How to Prepare for an Interview

A man gives himself a pep talk in the mirror before a job interview.
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Are you quitting your job, like so many others during the Great Resignation? We all want to leave that crummy job and land our dream job instead. And the job interview is the single most imposing part of the process. That’s where your new job is ultimately won or lost.

How can you do better in job interviews? You need to prepare. Seriously, you need to prepare more, and you need to prepare better.

We’ll walk you through exactly what to do before, during and after the interview. It doesn’t matter if this is your first interview or your 40th, following these interview-preparation tips will help you leave a positive impression on your soon-to-be employer.

How to Get an Interview in the First Place

The job hunt can be a long and arduous process — although plenty of companies certainly seem to be hiring these days!

Your best bet for landing a job interview is to explore a massive, popular online job board like ZipRecruiter, which is free to use for job seekers. You can search for job posts based on factors like desired salary, location or various keywords.

You can post a profile on the site that potential employers can see. You can post your resume, references, social network handles or a profile picture, among other things. If a company likes your profile, they can invite you to apply for their job. And if you’re interested, you can apply with a click.

An online jobs marketplace like this is the most efficient way to launch a job search.

What to Do Before an Interview

Great, your job interview is set for Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. Congratulations!

Use the time before then wisely. Unfortunately, you can’t just cruise in and claim your job. Interview preparation is key, and you’ll have to do some legwork to distinguish yourself from other applicants. Here’s what you need to do before your big day.

1. Research the Company

Having a solid understanding of the company is crucial. You don’t want to be caught fumbling basic information during the job interview.

You should spend some time on the company website to acquaint yourself with its mission statement, top clients, leadership and history. Current and former employees can clue you in, too.

Adequate preparation can help you feel better, too. Give yourself time in advance to prepare and build your confidence. If you’re still feeling anxious, give yourself a pep talk, rehearse your answers and listen to energetic music to keep your spirits high.

Closely study the job description, too. It’s important that you use it to your advantage to frame your answers around what the interviewers are looking for.

2. Clean Up Your Social Media

What you put on your LinkedIn profile is obviously fair game for HR.

But what about your Facebook and Instagram? Many employers and recruiting agencies use them to screen applicants.

What does your social media say about you?

Most importantly, make sure there aren’t any embarrassing photos of you that are publicly searchable.

3. Conduct a Dry Run and Mock Interview

Practice interviewing!

Here’s a good example of interview preparation: Doing a complete dry run will make everything easier when the day of the job interview comes.

And by dry run, we mean driving to the site of the job interview (if possible) to figure out logistics like parking and traffic (or testing your webcam if it’s a video interview) and enlisting a friend to do a mock interview with you. At the very least, you should run through a list of popular interview questions on your own and practice how you might answe them.

Farther down in this article, we’ve compiled a list of the most common job interview questions, from the infamous “What are your weaknesses?” to softballs like “What are your hobbies?”

Having articulate responses to common interview questions will allow you to focus on being in the moment instead of feeling put on the spot. Mock interviews will make you that much more ready to answer interview questions in the actual interview.

4. Prepare Your Documents

Depending on your industry and the instructions of the application, documents you may need to prepare could include your resume, portfolio samples or any pre-tests the company may have assigned you.

Regardless of industry, you should bring a few extra resumes with you, just in case. You never know if all the people included in the job interview had time to review your application thoroughly. Even if they did, having extra resumes on hand helps you look prepared.

It’s best to have these documents printed out and ready to go the night before. If you don’t have a printer or are having technical problems, stores like UPS, Office Depot and FedEx will allow you to print copies cheaply. There’s always your trusty local library, too.

5. Plan What to Wear

What’s your interview outfit? Interview attire is crucial, obviously.

How you look in the job interview is almost as important as your qualifications. Planning an outfit can be a delicate balancing act and yet another source of stress for some people.

You want to look sharp — but not pretentious or underdressed.

Consider industry trends when choosing your outfit.

Interviewing at a business firm? Put on a suit. But that might be overkill for other industries.

Computer science or advertising fields might be more casual. The important part is not to guess.

Once you’ve decided what to wear, set it out before you go to bed — pressed and wrinkle-free. It will save you the hassle in the morning.

And yes, this even matters for a video interview.

6. Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Research? Check. Documents? Check. Outfit? Check.

Ticking all those boxes the night before will ease your mind and help you sleep. Try to get at least seven to nine hours of shut-eye to be on your A-game the next day.

And make sure that time frame is actual sleep time, not just time you spend lying in bed. It’s likely that you’ll be a little nervous, so give yourself an extra hour to fall asleep.

Two people shake hands during a job interview.
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What to Do During an Interview

Now is the time all that preparation and good sleep pays off. Try to stay mindful and relaxed. Don’t worry about rehearsing your answers. You’ve done that already. Be in the moment and you’ll come across more genuine and likable.

