6 Essential Tips for Really Acing Interview Prep

Start your preparation the minute you receive an invitation for an interview.

woman looking for a job
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By Arnie Fertig

After weeks and months of searching and waiting, your call comes:

"Hello. I'm calling from Your Dream Company to thank you for your application to be a [fill in a job title] here. Are you still interested?

You might think to yourself at this point, "Are you crazy? Of course I'm thrilled to get this call! All I have to do is get in to see the hiring manager and I've got this job locked up!" But you actually say: "Yes, this seems like a great opportunity. I'm very interested." "I'm so glad. Your résumé is very impressive, and the hiring manager would like to speak with you two days from now. Are you available at 2 p.m.?"

This is the moment when your assumption of ultimate success can trip you up. It can lull you into simply setting the time for your interview and then letting the call end. Instead, you must at this very moment begin your preparation for interview success.

Turn that call from an appointment-setting task for a human resources staffer into an information-gathering call for yourself. Engage the appointment-setter in conversation. He or she may not have all the information you seek, but it is certainly fair to ask:
  • Can you tell me with whom I'll speak/meet?
  • If you'll meet with multiple people, follow up and ask: Will it be a panel interview, a series of one-to-ones or small group discussions?
  • How much time are they allocating in their calendar for the interview?
  • Can you tell me anything I should prepare, or information that I should bring to make the interview most productive?

With this basic data in hand, you can then go about turning it into useful information with diligent investigation.

1. Research the company extensively. It's never too early to figure out what a company does, how it does it, what makes its products or services attractive in the marketplace, what competitive challenges it faces from its peers or from the economy as a whole.

Carefully review its website and profile on LinkedIn. Use a news search engine within Google, Yahoo or Bing to learn about product launches, how it's faring in the financial markets, mergers or acquisitions with which it involved, key changes in personnel/leadership and more.

If you expect to learn these things at an interview, you'll lose your own competitive advantage over other job hunters who will make certain to know all this and come into the interview prepared to capitalize on their research.

2. Learn about the people with whom you'll speak. There are times when the makeup of interview panels can't be firmed up by the company until the last minute. Still, it's totally fair for you to ask this question when the meeting is being set up.

Check out each interviewer's LinkedIn profile, paying special attention to areas of commonality that he or she has with his or her other colleagues and/or you. It might be a common former employer, college or work utilizing particular tools or skills.

You should come to the interview prepared to build personal connection by making a casual remark like, "It's always good to meet another alum from ABC college" at the right moment.

3. Shine your shoes, take your suit to the dry cleaner, iron your shirt and comb your hair. Even if the company has a casual dress code, appearances count.

4. Anticipate questions you might be asked. You can never game the system all the way, but you can imagine yourself in the role of the interviewer. What information would he or she most need to have to make a sound hiring decision? What background, temperament and values would a great candidate possess? With this in mind, practice telling stories that show you to be this kind of person.

5. Assemble the materials you should take to the interview. While the company already has your résumé, it is only courteous for you to bring letter-perfect copies of it for everyone with whom you will interact. Also bring business cards, even if they only have your name, address and contact information on them. Think about work samples, portfolios or PowerPoint slides that you can show if the opportunity presents itself.

6. Make sure you know where you're going. Unfortunate stories of people who show up late, report to the wrong building or simply get lost on the way to the interview abound. Practice driving the route to the interview in the days ahead at roughly the same time that you'll travel the route on interview day, to get a sense of how long it will take and what delays you might encounter.

When you know where you're going – both physically, and on your career path – and you've done your research, it will be easy to convince your interviewer of your strong fit for your dream company.

Happy hunting!

Arnie Fertig, MPA, is passionate about helping his Jobhuntercoach clients advance their careers by transforming frantic "I'll apply to anything" searches into focused hunts for "great fit" opportunities. He brings to each client the extensive knowledge he gained when working in HR staffing and managing his boutique recruiting firm.

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