The Winning Difference: Pre-Interview Preparation
By Susan P. Joyce
Do NOT assume that the job interview is simply a formality before you receive the job offer.
Think of a job interview as an "audition" - your opportunity to impress the employer with your work ethic and skills. Your network and/or your resume got you this interview.
Many employers have shared with me how that one thing - being obviously well-prepared can make or break a job seeker's chances at a landing a new job. Being prepared for the job interview demonstrates to the employer that the job seeker is genuinely interested in the job. And, that preparation is often viewed by the employer as an example of the job seeker's work.
Be Well-Prepared for a Job Interview
Hopefully, you already know to arrive a few minutes ahead of time, dressed appropriately, with good questions ready for the interviewers, your cell phone turned off, and copies of your resume available to hand to the interviewers.
Also, prepare for the standard interview questions and types of interviews you might have. Practice with a friend or your mirror.
Prepare for the standard interview questions and types of interviews you might have
In this guide, we cover the common questions you will be asked like, "Tell me about yourself?" and "Why do you want to work here?" Knowing and practicing your answers is very important for your success.
But wait! There's more you can do, and it will help you succeed at that interview...
9 Kinds of Critical Pre-interview Research
Prepare by knowing as much as you can about the job, the organization, the competition, the location, and the industry. Prepare for the interview by researching the organization and, if possible and without "stalking" them, researching the people, too.
The Internet provides a wealth of information for job seekers. These are 7 (or more) places where you can start your research. If you have time, keep looking. The more you know, the better off you will be. Not only will you be in knock-their-socks-off mode for the interview, your research could help you determine that the employer might not be a good place for you to work.
Throughout this preparation process, keep notes on questions that are raised. At the end of your research, you should have a good idea of what to say when they ask, "Do you have any questions for us?"
1. Very carefully read the job description.
It is too easy to skip this step and an often deadly mistake if you do.
Ask them for a copy of the job description, if you don't already have it. Then read it word-by-word. Pay careful attention to:
- How they describe themselves - if they describe themselves.
- The requirements of the job - experience, skills, education needed to do the job.
- The duties of the job - what the person doing the job will be responsible for.
- Any "nice-to-have" needs that aren't requirements of the job, but things that would gain you "bonus points" for knowing or being able to do.
Make a list of how you meet the requirements, have proven ability to accomplish the duties, and are an "ideal" candidate for the job. Notice how they describe themselves.
Don't assume that the job requirements and duties are necessarily in order of importance -- they should be, but are not always in the order that the interviewer would prefer. So, focus on your strengths.
2. Visit the organization's website
This is "the party line" about the organization - what they tell the world, and potential customers/clients, about themselves. Study the home page, but don't stop there. Read the "About Us" and "Contact Us" sections. Then, look around at the other pages.
- Know the industry or purpose of the organization. Be sure that is what you expect and want to be involved in.
- Become familiar with the products or services. Know the brand names, if any, or at least the purpose or function.
- Check for press releases or the latest news about the organization.
- Look for names of the officers or founders. Are they familiar to you, perhaps, known to you?
- Where are they located?
Does the information on the website raise any questions for you? Any concerns raised? Do you see any opportunities for you?
[Related: Exploring the Employer's Website.]
3. Put Google, Bing, and YouTube to work gathering important information about the organization.
This is where you see how well "the party line" relates to what the rest of the world thinks. Reality about an employer could be quite different than what the website tells you, depending on the quality of the website and/or the quality of the organization.
If you have product or service names, use a search engine (or two) to see what is being written, said, and videoed about the products or services. Dig in past the first couple of pages of results.
Look for reviews. Look for happy and unhappy customers and the reasons for both. Look for the names of competing organizations and competing products or services.
[Related: Learning from Industry Observers.]
4. Check the LinkedIn Company Profile
The name "Company Profile" extends to school districts, non-profits, and other non-corporate entities. To find them, select "Companies" from the drop-down menu beside the search box at the top of your LinkedIn home page, and type in the organization's name.