7. Arrive Early — and Alone

General rule of thumb: 10 minutes early is considered on time, and on time is considered late.

Ten minutes is the sweet spot because you want to be early but not so early that they’re not yet expecting you.

And please, don’t bring your parent.

In a somewhat recent phenomenon, helicopter parents have started intervening in their kids’ job hunt.

A recent survey from Robert Half showed that 69% of hiring managers either would not recommend or are annoyed at parental involvement during job interviews — from explicative phone calls that urge companies to hire their kid, to baked goods used to coax hiring managers.

8. Treat All Staff Respectfully

It doesn’t matter if you took the wrong exit off the interstate and then spilled coffee on your freshly pressed shirt that morning.

Do not get snarky or rude with anyone in or around the company — whether that’s the security guard in the lobby or someone you passed in the street.

For all you know, that could be Jen in accounting. And guess who she’s going to tell after you leave? Your hiring manager.

Plus, being polite is just the right thing to do.

9. Turn Your Job Experience into a Story

When the interviewer asks something along the lines of “So, tell me about yourself,” that’s your time to shine.

Nailing an interview isn’t about regurgitating your resume. It’s all about the stories and narrative you have.

This is also a good opportunity to incorporate experience that wasn’t directly relevant to the job application but could pertain to your soft skills or personality.

The key is having an anecdote ready.

10. Ask the Right Questions

Interviews are two-way conversations. You also want to learn from the company if it will be a good fit for you.

Ask, “Beyond the core job duties, what are the things you really want to accomplish and achieve with this role?”

Make a good impression by staying positive with your questions — avoid criticism of the business model, strategy, brand or product.

Questions like that will not only impress the hiring manager, but will also give you a better understanding of how you’ll have an impact at the company.

There are plenty of areas to avoid asking about, too — like vacation time or basic information about the company.

11. Mind Your Body Language

Interview preparation tips always include this one, and there’s a good reason: Hiring managers pay keen attention to body language.

According to research from Robert Half, unspoken signals, such as eye contact, facial expressions, posture, handshake and fidgeting play an extremely important role in how you’re perceived during an interview.

Many of these cues aren’t intentional. They’re physical responses to how you’re feeling. So internally obsessing about your posture and facial expressions isn’t going to help much, either.

The point is, you should feel confident and relaxed — and those things stem from adequate preparation.

12. Vet Your Potential Manager

When you go into your interview, remember, this is a two-way relationship.

See if you are clicking with your hiring manager. Think to yourself, “If I get this job, I’m going to spend much of my waking life with this person.”

Are they funny? Laid back? Knowledgeable? It’s crucial to understand what makes a good manager, because a bad one can ruin a great job, and vice versa.

So don’t let the sole deciding factor be the salary or the prestige of the company. So much of your day-to-day life at a job is about the manager.

13. Don’t Speak Negatively About Past Employers

Inevitably, you will get a question along the lines of, “Why did you leave your past job?”

Your mind might flash back to all the times you were wronged, and you might be tempted to air some of those grievances. Just don’t.

It comes across as unprofessional. And the new company might think that if they hire you, it will someday be in one of your negative stories.

Instead, focus on talking about the challenges and opportunities of a new job — not the time your old boss took credit for the data you pulled at 2 a.m. to meet deadline.

What to Do After an Interview

Before you bust out of the office to celebrate for a job well done, there are a few other things you should do to increase your chances of getting hired.

14. Ask to Tour the Office

If the job is in-person, touring the office works in your favor for a couple of reasons.

First, it increases face time with your hiring manager and allows for some less formal banter as you make your rounds and introduce yourself to potential colleagues.

Beyond that, it allows you to see what’s really happening on the ground floor. As you walk through different pods or workspaces, take note of the office morale. Does everyone look stressed or excited?

If it’s around lunchtime, see if a lot of employees are eating at their desks. That could be a sign of being overworked.

If they say no to the tour, it’s not a deal-breaker. It’s possible that there isn’t enough time built into the interview to accommodate an office tour, but it never hurts to ask.

15. Establish Next Steps

Before you say your goodbyes, make sure to have a clear time frame of when you will hear back.

Asking about this outright saves you some guesswork, and you won’t be left pacing back and forth in your living room thinking, “It’s been one day. Why haven’t I heard anything? Shouldn’t they have sent an email? I’m going to call them. They probably hired someone else!”

When in reality, they likely have an internal hiring process that you’re unaware of.

16. Send a Thank-You Note

Thank-you notes are a surefire way to distinguish yourself from other candidates. Hiring managers love them, and applicants often forget to send them.

