Preparing for the Interview: Our Best Tips and Tricks

You did it! You thoughtfully approached your cover letter, you tailored your resume to match the needs of your dream job, and you scored the first interview! If you’re like me, you’re feeling a combination of elation and terror at the same time. You’ve made a great first impression, but now you’ve got to dig deeper to prepare for your interview to show them that you are their dream candidate.

Welcome to my Landing Your Dream Job series. If you are just joining me, we have all ready discussed everything you need to apply for your dream job: writing a resume that captivates attention, designing your resume and crafting the perfect cover letter. Now you are ready to start preparing for your interview.

While not guaranteed, many jobs will do the first interview at a distance. Sometimes this translates into a phone interview, but it could also mean a Skype interview. I’ve been through both, and there are unique quirks to each setting that you’ll want to keep in mind as you prepare for the interview. Next month, I’ll give you some tips and tricks to ace your first interview. Oh, and don’t forget to send a thank you card after your interview.

Today, I want to focus on interview preparedness – especially when it comes to interview questions!

While each industry has its own unique set of interview questions, there are best practices out there that will help you nail down that first interview.

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Ace the Standard Interview Questions

There are some questions that EVERYONE asks. You could be interviewing for the top position at a Fortune 500 company or your first time as a sales representative. Yet, I can almost promise that one of these questions is going to come up. I’m going to tackle a few of them and give you a few pointers to consider.

Tell me a little about yourself.

You’d be surprised how many people crash and burn at this opening question. They stumble through their answer, giving every minute detail of their work history. Or they say too little, giving the interviewer pause as to their ability to make small talk. Interviewers ask this question to slowly bring you into the conversation. Smart interviewers will try to make you comfortable before asking the important questions. This opening question will give you an idea of how they approach the interview and give you a chance to check your nerves. In two to five minutes, you should be able to tell some of the highlights of your career and why you are meeting with them.

What interests you about this position?

Once again, focus on them. Don’t sit there and tell them how your current manager is terrible, you are looking for a pay raise, or you just need a new position because you recently moved into the area. These might be honest answers, but they are a turn off.  On multiple occasions, I’ve heard similar answers given when I’ve interviewed others. I’ve also used these answers when switching jobs. It never turns out well. When you talk about why you are interviewing, always stay positive and highlight how this job is a great fit for you and the organization.

What stands out to you about our company?

Again, show you did your research! When you relay specific information available on their website, you show them you are invested in their company and serious about accepting the job offer. Show them how much you want this job!

Tell me about a time you failed. How did you handle the after-effects?

I’ve witnessed this question before. In that interview, the candidate said, “You know, I’ve asked other people that question because it’s a good question. I didn’t think someone would ask me, and I’ll have to think about it for a moment.” Ummmm, no. That looks terrible; try again.

What weakness do you have?

This is a great moment to show how you’ve grown professionally. It’s ok not to be perfect – and showing that you not only recognize your shortcomings but also take extra measures to overcome your stumbling blocks will leave a strong and positive impression on your interviewer. To illustrate, I’ll share an example of my own weakness. I am a big picture person. I love concepts and planning, but sometimes I forget the minor details necessary to execute the big picture. Over time, I have found the best way for me to stay on track is to write down all action items on a white board, preferably color coded, so that I can cross them off when they are complete.

Try to avoid the cliché response of having a strength disguised as a weakness. “My weakness is that I’m a workaholic and won’t leave until the job is done right.” Or “My weakness is that I go above and beyond what is required to meet a client’s needs.” Interviewers always roll their eyes at these types of answers.

I could probably do an entire post on just interview questions, but I’ve got some other great tips for you.

Related: Acing the Phone Interview



professional business room talking on the phone in a conference room

Reenact Prior Interviews

You might be wondering why I would bring up interviews from the past, especially if you didn’t land a job offer. Rehearsing old interviews is a great way to practice industry specific questions. After all, interviewers don’t like to re-invent the wheel. They have a full-time job to do not related to running a search committee. You’re more than likely to run into questions you’ve already heard before, or you may hear a modified version of the same interview question. Take the time to evaluate your past interviews.

