so you’ve gotten a job interview — what now?

You finally got the call you’ve been waiting for – an invitation to interview for a job you’re really excited about. What do you need to do now to ensure that you ace the interview?

Here are four steps to take after getting an interview that will position you as strongly as possible to wow your interviewer.

1. Research the company. It’s important to get familiar with the company you’ll be interviewing with; understanding the context that your interviewers are working in will help you have a more intelligent conversation.

This doesn’t mean simply memorizing facts about the company; there’s not a lot of utility in that. Rather, you’re looking for the answers to questions like these:
• How does the company see itself? What would they say makes them different from their competition?
• What is the company most known for?
• Have they been in the news lately? If so, for what?
• What are the company’s biggest current initiatives/projects/products/clients?
• What info can you find about the company’s culture and values?
• Roughly what size is the company?
• Who are the company’s key players? What kind of backgrounds do they bring to their roles?
If you come across as someone with a baseline understanding of these basics about the company, it’s going to be a lot easier for your interviewers to be able to picture you in the job. Conversely, if you don’t seem to know any of this, they’re likely to wonder how interested you really are and whether you even really understand what they do.

2. Get really, really familiar with the job description and how you fit it. Too often, candidates go into interviews without a solid understanding of what the role they’re applying for is all about – even when the job posting makes it pretty clear. Before any interview, you should go through the job posting carefully, line by line, and think about how your experience and skills fit with each responsibility or qualification – as well as what supporting evidence you can point to as evidence that you’d excel at each. (When doing this, don’t be alarmed if you’re not a perfect fit; people regularly get hired without being a 100% match. Your goal here is just to get yourself thinking about the ways in which you are a strong match, so those thoughts are fresh in your mind and can be turned into answers in your interview.)

3. Practice your answers to likely interview questions – and then practice them some more. Most candidates don’t practice for interviews nearly enough – but when candidates to, it generally results in a much more polished, effective interview. You can do this by thinking through the questions that you’re likely to be asked, writing out answers to them, and practicing your answers out loud. Here are seven questions that you’re likely to be asked, so at a minimum you should prepare for these. You should also assume that you’ll be asked to talk about times in the past that you’ve demonstrated some of the role’s key skills or responsibilities, and you should spend some time thinking about stories from your past that will illustrate how you excel in those areas.

Plus, if there’s a question that you’re especially nervous about (such as salary expectations or why you left your last job), don’t just hope that that topic won’t come up. Instead, decide exactly how you’re going to answer it and practice that answer out loud over and over and over. The more you practice, the better you’ll get and the more comfortable you’re likely to feel when you’re in your interview.

4. Create a list of questions of your own. Remember, interviews are two-way streets, and you should be evaluating the job and company just as much as your interviewer is evaluating you. Figure out ahead of time what information you need in order to evaluate whether this job is one you’d be happy in, write those questions down, and take them with you to the interview.

Good questions at this stage are often questions that clarify details about the role itself and questions about the office culture. You also should always ask about the next steps in the hiring process and the employer’s timeline for getting back to you.

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

{ 20 comments… read them below }

  1. BRR*

    As part of number 2 I would also print out/save the job description. Some places take down the posting after moving to the interview stage.

    1. Hermoine Granger*

      Co-sign. I email the job listing to myself for every position I’m interested in applying for (delete if I decide not to apply) and print out the description when it’s time to prep for the interview.

      1. BRR*

        I always made a folder with my resume, cover letter, job description, and any other relevant information. Just to not be caught off guard.

        1. Hermoine Granger*

          Yep, I use Outlook and Excel to keep everything organized.

          In Outlook, I have one folder for just job descriptions (emails), another folder with all of the submitted application materials enclosed / attached to an email, and flags to organize things based on my interest level or application status.

          The Excel file has a spreadsheet with columns for the company, job title, salary info, source, application method, application date, and notes. I change the font color to gray if I’ve been rejected or a position has been cancelled, green if I’ve been moved into a position’s interview process, and red if I need to apply or perform some other action.

