Great news! You have been selected to interview for an opportunity at a great organization for a role that aligns with your professional skill set and next-step career goals. The excitement you feel may be accompanied with a fair amount of anxiety as you begin to prepare for your interview. After-all, interview preparation can feel overwhelming at times! Even if you are a seasoned professional, we recommend putting work into preparation.
Read on for 6 helpful tips to ensure you walk in to your next interview feeling confident.
1. Understand the role
The first, and possibly most important, step in preparing for an interview involves reviewing all of the information available regarding both the company and the specific role for which you are interviewing.
As you prepare for your interview, take thorough notes on:
· The most important skills and qualifications required for the role
· The day-to-day responsibilities
· The overall mission, values, and goals of the organization
At this stage of your preparation, try thinking of the role from the hiring manager’s point of view to understand what the organization truly needs from a candidate in this position.
2. Know your brand and how it fits with the role
Now that you understand the specifics of the role, turn your attention to your own qualifications. You have likely already “connected the dots” between the job description and your qualifications as you prepared your tailored resume and cover letter during the application process.
Now, let's take that process one step further by reflecting on your professional brand in the context of this particular role. Think about three to five of your best qualifications and plan compelling stories or anecdotes that you can relay in the interview that demonstrate these qualities. Use the STAR method (Situation – Task – Action – Result) to formulate cohesive examples.
For instance, say you would like to convey that you have a proven track record of innovating and implementing new character-building programs for elementary school students. One story you could tell that exemplifies your innovation could be: “I saw a need to develop character-building programs to help our students learn how to treat each other with kindness, so I developed ‘Catch Me Being Kind’ (Situation). I wanted to create an incentive program that would be easy for students to understand (Task). After benchmarking some similar programs and tapping into my institutional knowledge of our student population, I created a system in which students could earn tickets for demonstrating simple acts of kindness that they could trade in for small prizes or privileges in school (Action). We ended up with excellent buy-in from students, a marked decrease in bullying incidents, and 100% of our pilot program teachers recommended the program for broader implementation (Result).”
While it can certainly be useful to prepare answers to commonly asked interview questions, we recommend starting by reflecting on stories you can tell that align with your professional brand. Often, these stories can be used to answer a variety of interview questions.
3. Plan compelling questions to ask
During your interview, aim to consistently demonstrate your interest in the position and organization. Asking compelling and insightful questions during the interview conveys your thoughtful approach, overall interest, and respect for the hiring committee’s time. Prepare a list of several potential questions with the knowledge that your conversation throughout the interview may answer a few of the questions from your list.
Demonstrate the research that you have done on the role and the organization while asking questions. For example, you could say: “I noticed on your website that your organization has committed to serving the local community. What are some community engagement activities that employees take part in throughout the year?” Asking insightful questions can also show your advanced-level skill sets. For example: “We discussed some of the challenges your organization has had with streamlining customer communication. What are some technologies that you have explored to help with this? Have you evaluated XYZ software?”
Asking questions during your interview (not just at the end!) helps the interaction to feel more conversational, rather than simply an inquisition. You’ll also succeed in quickly building rapport with your interviewers, which enables them to visualize you as part of their team.
Don’t forget to have a pad of paper and pen with you during the interview so you can take notes. This helps to track points made that you will want to ask about and/or bring up again in the thank you note – or even a subsequent interview!
4. Practice, practice, practice
Even if you’re an industry veteran with 25 years of experience, you will still benefit from practicing for your interview. Rehearsing the answers to commonly asked questions like “tell me about yourself” or “what is your biggest weakness” can help you to dust off some interviewing cobwebs, identify distracting speech patterns (um, like, you know), and help you to find the optimal speaking cadence.
Practice with a trusted friend or family member, or partner with ReFresh Your Step for our interviewing strategies services. Remember, while you can certainly be underprepared for an interview, you can be over-prepared as well. Practice so that your answers flow naturally, but not so much that you sound like a robot. The best interviews feel like genuine conversations.
Extra tip: practice your responses out loud! There is reason people say, “Well, that sounded better in my head!” after any kind of verbal gaffe.
5. Take care of logistics
My biggest interview horror story came about because I wrote down the street address of a company’s location in a different city from my own. Every city has a Market Street, right? No wonder I couldn’t find the location!
Well ahead of your interview, know exactly what you’ll wear, what you’ll bring with you, where you’ll go, and how you’ll get there. Do a practice run to make sure you know the specific location of your interview, and plan for double the amount of traffic that you would normally expect. When you arrive early, take a few deep breaths and look over your notes in the lobby or parking lot, then walk into the building with confidence 15 minutes before your scheduled interview time.
6. Have a follow up strategy
Your interview does not end the moment you shake hands, thank the committee for their time, and walk out the door. Follow up with a brief email within a day or two after the interview. In your follow-up emails to each member of the hiring committee, express your gratitude for the time they spent speaking with you, remind them of your conversation (“I especially enjoyed hearing about your website redesign”), and provide any information that you may have left out from your previous conversation.
For instance, you could write, “As I was reflecting on our conversation, I realized that I did not relay my experience serving as an employee liaison for our company’s wellness initiative. In this role, I served as an advocate for my division and successfully lobbied for a few standing desks to be added to our workspace. My colleagues appreciated the opportunity to stretch their legs throughout the workday, and I learned how to prepare persuasive presentations that reflected the needs of my division.”
Before you leave the interview, you should know a rough timeline for the final hiring decision. Make a note of that date, and if you have not heard a decision by a few days afterwards, draft a brief email indicating your continued interest in the role and inquire about the hiring status.
Regardless of the outcome, make an effort to keep in touch with the organization representatives you met throughout the hiring process in an effort to build your professional network.