What to prepare before a job interview

Step 1: Learn About the Interview Format

  • The more you know about the format of the interview, the easier your preparation and the better your performance will be. Don't be shy about asking the employer; it shows you are serious and professional.
  1. Ask how long the interview will be.
    • Make sure not to schedule something immediately after the interview. You don't want to have to choose between the interview and another commitment, or to rush at the end of the meeting.
    • This also helps you to anticipate the pacing of the meeting and prioritize your talking points.
  2. Ask who you'll be meeting with.
    • Get the name and title of the interviewer(s), and check the organization's website for more information.
    • The more you know about your interviewer(s), the more you can anticipate their general interests and concerns.
      • If an interviewer works in HR, this means your conversation probably will emphasize general employment matters, such as your work ethic.
      • If you're going to meet with a supervisor, be prepared to discuss things more specific to the job, such as your technical skills.
    • Knowing a person's position or background is helpful, but it's just one factor in your overall preparation. It's good to do some preparation specific to that person, but also keep your other bases covered.
      • For instance, you may be scheduled to meet an HR person, but actually end up meeting with a supervisor.
  3. Ask whether there'll be more than one interviewer or meeting that day.
    • If you'll be meeting with more than one person at once, be aware that one thing they may be looking for is how you perform in group situations.
      • For instance, are you collegial, passive, or aggressive?
    • If you'll be having multiple meetings, eat well beforehand and bring extra copies of your resumé. Be prepared to shift gears and discuss different things with different people.
  4. Ask whether there are onsite accommodations.
    • If you may need certain onsite accommodations, such as wheelchair access, ask the employer.

Learn How the Interview Will Take Place

  1. The traditional face-to-face meeting still is the most common format, but there are several others, each having its own peculiarities.

  2. A telephone interview will be relatively easier since you won't dress up or travel, but also harder because of technological limits, like not being able to respond to body language.

  3. An interview over a meal may seem less formal, but you have to be just as careful; practice your best table manners.

  4. A behavioral or situational interview will emphasize how you behaved in an actual situation, or how you think you'd behave in a hypothetical one. Be ready with some stories about how you demonstrated specific strengths pertinent to the job.

  5. If you'll be interviewing internally, say for a promotion, you not only have to prepare for the interview itself, but also handle your relations with co-workers, for instance managing possible gossip about your situation.


Learn About the Dress Code

  1. Except for a telephone interview, you'll need to know the organization's dress code and make sure you have appropriate clothing and accessories to wear to the interview.

  2. "Appropriate" depends partly on the particular employer and job, so check with the organization as well as general guidelines for men and women and for individual professional fields.

  3. Generally speaking, it's better to be dressed a little more formally than less, and to be comfortable.

  4. Avoid anything that's likely to be perceived as distracting.


Step 2: Research, Research, Research

  • Knowledge is power, and the more you learn in preparation for the interview, the better. But don't try to learn everything; focus on what matters the most for your situation.


  1. Hopefully you've already done some self-assessment to identify what types of jobs and employers are best for you.

  2. And you've done some research or thinking about other things specific to your situation, for instance how your age might be a factor. Or whether you're changing careers. Or what interview preparation is specific to your field, such as government work.

  3. If you need to do some more self-assessment for these or other questions, Monster.com, Yahoo! HotJobs.com, and CareerJournal.com are terrific resources.


Research the Employer

  1. It helps to know general aspects of the organization including its size, history, philosophy, reputation, training programs, and competitors.
    • You probably won't be quizzed on these things, but having a sense of them will help you better understand the job and talk more effectively with the interviewer.
  2. Study their website and other online sources, but don't limit yourself to the Internet.
  3. Current or former employees can be great resources. One good way to reach them is through your alumni network.
  4. Whether from employees, the web, or a discreet site visit, see if you can find out specific things that would impact your daily life there, such as the workplace environment.

Research the Job

  1. If you don't already have a full job description from the employer, ask for one or check the HR section of their website.

