Are you going to an interview and wondering if you should prepare anything special? Do you know what to take with you? Are you nervous figuring out how to make your best impression without showing how desperately you want this job?
I have been to many interviews. Several of them as a candidate and many more as the interviewer. I won’t tell you to dress well and to be on time – I’m sure you know this well enough yourself. But I can tell you what I saw people struggling with and how you can avoid feeling stressed.
Remember the purpose
It’s like with a CV or any presentation – if you don’t keep in mind what the purpose is, it’s likely you’ll spend hours preparing a pitch that might well miss the target.
I think every interview has three main goals :
- to get a feeling for what kind of person you are (the interviewer’s goal)
- to check your suitability for the role (the interviewer’s goal)
- to give you an indication if this is a job you want to take
Always remember that an interview is for the benefit of both parties, candidate and potential employer. Keep your “satisfactory workplace” criteria in mind at all times. By doing so, even when you desperately need a job and will take anything, despite an obviously obnoxious boss and low pay, it will be a conscious decision that allows you to immediately start planning a move on to something better…
1. Find out who you are meeting, their position and remit
The person who invites you for an interview should tell you exactly who you will be meeting. Don’t be shy and ask them to repeat the name if you haven’t heard it properly. Or simply ask who you are meeting if they haven’t said.
You should also be told the person’s position. Is she your potential boss or an HR representative? This can determine the kind of questions you will be asked, If you are going to be interviewed by a potential boss, expect detailed, practical questions testing your ability to do the job. She will be checking if you fit in with the team or if you are you able to stand up to the challenges she is planning for the person taking this role. Interviews led by HR tend to be more general, checking on your experience, competencies and soft skills. But remember, these comments are simply based on my observations over the years – they’re not gospel! It may happen that you are interviewed by both potential boss and HR together. But in either case, you have the right to know who will be present in advance. Ideally, they will also send you email confirmation with precise names and positions, so there is no danger of hampering your advance Google research through inadvertent spelling mistakes.
2. Ask if they want you to prepare anything special
Usually the first interview is quite open and will not involve any special tests. However, again these are just my observations and there is no harm in asking if they have planned anything particular for you. Definitely ask about it at a second or third stage meeting. I always check this because I was once asked to do a writing test after four hours of interviews, which no one had warned me about in advance. I therefore had no chance to prepare for it.
3. Time slot
In addition to knowing who’s interviewing you, you also need to know how long the interview will last. If you haven’t been told, ask:
- “How much time should I block in my diary for the meeting?”
- “Do you expect for the meeting to last longer than an hour ?”
4. Check the format: face to face, video call or phone call?
The next thing to bear in mind when you prepare for an interview is its format. Are you meeting face to face, will it be a videocall (Skype, Facetime etc) or just a normal phone call? You may think a conversation is just a conversation, regardless of the medium, but that’s not exactly true. When you talk on the phone you lack the entire arsenal of non-verbal communication, such as eye contact, smiling and other body language, like gesture.. You will have to make up for this in the way you speak. Also, when you speak on the phone, especially in a foreign language, it may happen that your interviewer has problems understanding you due to poor reception or simply the difficulty of not having that nonverbal layer. So, try to prepare two different ways of telling your story, including a simplified version, that you can use in case the line is poor.
5. Prepare your pitch
Five out of 10 interviews will include some version of the classic “Tell me about yourself” question. Ones which I have come across are :
“What is your story?”
“Tell me about your current situation/role”
“Walk us through your career steps”
In the stressful atmosphere of an interview it may be difficult to come up with organised and interesting story. But in the comfort of your home beforehand, it’s much easier to outline:
- your most important message
- the two most interesting projects you’ve worked on
- how to get across your motivation and interest in their vacancy
Practise telling your story a few times. Either in front of the mirror or with your husband/wife/partner/child. Even if you end up not using this speech, it gives comfort knowing that you can provide an interesting presentation.
6. Have questions ready for them
In a good interview there should be also a space for you to ask questions. Think ahead about a few things you’d like to know. Even if you are mainly interested in the nitty–gritty of the job organisation, e.g what the working hours are, the amount of travel or benefits they offer, try to come up with one or two more business–oriented questions to ask first. These could be:
- What are the biggest problems you want to solve with this hire?
- What are the top events you have planned over the next few months that will be crucial for the company?
- What are the biggest challenges facing the organisation at the moment?
You can have your questions written in a notebook that you take with you. It is absolutely fine to come to an interview with a notebook. Of course, it is better if it’s a professional–looking one rather than something you have borrowed from a teenage child or sister, but regardless, you are fine to take notes and have your questions ready beforehand.
It can happen that they answer all your questions during the meeting and there is nothing left to ask. In this case you can always make sure by glancing at your list and then say : “You have answered all of the questions I had. Thank you”
On the day
7. Have all the organisational data printed or written down
Always have the organisational details printed or jotted down in a physical notebook. Your phone battery may go down or there might be an issue with the connection. I remember an email circulated by reception in an office where I once worked which said: “Mrs XX has arrived for her interview, but she doesn’t remember who she is seeing. Can the respective person please call reception ?”
You don’t want to be in such a situation, and no, she did not get the job, though loss of memory was not the only reason.
8. Remember to smile and make eye contact
If there is one standard piece of advice I want to include here, it is to smile from the very first minute and to make eye contact as often as possible. There is actually a scientific explanation for why and how this works: “ Each time you smile at a person, their brain coaxes them to return the favor. You are creating a symbiotic relationship that allows both of you to release feel good chemicals in your brain, activate reward centers and, make you both more attractive” (source)
So smile from the very first moment you enter the office. This will not, in itself, secure you the job, but will make everything you say much better received.
What causes you the most stress when you have an interview scheduled?
If you enjoyed this post, why not subscribing to my monthly newsletter where I share an overview of posts from the past month, as well as some additional, exclusive content.