We recommend sending them regardless of how the interview goes.

An email should suffice. Try to send it out within 24 hours of your interview, and make sure to separately thank everyone who interviewed you.

In your messages you should include:

  1. A recap of the value you bring to the role.
  2. Any small clarifications or points you didn’t mention during the interview.
  3. Sincere gratitude and enthusiasm.

Avoid the temptation to copy and paste the same scripted message to everyone. That could backfire. Where possible, personalize it as best you can. Give it a little flair.

And if you really want brownie points, don’t send an email. Send a handwritten thank-you note.

Our interview preparation tips continue with common interview questions:

A person is interviewed by two people.
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Prepare with Answers to 10 Common Questions

You want to make a good impression at your interview, but it’s hard to focus on doing so when you’re being asked a series of interview questions that totally catch you off guard.

Since you can’t yell “Cut!” in the middle of an interview to buy yourself time, here’s how you can stay one step ahead of the game.

You can’t predict what your interviewers will ask, but at the very least, you can practice answering questions. You can get familiar with some of the most common job interview questions that are sure to come up, plus get tips on how to answer them.

1. “Tell me about yourself.”

You know who you are, but this question is still intimidating — and it’s one of the most common interview questions on this list.

Interviewers are judging to see if you can talk about yourself in a way that dovetails with the needs and expectations of the role. Instead of talking about your hobbies or pets, take the opportunity to speak to your highest-level strength in a way that maps out how you might be solving the goals or challenges of the organization.

Introduce strengths that correlate with the top two or three items in a job description. You want to talk about what’s in it for them.

2. “Why should we hire you?”

This is where you prove yourself.

Confidently elaborate on your capabilities to show that you’re the best candidate for the job. After all, that is why they’re asking.

The job description is coming into play again here. It’s important that you use it to your advantage to frame your answers around what the interviewers are looking for, meaning the achievements you share in your answer should match the expectations of the role.

Take this example:

“You need a resourceful assistant who can manage general clerical functions without close supervision, and I did that at my current company for three years. I also spotted a number of issues within the organization that saved us money and time. Additionally, I redesigned our workflow process to better fit company goals and the mission of our brand, internally and externally.”

3. “Describe a professional achievement.”

When you’re knee-deep in work and moving from one project to the next, it can be difficult to pinpoint your achievements. Take some time to think about how your successes have impacted your team, and take the interviewer through that experience.

Ever heard of the S-T-A-R method? It stands for situation, task, action and result. What you’ll do is “set up the situation and the task that you were required to complete to provide the interviewer with background context.”

The key is to describe the actions you took to achieve the result. Be sure to explain the steps you took. Your interviewers are judging your job performance, so highlight your ambition in your answer to stand out from the other applicants.

4. “Tell us about a difficult professional challenge you faced and how you handled it.”

This one is simpler than you think. At one point or another, we’ve all faced difficult challenges in the workplace. Whether it’s dealing with a manager who thinks they’re always right or having to compensate for a lazy colleague, it’s not uncommon to encounter these kinds of struggles.

The S-T-A-R method can help you answer this question, too! Instead of harping on the negatives, focus on the professionalism you maintained throughout the difficult situation. And share the results you received once you forged ahead, despite the adversities you faced.

Take this example:

“During my time as a graphic designer at an ad agency, a client changed the direction of a campaign right as we finished all of our mock-ups to present — and they didn’t extend the deadline. This was over the holidays, so quite a few members of our staff had already departed, leaving just three of us to complete a project usually done by six. I took the initiative and organized a late-night brainstorm that led to new ideas we hadn’t explored yet. In the end, the client was thrilled with our fresh ideas, and we landed the account.”

5. “What are your professional strengths and weaknesses?”

The key to nailing this job interview question is striking a balance.

You’re not perfect, and your interviewers aren’t expecting you to be. But they are judging your self-awareness, so your answer should highlight your willingness to improve upon something you know you struggle with. Feel free to skip over your punctuality issues, though — that’s not the kind of weakness you want to focus on.

One example:

“In my previous roles, colleagues have said that I care too much about the details, because of how much I over-delivered. What mattered to me was making sure projects were done well and completed exactly as requested, but I recognized that it had an impact on my time management. Now, I actively work on achieving the same level of precision and accuracy while tracking and spending my time wisely.”

Again, refer back to the job description you’ve been given.

6. “What do you know about our company?”

Always, always, always research the company before the interview. The company website is your friend here. Stumbling during this question is an easy way for them to perceive you as unprepared and lacking interest, especially since this is a pretty basic question.

Avoid being caught off guard here, so do your best to remember some key points about the company’s successes and achievements. What are a few things that stood out to you when you applied?

Your interviewer is gauging your interest in the company’s mission and goals to see if you’re poised to make a difference.

