5 Steps to Help You Prepare for a Successful Interview
By Erin Wolfram and Melissa Johnson
Congratulations! You have made it through one of the hardest parts of the job search process and secured an interview. Now it is time to prove to the hiring committee you are the best candidate for the job. Preparation is the key to making a positive impression on a potential employer. The following are helpful steps you can take to prepare yourself for your next interview:
Step 1: Research the company and position to demonstrate your interest
The more you know about the company and position, the easier it will be to respond to their interview questions. Therefore, the first step in preparing for an interview involves gathering information about the company, including its organizational structure, values, company culture and work environment. Utilize sites like Glassdoor.com and Indeed.com, company social media pages, and the organization’s website to help you conduct your research. In addition to gathering information online, utilize your network. Reach out to professionals in your field who may have firsthand knowledge about the organization, and request a brief meeting to discuss your questions. This information will be very useful when developing your own questions to ask the hiring committee at the conclusion of your interview.
Next, consider why you are interested in the position and how you are uniquely qualified for the job. Carefully read through the job description, write down all of the reasons you are interested in the position, and how you meet or exceed each of the qualifications (required and preferred) outlined in the job posting. You will likely be asked why you are interested in this opportunity, so you need to have compelling reasons that relate directly to the position and facility. The hiring committee does not care that the location is convenient for you or you are simply looking for a new opportunity. They want to know why you want this position at their organization and why you are the best candidate, so be prepared to discuss why you are qualified.
Step 2: Prepare stories that prove your value
Throughout the interview, you want to provide evidence of your strengths, skills and qualifications. The most effective way to do this is by telling stories that demonstrate positive results of your actions. The more your stories are directly related to the job and organization, the better. Utilize the information you gathered during your research, as well as information from the job description to help you tailor your examples. Telling stories will also keep your answers more organized and to the point so you avoid rambling. As a general rule, you do not want any of your answers to exceed two minutes.
Consider the following to help you generate your own stories:
What professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
What impact have you made on the facilities where you have worked?
When have you overcome a challenge, obstacle or difficult situation?
What accomplishments best demonstrate your strengths most closely related to the position for which you are interviewing?
Write or type out these examples (and others) and practice delivering them. Think of these examples as stories that have a beginning, middle and end, and utilize the acronym STAR to help you organize your responses. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result. For each story you describe, share the situation you were in, the task(s) you were assigned, the action(s) you took to complete the tasks, and the result(s) of those actions. Read through these stories as you prepare for your interview so they are fresh in your mind when you are faced with behavioral interview questions.
Step 3: Practice responses to common interview questions
In addition to behavioral interview questions that directly ask you to provide a specific story or example, some interview questions are more open ended. Whether asked directly or not, aim to share a story in each answer whenever possible to further strengthen your response. Although it is difficult to predict what questions you will be asked during an interview, there are certain interview questions that you will want to be ready to answer. For example:
Tell me about yourself.
This often is the first question asked in an interview, and it can set the tone for the rest of the conversation. You want to stick with professional content related to any relevant education or special training, and highlight related work history, key strengths relevant to the position, and why you are interested in this new opportunity.
Why are you interested in this position?
This is where you really need to express your passion and excitement for the position and the organization. Wanting a new opportunity or desiring to move up within the industry is not enough. Be able to thoughtfully express specific reasons why you want this job at this organization. If you cannot do this, the position may not be the best fit for you.
What is your greatest strength?
This is an excellent opportunity for you to highlight your unique qualifications and skills. Focus on the strengths that are most relevant to the role for which you are interviewing. Also, anyone can state a strength, but you want to prove it! For example, when describing your greatest strength, state your strength, and then provide a story that demonstrates an accomplishment you achieved using that strength.
What is your biggest weakness?
The weakness question can be tricky, but it is inevitable. Of course, you want to be honest; everyone has weaknesses. Think of a weakness that is not directly related to the duties you would be performing in the new position and that you can provide tangible information on what you are doing to overcome the weakness and turn it into a strength. You could also consider a technical skill that you may not have much experience with currently and discuss what you are doing to develop this skill such as enrolling in a training course or participating in professional development workshops.