          I have another Word file that I use to save interview research about companies / positions.

          1. oaktown*

            I use the same colors for the same categories in my spreadsheet! heehee

            I also have a column for “application close date” and “location”. Yay for spreadsheets!

        2. Meg Murry*

          Yes – I do the same in google docs, after having to say more than once “um, I applied for more than one job with your company and now you’ve taken them all down – could you send me the job description again”?

          I either copy and paste the job description into a blank google doc, or I print the job description to PDF and then save the PDF in my google drive folder for job searching. Then I if I need someone to review/proofread my cover letter I can send them both the job description and my cover letter and resume all in one email.

        3. This is someone*

          I use folders in Dropbox, so I can easily access the files on my phone, and I also print-to-pdf key pages of the web site, usually.

          1. Lauren*

            Trello is another great option. You create cards you can drag and drop. You can attach or copy-paste a job description to each one. Its so easy to use and convenient! And free :)

  2. little Cindy Lou who*

    I’ve always found the best interviews to be conversations with the hiring manager, HR rep, and other parties rather than just a series of Q&A.

    Also totally agree on being very clear which job you’re hiring for. A recruiter once sent me on an interview in which I was thoroughly confused as to why the VP of Finance kept indicating I was overqualified and asking why I would be interested in the role. Turns out the FP&A role I thought I was interviewing for had already been filled and he thought I was there for his open data entry role.

    1. Ali*

      This happened to me too! I applied for one job at a company, but got called for another position that wasn’t what I applied for, but it still sounded like a good fit. I did the phone interview, then the recruiter said the hiring manager told her I didn’t have enough experience to advance to the in-person interview stage. Bummer, but I don’t particularly want to work for them anyway now that I experienced their interview process.

  3. Bethy*

    Ahh, perfect timing, I have an interview Thursday. I’ve known about it for over a week, so I’ve been stewing over some answers and examples but it’ll be nice to focus on this advice now that I’m getting down to the wire.

  4. Ali*

    This is perfect for me too. I’m interviewing tomorrow and read the interview guide last night and wrote down some answers. I’ll have time before the interview, so I’ll be able to sit at a Starbucks and study the notes before hiding them away in my purse before I go to the company.

    I’ve had a few interviews now, but no job offers, so I’m doing everything I can to cover all the bases!

  5. Hermoine Granger*

    I used to get really nervous about interviews but found prepping for the questions as much as possible helps to relieve some of that stress. I have a list of about 20 popular general interview questions that I go through and answer before each interview. I also print out the job description and next to the responsibilities I jot down examples of when I’ve completed similar tasks. Being prepared for the expected questions gives you more mental space in interviews to answers questions out of left field off the cuff.

  6. brightstar*

    Conducting interviews really changed my perspective as it made me realize I wasn’t looking to judge candidates negatively. I was hoping each interview would lead to finding a great person for the position.

    Also, you truly don’t know what happens at the organization. We needed someone right away but interviews were followed with meetings about candidates and possible restructuring of roles so the process took longer than expected.

  7. Amber Rose*

    Several of my interviews were done on the fly, through networking. Sort of a, “email this guy, he might have something open you could do.” So I go in blind and dumb, so to speak.

    This is why cultivating a personable attitude is so so important. You CAN learn charisma to an extent, and you should, if you don’t have it already. Not every interview can be totally prepared for, and interviewers are judging you on a personal level too.

    1. voluptuousfire*

      ^ That’s how I got my second to last job. The HR manager called me for a phone screen on the fly and I aced it without even really thinking about it. I still have no idea what I actually said! :)

      Being perceived as personable and confident (even if you’re not feeling it that day) really makes a world of difference in getting to the next level.

  8. Traveler*

    Re #3 – Practicing is so important. It has helped me get “stretch” job offers, where my qualifications weren’t perfect but since I was able to talk intelligently about my abilities without nerves or “thinking ahead” getting in the way.

    1. Lauren*

      Agreed! Also, its ironic but practicing makes you sound more natural and authentic. I think its because it requires more self reflection.

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