what you should do before every interview

When you get a job interview, how you prepare ahead of time can be the difference between doing well and crashing and burning.

Here are eight key steps to take before every interview to maximize your chances of performing well and landing the job.

1. At least one day before your interview, drive to the location where you’ll be meeting. Try to do this around the same time of day as your interview, so that you know what traffic will be like. The point? You might discover that your directions are wrong or a major road you were counting on is closed for construction, or that traffic is far worse than you anticipated. By rehearsing the drive ahead of time, you’ll be able to ensure you allow enough time on the actual day and don’t get lost.

2. Try on your outfit. Don’t wait until the day of your interview to try on your outfit for the first time. You don’t want to notice an hour before your interview that your pants need to be cuffed or that your only pair of stockings has a run. A dry run the day before will give you time to fix anything that needs to be fixed or to pick a different outfit.

3. Research the employer. The easiest way to do this is to use the employer’s own website. Read enough to get familiar with the company’s work, their clients, and their general approach. Don’t leave the website until you can answer these questions: What does this organization do? What are they all about? What would they say makes them different from their competition?

4. Check LinkedIn. Not only can you check your interviewer’s profile to get a better feel for her background, but you can also find out whether anyone in your network is connected to the company you’re interviewing with. If you find out that your college roommate’s husband used to work there, you might be able to reach out to him for additional insight on the company, its culture, and its key players.

5. Scrutinize the job description. Too often, candidates skim the job descriptions and miss crucial messages in it. Instead, you want to study it until you’re absolutely clear on what you’d do in this job, what the challenges are likely to be, and why you’d be a good match for it. In fact, the best thing you can do is to go through it line by line and think about how your experience and skills fit with each line. Spend some time thinking about examples from your past that you can use as supporting evidence that you’d excel at this job.

6. Practice, and then practice some more. Write down at least 10 interview questions that you’re likely to be asked and write out your answers to them. At a minimum, cover these basics: Why are you thinking about leaving your current job? What interests you about this opening? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What experience do you have doing ___? (Fill in each of the major responsibilities of the job.) Then, make yourself practice your answers out loud, until they fly off your tongue automatically.

7. If there’s a question that you’re especially nervous about, don’t just hope it won’t come up. Whether it’s explaining why you left your last job or talking about your lower-than-desired GPA, figure out what you’re most nervous about. Then, decide exactly how you’re going to answer it and practice that answer, saying it out loud over and over and over. You’ll be a lot more comfortable if the topic comes up in the interview.

8. Come up with questions of your own. At the end of the interview you’ll be asked what questions you have, and you want to be prepared. Good questions at this stage are clarifying questions about the role itself and open-ended questions about the office culture. You should also ask about next steps and the employer’s timeline for getting back to you.

I originally published this column at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 19 comments… read them below }

  1. JM in England*

    All good advice except for #1. There have been times where I have travelled great distances to interviews ; best example was when I had one in Scotland (I live near London) and would be impractical to do.

    1. Adam V*

      At that point your best bet is to arrive extra early. Give yourself much more time than you think you’ll actually need, and spend the extra time at a nearby coffee shop or wandering a Best Buy (that’s what I did while waiting for the interview for my first job).

      1. Jessa*

        Yes, arriving early is good, just make sure you leave enough time to cover any kind of weirdness with transportation.

    2. danr*

      There are enough good map sites and traffic sites so you can simulate a trip to the interview. For a city, this would include a simulation using mass transit.

  2. Felicia*

    Coming up with questions of my own is a big one for me and one I learned the hard way. I usually do have a lot of questions, but I can never think of them during the interview. So thinking of them before helps me to remember what i want to ask. After a few interviews, the preparation gets a lot easier because you’ve done it before.

    1. voluptuousfire*

      I have a leather folder with an attached legal pad that I bring to interviews. I usually come up with questions the day or two before the interview and write those down in my horrible doctor handwriting on my scratch legal pad. I then re-write them in more legible handwriting in the leather folder. When the questions part of the in-person interview comes up, I already have my questions in front of me and can pull them from there. It helps immensely because it makes me appear organized and shows I did my homework. The interviewer is usually fairly impressed.

  3. Carrie in Scotland*

    With regard to #1, I would prefer it if it mentioned other ways of getting there. Not everyone drives, although the advice is roughly the same – plan, plan and more planning!

    1. Felicia*

      I always take public transit, so I always look at the bus times in advance, as well as figure out alternate transit routes (if the streetcar i need is diverting, I don’t want to be lost as to what to do!) I can’t really afford to take the trip beforehand, but i do plan it out meticulously and leave myself more time than the public transit trip planner says.

        1. JM in England*

          For my long distance interviews, I travelled up the previous day and stayed overnight in a hotel. That way, any transport problems would not impact on arriving on time for the interview. An added bonus was that I would be fresh the next day, and therefore at my best.

  4. VictoriaHR*

    Researching! I do at least 10 phone screens a day, and 95% of them have no idea what job they applied for other than that it’s a call center job. Do you know what we do? No… Do you know what you’d be doing in the job? No… Um, you read the job posting and clicked “Apply” …

    1. BausLady*

      This. I understand that most candidates are probably applying for multiple jobs at a time, and it can be hard to keep them all straight. But I always call to schedule phone screens ahead, so it’s not like it’s a surprise when they happen. They always have at least a day to figure out what job it is and do their research. And yet they never do…

      I recruit for a call center too. Maybe it’s an industry thing?

  5. danr*

    #3 and #4 should be part of the basic research for an application. And it’s good advice to revisit them before an interview.

  6. NutellaNutterson*

    You forgot my new favorite must-do: watch Amy Cuddy’s TED talk:
    “Your body language shapes who you are” (aka Power Poses), and then power pose before you go in!

    1. Minneapolis mom*

      I did this before my last interview and got the job! Well, to be honest I did it before my last several interviews only one of which hired me. But seriously, I felt more relaxed, confident and ready to go after Power Posing.

  7. Lily*

    What about reviewing your own work history, so that you can answer if you are asked behavioral interview questions which always want you to talk about a time when … you had a conflict with a team member, you had several deadlines, you made a mistake … ?

    If you were given the names of the people who will be interviewing you, review them, so that you do not mistake your interviewer the vice president of the company for the HR person who invited you to the interview. This is especially embarrassing if your interview takes place in the office of the vice president and his name is listed on the door.

  8. NewToThis*

    I had an interview today and did everything except for #2, #6 and #7.

    When I practice I memorize answers and if I mess up my answer in even the smallest way, it completely throws me off because I’m trying to remember the next line. Learned that the hard way many times. I realized I’m much better at just winging it.

    Thanks to this website I was worried about an answer for the “what’s your greatest weakness?” question as I had always used perfectionism. I just hoped it wouldn’t be asked, and thankfully it wasn’t! I’ll have to work on this one.

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