Build Your Job Interview Checklist

When you go to the grocery store without a list, what often happens at the checkout line?

You have a lot of things that you did not come for, and may have forgotten a few that you actually needed.

It happens to me. Or it used to. Until I insisted on bringing a list. This allows me to focus on what I need.

When it comes to interviewing, you should know — in advance — what you want to share with the hiring company before you start an interview.

This checklist will include all the essential items to convince the interviewer you have the proper skill set for the job. It also ensures you do not go on tangents or rush to answer questions with less than optimal examples.

It is easy to panic a little and say the first thing that pops into your head. Not smart in a job interview.

Keep your checklist handy during the interview and check off items as they are shared with the interviewer. A checklist is your “safety net” to reference if you get stuck.

If the interviewer sees your checklist, it will just reinforce how well-prepared you are for the interview. Additionally, it makes their job easier.

Building a Smart Interview Checklist

Fortunately, building this checklist is fairly straightforward. Start with a clear space on your desk or a table. Then:

  Step 1: Setting It Up  

On the left side of your desk, put the job description and any other company information you may have regarding the job description. Put your resume to the right. Set a blank sheet of paper (or your tablet) in the middle.

  Step 2: Making the Connections  

Review each requirement in the job description, word by word. Connect the requirements and company info on the left with your resume experiences and skills on the right.

Create a list connecting each requirement to one or more of your specific experiences related to that requirement. Hopefully, you create a complex web of connections as you connect a requirement to several spots on your resume. Several requirements may also link to the same experience on your resume.

These connections become your checklist items.

  Step 3: Building the Checklist  

Then, build your checklist by listing the requirements and the best example(s) of your ability and experience related to that requirement.

Include boxes to check off as you interview. You need not write out details, as all you will need is some code words to remind you of the example(s) you want to share. For example, your list might include:

☑️  Data science/Python experience: Project Snoopy at Company XYZ; Python since 2015

☑️  Mobile Apps: Project Charlie Brown at Company ABC; Won the Biggest Peanut Award for outstanding analysis

☑️  Teamwork: Worked on several teams (A, B, and C); led effort of team at Company 123 on project for Client Lucy

This list becomes a focused version of your resume. Make sure checklist items are in priority order so you can visually spot items near top that still are not covered towards end of interview.

Using Your Interview Checklist

Although the interviewer is asking the questions, you must take responsibility for sharing all the best information you have.

Sharing all the items on your checklist is your goal. This requires some quick thinking during the interview. The different kinds of questions you are asked may allow you to do this.

Here are some examples of questions and how to be sure your answers include relevant accomplishments from your checklist.

  Handling Direct Questions  

The interviewer asks you a very specific question to which you have a very specific example/answer on your checklist. For example, the interviewer asks: “How much experience do you have in inventory management?” You should have both the facts to answer that question and also a few key accomplishments in this area (like cost reductions or increases in efficiency).

  Handling Indirect or Generic Questions  

Interviewers also ask questions like “tell me about yourself?” They do not want to hear about your hobbies and your favorite TV shows. Share examples of your work experience and skills that pertain to the opportunity you are interviewing for. Use your checklist!

Another generic question is “why do you want this job?” Again, your checklist has the answers – you have listed how your experience and this job align. This really is not a question about what the company can do for you, but what you can do for the company.

  Handling “Classic” Questions  

These are “questions you know they are going to ask as you have heard them many times in interviews (read “Smart Answers to Interview Questions”). Examples like “where do you see yourself in five years?” and “describe a difficult situation you had to work through.” Even these questions can be links to your checklist.

One of my favorite Classic Questions is “why should I hire you?” Some interviewees tell the interviewer why they want the job (which shares little about why they should be hired). Instead, tell them more from your checklist, which could include any of the following:

  1. Additional applicable skill sets you have not yet shared.
  2. How well you match the company culture, processes they use, challenges they face, and client experience.
  3. Your manageability (you are not a “problem child” who is difficult to manage).
  4. Your value and their return-on-investment (you bring more to the table than they requested for the same salary).
  5. Your tendency to go above and beyond a job description — you work hard and contribute in unique ways.

The Bottom Line on Job Interview Checklists:

Prepared candidates stand out over those who “wing it” during the hiring process. If you do your homework and come to the interview with key information for their decision-making, the process becomes easier for everyone. Making informed hiring decisions is a strong requirement for companies trying to avoid the cost of a bad hire.

If you can see that you are an ideal fit, you just need to make sure they can see it, too. Your checklist will be your guide.

More About Working with Recruiters:

Jeff LipschultzAbout the author…

Job-Hunt’s Working with Recruiters Expert Jeff Lipschultz is a 20+ year veteran in management, hiring, and recruiting of all types of business and technical professionals. He has worked in industries ranging from telecom to transportation to dotcom. Jeff is a founding partner of A-List Solutions, a Dallas-based recruiting and employment consulting company. Learn more about him through his company site Follow Jeff on LinkedIn and on Twitter (@JLipschultz).
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