5 Essential Tips for Preparing for a Job Interview

By Robert Half March 23, 2017 at 11:35pm

You've just received that phone call you've been waiting for. The hiring manager at the company of your dreams has invited you in to talk about possible employment. But your enthusiasm quickly turns to panic at the thought of having such an important, career-changing conversation. Instead of freaking out, start preparing for your job interview so you'll be poised and confident when you meet with your prospective employer.

Take time to think about what you truly want out of this job opportunity. Looking at the bigger picture of your career will help you form thoughtful answers to common interview questions — and it will inspire questions for you to ask the interviewer. If you go in unprepared, you could get caught by tough questions like a deer in the headlights and fumble over talking about yourself.

As you're preparing for the interview, you can improve your chances of getting a job offer by keeping these five tips in mind:

1. Be ready for tough interview questions

In addition to talking about your career and job experience, you should be prepared to answer some tough questions. Here are the most common job interview questions that you should start preparing answers for:

Why did you leave your last job? Or if you're still at a job, you would talk about why you're considering a change. Remember to keep your answers positive, focusing on the opportunities for growth, change and new challenges. And never criticize a past or present employer.

Where do you see yourself in five years? Think about what your longer-term career goals are and find a way to succinctly communicate how they fit with this position and this company. The interviewer wants to evaluate whether you are in it for the long haul or just the paycheck.

What interested you about this job? This is an opportunity to sell yourself as the best candidate. Your answer should explain how your experience, skills and goals fit with the position.

What kind of work environment do you thrive in? Be honest about whether you work best in groups or on your own, in a collaborative open space or in a private office. Do you like to work with a manager very closely or more independently? This is a question that lets the hiring manager understand how you work, but it also lets you evaluate whether the company would be a productive place for you.

What are your strengths and weaknesses? It's almost a cliché, but this question still often comes up in job interviews. The trick of saying your weaknesses are “working too hard” and “caring too much” won't work. Be honest about where your shortfalls are, and explain how you've been working to improve them or what changes you'd like to make. For example: "I know I can fall behind on emails when I'm very busy. But I've found an app that has helped me stay on top of them."

How do you deal with conflict in the workplace? This could also be phrased in a way that asks you to describe a time you've made a mistake. The employer isn't looking for people who have never had conflict or made mistakes. They're trying to judge your interpersonal skills and how you respond in tough situations.

2. Take notes

In a sharp-looking notebook that you can take to the interview, jot notes in advance about career highlights you want to cover and questions you want to ask. During the interview, you can refer to your notebook if you need to refresh your memory. And be sure to write down important things you learn from the interviewer. Taking notes shows that you are engaged, detail-oriented and serious about your career.

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3. Prepare your own questions

In most interviews, the hiring manager allows time at the end for you to ask questions. Show that you've done your homework in researching the company, and ask questions that help you determine whether this company is a good fit for your career goals and life. Before the day of the interview, research the company and read their website’s news section to find out as much as you can about them. Has the team you’re interviewing for recently won any awards or been featured in industry media? Has the company landed a big new client? Ask about these developments in the context of how it's changed the day-to-day for the team you'll be joining. This is also a good time to address questions of work-life balance, opportunities for advancement and department goals.

4. Practice

Preparing for an interview is a bit like rehearsing for a play. Get comfortable presenting a narrative about yourself and your work. If your personality is playful, you can use anecdotes or humorous scenarios to talk about your experience. Knowing what you want to say or how you might answer questions is important, but it's also crucial for the conversation to feel natural, not like you're reciting a script. Try practicing your answers by speaking out loud to yourself or in front of a mirror. You could also recruit a friend to conduct a mock interview with you, or even try recording yourself to observe how you sound and look.

5. Consider your wardrobe

The day before a job interview, lay out your wardrobe and accessories, including shoes, notebook and resume or portfolio. Choose business-appropriate clothes that make you feel strong, put-together and confident. A good rule of thumb for interviewing is to dress just slightly more formally than the day-to-day attire of the office where you're interviewing. So if the office is casual, dress business-casual. If the office is business-casual, opt for a more formal suit. If the office is business formal, make sure everything about your outfit is on point.

Preparing for every aspect of your job interview will help you feel self-assured and composed during your meetings. You may face some curveball questions, but that confidence you've built up will help you volley back with ease. Relax, be yourself and knock 'em dead.

This post has been updated to reflect more current information.

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