Here’s an example:

“My research informed me that this is one of the fastest growing companies on the East Coast. And I couldn’t help but be impressed by the list of clients on your website, which include some Fortune 500 companies. Your work with the homeless population in this community is also very admirable, and I’m excited about the possibility of being involved.”

7. “What interests you about this position?”

Yes, this question is pretty straightforward, but what do interviewers really want to know about you here?

Hiring managers often include this question to make sure you understand what the job really is.

The best route? Compare the role requirements to the skills and experience already in your toolbox, and choose a few things you’re particularly good at.

Here’s how you could answer this question:

“This role excites me because I love the idea of assisting in the development of high-quality software products, and my proven track record makes me confident that I could start delivering results immediately. I admire your company’s role in this industry, and I’d be thrilled to have the opportunity to work with such a forward-thinking and innovative company. Your respect for employees and how you create a great environment for rewarding innovation is also very appealing. Lastly, I believe my proactive style would fit in well with your company’s culture.”

8. “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

What not to say: “I’m still figuring it out!”

I think we can all agree that this question is terrifying. There are times when predicting what next week will look like is a hassle, let alone five years.

However, your interviewer wants to know how ambitious you are. They’re checking to see if the role fits in with your future plans, so if you say that you’d like to be a digital nomad by the end of year and they don’t offer remote work, that lets them know you won’t be sticking around.

Make sure your answer is related to the job. You won’t be hired for a job if your plans and aspirations have nothing to do with your five-year goal.

For example:

“In five years I see myself taking on more responsibilities, either through management or higher level individual contributions. I’m still learning which path will best suit me, but I know my goal right now is to build a strong foundation and gain valuable experience so that I’ll have a successful future in this industry.”

9. “What are your salary requirements?”

Talking about money is always a bit awkward. You might be tempted to lowball yourself to prevent scaring the offer away, but how much do you truly think your time is worth?

Do some research and find out what the average salary is for your role. Instead of providing a specific number, choose a range so you and your potential employer have room to negotiate.

Take this example:

“I am definitely open to the company’s compensation expectations for this position, but due to my skill set and experience level, I am looking to receive between $63,000 and $68,000 annually. I feel that this is a comfortable and appropriate range for my work.”

10. “What are your hobbies and interests?”

Sorry, folks, Netflix and chill is not a good answer, no matter how relatable it is. Your interviewers know you’re not working on your fourth novel while expertly roasting a chicken on a Thursday evening, so don’t oversell it… but don’t tank yourself either.

It can be difficult to think of what’s exciting or interesting about yourself, so research the company to get an idea of how you can align your interests with their culture and values.

For example:

“I noticed your company offers paid gym memberships for employees, and I think that’s amazing. Working out and being active is one of my favorite hobbies, outside of trying new recipes and writing.”

Two professionals talk outside.
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Always Ask Questions at the Interview

“Do you have any questions for us?” Yes! Leave a good impression by asking good questions.

Based on your inquiries, asking questions during an interview lets your potential employer(s) learn a bit more about you. It also shows that you really are interested in the role, because you’re going a step further to better understand it.

Keep in mind that you’re just as valuable to the company as you feel it is to you. Your time is valuable, too, and the interview should also be used to help you decide if the role is a good fit for you and your career goals.

  1. “What is the typical career path for a person in this role? Is there a path for advancement into other jobs in the organization?”

Before you accept a job offer, be sure to find out if you’ll be given opportunities that aid your professional development and allow you to grow in your career. You don’t want to get stuck in a dead-end job.

  1. “How do you and your team communicate?”

As the old saying goes, “communication is key.” It’s in your best interest to learn the communication style and needs of a new team so you can assess your ability to fit in with that. If the team works differently from how you’re used to, explore what you’d need to be successful; chances are, there’s some wiggle room.

  1. “If selected for this job, what will be expected of me within the first 90 days?”

Find out as much as possible about the job before you start. Going in blind can hurt your performance in more ways than one. Knowing beforehand gives you time to prepare, and it helps you understand more about the company’s workflow. When you start the job, you’ll know what to focus on.

  1. “I’ve really enjoyed learning more about this opportunity. What are the next steps in the hiring process?”

Don’t be afraid to ask this question, and be sure to save it for the end. Find out if you should expect an email or a phone call, or who you will be hearing from, if in fact you get a job offer. Asking this question gives you the peace of mind of knowing what to expect, and it helps convey your excitement about and interest in the position.

You made it to the end! That’s how to prepare for an interview!

And remember, to land that job interview in the first place, consider staring with a popular online jobs board like ZipRecruiter, which is free to use for job seekers. You can search for job posts based on factors like desired salary, location or various keywords.

Ready to rock your next job interview?