Don’t just practice your answers, though. Non-verbal cues are a critical part of interviews that most people don’t think about. Practice leaning forward and provide engaging body language. Look for any mannerisms that come up when you’re nervous. Practice having a firm but not overpowering handshake. Be sure to smile and nod as you give answers and as people ask you questions. The best way to rehearse these skills is in front of a mirror, in front of a camera, or in front of a friend.

Related: Resumes that Captivate Attention

professional businesswoamn leading a business meeting

Learn to Reassure Interviewers

There will be times when your dream job is a perfect next step in your career. You have all the right skills, the right amount of experience, and the right connections that make you the obvious choice for the job. I think that’s happened to me once in my career.

More often than not, you’re going to have something that will be of concern to your interview. You might be just starting out in your career, you may be switching from one industry to another, you may have an unexplained employment gap, or you may have been fired from a previous position. It’s the interviewer’s job to dig through your resume and spot red flags. The best thing you can do is prepare ahead of time. You need to know how you will reassure the team that these red flags aren’t actually an area of concern.

If you’re young or just starting out in your career, be ready with specific examples of how you’ve already handled similar responsibilities. This is a great time to utilize your volunteer and internship experiences. This is also a great strategy if you’re switching industries. You may be entering a new field, but you’re likely to have responsibilities that are similar enough. You want your interviewer to feel confident in your ability to fill their needs.

Additionally, you might have an unexplained employment gap, such as taking an extended amount of time between jobs, putting your career on hold to stay home with little children, or working a job that wasn’t relevant to the position you’re applying. Make sure you can give an adequate explanation that doesn’t make you look vulnerable. You don’t have to give them the full story. But you do have to give them a strong response that will put their fears at ease.

If you were fired in a previous position, I recommend avoiding the topic if at all possible. My best advice is to switch jobs before someone has the chance to fire you. Unfortunately, that’s not always an option. If you have been fired and someone asks why you left that position, you can phrase things in a neutral tone. For example, “The company culture wasn’t the right fit for me personally.” Another option to go with is: “I’m more interested in a position that provides a better work life balance.”

Be sure to have an example ready to support your assessment. Though I hadn’t been fired, I had a position where my direct supervisor and I loathed each other. When interviewing for my next position, I used the work-life balance answer to address why I left so quickly. While it wasn’t the main reason I left that position, I could now discuss how my personal work style did not fit into an organization that expected a 65 hour work week (and paid so little I was working a second job to make ends meet). I was able to point out that there have been times in my career where I had to work a significant amount of hours in a short period of time to complete a project. However, I expected that to be the exception rather than the routine.

The work-life balance response is my go-to interview answer when discussing why I left a position in a toxic work environment.

Related: Conquering the Skype Interview



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Prepare Questions to Ask

In your interview, your interviewer will expect you to ask questions. Actually, you will probably need a lot of questions since you will likely be meeting with multiple groups in different settings. You can get away with the basic questions like, “What’s the work environment like?” or “What do you enjoy most about working here?” However, those basic questions can only get you so far. In addition, you miss yet another opportunity to show how interested you are in their company.

If you plan on taking a notebook to your interview, have your questions written down along with any notes you might want to remember. That way you’re not thinking on the fly and just filling empty time. Prepare three to four questions for each interview session. If you’re preparing for a final interview, you’re likely to interview with multiple groups. In each group, you need to ask solid questions, so you have to come prepared. Four questions may seem like a lot, and quite frankly it’s unlikely you’ll get to all four. However, it’s always better to have too many questions than not enough.

What steps do you take to prepare for an interview? Let us know in the comments below!

Want to land your dream job? Rock your interview prep with our awesome tips. Plus, we have advice to help you nail common interview questions. Awesome career advice for millennials can be hard to come buy. Conquer your job hunt with our job search series.

Want to land your dream job? Rock your interview prep with our awesome tips. Plus, we have advice to help you nail common interview questions. Awesome career advice for millennials can be hard to come buy. Conquer your job hunt with our job search series.
Want to land your dream job? Rock your interview prep with our awesome tips. Plus, we have advice to help you nail common interview questions. Awesome career advice for millennials can be hard to come buy. Conquer your job hunt with our job search series.
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