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Preparing For a Job Interview: 13 Key Steps

Male professional holding up a sticker reading "Are you ready?"

Preparing for a job interview can be nerve-wracking, but it’s a critical step in making the best possible impression and positioning yourself above the other candidates. What do the best athletes, musicians, and public speakers have in common? They prepare relentlessly, and that’s a big component of what sets them apart. 

Knowing how to prepare for a job interview will help you shake off the anxiety, poise yourself to field the interviewer’s questions with ease, and avoid any snafus on the interview day. To make the most of this exciting opportunity, follow these interview preparation tips.

How to Prepare For A Job Interview

1. Research the job

You likely already did this when you first applied, but that may have been weeks or months ago and you might have been applying for multiple similar roles with other companies at the same time. So, it’s a good idea to go back to the original job description and brush up on exactly what the role calls for.

Take note of the desired skills and the list of job responsibilities, and then spend some time reflecting on how your experience matches the qualifications. Use LinkedIn or the company’s website to do some research on the person who currently holds the role you’re interviewing for and who has held it in the past.

If it wasn’t made clear when you were setting up the interview, it’s a good idea to circle back with your recruiter to find out further details about the interview logistics. Is it one-on-one? Is it a group setting? Will you be meeting with more than one person or a single interviewer? Is it possible to find out who your interviewer will be?

The more information you have going into it, the better prepared you’ll be for whatever is thrown your way.

2. Research the company

This small job interview preparation step often goes overlooked, but it’s actually one of the most important things you should do before an interview. Researching the company you’re interviewing with not only demonstrates that you’re serious about the role; it can help you determine whether it’s a good culture fit and highlights areas to ask your interviewers about.

In certain industries, it’s not uncommon for interviewers to ask you what you know about the company or its founder. The last thing you want to do is admit you didn’t do your homework, or worse, try to come up with an answer on the fly. To avoid this, spend some time learning about the company’s mission, values, and leadership team. Thanks to the internet, this shouldn’t take long to find.

Additionally, use news sites to scan for recent headlines involving the company. LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter accounts can be a good source of intel, too.

Related: Best Ways to Prepare for an Interview

3. Lay out your selling points

Just as a salesman has a list of key features that make their product as appealing as possible, you should go into an interview with a list of your best selling points as a candidate that makes you the right fit for the job. These should be qualities that align with the job description, using the same language from the listed skills and qualifications whenever possible so it’s incredibly easy for the interviewer to ascertain that you’re a good match. Then, spend some time strategizing how you’ll work these selling points into the questions you’re asked.

4. Think through your answers to common interview questions

There are a few interview questions you’re almost guaranteed to face, like ‘tell us about yourself’ and ‘why are you interested in this role?’ Refine your elevator pitch—that is, a 30-second spiel that summarizes who you are and what you do. This way you won’t find yourself wandering down a long, aimless road when asked about your background or why you want the job.

You should have a few specific wins in your back pocket that you can pull out when asked to talk about your career experiences. For example, think about a time when you succeeded in the face of a challenge or stepped up to the plate during a moment of chaos. How will you phrase your responses to describe these scenarios?

Also, think through how you’ll respond to tricky questions that may come up, like ‘what’s your biggest weakness?’ or ‘why are you leaving your current role?’

Finally, rehearse a line or two you can use if a curveball question catches you off guard. For example, if the interviewer decides to go the quirky route with a question like ‘what kind of fruit would you be and why?’ you can buy yourself a few seconds to think with a phrase like, ‘that’s an interesting question! I’d never thought about it before, but I’d have to say…’

Related: How to Sell Yourself in an Interview

5. Focus on the positive

While great candidates can tackle on-the-job obstacles with ease, no one wants to hear a laundry list of struggles. Even if you’re talking about challenges you’ve overcome, too much focus on negative experiences can create a pessimistic tone that colors the interviewer’s impression of you. Keep the mood of your interview positive by centering your conversation on wins and results rather than hardships you’ve faced.

6. Prepare some questions of your own

Most interviewers will wrap things up by giving you a chance to ask questions of your own. Don’t take this for granted! They may be interviewing you, but this process is also meant to help you decide if the company and role are a good fit for you.

If you did your homework on the company and job, you probably have a question or two based on what you discovered. If not, here are some good topics to ask about:

  • What does success look like in this position?
  • What opportunities are there for professional development?
  • What have previous employees in this role gone on to do afterward?
  • How would you describe the company culture here?
  • What projects will the person in this role will be taking on during their first few weeks?
  • What are the next steps in the interview process?

