Job interviews can be nerve wracking.
How should you prepare? What should you know about the company? What should you say — and avoid saying?
Prepping for a job interview is essential. It can calm your nerves and give you the confidence you need to have a successful interview and land your dream job.
Not sure how to get started with interview preparation? Read on.
How to Prepare for a Job Interview
It all starts with first impressions. You can make a good one before you ever walk in the door by researching the company you’re applying to.
1. Conduct Company Research
Do your homework and research the company before the interview.
Start by exploring the company website and scope out its Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn pages.
You might also want to sign up for company newsletters and emails and follow any influencers at the organization who can keep you up to date.
You can also read company reviews from current and former employees on websites like Glassdoor.
“You’re demonstrating that you care enough to have done the research,” says Jill MacFadyen, a career coach and former recruiter who works with clients nationwide. “You’re setting yourself apart from the other people who are interviewing.”
Search the company’s name in Google News to familiarize yourself with recent press — good and bad. Learn about trends within the industry.
“In my opinion, you can never over prepare,” says Carlota Zimmerman, a New York City career coach with more than a decade of experience. “I cannot stress how much passion and preparation you should bring.”
2. Do Your Homework on the Interviewers
Before your job interview, ask for the names of the people who will interview you and search online to see if you have any mutual friends or connections.
Did one of your colleagues or friends previously work at the same organization? Go to the same school? Check alumni networks, LinkedIn and community pages. You’ll likely score points at a job interview if a current employee recommends you.
“There’s a notion that this person has been vetted in some way,” says Mike Gellman, CEO and founder of High Five Career Coaching in Irvine, California. “There’s a level of trust there.”
3. Practice Answering Common Interview Questions
Once you’ve done your research, study the job description and think about how your skills, knowledge and personality mesh with the position.
A job description is a good indicator of what the company is looking for in an ideal candidate, including qualifications, required skills and background.
Have examples ready from your education and work experience that show you have what it takes to succeed.
This way, you’ll be prepared if the interviewer asks you to describe a time when you demonstrated relevant skills listed on the job description.
Have you won any awards in the field? Did you attend seminars or join organizations that could help you stand out as well-informed and committed to the brand or industry?
Practice your responses to common interview questions like:
- Tell us about yourself.
- Tell us about a difficult professional challenge you faced and how you overcame it.
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- What interests you about the position?
- What are your professional strengths and weaknesses?
It’s also beneficial to practice answering questions about gaps in your employment history or skill set. Say your responses out loud until they feel natural.
Asking a friend or partner to conduct a mock interview the day before is a good way to sharpen your responses.
Your friend can help provide you with real-time feedback on factors like your body language, posture and eye contact.
If you can’t get a friend or family member to help you prepare for an interview, practice interviewing in front of a mirror or record a video of yourself on your phone.
4. Clean Up Your Social Media Profile
Many employers look at your LinkedIn profile, and some also comb Facebook and other social media before a job interview. So make sure your pages align with your career goals and reflect the image you want to convey.
“It’s about judgment,” Gellman says. “It’s about character for the company. Could this person be a good ambassador for us?”
More than two dozen states have laws prohibiting employers from asking for applicants’ social media usernames and passwords, while federal law prohibits employers from making hiring decisions based on factors such as religion, disability and pregnancy.
While some companies have stopped monitoring candidates’ social media accounts, many still check.
You can protect yourself by avoiding posting anything you’d be embarrassed to have a recruiter discover.
Or simply adjust your social media settings to private until after you land a job.
5. Dress Professionally
Even if you’re interviewing remotely or at a startup where the employees dress in flip-flops and shorts, you need to dress like, well, you’re on a job interview.
That means professional and conservative relative to the company culture. If you wear a jacket and find you’re overdressed, you can always remove it after you arrive.
“You have to convey a message that you’re serious about the job,” Gellman says. “And if you go in casually, you’re not going to convey that message.”
A good rule of thumb is picking interview attire that’s a level or two above the position you’re seeking, he says.
Make sure your clothes fit and are clean and wrinkle-free — no stains, rips or pet hair — and that your shoes are in good shape.
“Err on the side that your grandmother would look at your outfit and say, ‘You look so professional,’” Zimmerman says.
If it’s a video interview, don’t slouch on your attire. Pick an interview outfit that looks good on camera and use bright lighting.
It’s also important to test your computer camera and microphone before a video interview. Fumbling with Zoom during your appointment isn’t a great look.
6. Turn Off Your Cell Phone
Better yet, leave your cell phone in the car. It’s too easy to reflexively reach for a phone that pings or vibrates.
When Gellman was interviewing applicants in his role at a previous employer, the ones who texted during the interview — yes, it really happened — were immediately disqualified.
If you have to wait before you’re called in, bring a magazine or a book to read that’s relevant to the industry.
Paying attention to your surroundings also creates a great impression. Make small talk with the receptionist and other people in the room as you wait for your job interview.
“These kinds of things may seem kind of corny and stuck up,” Zimmerman says. “Well, that’s corporate America. That’s what they want.”
7. Treat Everyone With Respect
Smile and greet everyone you meet politely, from the receptionist to the CEO. Make eye contact and give a firm handshake.
A great first impression is critical: Your behavior very well may be reported to the hiring manager, especially if it’s disrespectful.
Never use profanity, even if your interviewer cusses a blue streak. Sit up straight and don’t fidget.
If your interviewer takes or makes a phone call that interrupts the process, just wait patiently. If you complain or get angry, it will be game over.
“They’re trying to get a feel for how you’d be every day in [the] office,” Zimmerman says.
After the interview, send thank you emails to everyone you met within 24 to 48 hours. Or send a physical thank you note to stand out from other job seekers.
8. Show You’re Serious
It’s particularly important to explain how you provided value at your previous job. Detail how you attracted new clients, increased productivity or helped boost a company’s bottom line.
Stress your achievements in concrete, measurable terms, such as, “I signed on 50 clients last year and brought in $250,000.”
Stay calm and remember the interview answers you practiced.
It’s also wise to have a few intelligent questions prepared for your potential employer when they ask “Do you have any questions for me?”
This portion of the interview is a great opportunity to make a lasting impression that sets you apart from other candidates — or it can blow your chances of receiving a job offer.
Bring at least three copies of your resume on quality paper (even if you sent it electronically) and, if applicable, a portfolio of your work. Not everyone may have had time to review your resume and credentials.
You’ll also want a functioning pen to jot down any questions you have for the interviewer.
9. Arrive Early
It’s a good idea to do a dry run of your trip to the interview site a few days in advance, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the area or exact location.
You’ll flub your chances if you’re late, so make sure you anticipate how much traffic you’ll encounter, where you’ll park and how long the door-to-door process will take.
Gellman says he made the mistake once of arriving only two minutes before the start of an interview on a windy day and didn’t notice that his hair was sticking up. It stayed that way for the entire interview, and nobody gave him a (drumroll) heads-up.
Give yourself a few extra minutes for unexpected glitches and for a stop in the restroom, where you should give your hair, face and clothes a final once-over.
Be ready for show time 10 minutes before your appointment.
A good rule of thumb with job interviews: If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late.
Rachel Christian is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Susan Jacobson is a former staff editor.