Prepare for a Job Interview

In a nutshell, a job interview is a question and answer session. Most job interviews contain at least a few similar questions, including some variation of the following:

  • Tell me about yourself.

  • Where do you see yourself in five years?

  • What was most/least rewarding about college (or your last job)?

  • How do you measure personal success?

  • Why did you choose to apply for this job (or this company)?

  • What are your strengths/weaknesses?

  • What motivates you?

  • Describe a situation in which you had to deal with a difficult person. How did you handle the situation?

  • Why did you select your college (or course of study)?

  • How do you work under pressure?

  • How would you handle a situation in which meeting a deadline was impossible?

  • How can you contribute to this organization?

  • How would a friend (or former colleague or professor) describe you?

  • Describe a situation in which you disagreed with your supervisor. How did you handle it?

  • Do you work well on a team?

Expect to hear something like some of the questions above. But memorizing good answers is just the first step for preparing for a job interview. Consider some of the following.

Do your research

A little information about a company will let you demonstrate your knowledge (and interest) during the interview. Spend a few hours becoming familiar with the company, its products or services, the industry in which it operates, and how your skills will contribute to the organization. Then, when a recruiter asks why you want to work for their company, you'll have enough knowledge to form an impressive answer. Things you should research include the age and size of the company, the customers, the major competitors, its industry reputation, the location of corporate headquarters, the backgrounds of the managers, advancement opportunities, and if there have been recent layoffs. If you can't find answers to some of your questions about a company, ask during the interview.

Secure your references

Pick at least three people (former supervisors, colleagues, professors, a parent of a friend whose known you since childhood) who are willing to be your references. Be sure to ask their permission to be listed as a reference beforehand, and — of course! — be certain that they will speak well of you if a potential employer contacts them.

Know where you're going

Find out exactly how to get to the interview site. If you've never been there before, think about taking a trial drive to the location a few days before the interview (and even then, give yourself more time in case you run into traffic). If your car's like your second living room, get it washed and cleaned on the inside. You never know who might see you in the parking lot — maybe even the person interviewing you.

Arrive early

Get to the interview site at least 15 minutes before the interview. Visit the restroom and check your appearance. Announce yourself to the receptionist to let him or her know that you have arrived for an appointment. Turn your cell phone off so it doesn't ring during your meeting.

Bring the right documentation

Make a checklist of things you will need for the interview and make sure you have them in your briefcase before leaving home. You should have extra copies of your resume; a portfolio, writing samples, or other professional work; letters of reference; your college transcripts (if you're a recent graduate); and proof of who you are, like a passport, Social Security card, or driver's license. You should also carry a pen and paper for taking notes, and suitable reading material in case you have to wait in the reception area.

Battling your nerves

It's only natural to be a little nervous before a job interview — and a little extra adrenaline helps you do you best! But you have to find a way to keep the adrenaline, and your nerves, under control. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Be organized: Listen to the weather forecast (and if it might rain, find your umbrella) Make sure you have enough gas in your car. Double-check to make sure your suit is clean and pressed, and that your briefcase is fully loaded. Find out whom you should call if, for some reason, you run into a problem.

  • Get a good night's sleep the night before. Lay off the spicy or rich foods and alcohol on the evening before the big day and be well-hydrated.

  • Stick to your routine. On the day of your interview, try to do things as you normally would. Wake up at your normal time (or a few minutes earlier). Eat what you normally eat. And if you're a coffee drinker, this is not the day to try decaffeinating yourself!

  • Pay attention to your breathing. When you're nervous, your breathing becomes more shallow, which only adds to the anxiety you're feeling. Think about your breathing, and as soon as you feel the slightest sense that your breathing is becoming more rapid than normal, focus on taking deeper, slower breaths.

  • Remember to smile. Keep smiling, from the minute you walk into the interview site. It's a job interview, not a courtroom sentencing. Try to have a good time. If a receptionist strikes up a conversation, keep it going. Make eye contact. Just be yourself. And smile.