This is not the time to ask about vacation days and other perks. That’s for later on in the hiring process (however, you can get somewhat of a read on these things with a question like ‘how would you describe the work-life balance of working here?’).

Another big topic you’re likely wondering about during your job interview preparation is money. Generally speaking, at this stage, it’s best to let the employer take the lead on discussing salary. If they bring it up, it’s fine to talk through the salary range to make sure you’re on the same page. If they don’t broach the subject, it’s best to wait until you have a better idea of whether you’ll receive an offer before asking about pay.

7. Plan what you’ll bring

Don’t expect the interviewer to have your information in front of them. If it’s an in-person interview, come prepared with three to five printed copies of your resume and references, along with a notebook and pen for taking notes. Use a folder or binder so everything is neatly organized and you’re not rifling through a bag to find things.

It’s also a good idea to pack a Tide pen for last-minute coffee spills, a bottle of water, and a pack of breath mints. Avoid chewing gum, since you might forget to spit it out before the interview starts.

8. Get your tech ready

If your interview is a virtual one, make sure your technology is in tip-top shape. This means a high-quality webcam, a working microphone and speakers/headphones, and a reliable internet connection. Familiarize yourself with the platform on which the interview will be held and make sure you’ve downloaded any necessary plugins ahead of time.

Related: How to Prepare For a Video Interview

9. Dress the part

Though dress codes vary widely between companies and industries, it’s always a good idea to err on the more conservative side for an interview.  You can also ask your recruiter for their advice.

If the office environment is business casual, a suit or shift dress with a jacket is appropriate for an interview. If the environment is super casual, dress pants and a button-down or nice blouse might be a more appropriate option than a full suit.

During the few days before your interview, take the opportunity for a little self-care so you look and feel polished. You might get a fresh haircut, get a manicure, or get your shoes shined. These are small things that really make a difference in your overall presentation, especially in fields like hospitality or sales where first impressions are even more important.

10. Be clear on directions

Don’t rely solely on your smartphone to get you where you need to be on the day of your interview. If it’s in a big office building, will you need to arrive early to get a guest badge? If it’s in a sprawling business complex, will you need to park your car somewhere and walk to the office? If it’s in a different city, do you know which route to take on public transit?

If the location is nearby, it’s a great idea to do a drive-by in advance so you know exactly where you’re going and how long it will take to get there.

11. Set yourself up for success

Use the 24 hours before your interview to set yourself up for success. Get a good night’s sleep the night before and wake up early the morning of the interview. As much as possible, stick to your normal routine. Now is not the time to try a breakfast burrito for the first time or order a double shot of espresso if you normally have a small coffee.

By following these interview preparation tips and giving yourself ample time to prepare, you’ll be well on your way to a positive interview and hopefully, a job offer.

12. Start strong

Most people make a gut decision about whether they like someone within the first few minutes of meeting them. While a good interviewer will be able to set aside their subjective opinions in favor of a more objective analysis, their gut feeling will probably still play a role in their hiring decision. Start strong by opening with a sincere smile, a firm handshake, and a warm greeting.

13. End on a high note

Put the finishing touch on a solid interview by doing something most candidates fail to do: preparing for how it’ll end. Just as your elevator pitch offers a quick and effective overview of who you are, a closing statement can help you wrap things up cleanly and make the last impression your interviewer has of you a positive one. 

By following these interview preparation tips and giving yourself ample time to prepare, you’ll be well on your way to a positive interview and hopefully, a job offer.

Related: How to Make the Most Out of Your In-Person Interview

Land Your Next Job With 4 Corner Resources

Whether you’re looking for a full-time, temporary, or contract position, 4 Corner Resources can help you take the next step in your career. We’re a professional staffing firm that matches candidates like you with some of the top employers from coast to coast.

From interview preparation tips to early access to unlisted jobs, our headhunters and recruiters are ready to connect you with a role that’s the perfect fit for your skills and personality. Browse our open jobs or contact us today to speak directly with one of our recruiting experts.

Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the President of 4 Corner Resources, the staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. 4 Corner is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance, and the top-rated staffing company in Central Florida. Recent awards and recognition include being named to Forbes’ Best Recruiting Firms in America, The Seminole 100, and The Golden 100. Pete also founded zengig, to offer comprehensive career advice, tools, and resources for students and professionals. He hosts two podcasts, Hire Calling and Finding Career Zen, and is blazing new trails in recruitment marketing with the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn