Essential Interview Prep

On Thursday of this week I’m giving a 90-minute workshop for a group of people who are currently looking for a job, and a big chunk of that time is going to be devoted to interviewing strategies. I could probably do a 90-minute workshop on interviewing every day for a week and not cover everything you need to know, but I came across an article that does an excellent job of summarizing some of the most important things that you can do to prepare for the interview.

The article, “4 Easy but Essential Steps for Interview Prep” was written by Arnie Fertig, an experienced HR professional, and I found that I agreed with everything he said—and I also have a couple more tips of my own that I will add at the end of my summary of his article.

The first of Fertig’s four steps is to do your research about the company. This cannot be stressed enough! Ten or twenty years ago, it may have been difficult to get information about the specifics of an organization, but almost every organization that you’re likely to want to work for is going to have a website that can provide you with details about what they do, who they are, what they believe in, who their clients or customers are, and so much more. You can also get some subtle cues about the organizational culture and atmosphere just from the feel you get from browsing their website. In my book, Step 2: Envision a Satisfying Worklife and Step 3: Research Potential Jobs give you lots of tips about what to look for when you’re doing your research.

Fertig’s second step suggests that you read the ad carefully so that you can talk about how you meet the qualifications for the job. As I discuss in Tip 42: Learn How to Interview, the best way to demonstrate your qualifications and respond to questions is to provide anecdotes about your past experiences.  If you read the ad carefully, you can plan what you’ll want to say that will show how you’ve done the type of work that would be expected of you in this position.

The third step in your preparation, according to Fertig, would be to use LinkedIn to do some research on the people who will be interviewing you as well as those you would be likely to work with. Fertig says it’s best to use “stealth mode” when doing this research so that your visit to the profiles is anonymous, and he tells you the best way to do that. It’s certainly a good idea to be able to demonstrate that you know a lot about the company—just be sure you keep it professional. It’s fine to talk about how much you admire the work of someone and suggest why you would like to work with that person (or those people), but the focus needs to be on common work attributes, not your similar interest in fantasy football or French cuisine.

The final step in Fertig’s article is to plan the questions that you’ll ask when it’s your turn—and any good interviewer will give you a chance to ask questions. It’s fine to have them written out ahead of time, just be sure that they’re not questions you could have answered by looking at the website. And be sure that your questions are relevant to the job and the organization, not about salary or benefits or parking validation! My book’s Tip 42: Learn How to Interview has suggestions for some questions you can ask if you don’t have anything specific. . .or if all your questions have been answered during the course of the interview.

In addition to what Fertig has said, I would advise everyone to keep in mind that an interview is a two-way street. You should be viewing this as an opportunity to see if you want to work with this organization while they’re trying to decide if they think you would meet their needs. My Step 2: Envision a Satisfying Worklife has a variety of tips to help you think about what will make you enjoy your job and want to get up to go to work in the morning!

My other suggestion is to think about the questions that you’re likely to be asked that go beyond the specifics of the skills required for the job, and plan how you’ll answer them. There are some fairly standard questions that are asked in many interviews, as well as some wacky ones that show up from time to time. My book’s Appendix J: Typical Interview Questions can give you some ideas on how to prepare for those more generic questions.