Landing your first interview is a big step in your quest for the right job. You’ve figured out what kind of job you want, you know where you want to work, and you’ve searched for and applied to jobs that interest you.
Now you need to make sure you do well in your interviews so you get a job offer. The job interview process may seem daunting. Recent grads say this is one of the most difficult parts of the job search. With some preparation and knowledge, you won’t have to worry about your interviews.
In this article, I’ll share with you the best tips to prepare for an interview.
Table of Contents
- 1. Starting with the employer’s website
- 2. Using Wikipedia to research the employer
- 3. Finding competing companies on Owler
- 4. Seeing employer numbers on Yahoo! Finance
- 5. Researching who will interview you
- 6. Learning about the job you’re applying for
- 7. Practicing for the Interview
- 8. Familiarizing yourself with the interview process
- 9. Becoming familiar with interview platforms
1. Starting with the employer’s website
An employer’s website — especially if it’s a medium to large employer — often provides all the information you need to know. Go to the about page — you should see a link at the top or bottom of the page. There you can find the history of the organization, a description of products and services, and any noteworthy information that the organization is highlighting.
Depending on the organization, you may also find a news page with featured articles and press releases. Read the news page carefully and become familiar with the announcements highlighted here. They’re almost sure to be a topic of conversation during your interview.
The more you know about the organization, the better the impression you will make.
2. Using Wikipedia to research the employer
While the employer’s site is a great source of information, it’s also biased to what the organization wants you to see. Another great place to research employers is Wikipedia.
Wikipedia is a crowdsourced encyclopedia, meaning that the contributions come from the public. Here, you can get more insight into the organization and a comprehensive perspective from various points of view.
Here you can see a short summary of the organization, a snapshot of when NREL was founded, and its budget. As you scroll down you can see a history and read more about its areas of focus. Almost all Wikipedia entries include a reference section, where you can take a deeper look at the sources of information.
Not all employers have Wikipedia entries, but you should still look to make sure.
3. Finding competing companies on Owler
Owler is a great place to find out about an employer’s competitors and similar organizations. Looking up these other organizations gives you perspective on the sector in which the employer operates. It also makes you aware of other organizations to which you may want to apply.
You’ll need to enter your email address to access data on Owler. You’ll receive daily email updates on the employers you look up on Owler.
The site also pulls third-party news references about an employer, such as tweets and articles that mention the organization. Take a look at these news articles to get additional insight on the organization prior to your interview.
4. Seeing employer numbers on Yahoo! Finance
The Yahoo! Finance section lets you look at the finances of companies that are publicly listed on one of the stock exchanges. If you’re interviewing with a company that’s public, go to Yahoo! Finance to look at its stock price.
If the company’s stock price was once high and has been trending down, you should take this as a red flag. On the other hand, if the company’s stock has been trending upward, that’s a sign the company is doing well.
To see a company’s stock price trend, click 1Y to see the past year’s data. Click 5Y to see the past five years’ data.
Click Financials to see how much revenue the company generates, its cost structure, and whether it’s making or losing money. You can even see how much cash the company has in the bank and how much debt it has. Some debt is good, but if a company has a lot of debt, little cash, and is losing money, that may be a red flag.
You will see the company’s income statement with revenue, which is also sales. The net income will be a positive number if the company is generating a profit or negative if the company is losing money.
To see the company’s cash in the bank and debt, click Financials and then click Balance Sheet. “Cash and Cash Equivalents” shows how much cash the company has; “Long-Term Debt” and “Short-Term Debt” show how much debt the company has.
Having a good picture of the company’s finances helps you gain a better perspective on the organization and may inform your final decision on whether you ultimately join the company if given an offer. It will also prompt you to ask questions during the interview about why, for example, the company’s sales have gone up or why the company has taken on debt, if that’s the case.
5. Researching who will interview you
Just as important as researching the organization is doing research on the people who will interview you. If you know their names, take the time to look them up prior to your interviews. You can do this on sites like Google, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Researching your interviewers can give you the following data points:
- Role: You can usually find a person’s job title on her public LinkedIn profile. You can also see how long she has been at the organization and if she has had different roles there.
- School: You can see where a person went to school. If you and the interviewer went to the same school, this could be a good conversation topic during your interview because you have something in common.
- Interests: You can get an idea of a person’s interest by seeing what groups she belongs to on LinkedIn and what she has liked. If she has a Twitter account, you can also see what types of information she has shared.
