Preparing for Interview: Your Checklist for Success

The saying “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” is everything when sitting for a job interview. While it is completely normal to feel at least a little nervous over the prospect of an employment interview, you don’t have to let those feelings control you.

From your appearance to having solid answers to the interviewer’s questions, the best way to calm your nerves and impress the interviewer that you are the ideal candidate is to be totally prepared. To help you prepare and make the best possible first impression, here is a comprehensive interview checklist for success:

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1) Research the company. While most job candidates research a prospective employer by visiting the corporate website, you need to set your self apart from the typical Joes and Janes. Research the company through as many sources as possible, including social media, news articles, press releases, family and friends as well as current and former employees of the company.

Learn who the company is, what they do and how and why they do it. This will allow you to get a much broader picture of the company and help you develop a strategy for answering the interviewer’s questions.

2) Research the interviewer. Don’t forget that the interviewer is a person too and he or she will have a professional history and personal interests. Find out who the interviewer is and see what information is available online in the form of personal and professional social-media accounts and profiles and then develop a list of questions specific to the interviewer. This can also give you an idea if the interviewer is all business or has a sense of humor.

Many interviewers will ask about your hobbies and interests to get a sense of who you are. If you find you have something in common with the interviewer, be sure to bring that up if the opportunity arises. It is remarkable how often this type of personal connection with the interviewer can tip the scale in your favor.

3) Research the company’s employees. This will help you get an idea of the types of people who work there as well as the types that excel in the company. Look for personal and professional social-media profiles and read personal blogs.

4) Research the interview process. This is often as easy as asking what type of format will be followed at the interview. For example, some interview formats will require you to problem solve whereas others will stick to a typical question and answer format.

5) Analyze the job listing. Have a thorough understanding of what the job entails and what the company is looking for in a candidate. Be able to articulate how your qualifications match up with what the company is looking for in an employee.

6) Prepare your answers. Attorneys always say that you never ask a question you don’t already know the answer to. However, a job interview requires the opposite approach. You must anticipate any possible interview question and develop a solid answer for each question.

There are two basic types of interview question, personal and professional. Professional questions will deal with your work experience, education, training and skills. Personal questions can be about anything from problem solving skills to accomplishments. Many applicants get hung up on how to answer the question, “Why should I hire you?” This is typically best answered by blending your best personal qualities with your strongest occupational skill set. Here are a few more of the most common interview questions:

• “Tell me about yourself.” While every interviewer asks this question, your verbal vita should be tailored to highlight your strengths for the position you are applying for. For example, if you are applying for a job as a stockbroker then you should talk about your analytical skills.
• “Why do you what to work for this company?” Here you want to be able to explain in detail what it is about the company and position that interests you.
• “What do you consider to be your biggest weakness?” Your answer should involve something that you are working on improving.
• “Tell me about a problem you had to find a solution to.” Spend some time thinking back over both your work history and personal life and come up with an example from each that shows your ability to think on your feet.
• “Tell me about a time you failed?” This is one of those standard job applicant questions so be sure you have a couple of well thought-out examples that you can readily articulate.
• “Why do you want to leave your current job?” While this obviously won’t apply if you are between jobs, the interviewer may ask why you left your last job. Be honest here, but don’t badmouth people or the interviewer will assume you will do the same at their company.
• “Do you want to tell us anything else about you?” Be prepared for this universal job-interview question and have something that you can tie to the job you are interviewing for.

Always try to use a concrete example, if possible, and use numbers where applicable. For example, if you were the top salesperson in your company, then back it up with figures that demonstrate how much you out performed the rest of the sales force. Just try to be humble.

7) Prepare your delivery. Just having your answers ready isn’t enough, you have to be able to respond to the interviewer’s questions with confidence and polish. Practice answering questions with a friend or in front of a mirror. The more you practice the smoother your delivery will be in the live interview and the more the interviewer will be impressed.

Have a few a go-to phrases ready to avoid an awkward silence if you need time to think of an answer to a question you haven’t anticipated. A few examples are:

• “That’s a good question.”
• “I’ve never been asked that before, but…”
• “Let me think about that for a minute.”

8) Prepare your questions. Interviewer’s will almost always ask you if you have any questions. Be sure you have five to 10 well thought out questions about the company and the job you are applying for ready to go. This will show the interviewer that you have done your homework and have a genuine interest in the position.