  2. What exactly are the job requirements? How do they match your abilities?

  3. How does the job seem to fit into the organization's overall structure or goals? Are you comfortable with that?

  4. How does the job compare to similar jobs elsewhere, or work that you've done before?


Evaluate Your Results

  • Based on all this research, do you think you're really qualified for the job? And is the job right for you?
    • Thorough research may show that the job really isn't a good fit. If so, decide whether to cancel the interview or go ahead with it.
    • If you decide to cancel the interview, you should do so with appropriate advance notice (at least 24 hours beforehand). If you're asked for a reason, you could just say that you think it's not going to be a good fit.
    • By going ahead with the interview, you can test your suspicion as well as practice your general interviewing skills.

Step 3: Prepare Questions and Answers

  • The interviewer probably will spend some time describing the organization and job, which calls for you to listen attentively. But there also will be a lot of questioning and answering, which is much more challenging.

Prepare Questions to Expect

  1. The best preparation for the Q&A is to develop a list of anticipated questions.
    • You don't have to use all of the hundreds of possible questions that you can imagine or find online, but several that your research suggests are important or obvious to expect.
    • You may or may not be asked these questions, but preparing them gives you self-confidence as well as talking points that you could bring up in conversation.
  2. These are some common interview questions that are always good to prepare for:
    • Tell me about yourself.
    • What are some of your strengths and weaknesses?
    • Why do you want this job?
    • What can you do for this organization?
    • Where are you now in your career, and where do you want to go?
    • When can you start? Can you commit to our work schedule, and for how long?
  3. Many potential questions fall into general categories or types. In addition to preparing for specific questions, like the ones above, it's good to be ready for these different areas of questioning.
  4. One type of question is the credential verification, where the interviewer checks the accuracy of some factual information you provided in your application, partly to test whether you are honest and detail-oriented.
    • For instance, "When exactly did you work at your last job?"
    • In answering this type of question, be honest and direct. If need be, it's usually better to admit and dismiss a minor mistake than to defend it.
  5. The behavioral or situational question asks what you have or would do in a certain challenging situation. This helps show the interviewer how you would behave on the job.
    • For instance, "Tell me how you solved a significant problem involving your work."
    • For this, it helps to prepare some anecdotes beforehand. Choose and tell your story so it illustrates your professionalism and qualifications for this job.
  6. Stress questions are those that may seem especially confrontational or strange. They are intended to show how you handle pressure or awkward situations.
    • For instance, "What would you say if I told you that you seem to lack a basic qualification for this position?"
    • If pressed about a particular weakness, you could tactfully assert something that counters this perception, or acknowledge the weakness while asserting that your overall qualifications are strong and you're eager to learn.
  7. Industry-specific questions ask about something particular to the field in which you want to work. They test your knowledge and commitment to that field.
    • For instance, in interviewing for a job at a video store, you could be asked, "What are some of your favorite films by Francois Truffaut?"
    • The longer you've worked in a field, the less challenging these types of questions will be. If you're a relative newcomer, you could acknowledge that there may be some gaps in your knowledge but you're ready and willing to learn.
  8. You probably won't be asked an illegal or clearly inappropriate question, but it does happen.
    • Questions about things such as your age, race, gender, religion, disabilities, marital status, or sexual orientation are discriminatory and should not be asked in job interviews.
    • If you're asked something along these lines, you have options for whether and how to answer.
    • You could simply answer and move on, or ask how this relates to the job, or say you don't feel this is an appropriate question.
    • However you handle the question, you also have the option afterward of deciding whether this organization is a good fit for you.

Prepare Answers to the Anticipated Questions

  1. Develop persuasive answers that are concise and unscripted enough so they will seem natural in conversation. Create simple outlines and bullet points rather than essays.

  2. Depending on the questions, your answers may be pretty specific or general to fit a range of possible questions. Here again, some anecdotes about how you succeeded in some professional matter can be very useful for lots of potential questions.

  3. Keep your answers honest while accentuating the positive; always avoid making any criticisms or other common interview mistakes.


