How to Prepare for an Interview
Step #1: Research the company and the people who will interview you
Start the preparation process by learning more about your potential employer. Explore the organization or company’s website thoroughly, but also conduct Google searches to find trustworthy information from third-party sources. Pay particular attention to any recent press releases. As you conduct your research, learn more about the company’s history, its recent successes, and, if possible, information about how it would like to grow. You can then use this information in your interview to talk about how your skills and experiences can help the company achieve its goals.
Be sure to learn more about the individuals with whom you’ll be meeting, too. LinkedIn can be a great source of information, but so too can Twitter and Google. Where did your interviewers go to school? Where have they worked in the past? What is their employment history with the organization? This information will give you a better sense of where your interviewers are coming from, as well as what kinds of questions they might ask you. It might also help you identify commonalities, such as common schools, hometowns, interests, etc., that can help you establish a more personal connection with them during the interview.
Step #2: Reassess your qualifications against the job description
Closely read the job description again to figure out how your skills and experiences match up with the employer’s desired qualifications for the role. Make separate lists for the specific ways in which you fit perfectly, the ways in which you sort of meet the desired criteria, and the ways in which you don’t exactly measure up perfectly. Don’t worry—no candidate will be a perfect match in every category, but you’ll want to use this analysis to help you focus your preparation on your weakest areas.
Step #3: Put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes
Ask yourself what you would ask an applicant for the desired position if the roles were reversed. What aspects of the job do you think would be most important to concentrate on during the interview? How would you go about assessing an applicant’s qualifications? What kinds of answers would impress you most? What kinds of answers would not impress you? Taking the time to play out this thought experiment will help you anticipate the questions or kinds of questions you’ll be asked during your actual interview.
Step #4: Prepare/memorize answers to the job-specific questions you’ll most likely be asked
This is the no-brainer. If the job requires strong quantitative skills and social science research experience, be expected to talk about your experience conducting quantitative social science research. If the job requires significant prior teaching experience in the humanities, be prepared to talk a lot about your prior teaching experience in the humanities. You can usually anticipate many of the core interview questions by looking at the list of preferred qualifications listed in the job description.
Step #5: Prepare/memorize answers to the job-specific questions you doubt you’ll be asked
The worst thing that can happen in an interview is being caught off guard, so take time to prepare answers to the least likely questions, too, no matter how uncomfortable or farfetched. When preparing your answers to the questions you think you’ll most likely be asked, put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes and imagine all the potential follow-up questions that might result. Prepare answers to these questions and then run a second iteration of this thought experiment to make sure you’ve covered your bases and have prepared answers for all questions within the realm of possibility, no matter how likely.
Step #6: Prepare/memorize answers to questions that all employers ask all applicants
Don’t forget the standard list of questions that employers everywhere frequently ask applicants, regardless of the company or the position. A near-master list of these kinds of questions can be found here, but some of the biggies include:
- Tell me about yourself.
- Walk me through your resume.
- Why do you think you’re qualified for this position?
- What would you find most challenging about this role?
- What would you find most rewarding about this role?
- Tell me about a time when you disagreed with a supervisor? What did you do?
- Tell me about a time you worked as part of a team to accomplish a goal.
- Tell me about your project management experience.
- Tell me about a time you led a team to accomplish a goal.
- What are your greatest strengths/areas in need of improvement?
- How would your former supervisor describe you?
- Why are you interested in this position?
- What do you know about our company?
- What would you say are the biggest challenges that this company/our clients are facing?
- Tell me about a time you convinced someone to agree with your point of view?
- Why are you leaving your current job/academia/current profession?
- Tell me about your management/leadership experience.
- What is your greatest success/achievement?
- Tell me about a time you failed at something.
- Where do you see yourself in 5/10 years?
- How will working for this company help you achieve your professional goals?
- What are your hobbies?
- What are you currently reading?
Step #7: Prepare questions that you’d like to ask the employer
Asking your interviewer unanswered questions about the role and the company will convey your seriousness and deep interest in the position. At the same time, keep your list of questions relatively brief—most interviewers will not want to answer a litany of questions that runs longer than a few minutes. The end of the interview is also a great time to talk about the interviewer’s timetable for the search process and what potential next steps for you might look like.
Step #8: Practice your delivery
Never walk into an interview without having practiced—you’ll come across as unprepared, unprofessional, and not serious about the position. Jot down and memorize key talking points for each potential question, so that you don’t hem and haw at each question during the actual interview. Use flashcards or a friend to help boost your recall abilities. Practice your articulation and body language as well, by mimicking the conditions of the interview as much as possible and by talking through your answers aloud. The more you’re prepared, the more successful your interview will likely be.
Step #9: Practice some more
Just to hammer that last point home, prepare. And prepare some more until you feel comfortable that you will be able to successfully field any question or scenario you encounter in the actual interview.
Step #10: Don’t forget the logistics
To ensure you show up on time and in the right place, check and double check that you know where the interview will be and how you’ll get there. Make sure the clothes you plan to wear are clean, unwrinkled, and ready; that your car has gas; and that you’ll have plenty of time for all your pre-interview grooming.
Step #11: Send a confirmation email the day before
Sending a confirmation email will help you make sure that you and your interviewer are on the same page with regards to the time, day, and location. It also looks really classy.