For many organizations from Fortune 500 to local small nonprofits, LinkedIn will often have information about the people who work there (and how you are "connected" to them in LinkedIn) as well as the organization itself plus job openings. "Follow" the company to see updates and news they post.
5. Check the LinkedIn Profiles of the interviewers.
Hopefully, you know the names of the people who will be interviewing you. If they aren't offered when the interview is scheduled, ask. You want the names and the job titles. Then, head for LinkedIn to see what you can discover about them - how long they've been with the employer, where they've worked in the past, where they went to school.
Try to get a sense of the kind of people who work there - all holders of advanced Ivy League degrees, several veterans of the USMC, mostly twenty-somethings, a mixture of ages and races, or anything else that catches your eye.
6. Use Google/Bing/YouTube to research any names you have (e.g., executives and the people who will be interviewing you), and also check their LinkedIn Profiles.
Look for information about the organization and also about thier competitors (which may also be good places for you to work).
- Have they made videos about how to use their products or services available? Check them out to see what you learn about them. Do you see where you can make a contribution?
- Have some of the executives been taped giving talks at conferences? Watch a video or two, and know the conference dates and names. Again, does this research raise any questions or show you any opportunities? What are their reputations? Experience and education?
You may find that you have some "connections" with someone interviewing you. Perhaps you attended the same college or have the same former employer. Check them out, too, on both search engines and also on LinkedIn.
[For more tips on using Google for research, read 50 Google Searches to Avoid a Layoff.]
7. Check out what Glassdoor.com shows about the employer.
Glassdoor.com collects and makes reviews of different employers available. They also often have collections of job interview questions that specific employers seem to use. In both cases, the information is provided by people who visit the website and who may, or may not, be providing good information, current, reliable, and/or well-articulated. So, use the information with that in mind.
Then, if the organization is a publicly-traded company, check these sources, too...
8. Check what the stock is doing on Yahoo! Finance.
Particularly if you are interested in a role in finance or accounting, it is a very good idea to become familiar with how well the company is doing, financially. In addition, look over the balance sheet, the short-term and long-term stock performance, and the other information available.
9. Look for the latest financial reports on AnnualReports.com.
Companies which sell stock on a stock market (a.k.a., "publicly traded") in the USA must publish independently-audited financial reports every year. Quarterly reports are also required, but are not necessarily independently audited. In these annual reports, you will find details on sales, profits, key executives, locations, and much more. Search through AnnualReports.com to find the latest reports from the employer. They are gold mines of information, if they are available.
[Related: Understanding the Financial Reports.]
Before you head out the door for the interview...
Do this last bit of research. Check Google News for the latest news from - and about - the organization. You don't want to be surprised, or look clueless, if they have very recent BIG news - like a new product or service recently launched, a new plant opened (or an old one closed), a new CEO/COO/CFO hired, etc. It would also be good to know if the stock price just took a big jump (or drop), and, perhaps, why that big change may have happened.
Hopefully, you've done quite a bit of research before you got to the interview stage in selecting this employer as one of your targets, in your networking, and in your resume and cover letter customization.
But, the Boy Scouts are right - be prepared to be successful in your job interviews.
Using Your Pre-Interview Preparation:
- How to Answer the Greatest-Weakness Question
- How to Answer the What-Do-You-Know-About-Us Question
- How to Answer the Tell-Me-About-Yourself Question
- How to Answer the Why-Do-You-Want-to-Work-Here Question
- How to Answer the Why-Should-We-Hire-You Question
- How to Answer the Do-You-Have-Any-Questions Question
- How to Handle Telephone Interviews
For more about handling behavioral interviews, panel interviews, and telephone interviews, as well as preparing for job interviews, see the article list on the right.
About the author...
Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Susan is a two-time layoff "graduate" who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Google+.