Back to Basics: How to Prepare for an Interview

interview picGreat news! You have been invited to interview for a job that is a strong match for your educational level and past experiences. In order to enhance your chances of securing the job, it is critical for you to prepare effectively for the interview. Here are few tips to get you started.

1. Know thyself.

Print out your CV and be prepared to discuss anything on it in great detail. Think through your past experiences, projects, accomplishments, and be ready with stories that go beyond what can easily be found on your CV.

To prepare for interviews, I will print out the job description, highlight skills I think are key to performing the job successfully, and then peruse my résumé for evidence of using those skills. I might even jot down a few keywords that will help me to recall certain situations, actions I took, and outcomes that emerged.

2. Case the joint.

When preparing for an interview, it is essential that you investigate your potential employer and the job at hand as thoroughly as you can. Most employer websites are well-organized and will contain the basics for any organization, including the institution’s history, its products, services, or focal research areas, and perhaps even the structure of particular departments.

I would encourage you to go even further with your research than the employer website, though. Be aware of what is happening currently in the field. Be able to discuss pressing issues, and find out whether the organization has been in the news lately. One source of information on the state of the field generally will be the website of a related professional association or society. Read up on changes and big happenings.

Another way you can learn more about the culture of a potential employer–and by extension, its fit for you–is through a current employee. Use LinkedIn exit icon1 to find people who are working at a particular organization or institution. You can do this by using the search box at the top of your LinkedIn screen–just be sure to change the drop-down choice from “People” to “Companies.” You can narrow this search further by using keywords, or by looking at New Hires, which is a tab that appears after you’ve searched “Companies.” (And remember that all organizations are found under “Companies,” including colleges and universities, non-profits, etc.) For more help on using LinkedIn in your job search, click here.

3. Practice, practice, PRACTICE!

Use all of the information gathered about the organization and your fit for the position to respond to interview questions. You can practice with a friend over coffee, a colleague during lunch, or with a family member or friend in the evening.

I would also encourage you to schedule a mock interview with a career counselor in OITE. These situations simulate the interview environment and will undoubtedly prepare you well for the actual process.

For your practice, use the sample questions asked by employers on this handout. You can do this yourself in preparation for a mock interview, or hand this to whomever you will be practicing with.

4. Don’t blow it.

A few final tips on interviewing:

  • Know where you are going in advance. Print out maps for driving, tickets for flying, and/or the schedule for your visit provided by the employer.
  • Make sure your clothes are clean. (I just noticed that I need to have my favorite suit dry cleaned.)
  • Bring extra copies of your CV/resume with you. (It is also a good idea to bring along a printed list of questions you have for an employer.)
  • Be EARLY–or the least, don’t be late.
  • Be enthusiastic. Remember that employers are looking for a colleague with whom they’d like to spend time, so be sure to smile and express your interest in the position and organization.

5. Follow up.

Send a thank-you note via email immediately, or at least within the first 24 hours after the interview. You may follow this up with a hand-written card if you’d like, which would surely be appreciated.

If you do not hear back from an employer within the time stated at the close of the interview, send a follow-up email or call to determine the status of the search.

On the day of the interview, try to relax, have fun, and remember–the organization needs to be a good fit for you, as much as you need to be a good fit for the organization. Good luck, and be sure to post any further questions you might have on this topic!

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