Interviewing can be stressful, but it’s a skill that can be learned.
Follow these five easy steps, inspired by the new book The Work/Life Balance: Resetting Your Goals, to get you started:
1. Write down your story, and write down their story
Before you interview—and, for that matter, before you construct your resume—write your own professional biography. Analyze your career history. How did you get where you are? What skills did you pick up on the way?
Note turning points and goals you have achieved. Think about where you want to go. Do you see any patterns? Do you like solving problems, working on a team, teaching others or analyzing risks?
In addition to preparing your biography before an interview, research each company or organization for which you schedule an interview. Learn about the company’s history, the corporate culture, the principal managers and their products or services. You want to show that you’re knowledgeable and interested.
2. Think of yourself as the solution to the company’s problem
Apply what you’ve learned from writing down your professional biography and the company’s history to the job you’re interviewing for. Envision the interview as an opportunity for you to showcase your ability to solve the interviewer’s problem—that is, finding the best person for the job. This is important because, just as with your resume, you want to relate how your attributes fit the job you want and align with the company’s mission.
3. Prepare for the questions you know they’ll ask
Many experts believe that what employers want to know can be summed up by three questions: Can you do the job? How will you fit in with the company culture? Will you be motivated to do a good job?
Although many interviewers will ask you those three questions, many others will derive the information from your answers to other interview questions. That’s why you need to be prepared to answer the most commonly asked interview questions. Here they are—give them some good thought before an interview:
- Why should we hire you?
- What can you do for us that other candidates can’t?
- Why do you want to work here?
- Can you describe what our company does?
- What are your strengths?
- What are your weaknesses?
- Why did you leave your last job? (Or: Why do you want to leave your current job?)
- Can you tell me about a problem you encountered at work and how you solved it?
- What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken in your job?
- Can you describe a time your coworkers or team did not agree with your decision and how you did or did not reach consensus?
- What salary are you looking for?
Think ahead, too, about possible offbeat questions they might ask: If you were a tree or an animal, what would you be? A small sapling or a towering oak with deep roots? A docile sheep or an aggressive tiger?
4. Prepare your own questions
You should also have questions for the interviewer; this demonstrates foresight on your part. Here are some questions to consider:
- What kind of skills and abilities do your successful employees have?
- What are the long-range goals for your division, your department and the job in question?
- Are there problems that management hopes to resolve in the next six months to a year?
- What is the internal hierarchy of the organization? Top-down or bottom-up management?
- What do you think are the long-term projections for the industry?
- What happened to the person who had this job previously?
- What are the possibilities for advancement?
- What do you like about working for this company?
5. Don’t forget to follow up
Your work is not over when the interview ends unless you are offered the job on the spot. Follow up promptly with a thank you note. Sending an old-fashioned thank you note on real paper after an interview is always a stand-out move simply because it is no longer commonly done. This is a good way to remind the recipient of your name and availability in case they are interviewing many candidates.
Ann Kepler is the author of The Work/Life Balance Planner: Resetting Your Goals (Huron Street Press; February 2013). She lives in Chicago.