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Getting Ready for an Interview

What’s It All About?

Interviews are key elements of the candidate search process. You can become more skilled at it with training and practice. In the next several segments, you will learn how to plan for an interview and recognize the kinds of questions you might expect. You will also learn how to prepare for second interviews, testing, and shadowing, as well as how to follow up on your interview sessions.

People are usually nervous in interviews, especially if they are sitting for a job they want, with a favourite company. If you are participating in your first interview, it might be even more stressful. Keep in mind; interviews are simply business meetings with a particular purpose. If the candidate and interviewer recognize the intent, they can both make the most of the meeting.

Employers use interviews to check to see if you fit their organization and could be a benefit to their company. They want to know the kind of worker you would be, so they observe how you prepared for the interview. This provides an indicator of how you would prepare to work for them. The interview also provides a chance for you to decide if the employer is right for you.

Consider the Questions in Advance

Remember the employer can invite you to an interview (most common), or you can request a meeting (informational interview). In either case, the focus is and should be, on the employer’s needs and what you can do for them. This is true even if most questions seem to be mostly about you.

You will want to learn the different questions you may receive and to think about the way you might answer them. Don’t memorize your answers. It will sound like you have rehearsed. When you mentally prepare, you can relax and focus on the conversation. Pay particular attention to the employer’s information, rather than concentrating on answers to unfamiliar questions.

In addition to listening carefully, prepare yourself in other practical ways:

  • Get a good night’s sleep the night before the interview
  • Eat properly day of the meeting
  • Layout your clothes and organize your papers the night before so that you arrive on time

Preparation Checklist

Whether you attend an interview in person, by phone, or via internet video conference, preparation and planning are equally important to be ready for interview questions. Before the interview, make sure that you know them:

  • Name of the company
  • The role you are interviewing for
  • Name and title of the interviewer(s)

You can obtain these first three items of information from the person who schedules your interview. Do not ask them for many additional details unless they offer. For example, a recruiter might offer to send you the links to the company website or provide a copy of their annual report.

You should also:

  • Read the company’s purpose and goals.
  • Research company information that applies to your interview and position. Study the size of the company and number of employees. Ask questions like: Do they provide a unique product or service? Do they have multiple locations? How does what the job you are applying for help the company?
  • Become familiar with their company website.
  • Check Google or your local library for articles and other publications about the company.

Tying It Together

Preparation may seem like a chore, but it will increase your chances of success in the interview. With some clever research, you can answer questions with intelligence. You will be able to include comments that tie their business goals to benefits you bring to a possible job.

Use phrases like:

  • “When I read a forecast in your annual report, I noticed…”
  • “I noticed an article on your website that discussed…”
  • “I see that you are building a facility in… Can you talk about that a little more?”

All organizations like to be noticed by the public. When you express interest and do your homework, you stand out from other candidates who have not taken the time. The research will also help you to answer the question: “What do you know about our company?”

What the Company Wants to Know

A potential employer only wants to know six things about you:

  • Why do you want to work there?
  • What can you do for them?
  • What kind of employee are you? Will you fit in with the team? Will others get along with you? Do you share the values of the company?
  • How are you different from other candidates?
  • Can they afford your required salary?
  • Will you come on board, get trained, and leave for the next opportunity?

You probably want to know similar things about the company:

  • Would I like working here?
  • What will I need to learn to do this job well?
  • Will I enjoy working with the people there?
  • Do I stand out from other candidates, so they offer me the job?
  • Will they hire me at the salary, vacation, and benefit levels that I want?

Setting Up an Informational Interview

You might be able to set up an informational interview with your target employer. This type of interview is one where you have initiated contact and asked a potential employer for a meeting. Your conversation might start like this:

“Hello, Ms Samy. My name is Leena Aly, and I recently graduated from university. I understand that you often hire people with my training, and I would appreciate learning more about your firm. Would you be available to meet for 20 minutes sometime next week?”

Ms Samy may reply that she would be pleased to meet with you and schedule an appointment. She may say they are not looking right now, but you are welcome to call back in two months. In that case, be sure to record her information for your follow up. You might also try connecting on LinkedIn for future reference.

If you are unable to get a meeting with Ms Samy, you could ask if she knows other companies that might be interested in someone with your background. If she does, she might provide an introduction. You can also request a suggested date to contact her again, perhaps in a month.

Make sure that you thank Ms Samy for her time. Remember you may be contacting her again or that you may be acting on her referral. Be polite and professional.

Guidelines for Success

When you schedule your informational interview, there are a few guidelines. First, only request a 20-minute initial meeting. They may decline longer meeting as people might perceive it to be a larger impact on their day. People often feel they can’t spare a blind meeting of 30 minutes, but 20 minutes might not seem too long. Be sure to stick to your 20-minute commitment unless the manager wants to extend it!

Prepare for your interview as is you did in the “What the Company Wants to Know” previous section. Learn about the company and what others say about them so you can ask focused questions that demonstrate your preparation. If specific new projects or divisions of interest to you, direct your questions to those. Remember you are not under pressure for a specific job; nor are you there to even ask for one. Your task is only to collect information.

When companies agree to an information-collecting interview, it is possible that strong candidates will get hired for the next vacancy. This is an example of how hidden job markets work. When Ms Sherif has an opening, she can refer first to her file of candidates that previously approached her for an informational interview. She knows she has qualified individuals in her candidate pool, rather than having to sort through many unknown, new candidates who may not be as interested.

Be prepared with your written list of questions to help keep you focused and efficient. After you provide a quick summary of your company knowledge and your relevant background, ask your prepared questions. Remember, since you initiated the meeting, you are expected to ask questions.

Here are some possible questions you might consider in a 20-minute meeting:

  • What new projects is the company doing right now (like expansion, new markets, purchases, etc.)?
  • Can you tell me what the people who work here say about this company? (This might be management opinion, or they might show you employee surveys, for example.)
  • What would you say are the biggest challenges for this industry right now?
  • How do you recruit the best people for your firm?
  • What is the mood of employees when they leave work?
  • Is there special education or training you recommend for people to be considered for positions here?
  • Would you consider my background to be a good match for positions here? If not, what would you suggest are smart developmental steps for me?

Offer a copy of your resume to the interviewer at the meeting, only if they ask for it. You might consider having your portfolio with you, but once again, only offer it if they request it.
Informational meetings might progress to a formal interview if the employer is very interested in you. If that happens, your 20-minute time slot may not be enough time. You can say: “I promised to spend 20 minutes with you, and I realize you are very busy. Would you prefer that we schedule another appointment?”

Following the meeting, send Ms Sherif a thank you note for her time and information. This professional courtesy shows that you genuinely appreciate her time. It also reminds her of your visit and may remind her of your favourable job search effort. Include your phone number and email on the note.

Sample wording for a thank you note is in your guide.