Our step-by-step guide on how to prepare for job interviews to set yourself up for success.
Jul 23, 2022
Preparation is the first step toward a successful interview. It is amazing that so many candidates attend interviews without any apparent preparation and research and only the vaguest idea of what to say. To help you stand out from the competition, we have put together a step-by-step guide on how you can prepare yourself for future interviews.
The Purpose of an Interview
Research & Preparation
First Impressions and Ending the Interview
After the Interview
1 – The Purpose of an Interview
The purpose behind a job interview is and should be two-sided, for both the employer and the employee should have some goals in mind going into a job interview.
For the interviewer, a job interview is a process in which a potential employee is evaluated by an interviewer for prospective employment in their organization. During this process, the employer hopes to determine if the applicant is suitable for the role.
Interview questions are generally designed drill down on specific job-relevant attributes that have been deemed necessary to successfully perform the job.
There are typically three categories that are considered when assessing potential candidates: general traits, experience, and job-specifics.
Personality: Conscientiousness, agreeableness, extroversion/introversion, openness etc.
Values: Motives, goals, and person-organizational fit etc.
Desire: Desire and capacity to learn and process information, work ethic etc.
Experience: job-relevant knowledge derived from prior experience
Education: Job-relevant knowledge derived from prior education
Training: job-relevant knowledge derived from prior training
Knowledge: Knowledge as applicable to the job
Technical ability: Ability to complete the tasks required to do the job
Motivation: Willingness to exert the effort required to do all aspects of the job
For the employee/interviewee, a job interview is a process in which they can showcase their skills to perform a job through the evaluation by the prospective employer. The interview process is also an evaluation of the employer by the prospective employee, where they can learn more about the employer, hiring manager, culture, and the job. Here are some common areas that interviewees focus on:
Showcase your experience, education, and training
Showcase your job-specific knowledge, ability, and motivations
Showcase your interests, goals, and personality.
Learning more about employer / hiring manager / culture
Employer: Asking questions about the organization, what their purpose and values are, company overview/history, role in their industry etc.
Hiring manager: Asking questions about the hiring manager’s background, interests, motivations, leadership style, work style etc.
Culture: Asking about the company culture as well as team specific micro-cultures and dynamics, social events, community involvement, requirements to work from office/remotely, dress code etc.
Learning more about the job
Job description: Asking questions about the job description to clarify any specific points, mapping out what part the role plays as part of the wider team or function, understanding what systems/processes are used, travel requirements etc.
Understanding needs: Asking questions to determine which areas of the job are most critical, timeframes of work, as well as how the first 3 months, 6 months, 1 year are likely to play out.
Job requirements: Asking questions about what or why specific requirements are necessary and connecting with the hiring manager to understand why they are looking for certain traits.
Future: Understanding the future for this role, is it a routine job which is likely to stay the same for years to come? will the role evolve and change? how common are internal promotions? will a lot of project-based work be likely? etc.
2 – Interview Dynamics
This section will cover what candidates can generally expect from interviews, common interview structures etc.
Depending on the type of job, seniority, and company process, the number of rounds of interviews can range widely. Some organizations do the timeless classic “one-and-done” style interviewing, some companies want candidates to have one-on-one interviews with a seemingly endless number of stakeholders/staff and go on for many rounds of interviews.
In Canada, it seems that the average number is 2-3 rounds of interviews before making a hiring decision. Some companies also include various forms of testing. So, what can you expect from these interviews?
Example – Interview One
The first interview is often an introductory interview where you might expect the interviewer to introduce themselves and the company as well as ask you questions about your background, experience, and interests to determine if you could be a potential fit for the organization.
If an organization has a HR department, it’s quite common for HR to act as the first touchpoint for a candidate, often attending the first interview or even doing a phone-screen interview prior to this.
Example – Interview Two
The second interview usually gets a bit more in-depth and technical; you should expect more people and more pressure. Employers are more likely to ask technical scenario-based questions as well as delving deeper into your personality traits with behavioral questions. If the position is leading a large team, you’d expect a lot of leadership/management questions, if it is very system oriented, you’d expect a lot of technology related questions.
Example – Interview Three
The third interview can sometimes be a relatively informal ‘meet and brief’ with the team and a tour around the office or something similar.
On the other hand, it can also sometimes be a full panel interview with a selection of interviewers. The second and third interviews are typically more likely to include a meeting with C-Suite or other executives as well. Questions in a final interview would typically look to ease any uncertainties from both sides, and if the employer wants clarification or more evidence of skills, they may repeat questions previously asked or reword them in a different way.
