Always come Prepared! – The steps to take before an interview.
So, you got invited to an in-person interview – what should you do prior to the interview to set yourself up for a successful interview? There’s more to prepping than a simple Google search of the company and commonly asked interview questions. Here, we’ll outline some tips for in-person interviews.
The advice in this article is meant to be applied to any situation you might be in when it comes to interviewing. You might be interviewing because you’ve recently lost your job or you’re looking for a change in career. This may be your first interview in 10 years or your 10th interview this week. Or you might be preparing for your first interview ever. Regardless of your situation, or why you’re interviewing, the proper interview prep is necessary to make the right impression the first time around.
Interviewing can be stressful, intimidating, nerve wracking, you name it. One of the most important pieces of advice we can give is to focus on what you are able to control and influence during your conversations with the organization. As a candidate, you can’t control the outcome of an interview, but you can at least ensure that you’re putting your best foot forward by being fully prepared. Without question, you should feel confident in acing the “standard” interview questions, so that even if you do slip up a little on a “curve ball”, it’s still an overall solid interview.
Think of the following steps as a checklist of activities to do in the days leading up to your interview. They might only take an hour to complete, but they will help make for a more meaningful and impressive discussion for the conversations you’re about to have.
The Interview Panel: Who will you be meeting with? What are their titles and how long have they been with the company?
Read press releases, have a high-level understanding of the product or service offered, look at their social media accounts, talk to people in your network to find current or past employees to gain intel. You should be able to get a pretty solid idea about what the culture is like from your research. While Glassdoor can be a helpful glimpse into a company’s culture, oftentimes, you’ll find a trend of disgruntled current/past employees airing their grievances.
Job Description & what you’ve learned from your preliminary conversations:
Read and re-read the job description. If there are any points that weren’t discussed in preliminary conversations with the Recruiter or Hiring Manager, be sure to ask about it. Bring your cumulative notes with you to the in-person interview so you can reference them if necessary. Think of ways you’ll be able to make an immediate impact or add value based on what they are asking for in the job description.
Mapping out stories of your past successes is a powerful, but not obvious activity. Because you’ll be talking about your experiences, you may think that examples of your past work will flow naturally in conversation. This isn’t always the case, and you may find that your mind draws a blank or you miss key elements when giving examples. You’ll find that a mapped out success story can be applied to a number of questions and keeps the flow of the interview moving. You’ll also come off as more prepared and able to articulate well on the spot.
The easiest way to prepare these stories is with the STAR Method. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. Here is a break down of what that means:
- Situation: Describe the situation and backdrop to your success story. In the interview try to frame the situation so that it’s relevant to the question being asked by the interviewer.
- Task: Describe your role in the situation and the assignment you were given in relation to the situation.
- Action: Describe the specific action you took to address your tasks and responsibilities.
- Result: Explain the outcome of the situation and why this was a successful example.
Questions for the Interviewer
You’ll also want to prepare a list of questions to bring with you to your interview. Similar to preparing success stories, you might find it difficult to come up with intelligent questions on the spot. Don’t wait for the interview to think of the things you want to ask about. The questions you prepare should be about the role, team, responsibilities, company mission and company culture. These questions should reflect your interest in the role and asking them will show your due diligence.
You should save questions about benefits, PTO and work-life-balance until later in the interview process. These questions should also be directed toward an HR contact. Asking these specifics early in the process can make it seem like you aren’t interested in the job, only what it offers. However, these questions are important, so they should be asked before you accept a role. They are best saved for the offer stage.
What’s the address if you are going into a physical location? Is there a particular entrance for visitors? Is there a room name or number? Who should you ask for when you arrive?
If it’s a Zoom or Video Interview, be sure to have the app downloaded and try a test run with a friend prior, making sure your microphone is working properly. Make sure you are in a quiet room without distractions. A plain/conservative background is encouraged.
Ask your Recruiter or HR contact – they will have insight into how to dress for your interview. For startups and tech companies, we tend to see more casual environments. For larger corporations, banks, financial institutions, etc., it is usually business professional attire.A good rule of thumb is to dress one level above the environment you’re interviewing in. If they are a casual environment, dress business casual. If they are business casual, dress professional. If you aren’t sure, just ask! You don’t want to be the person that shows up under or overdressed for an interview.
Oh, and don’t go overboard on cologne/perfume or chew gum during the interview.
Follow Up is an important part of the interview process. It shows that you’re interested in the position and respectful of the interview panel’s time.
The first thing you should do is send a Thank You Note within 24 hrs of the interview. The Thank You Note should be short, 2-3 sentences. It should also include a reference to something discussed in the interview so the note doesn’t appear generic. 10+ years ago, it was common advice to physically mail a handwritten Thank You note after an interview. But a simple email is both acceptable, appreciated and gets to the recipient in a timely manner. If you don’t have the e-mail address of the people that interviewed you, send the thank you note to your recruiter or HR contact and ask them to pass it along.
Besides the Thank You note, you should be prepared to send a follow-up note asking for feedback or next steps. During the interview process, ask the recruiter or HR contact when you should expect feedback and note the time frame given. If no time is given, or you didn’t find an opportunity to ask that question, 1 week from the last time you spoke to someone is acceptable. That follow up email should be short, courteous and simply asking if there is an update on your candidacy.
Interview processes are stressful and challenging enough. Don’t burden yourself by entering into an interview process unprepared. By following these simple steps, you set yourself up for success and have a higher chance of landing a job offer.