To look up a person online, search for the person’s name with quotation marks around it and the employer’s name, like this: “Roberto Angulo” AfterCollege.
Adding the name of the employer helps ensure you narrow your search to the person at the organization and to filter out other people with the same name.
All these data points will give you a better perspective on the people with whom you’ll interview. This will help you to ask questions about their experience at the organization and find common topics for conversation during your interview.
6. Learning about the job you’re applying for
Whether you’re interviewing for a job where you’ll be the only one with a certain role or where you’ll be one of many, you should prepare some questions for your interview that are specific to your prospective job. For example, if you’re the only one with your job description, how will you learn and whom will you learn from? If you’ll be one of many in the organization with the same role, how do you advance? And what are the typical career paths of someone with your role and how long is the average tenure?
In cases where you’ll be one of many, you can usually find this information on LinkedIn. For example, if you’re interviewing for an account executive role at Gannett, one of the largest media companies in the United States, you can get a glimpse of other people with the same role.
To find people with a certain role at an organization:
- Go to www.linkedin.com.
- Type in the organization name. As you’re typing, you should see “People who work at [organization].”
- Click the “People who work at …” link. You’re taken to the People section.
- Next to the organization name in the search box, type the role you’re researching (in this case, “account executive”). You’ll see a list of people working at the employer with the specific job title.
From here, you can click on individual profiles to see where various individuals with the same role went to school, their past employer experience if any, and how long they’ve lasted in the role. This gives you more insight on the job and will prompt you to ask questions during your interview.
If the job is unique and no one else in the organization is doing the same job, look at the original job description. Look through the responsibilities and qualifications and be prepared to ask questions about the employer’s expectations for you as it relates to each responsibility.
7. Practicing for the Interview
Even a little bit of practice goes a long way toward preparing for your interview. To start, assume you’ll have anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour with the interviewer, or with each interviewer if there are more than one. This means you need to plan how long you’ll spend introducing yourself, for your interview, and for you to ask questions.
Practice interviewing with a friend or mentor either in person or over the phone, going over some of the questions you think you may be asked.
Here are some things you can practice prior to your interview.
Plan on providing a brief overview about yourself, including what you studied and why. Also talk about what you’d like to do in your career, and how the job for which you’re interviewing helps you with your journey. Mention why you’re excited to be considered for the job.
Here’s an example introduction for someone studying economics:
I just finished my degree in economics from [school name]. I went into this field of study because I wanted to learn about how business works and how it relates to government and society…. My ultimate goal is to [your goal — for example, starting a business, running a large company, or being in government]. [Organization name] is at the forefront of [what organization does]. I’m looking to work here as [job title]. I hope to learn about [specific goals] while also contributing to the [growth of organization/advancement of research in a certain field/advancement in mission of organization] and ultimately [your goal].
What to ask
Typically, at the end of the interview you’ll be asked if you have any questions. You should definitely have questions ready. Asking about the job or the organization shows you’re interested.
Not having any questions may put the interviewer off and can be interpreted as lack of interest. Narrow the list of important questions you’d like to ask to five or six. These can be questions about the job, the organization, or the industry. Assume some will be answered during the course of your interview and be ready to ask at least two of them.
Just as important as your answers is how concise you are and whether you can answer the questions well enough while staying focused. Don’t stray or give long-winded answers.
Familiarize yourself with the job description before your interview. Go over the responsibilities and think of ways to connect them with your own experience, whether it consists of class projects, part-time work, or volunteer work.
Employers want to hear why you’re eager to join the organization. They also want to know how you’d like to contribute. But because this is your first job, they also expect to hear that you want to learn and grow. Most important, be genuine and make sure you don’t sound like you’re reading off a script.
8. Familiarizing yourself with the interview process
One of the best ways to prepare is to have an idea of who you’re interviewing with and the format of the interview. The more you know ahead of time, the more comfortable and confident you’ll be when you’re interviewing.
Here are some of the things you should know prior to your interview:
- Location: Find out where you’ll be interviewing. If it’s on your college campus, visit the location ahead of time to get familiar with the place and to know how to get there. If it’s in another location, check the address on Google Maps ahead of time to see how far it is and how it will take you to get there. Make sure you account for traffic.