The two most common tests conducted by potential employers are personality tests and psychometric/aptitude tests. Though different employers have different tests, and you may come across skill specific tests such as excel, job simulation tests such as business cases and presentations, written tests, or role-playing tests.
While most of the tests are looking for proof of your ability to perform the job, a personality test is more so geared to see if the test shows you have the personality traits deemed most critical to perform the job.
3 – Research and Preparation
There are lots of ways that you can prepare yourself for an interview to maximize your chances of success, generally we advise to overpreparing is better than underpreparing. So where to start?
Your Experience and Knowledge
Arguably, this is the most important point to make sure you have nailed as you want to leave your interviewer feeling assured that you have the skills to do the job.
Read through your resume and memorize key points, practice being able to tell a story of your career progression with key experiences and takeaways from each role that you have worked in.
Spend some time thinking about, practice speaking about or writing down challenges you have overcome and achievements that you are proud of.
Also be prepared to speak about other common points such as strengths and weaknesses, future professional goals etc.
Bear in mind that technical questions are most likely to be associated with the tasks written in the job description for the open role, so read through the job description again and think about your experiences with each of the points listed so that you’re able to give relevant examples of experience when asked.
When reading the job description, it is also advised to read the requirements section which often gives more context to the personality traits sought after in a successful candidate, if you can practice answering hypothetical behavioral based questions speaking to these traits and any other traits that you think define you then that can be very valuable.
It is important to research the organization that you are interviewing with to show the interviewer that you come prepared and to reinforce your perceived interest in the opportunity.
Go to the employer’s website and look through it, read their ‘about us’ page, consider their mission statement and purpose, any key values, news publications etc.
Search for the employer on a search engine and see if there are any other interesting news stories involving them recently that could be a talking point.
If the employer is a public company, then their financial information would be listed online, so you can read their financial statements and consider their financial position.
Additionally, you can research the industry that they are in, how is the industry performing, who are the competitors, where does the employer stand compared to those competitors etc.
Similarly, you can research any interviewers that you will be meeting with. Memorize their names and pronunciation.
Find them on the employer’s website if they have an ‘our people’ section or find them on Linkedin. Check out their backgrounds prior to their current position, if you have any similar experiences or interests that could make for a good talking point, contrarily if you have a very different background then you may be able to talk about how this could be a value-add for the team through bringing a new set of eyes and a different perspective.
Asking questions of your own is VITAL!!! It will show that you are interested in the opportunity, that you are curious, and you can further strengthen your application through some well thought out questions. When you are invited to ask questions of your own, as you reflect on the information covered already quickly review any questions you may have written down and ask any questions that have not already been answered.
A good question will be something that you are genuinely curious about, so spend some time thinking about what you’d like to know. Hypothetically, if the interviewer were to make you a job offer following this interview, is there anything missing from you having the ‘full picture’, would there be anything else you wish you’d have asked.
Common topics of questions to ask include:
Questions regarding the role
Questions about the company and team
Questions about the culture
Questions about the interviewer and their experiences/interests
Questions about the next steps
Questions about training and development
Questions about how success is evaluated
What is our favorite question? It would have to be:
“Today I’ve been able to give a basic overview of my background, and I want to make sure I’ve covered what needs to be covered – from your perspective, are there any specific areas in which you’d be concerned about my ability to do this job well?”
Ideally this sort of question would lead to the interviewer bringing up an area that they are concerned about, which leads to another opportunity for you to showcase your ability to perform in this part of the role and put their mind at ease.
Other preparation to think about can really be anything else that will make you feel better prepared and less stressed during the interview. If the interview is at the employer’s office, have you looked up the commute time to get to the interview on Maps accounting for potential traffic at the time? Have you figured out what to wear? Have you made sure you have enough time in case the interview runs over? Have you considered a place to park if driving?
If the interview is a video interview, it’s important to make sure that the video calling software works on the device you will be using prior to the interview so that you have plenty of time to troubleshoot any potential technical problems. It is also important to have the call in a location without too much background noise so that the interviewer can hear you clearly and that you can hear them. Also think about the lighting where you are having the interview as you want to make sure that your face is clearly visible.
4 – First Impressions and Ending the Interview
There are countless studies out there showing how important first impressions are, hiring managers are likely to form a positive or negative opinion of a candidate in just 10 minutes of meeting them – it’s so critical to make those first few minutes shine! Below are some tips to help with making a good first impression:
Put your best foot forward. Start the conversation with a big smile and try to stay enthusiastic throughout the interview.
Arrive early. Give yourself those extra 5 minutes, compose yourself. Breathe. Relax. Definitely do not add more stress to the moment through getting there by the skin of your teeth.
