Job interviews can sometimes feel like exams – especially for students and recent grads.
When you think you’ve aced it, you probably bombed, and when you think you’ve bombed, chances are you probably did alright.
Interviews are like exams in another way too: your success depends on the prep work you put in ahead of time.
The key is to take the process seriously and prepare as far in advance as you can. Here’s a comprehensive guide to job interviews that will help you succeed before, during and after the interview.
Getting the call (or email)
Whether you realize it or not, the job interview starts as soon as a representative from a potential employer reaches out to you. Always be courteous, gracious and excited for the opportunity, but don’t sound desperate.
If you’re responding to an email invitation, write as you would in a professional setting with proper capitalization, no short forms or slang, and a sense of formality. If you don’t write in a professional manner to them, they’ll assume you won’t on the job either.
Covering the basics
Here’s your pre-interview checklist:
What you need to know
- The details of the job you’ve applied for
- What the employer is looking for
- How your qualifications match
- Why you want to work there
- What the organization does and how this role fits into it
- What they’re currently working on in this area
- Who you’re meeting, when and where
- How long it will take you to get there
- Dress code of the office
What you need to bring
- Directions to the site (in case your phone dies)
- Multiple copies of your resume, cover letter and other relevant application documents
- A copy of the job description for your reference
- A notebook and pen
Making your entrance
Plan to arrive about five to 10 minutes early if you know exactly where to go, and give yourself extra time if you don’t.
Being too early is almost as bad as being late, however, so if you arrive more than 10 minutes early, take a walk around the block, freshen up in the washroom or go over your notes one last time. Showing up 35 minutes early and demanding to be seen demonstrates a serious lack of R-E-S-P-E-C-T for the employer.
Oh, and always be nice to the receptionist or whoever greets you when you arrive. Don’t assume that their opinion isn’t valued by decision makers.
Pro tip: Turn your phone completely off when you arrive.
In the hot seat
If there’s one thing you should accept about job interviews, it’s this: every single one is as different as the employer you’ve applied to work at or the person who’s interviewing you. Accept that and you’ve already won half the battle.
But there are other things to keep in mind as well:
You’re probably nervous, but you don’t want to show it. When you find yourself stressing out, take a deep breath through your nose (silently) and slowly exhale while you listen to something the interviewer is saying.
Answer the question
Many candidates bomb their job interviews simply because they don’t actually answer the questions they’ve been asked. Stay on track, don’t ramble and avoid going off on a tangent. If you need clarification, ask for it.
Your nerves might have you looking like a deer in the headlights, but you’ve got to put on a happy face and appear absolutely enthused about the role and opportunity to be interviewed. Remember, you don’t just want a job – you need to have this job because it’s your dream job and you’re a perfect fit for it.
Tell the employer why you’re the best person for the job
Hate to break it to you, but you’re a clone. OK, not actually a clone, but pretty close – tens of thousands of other students and recent graduates are just like you, with similar qualifications and experience. It’s up to you to tell the employer why you’re the best person for the role and what you’ll bring to the company. Avoid saying things like, “I want this job to gain experience” or “Working here would look good on my resume.” Make it about them, not you.
Ask good questions
Don’t pass up the opportunity to ask the employer at least a question or two about what type of person might be a good fit for the role, what they’re looking for in the first few months on the job, or what the culture is like at the office.
Determine next steps
It’s OK to ask what’s going to happen next. Find out what the next step is (e.g., another interview, an assessment, a decision, etc.) and when you can expect to hear from them next.
After the interview
Follow up with a brief email or hand-written thank-you note that, of course, thanks the interviewers for their time and the opportunity to learn more about opportunities with their organization but which also outlines the main reasons you’re the most qualified for the job.