The Modern Job Interview: Pre and Post Interview Preparation
Preparing for a job interview should never be underestimated. In fact, preparing for any interview shouldn’t be underestimated, whether it’s for a new job, a promotion, a place at College or University, it really doesn’t matter. All interviews are pretty much the same when it comes to the basics. You may think you’re just going for a temp job at a retail store, so why do you need to put so much effort in? But the minute you walk in, a good interviewer will see that attitude immediately, and it will probably cost you the job.
As Spring is the season for interviews, with many of us searching for new careers in January and February, as well as most Universities offering interviews throughout this time of year as well. It’s important to ensure that you are fully prepared when you walk into the room.
Most organisations offer a relatively short turn-around time, offing interviews with up to a week’s notice. So preparation needs to begin at the same time you begin applying for new roles. Therefore I have put together the following guide which encompasses everything you need to be fully prepared for your interview, and ensure the only thing that means you don’t get the job is because you’re not right for it.
Your CV, Covering Letter and The Job Description
A good CV and covering letter are specifically targeted to the organisation, it is relatively easy to spot a generic application, so make sure you’ve done a little bit of research into the organisation before you hit apply, and adapt your CV to hit a couple of their “skills required”. I have a template saved of my CV and covering letter, so whenever I apply to a role, it only takes a few moments to update in order to target the organisation I’m applying to. Make sure that any changes you do make, you save them under a different name so when you are invited for interview, you can print a couple of copies to take with you and remind yourself the day before which skills you highlighted.
Make sure you save a copy of the job advertisement as well, this will offer you a good basis for your research, and give you a good place to start.
If you go onto any self help blog or article which talks about interview prep, this will be one of the most talked about items. The more you research, the smoother your interview will be. Your research will only be directly requested for one question, which I can guarantee will be in every single interview you go for “what do you know about us”. However, effective research will be easily incorporated into almost every single one of your answers, showing the interviewer how much you really care about the job.
When asked “what do you know about the company?”, I focus on three talking points:
What does the company do as a whole, and what does this role/ department do to contribute to that? Who does the company partner with? Are they strongly affiliated with other organisations? What do these companies do? Who are the main competitors in the industry, and are there any competitors outside of the industry?
What does the organisation value? What sort of people already work at the company? Is there an atmosphere the company is aiming to create? What’s the dress code in the organisation? What’s the reputation of the organisation with past employees, customers and generally in the industry? What kind of culture is important to you?
What industry is the organisation in? Is the role in this industry, or a different one? For example, if you are applying to a HR role in a financial services firm, there will be two industries that you need to know about. What are the key trends in the industry at the moment? Is there anything that is going to directly impact this role, or the company and cause a new challenge? What does the growth look like in the industry? Why are you excited about the industry, what makes it special to you?
The most important section to weave into all of your answers is the culture of the business. The main goal of an interview is to decide whether you are right for the role, so give perspective to your answers by subtly (or explicitly) linking them to the culture. If a company values honesty, give real examples and don’t skip over anything that went wrong. For example, if you hosted a successful event, take note of the things that didn’t go well that you quickly learnt from. Or if it took you a couple of attempts to learn from a mistake, mention it and why.
Another important point to remember is when asked about how much you know about a company, gauge how much information the interviewer really wants, it’s a good idea to show how vast your research has been, without sitting their for 5 minutes going through every single thing you’ve learnt. After all, the interviewer already works there, so they may not need too much detail.
Almost all interviews will use variations of a basic set of interview questions. Some interviewers will throw in a couple of questions to trip you up, one question I was asked is who inspires you the most and why, but they didn’t want a generic answer like “my mum because she’s my great” or “[insert famous celebrity here]”. They were after something unique, they wanted to see how a candidate thought on their feet and most importantly they wanted honesty.
SIDE NOTE: I chose two people: My Mum and Victoria who runs InTheFrow. My mum is my closest familiar inspiration because she has this innate ability to be lovely, kind, compassionate but still powerful. She’s the kind of woman that not only changes lives, but she changes the world. She fostered for 7 years, raised 3 (if I do say so myself) ambitious, creative and dynamic children, has never let her health stop her from anything, and continues to be wonderful no matter what’s put in her way. My mum is amazing, mind blowing and I hope one day I can be just like her.
Victoria on the other hand is my career boss girl inspiration. She is hard working, kind and determined, she has this air of professional creativity about her that I haven’t seen anywhere else in the industry and the content she creates is flawless, cohesive and beautiful across all of her channels. She never seems to let anything stand in her way, and she’s balanced her work and life perfectly in order to appear to never burn out.