Prepare Questions to Ask

  1. Prepare some intelligent questions related to the job. Make sure that you genuinely want to know the answers and that you could not find them through your research.
  2. Ask questions that elicit some dialogue or followup questions, rather than short answers that don't really go anywhere.
  3. Ask questions that will both inform you about the organization and say something positive about yourself, like you're hardworking.
  4. Depending on your field and the interviewer (HR, a supervisor, a co-worker), you might develop some questions specific to them; but be sure to have some good general ones that could work in various situations.
  5. These are some general questions you could ask:
    • What prospects are there for growth or advancement? (Shows you're dedicated and forward thinking.)
    • What would a typical day or week be like in this job? (Shows you're realistic and seeking a good fit.)
    • What are some of the biggest challenges of the job? (Shows you're serious and focused.)
    • Is there anything you'd like to discuss that we didn't go over, or that I could better clarify? (Shows you're thorough and courteous.)
    • What's our next step? (Shows you're interested in the job, but not pushy.)
  6. These are some general questions you shouldn't ask:
    • Will I be expected to work overtime? (Suggests you may not be serious or dedicated.)
    • What are the salary and benefits? (Save this for when you have a job offer.)
    • Do I have the job? (Suggests pushiness or desperation.)

Practice the Q&A

  1. Practice in front of a mirror or with a friend or career counselor who gives constructive feedback about the form and content of your performance.

  2. Likewise, practice the formal introduction (no limp or sweaty handshakes, please!).


Step 4: Prepare Supporting Evidence of Past Performance

  • Be prepared to show or describe previous work that demonstrates your strengths for the job under discussion.
  1. Your resumé and cover letters are likely starting points for this, so be prepared to clarify or expand on what's there.
  2. Additional evidence could include the work itself, performance reviews, or professional references. For a first-round interview, you probably won't need to bring these things, but be prepared to describe them or say they're available upon request.
  3. Whether discussing your resumé or performance reviews, it's good to be able to cite some specific examples that support your application.
    • For instance, state how exactly you improved customer satisfaction at your previous company.
    • Numbers can be very persuasive, for instance if you improved revenues by 30%.

Step 5: The Day Before the Interview

  • Now you can tackle some of the easier (but also important) aspects of preparation. Aim to have all of this done before the day of the interview, so the next day can be that much easier and effective.
  1. Review your research and practice your anticipated questions. See if you've forgotten anything important.
  2. Get a discreet look at the interview location during business hours, so you know how to get there and can get a sense of the environment.
  3. Gather the materials you should take with you:
    • A cell phone.
    • A portfolio or folder containing (but not stuffed with) your employer contact info, research, copies of your resumé, a notepad, two pens, and business cards (if you have them).
    • Your calendar, in case they want to schedule a follow-up interview.
    • An umbrella, if there's any chance of rain.
  4. Prepare anything you need to be properly dressed and groomed, based on your site visit and/or asking beforehand about the organization's dress code.
    • Clothes always should be clean and neatly pressed.
  5. Get a good night's sleep.

Step 6: The Day of the Interview

  • Now it's time to put all your preparation into practice.

Before Leaving for the Interview

  1. Be prepared for possible performance anxiety. You can overcome those natural jitters by doing things like reviewing your research or taking a brisk walk.

  2. Give yourself time to get dressed and groomed, and then be careful to avoid anything that could mess up your appearance.


On the Road

  1. It's essential to be on time.
    • This shows respect and good self-management skills, and helps reduce performance anxiety.
    • Aim to arrive quite early at the interview location, but don't approach the interviewer until your scheduled time.
  2. If you're running late despite all your preparation, don't give up.
    • Call the employer before the interview time, be honest about why you're going to be late, apologize, and ask if it's possible to reschedule.
    • Maybe you can reschedule and maybe not, but at least try to give yourself that option.
  3. Make sure your cell phone and any other potentially distracting devices are turned off before you arrive.

Being There

  1. Wait patiently and calmly for the interview. No fidgeting or gum chewing.

  2. Offer a professional greeting with eye contact and a smile, a solid handshake, and a polite introduction that follows the interviewer's lead.  

Copyright © 2012. AustralianJobspec. All rights reserved