9) Practice your body language. Be sure not to cross your arms and legs as this tends to send the message that you are defensive. Practice sitting up straight and fold and keep your hands in your lap.

10) Prepare your interview outfit. Be sure you match your interview attire to the type of clothing you would be wearing if you worked there. If you are applying for a job at a law firm, then you will want to dress in a professional manner, and not business casual. Research the type of clothing the company expects their employees to wear. Ask someone who works there, check out photos on company website or simply ask the person who schedules the interview with you.

Put your interview wardrobe together a few days before the interview. Have it cleaned and pressed and shine your shoes. Put it all together in a safe place and then check it the night before the interview to be sure it is completely ready to go. The last thing you need is the stress of having to scramble to get an outfit together just before the interview.

11) Be well groomed. This means a haircut and a manicure. Makeup should be tasteful and slightly understated and men should have a fresh shave or beard trim. Apply hand lotion a few minutes before you go into the interview so your hands won’t be dry and rough when you shake hands. This is something that is hardly ever thought of, but people do notice the little things.

12) Prepare your paperwork. Even though the company may already have a copy of your resume, have half a dozen collated copies, with reference lists, with you. This is because you may be asked for copy by the receptionist and then again by the interviewer. You will also be prepared if you meet with more than one interviewer, which is a strong possibility with a larger company.

Be sure your reference list is complete and comprehensive. List the contact’s name and title at the top followed by the name of the company and department and complete contact information. The last should include the company address, phone number and email address. Add a sentence or two explaining what your relationship to the reference was, such as supervisor, district manager, etc.

13) Organize your bag. Clean out and organize you purse or briefcase the night before your interview. Reduce clutter by getting rid of anything you won’t need that day and put your resumes in a spot where you won’t have to hunt for them. This will project an image of organized efficiency to the interviewer. Be sure to add a notepad and pen and some sticks of gum or pack of breath mints.

14) Get a good nights rest. This can be easier said then done the night before a big job interview, but there are some things you can do. Most important, don’t spend all night cramming like for a final exam. Relax, get in a workout or go for a walk. Have dinner with family or friends and watch a funny movie. Lay off the alcohol and caffeine as both can interfere with sleep. Get to bed at a normal hour and set your alarm so you will have enough time to maintain your morning routine and still have plenty of time to get to the interview at least 20 minutes early.

15) Maintain your morning routine. Many people will spend the morning of a job interview obsessing over details. However, just like in high school or college, cramming just before a big exam only serves to stress you out. At this point you either know the material or you don’t. Instead, keep your morning routine as normal as possible. Have a nice leisurely breakfast and then check your bag to be sure everything is in order.

16) Arrive early. You should plan to arrive at the interview about 15 minutes early. Be sure to take traffic into account and leave in time so you don’t have to rush. If you get there too early, go have a coffee or sit in a park to relax before going in. Spend this time reflecting on your job history and visualize having a good interview.

Go to the restroom about 10 minutes before your interview is scheduled to begin to freshen up and have a breath mint or chew a piece of gum. Just be sure to spit out the gum before going in to the interview.
Greet everyone you meet everyone with a firm handshake and eye contact. Don’t bring anything but your bag into the interview and be sure your cell phone is muted.

17) Wait your turn to talk. Listen carefully to what is being said and be sure the interviewer is finished talking before you respond. To many times job candidates are so eager to answer a question they cut the interviewer off before they are done speaking. A good rule of thumb is to wait three seconds after you think the interviewer has finished speaking. When the interview is over, be sure to make eye contact, shake the interviewer’s hand and thank him or her for their time. Thank the receptionist on the way out.

18) Follow up. If you deiced that your are still interested in the position after the interview, go somewhere quiet and write down your thoughts. Review your notes the next day and write a “thank you” letter to the interviewer. This shows that you are sincerely interested in the position and that you are the type of person who follows up. It is amazing how many job candidates fail to do this. However, this is one simple thing that can often be enough to swing the decision in your favor.

Finally, you will need to know how to reschedule an interview. Depending on the reason and how far in advance you need to reschedule, this can be either simple or tricky. While potential employers don’t necessarily like it when candidates reschedule, they do understand unexpected things come up. While your job interview should be your top priority that day, if you have to reschedule at the last minute just be sure the situation that causes you to reschedule is both compelling and unavoidable.