When making sure you’ve got an answer to every basic interview question, make sure you also have an example of how you’ve approached this situation before, or if you haven’t got the experience, talk about how you would approach the situation, it’s important to plan your answers so when asked, you can respond immediately. If you have a few examples of different things in your head, then when you’re asked a more difficult or curve ball question, you can take a moment to consider the examples you’ve revised and adapt the most appropriate. You can do this long before you are actually offered an interview as well, and then the day before the interview, look through the values of the organisation and skills they’ve requested and adapt a few answers to incorporate these points.
Another question you will most definitely be asked is why us, or why you? Before an interview take time to fall in love with the company you’re applying to, fully commit and get into the head space that you couldn’t imagine working anywhere else. Walking into that interview will be much easier after that.
Being prepared for any interview means focusing on the little details. Interview attire is largely the same, but there is versatility depending on how rigid the company is. If you can’t afford, or haven’t found the right fit for a suit, this isn’t necessarily a disaster, a blazer and skirt of the same or contrasting colour is also a professional look. It’s important to take time to ensure the outfit you walk into that room in is completely on brand with the type of professional you are. An interviewer will judge you the moment you walk into a room, so make sure it’s a positive first impression.
Other little details to be aware of are things such as ensuring your hair is neat, well styled and frizz free, and your clothes properly fit, are properly clean – you don’t want to walk out of an interview noticing your skirt was covered in cat hair, or you had a small stain on your shirt. Your shoes are comfortable, and polished, and your nails are neatly filed and free from nail polish chips. Finally your smell, make sure you wore a string enough deodorant and have a good quality but subtle perfume.
If you’re looking for inspiration on professional outfits, have a look at my Dress for Success Pinterest board, which showcase inspirational outfits for workplace attire and interviews, or my two hair styles boards dedicated to loose hair styles and up-do’s.
Professional is Prepared
Being over prepared for an interview is better than under preparation, and therefore I have created a quick list of things that I bring to every interview:
In a leather documents file:
- At least two copies of my CV and covering letter (if I am being interviewed by a panel, or I’m not sure how many people are in the room, I’ll often bring a few more)
- My Passport and National Insurance Number
- A thick piece of card to stop the document file bending (mine is a little flimsy).
- My notebook with all of my research about the company and the examples to use for interview questions
- A printed copy of the job description
In my handbag
- My phone fully charged – on silent (not vibrate!)
- My purse with my bank details inside
- At least two pens to take notes
- Hand sanitiser
- Hairbrush/ comb
- Touch up makeup – a fresh coat of lipstick before you walk in can’t do any harm
- Directions on how to get to the interview destination
Interviewers will sit through the same thing over and over again, with interviewees giving generic answers to the generic questions that they ask. I’ve had the chance to sit through several interview processes, and each one was repetitive. Being memorable will help you be considered more prominently for a role, although don’t sacrifice professionalism for memorability, the worst thing you can do is being remembered for all the wrong reasons.
Although making your answers unique, this will largely be based on your previous experience, and will probably be limited by the type of applicable life experience you’ve got. So use the time at the end of the interview to ask questions, most people will ask one. So why not come up with three questions you want to ask, some that are generic about the next steps etc. but also ask questions that you really want to know the answer to, and are unique. My favourite question to ask an interviewer – as long as they aren’t a founder of the company, is why did you chose to work here, and what makes you want to come to work every day?
The interviewer’s answer is extremely important to me, because if the interviewer lights up, and can easily talk for 5 minutes about how much they love the company and their job, then it’s somewhere I want to work too. If they can’t think of anything, or their responses are generic, it’s probably not the right company for me.
SEND A THANK YOU NOTE!
I cannot stress how important this is. Less than 50% of interviewee’s take the time to send a written letter, email or call their interviewer to thank them for their time. Not only is this a huge benefit to you, and will help you be remembered, but it’s also just polite. The interviewer is just as busy as you are (if not more so), and has had to take time out of their day to sit down with you, so thanking them for doing so is a good habit to get into.
And that is everything you need to know in order to successfully prepare for a job interview. The only reason you shouldn’t get a job, or that placement at University is simply because you’re not right for it, it should never be because of your lack of preparation or because of how you convey yourself.
Try to remember that it’s okay to be turned down for a job, or to decide half way through an interview that actually the company isn’t quite right for you. An interview may appear one sided, but the minute you change your perspective to this being a two way conversation for the purpose of not only deciding whether you are right for a company, but whether they are right for you, this will change the entire atmosphere in an interview room.
If you’re interested in other resources for preparing for an interview, have a look at my Career Habits Pinterest board.
Good luck on your interview related endeavours!