- Security check: Many organizations require a valid government ID, such as a driver’s license or passport, in order to verify your identity. Make sure you bring your driver’s license, a passport, or some other form of identification, with a picture, to your interview. Also ensure that the identification is not expired.
- What to bring: Ask if you need to bring anything to your interview such as a copy of your résumé, references, a sample of your work, or a computer.
- Number of interviews and length: Are you going for one initial interview or will you have a full day of interviewing with various stakeholders? Plan your day accordingly. For example, if your interview starts early in the morning and lasts until noon, make sure you eat breakfast beforehand so that you don’t get hungry during your interviews.
- Use of technology: This relates to virtual and phone interviews. Are you doing your interview via the Internet through a service like Skype or Google Hangouts? Find a quiet location where you can do your interview, preferably inside, where there is no noise from car horns, barking dogs, and the like. If your interview will include video, make sure you dress up as though you were going to a live interview. Also plan to have a nice background. For example, doing an interview with books or a nice wall in the background will give a good impression.
Initial screening interview
Initial interviews are usually done via phone or in person. Also referred to as screening interviews, these may last a few minutes or up to an hour. In general, if they last long it tends to be a good sign that you’re doing well.
Initial interviews are usually conducted by a recruiter at the organization or someone in the human resources (HR) department. At a small employer, this interview may be conducted by the actual hiring manager or the person for whom you’d be working.
This is the first interview you’ll have, and it’s meant to screen out applicants to come up with a smaller set of candidates to send to the hiring manager. Most of the questions in these interviews will consist of verifying what’s in your résumé and will be fact based to make sure you meet the basic requirements for the job.
These are another type of screening interview, but they’re conducted on college and university campuses by visiting employers. These interviews may be done by someone in HR or by the hiring manager.
On-campus interviews are typically more thorough in that the employer is looking to make sure you’re a fit for the job or the organization so they can invite you to interview on site.
Most colleges and universities have on-campus recruiting software, managed by the career services office that allows you to sign up for preselect interviews. This is where you apply to interview with a certain number of employers. You then get notified if you’ve been invited to interview and you select an interview date and time. On-campus interviews tend to be competitive, especially when you’re applying to a popular brand-name employer.
Interviewing with the hiring manager
When you’ve made it through the initial interview, your next conversation is typically with the hiring manager, who is the person you would be reporting to. This interview may include some of the same questions you were asked initially. But often, it’s also a time for the hiring manager to get to know you, and vice versa, to get an idea of the potential working relationship. Here you may get factual questions, for example, pertaining to projects you did in school or previous jobs you’ve had. You may also get situational questions to get an idea of how you would react in specific circumstances. Here are some examples of situational questions:
- Have you ever encountered an obstacle in trying to complete a project and if so, how did you resolve it?
- Do you like working with customers?
- Do you multitask? And if so, can you give me an example of where you’ve had to multitask?
- Have you ever had difficult team members on a project and if so, how did you deal with them?
These are just a few possibilities out of the many possible questions you may be asked. The idea is to use your imagination to put yourself in those scenarios. Work on answering questions in a positive manner.
By the way, if you ever get asked whether you like working with customers or clients, the answer is always yes! But also ask the interviewer to elaborate on how you would work with clients or customers.
Interviewing with team members
You’ve made it far along in the process when you have interviews with your prospective peers. An offer is not yet guaranteed, but you can take it as a great sign that you’ve made it to this stage. You may meet with team members individually or as a group. These group meetings may seem intimidating, but remember to keep your cool and stay calm.
Some of the questions asked may be familiar ones from previous interviews and they can include factual and situational questions. Team members for the most part want to know you’re qualified to work with them and that you can get along with them.
Sometimes, these team member interviews may be the hardest, and it’s due to a few reasons. For one, employees may feel protective when a new member joins the team because they can take some of their work or responsibilities. As a result, you may get extra-hard questions. Do your best to answer these and keep a positive attitude.
Adding a new member to the team often changes the dynamic of a group, and people don’t always like change. Don’t let this scare you, and don’t assume all team members will be this way. You may end up having great enjoyable interviews with your prospective co-workers.
9. Becoming familiar with interview platforms
With higher Internet speeds, better phone data plans and higher-quality video streaming, virtual interviews are becoming more prevalent. One or more of your interviews may be conducted via video or phone.