Be present. Put your phone on silent and away from yourself, turn off your email notifications to avoid distractions.
Appear interested. Make sure to express your interest in the opportunity, the business, the role etc. Even if you are wanting to use the interview process to determine your interest, you still want to seem like the most interested candidate that the employer has interviewed as this can be an important decision-making factor for many interviewers.
A bit of small talk is a good thing. Ease into the conversation with the interviewer to break the ice, and when they ask a question try to give them more than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no. But at the same time be aware not to overdo it, you are not there to provide a dissertation on the weather patterns for the last year.
Presentation can also be important, so dress in a way that you feel confident in yourself, if it is a corporate environment wear formal clothes, and ask about dress code if you’re not sure. Also focus on other nonverbal communication such as making eye contact and maintaining good posture and open body language.
Ending an interview can be equally important, you want to make sure that the interviewer is leaving the interview on the same note that you started it on – feeling good about you as the best candidate for the role.
Ask some well thought out questions.
Find out if the employer has any concerns that you can address during this time.
Reinstate your interest in the company and opportunity.
Ask about the next steps and timelines.
Thank everyone for their time. Apologize if you went over the allotted time. You can tell them it must have been because you enjoyed speaking with them so much with a big smile!
Send a thank you email to the interviewer after the interview to let them know you appreciated their time and that you’re excited to hear back about this interesting opportunity.
5 – Interview Questions
It can be hard to predict exactly what questions will be asked in an interview, but we can do some guesswork based on what other interviewers have asked in the past. We’ve broken the types of interview questions down into a several categories below:
Verification questions are primarily used to evaluate your prior experience and education. They might be questions like “Talk us through your background”, “What were your responsibilities in that job?”, “What was your GPA in school?”.
Opinion questions are primarily used to analyze how you would think and respond in specified scenarios. Common questions include “What is your biggest weakness” or “How would you react in situation ABC”
Behavioral questions are primarily used to understand how your behavior and reactions from the past to predict how you are likely to behave again in the future. Questions often start with “Can you tell me about a time when…”
Competency questions are primarily used to understand how you went about specific tasks in the past to accomplish certain results, typically looking for past behavior to align with the key competency requirements for the open role. Similar to behavioral questions, competency questions often start with “Can you tell me about a time when…”
*Note for Behavioral and Competency questions, practice using the STAR technique (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to answer the questions.
Problem-solving questions are primarily used to bring out your problem-solving skills as well as creative thinking. These types of questions are not as common as the first 4, but examples of questions would include “How long would it take you to walk around the world?” and “What is 7433 divided by 37?”. A lot of these questions will be very hard to come up with the right answer for on the spot so an approximation is okay, but the purpose is mostly for the interviewer to understand your process in arriving at your answer.
Nonsense questions are primarily used to see how capable you are of thinking on your feet and coming up with an original answer. Questions could include “What superpower would you choose?”, “What color best describes you?” and “What is your favorite number?”
6 – After the interview
What you do following the interview can be important for the next steps in the interview process and can help you toward success. Here are some actions you could take:
Assess on your performance
Spend time thinking about and even writing down questions you remember being asked and how you answered them, think about what you think was a good answer and what you perhaps you may have been better off not saying.
Make notes to help remember
If there is anything that you would like to remember make a note about it, perhaps it’s the names of the people you met, or something that was mentioned by an interviewer in passing that you’d like to ask more about during the next interview. Keeping information like this can help you come across as organized and engaged during future interviews.
Send a thank you note and connect
Send a thank you email to the interviewers for their time and for anything else that you want to thank them for – a thank you email is best sent within the 24 hours following the interview. If there is anything critical that you didn’t mention in the interview that you feel cannot wait until a potential second interview or is highly likely to increase your chances of success, feel free to include it here.
Another good idea is connecting with the interviewers on Linkedin or other business networking sites. It’s always useful to grow your network, and even if it doesn’t work out this time, the new connection might help you out in the future.
Contact your references
If an interview process goes well, an employer is most likely going to require professional references before making an offer. To make sure that you are ahead of the curve you should reach out to your references and make sure that they would be okay with providing a reference for them, let them know that you are in an interview process at the moment and make sure you have their up to date contact details.
The final thing to do is to reflect on your interview experience and on the opportunity as a whole. Do you think this is a company you could see yourself working for? Did you get along with the interviewers? Do you think you would like having them as your manager/peers and can you learn from them? What would you do if the employer offered you the role?
The best thing you can do is think ahead to prepare yourself to make a decision quickly if the process is moving in the right direction.