How to Prepare For a Job Interview, Then Ace It

debandbob Debbie Rudan and Bob Puissant May 7, 2021

Preparing for an interview might seem intimidating, but there are several steps you can take to ready yourself. There are loads of articles floating around on this topic, but we’ve mentored candidates and have been in the hiring seat (and have been candidates ourselves), so we have confidence that these tips are the best way to prepare for a job interview and win an offer.

Be someone who has done their homework

Preparing for an interview means researching the company, trying the product, if applicable, and learning all you can about the actual job so you can convince interviewers you are a good fit for the position. You’ll want to study the company website, read relevant news stories/social media posts, review available public documents and use your network to gather information. Use LinkedIn to see if you know anyone at the company connected to those you will meet. Talking with your network will give you a glimpse into the company’s culture that other candidates might not get. Ask for the list of who you’ll be meeting with and review their LinkedIn profiles. Building rapport and establishing relationships are important for leaving the interviewer with a lasting impression. They’ve looked at your profile too.

There are several types of interviews — phone, video, behavioral, case based, face to face, group/panel — and you must be prepared for all of them. Your HR contact or recruiter should be able to tell you the interview format ahead of time. Once you know, become familiar with the type, as preparation will put you at ease. Make it your goal to get in front of the hiring manager, as they will make the final hiring decision. When you speak to them, whether in person or a phone call, make sure your vocal cues and facial expressions augment your words and demonstrate professionalism.

Be someone who leaves a lasting impression

It’s important to make a positive and lasting impression during the interview. You can do this by practicing a confident, strong speaking voice and friendly, open body language. Pay special attention to your smile, eye contact, posture, handshake, appearance and stride. Be personable; make sure to use your interviewer’s name during your conversation.

Show interest in the position and the company. Since you’ve done your research, you should be able to formulate questions that demonstrate this. To get your interview talking, go ahead and ask those questions. When you can get the potential employer taking first, your answers can incorporate bits of what they said. You want the interview to be a discussion rather than one way Q & A.

Regarding interview attire: With business casual, most organizations are wearing polo shirts and pants rather than formal attire. You will want to dress one step above what they are wearing: go with a dress shirt/blouse and a jacket/blazer.  

Be someone who asks and answers

When you sit down for the actual interview, it’ll be time to sell yourself. Be specific about your strengths, and vague about your weaknesses. More on that in a minute. Anticipate questions like those below and practice your answers. Don’t wait until the end to ask your own thoughtful questions. Get that discussion going as mentioned above. Here are a few interview questions you can integrate into the discussion:

  • Ask, “What are the attributes of the people who are most successful here?”
  • Ask, “What are your expectations of me during the first few months of working here?”
  • Link your skills to their needs by providing a wow story, using the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) method.  Answering with stories shows how you can be of benefit to the organization. Pick a story that shows your passion or a success. Interviewers enjoy candidates who come alive during an interview; this makes them want to work with you.
  • Manage the interview and always have a strategy in place for what you’ll say.  
  • Be ready to tackle the toughest questions:
    • When asked to talk more about yourself, use your elevator statement, a one-minute commercial about your background and what you bring to the table.
    • When asked why you are looking for a new job, use a rehearsed exit statement that flows out effortlessly.
    • When asked about salary, supply a range with a spread you’re comfortable with. Say, “I’m most comfortable between X and X. How does that fit with what you’re offering?” or “I don’t want salary to be the only consideration for me getting this position. I’m looking for a place where I can be a contributor.”
    • When asked about your weaknesses, be vague by saying something such as, “I have a tendency to X.” Then explain how you make it right. This shows you are aware of an issue but that you know how to self-correct, which means the issue is not really a weakness at all. Here’s an example: “I tend to push forward rapidly when working on a project and if not careful, I can leave my teammates behind. So, to gauge my pace I make it a point to check in regularly with them to make sure everyone is onboard, and we are moving forward together.”
  • When it’s time to wrap up, remember to ask some version of these two questions:
    • Is there anything else I can tell you to help you see me as the most qualified person for the position?
    • Tell me about the next steps in your hiring process?

Be someone who follows up

There’s one last thing, the thank you note. Always send one. After your interview, send personalized e-mails to everyone you met. Reminding your interviewers of your conversation shows them you are truly interested in the position, gives you the opportunity to reiterate what makes you stand out and bring up anything you forgot to mention. Your note should obviously show appreciation and say you’re looking forward to the next steps.

As we’ve coached and interviewed others over the years, we know that everything we’ve mentioned here will pay off for you, if you prepare, have your head in the game, and link your benefits to the company’s needs.  We know you’ll be on the right path toward your next position and wish you success!

About the Authors

Debbie Rudan has served as a SE Wisconsin Group Chair (Executive Mentor) since 2019 and serves two EA groups (EA 3 and EA 5).  She has worked with all levels of business leaders and team members to improve performance and organizational effectiveness. Debbie has spent more than 20 years in talent development connecting people to jobs and getting to know leaders as individuals, exploring their goals, and coaching and guiding them toward achievement. As a coach, she works to help people find the resources needed to avoid feeling alone in their challenges and to create an environment of trust so her group members can speak freely, get ideas and develop the skills needed to achieve personal and professional success.

Bob Puissant was an engaged member of Executive Agenda for nearly 20 years prior to becoming a Group Chair (Executive Mentor) in 2018.  He presently serves two SE Wisconsin groups (EA 1 and EA 6). His career has taken him all around the country to lead companies in sales, marketing, business development, planning and organizational leadership. He has an MBA from Northwestern University’s JL Kellogg Graduate School of Management, has served on various boards and currently participates in Silicon Pastures, an angel investment organization that investigates potential investments in a variety of early-stage companies.

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