Here are some basic tips to make sure your conversation goes well with all these options:
- Find a quiet place. Whether you’re using Skype or doing a phone interview, make sure you find a quiet location where you won’t be disturbed. If you’re conducting a phone call, you can even lock yourself in your bathroom, if it’s quiet. Don’t do this if you’re doing a video interview, though. If you’re having a hard time finding a quiet space, contact your school’s career center or your public library to see if they offer rooms where you can do your virtual interviews.
- Dress to impress. Even with video interviews, you should dress like you would for an in-person interview. The person or people on the other end will most likely see you from the neck up, so in theory, you can wear pajama pants, but make sure you dress business casual from the waist up.
- Go wired instead of wireless. If you’re interviewing via phone, use a landline or a phone with a cord instead of your cellphone. This lowers the chance of your call getting dropped. If you have to do the call from your cellphone, use a wired earpiece or a wired headset instead of a wireless headset. Wires are bulky, but they tend to lead to better-quality calls.
- Use a computer instead of your phone. Whenever possible, use your computer for a virtual interview instead of your phone. Computers tend to be more stable and provide better audio and video.
If you’re doing a video interview via your laptop, try to connect it to the Internet via Ethernet cable instead of using Wi-Fi. Wireless Internet connections are not always reliable, especially if you’re close to a microwave. Microwaves, when in use, tend to interfere with wireless Internet connections.
The goal here is to have the best possible conversation by leveraging the technology while also ensuring that it doesn’t create distractions.
Interviewing via Skype
Skype is one of the most widely used applications around to communicate via phone or video. It works via the Internet, and you can download Skype for your iPhone, Android phone, or laptop or PC via www.skype.com. Skype tends to be reliable and high quality.
The application lets you make free audio and video calls if you’re calling another Skype user. If you’re calling a cellphone or landline, you’ll need to buy some Skype credit to make those calls. Buy enough to last the entire duration of your call; $10 should be enough.
You’ll need to create a Skype username if you don’t already have one. Pick a name that is professional and even playful, as long as it’s not offensive or unprofessional. Don’t pick a name like PartyAnimal17 or something along those lines. A variation of your first initial and last name will work.
Now that you have a Skype username, you’ll need to add the person with whom you’ll be talking. Follow these steps:
- Open Skype.
- On the left horizontal bar, click Contacts.
- Add a new contact by clicking Add Contact under the Contacts menu or click the Add Contact icon at the upper right of your screen.
- The interviewer will give you her Skype username or you can search for her.
To initiate a call, select your newly added user. You have the option to start a video or an audio/phone call. Ask the interviewer if the call will include video or only audio. When in doubt, assume your call will be via video. This way, you can prepare by dressing appropriately and selecting a nice place for the background.
Interviewing via Google Hangouts
Google Hangouts are another popular way to meet online. If you have a Gmail or a Google account, you can easily join a hangout or create one. Most likely you’ll receive a calendar invitation with a video link on the invitation. Conversely, you can create an invitation and add a video link to it.
To create a Google Hangout invitation:
- Open the Calendar application in your Gmail or on your phone.
- Create a new event and add the relevant details.
- In the event details, next to Video call, click Add Video Call.
- Save the event.
When it’s time for your call, just click the video call link on your invitation. This will launch Google Hangouts on a new screen where you can turn video on or off. After you’ve made your choice, click Join. Similar to a Skype call, ask ahead of time if this will be a video or audio only call. And if in doubt, assume it will be a video call.
Using video conferencing
Video conferencing comes in many forms and is popular at large companies and universities. The good thing about video conferencing is that you don’t have to do anything to set this up. All you need to do is show up for your interview. Most likely you’ll be invited to go to a designated location at the employer’s site or at your school, where the technology will already be configured.
Interviewing via phone
Phone interviews are the most common, and this is how most initial screenings are conducted. Make sure you find a quiet area where there are no distractions to have your call. A landline phone is better because of the higher voice quality and lower chance of a call being dropped.
If you need to use a cellphone, ensure you have enough battery power for the duration of your call. Also plan to do your call from an area where you have a good signal. Dropping off the call in the middle of an interview because you lost power or signal is a sign of being unprepared and won’t look good. Plan to have a fully charged battery before you have your call and find a location with a reliable signal.
When using Bluetooth headphones or an earpiece, ensure they have enough battery life. Better yet, use a wired earpiece that doesn’t require batteries. This way you have one less piece of technology to worry about. Call quality tends to be even better when speaking into your phone directly. If you can skip the earpiece, do it.