understandably stressful, it’s important to stay confident and relaxed during the process. Remind yourself of how to remain calm in stressful scenarios: whether that’s with breathing exercises, focusing on one point in the room, or avoiding coffee for a few hours before you enter the interview room. Although your nervousness might sneak through in your speech or you might fidget with a pen, try to restrain your jitters and remind yourself to take the interview one question at a time.
It can also help to remind yourself that, no matter what happens, every interview is just practice. Even if you really want to get the job, the interview you have today will help you better prepare for interviews in the future. The more you practice, the better you’ll get, and the less stressed you’ll be for the next one.
Follow Up After the Interview
Once you’re done with the interview, it’s important to thank the hiring manager for taking the time to ask you questions and for giving you the opportunity to express your interest in the job. However, this should not be the last bit of communication you have with the interviewer. If you really want the job, you can still make an impression by following up after the interview has concluded.
If the interviewer hasn’t already offer it, ask them for a business card so you can keep it for your records and have their contact information available (if it’s not easily available, then you can either find that information online or can even call the receptionist to get the correct contact information for your interviewer).
Following up is important because when you’re selected for an interview, that means the business is seriously considering you as a candidate. You’ve already made it through the first round of selection, and you should acknowledge that. Following up can show the business that you’re also serious about wanting the position, and it gives you an opportunity to remind them of your qualifications and enthusiasm.
How to Follow Up on a Job Interview
There are a few ways in which you can follow up after a job interview. You can do it in multiple forms, as well, including: by mail, by phone, or by email.
Here are some general guidelines to follow when writing a follow up message (either in mail or email form):
- Send a message to everyone that interviewed you. It could be that the hiring manager brought in a project manager to help answer questions for you, or that the interview consisted of a board of members. Be sure to get everyone’s name and send a message to all of them. It can be helpful to take notes during the interview, including what you hope to cover in your follow up message.
- Handwritten notes and emails are both acceptable. There was once a time when email seemed not formal enough, but it has become common enough now that it is completely acceptable to send emails. However, handwritten notes still provide that personal touch that can impress interviewers. If you do decide to handwrite a note, make sure you use your best handwriting, and practice what you’re going to say on a sheet of paper before you start writing it down on the card (it’s a lot harder to cover up mistakes in handwriting than in email).
- Send your message within 24 hours of the interview. Even if they might take a week or two weeks to get back to you, the sooner you can leave a message, the better. If you wait, another candidate might steal your chance to leave an impression.
- Don’t be afraid to promote yourself. You just spent an hour or more talking yourself up, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t continue that in the follow up. Remind them of your qualifications, why you believe you’re perfect for the job, and even mention things that you may have forgotten to mention in the moment.
- Address something mentioned in the interview. If you made a mistake, you can clean it up and provide an apology (if applicable) in your follow up message. Additionally, if the interviewer set aside time to show you around the building, or helped you out in some other way, make sure to mention how you appreciate those little extra touches.
- Proofread before you send it. This is a given for almost any aspect of an interview: from your resume to your follow up message. You should proofread everything, look for grammar mistakes or mispelled names. Double and triple check the spelling of names if you have to, since those mistakes will be noticed.
- Making an additional phone call can also cement your intentions. Although you certainly don’t have to call in (unless the job requires a lot of phone time, in which case you should make the effort to show off your phone skills with a follow up call), it can help show how interested you are in the position if you call the hiring manager within 24 hours after your initial interview. Be sure to state your name, the position you interviewed for, and when you met. Again, you can use this opportunity to remind them of your qualifications, thank them for their time, and clean up any mistakes or forgotten information that might have occurred. If it helps, you can make a list of points you want to cover beforehand, and reference that as you’re on the phone. You can also leave a message with your contact information if you can’t get ahold of them immediately. Don’t pester them with multiple calls, so be sure to make your follow up call count.
There’s a lot of things to remember when it comes to interviewing for a job, but the most important thing is this: you will have a lot of interviews in your lifetime, and each experience will help you prepare for the next one. Make it count, and good luck!
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