Why should we hire you for this position?
This is often one of the last questions asked during the interview, and it is the perfect time to reiterate your related strengths and qualifications, as well as your interest and passion for the position. Do not be afraid to express how much you want the job. You also have the opportunity to share any additional information that you feel is valuable and have not yet discussed in previous answers. Really highlight what makes you unique. Remember, your goal is to stand out among the competition in a positive way!
One final note about responding to interview questions: if you are asked a question that you do not know the answer to, it is perfectly acceptable to take a moment to think about your response or request clarification if you are unsure what they are asking.
Step 4: Develop insightful questions to ask the interviewer(s)
An interview not only gives you the opportunity to demonstrate the value you will bring to the organization, but it also allows you to evaluate whether the culture and position are a good fit for you. Therefore, you always want to have questions prepared to ask at the end of the interview. This is your chance to not only continue to demonstrate your interest, but also acquire information to help you make a well-informed decision. Accepting a new job is something you do not want to take lightly, so the more information you can gather throughout the process to make sure you are a good fit for the position and organization, the better. You want to avoid questions related to salary and benefits or that you can easily find answers to on the internet or within the job posting. Rather, ask thoughtful questions that show you have done your research and will help you better understand the organization’s culture and environment.
How long have you worked here, and what have you enjoyed most throughout that time?
What are the top priorities you see for the person filling this position?
If selected for this position, what will my training look like?
Are you active in any professional organizations, and if so, are there professional development opportunities for the person filling this position?
Is there any additional information I can provide to you that will help you better understand my qualifications?
What are the next steps in the hiring process?
Step 5: Plan your outfit and other logistics
In addition to practicing interview questions, make sure you plan what you are going to wear. The higher the level of the job, the more professional you will want to dress. For director positions or higher, a conservative suit is recommended; however, for other positions, slacks or a skirt and coordinating shirt or blouse will likely be appropriate.
It is also important to obtain some details regarding the location of the interview. If you are unfamiliar with the area, it might be beneficial to travel to the location in advance of your interview (if you are able) to ensure you know how to get there, where to park, and how to access the building. On the day of your interview, be sure to leave early to give yourself some extra time in case there is heavy traffic, construction, or you have trouble finding parking. If you arrive too early (more than 5 minutes before your scheduled interview), take that time to review your notes and relax. Finally, it is a good idea to take three to five copies of your resume and references to give to those interviewing you, a notebook with your questions for the hiring committee, something to write with, as well as some cash in case you need to purchase water from a vending machine. Also, be sure to turn off your cell phone to avoid any embarrassing disruptions during your interview.
Last, but certainly not least, be sure to demonstrate confidence from the time you arrive at the interview site to the time you leave. Know why you are a strong candidate for the position, why you are interested in the job and organization, and how you are uniquely qualified. Prove to the hiring committee that you are the best person for the job and that you will bring value to their organization. Also, remember to treat everyone you meet with kindness and respect. Even those who are not part of the hiring committee will likely be asked about their interactions with you, so represent your best authentic self the entire time to ensure you receive the offer. Taking the time to prepare for an interview will increase your confidence level and is guaranteed to make a positive impression on the hiring committee. Good luck!
Erin Wolfram has more than 15 years of experience in career services, and owns and operates Career Advantage Golf (http://careeradvantagegolf.com), specializing in career services for those in the turf management field. She has a podcast called A Year of Career: 52 Practical Answers to Your Questions, where she provides quick career and job search advice. Wolfram has a Bachelor of Science in Secondary English Education, Master of Science in Counseling Psychology, Master of Science in Educational Technology, and is a certified professional etiquette consultant. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Melissa Johnson has more than 20 years of experience working with individuals from a variety of careers and industries. She specializes in one-on-one career coaching, resume and cover letter development, and job search assistance. Johnson has a passion for providing individualized support and guidance for each of her clients to ensure they are able to achieve their career goals. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Master of Education in Counseling Psychology.