Preparing for an Interview

Career Center

Preparing for an Interview

There are three parts to any interview: before the interview (preparation), during the interview (execution), and after the interview (follow up). It’s important to prepare well for each stage, because it is the interview that will win you the job. Know that if you were selected for an interview, you are considered a top candidate. Interviewing candidates takes a firm’s time and coordination of multiple schedules, so they are not going to waste their time interviewing candidates they are not highly interested in. What you are trying to accomplish in an interview is convincing the employer that you are the very best fit for their position. In fact, many employers will ask you “why should we hire you?” and you should be prepared to demonstrate how you fulfill their qualifications. But remember, interviewing is a two-way street: you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you.

Before the Interview

Know yourself and what is on your resume. You should be ready to talk about what you have to offer the employer, in terms of your knowledge, skills, and abilities. Remember, past behavior is a good indicator of future behavior, so if you can demonstrate you’ve been successful in the past, this is solid evidence you will perform well for the employer once you are hired. In addition, you never know what the employer will choose to focus on from your resume, so be prepared to expound upon statements you included on your resume. Next, you will want to thoroughly research the company. Learn as much about the company as you can, because you may be asked questions about your knowledge, and it will inform the questions you have about working at the company. You should find out the organization’s size, its products and services, its financial situation, its history, as well as details about the job. After you’ve gathered information about yourself and the company, it’s time to practice. Interviewing is a skill and must be practiced. While you can’t predict every question you will be asked, there are many standard interview questions most employers use, such as “tell me about yourself,” “what are your strengths,” and “why are you interested in this position.” You don’t need to memorize an answer, but you should practice so you feel confident in answering the question.

During the Interview

Be prompt and prepared. If you have never been to the location where the interview will be held, you need to make a dry run, preferably during the time when your interview will be held, to account for traffic. Since unexpected events can happen, leave yourself plenty of time to arrive, and plan to arrive 10-15 minutes early. You should bring extra copies of your resume (depending on how many people will be interviewing you), a list of references, and a list of questions you would like to ask, organized in a folio. If for any reason you anticipate arriving late to the interview, call the employer and explain the situation. When you arrive, make a good first impression by dressing conservatively and having a firm handshake. You should be friendly and polite to everyone you meet, as even receptionists may be asked their opinion of you when you leave. During the interview, pay close attention to the questions that are being asked, rather than thinking of your answer while the interviewer is talking. After the question is asked, pause briefly to consider your answer, then speak. Answer the question thoroughly, giving examples where you can, but do it in a concise manner as well. The interviewer may probe for more details. You should come across as enthusiastic about the position and the company. It’s important to focus your answers on accomplishments by telling short stories about your background. Quantify your experience where you can by using any numbers or percentages. In sales, this is particularly important, because in your position, you will be required to build your own book. You should demonstrate your capability in being able to do that on the job. Be ready to address any gaps in your employment, or any major career shifts in industry. You should also be prepared to ask questions of the interviewer at the end. Employers tend to be suspicious if you don’t have any questions to ask. Ask yourself, “what do I need to know to determine whether I would want to work at this company?” Again, the interview is a two-way street. Be sure to ask what the timeline is for hiring the position, so you know how soon to follow up with the employer. In closing, ask each interviewer for their business card or contact information, as you will want to send thank you notes to each person. You should then thank the employers for their time as the interview comes to a close, and reiterate your strong interest in the position.

After the Interview

You should send a thank you letter or email to each interviewer preferably the same day as the interview. The thank you note should be unique by mentioning a topic or two that was raised during the interview. It’s also the place to reiterate your strong interest. Employers want to know you want the position. After the interview is also a time for self-reflection. Decide whether this job is for you or not. Consider the “vibe” you got while you were interviewing. Can you see yourself fitting into the company culture? Will this position be a good fit given your future career goals? Also, you should critique yourself, so you can better prepare for future interviews. During the interview, you found out what the timeline for hiring was, so plan your follow up schedule accordingly. You should wait a week after your interview to contact the employer to inquire about the status of your application, unless you are given an exact timeline about when they will contact you.

A Few More Points

While it’s great to have plenty of questions to ask the employer during the interview, one topic you should avoid is salary, unless the employer brings it up. You can certainly ask about company benefits, vacation time, sick time, and telecommuting options. The employer should take the lead on salary discussions. This means you should be prepared to indicate your bottom line as far as salary goes. You’ll have to do your homework on comparable positions in the field to develop a fair salary target. If your interview is being conducted over a meal, order something that can be neatly cut, as opposed to a sandwich that could get messy and unwieldy. Practice good restaurant etiquette, and never order alcohol, even if your host does.

Interviews are crucial to the hiring process. Being prepared and practicing your skills are the keys to a successful interview.
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