How to Prepare for the Interview

Jun 10, 2011 | Updated Aug 10, 2011

Once you've got an interview scheduled, what do you do next? The common advice is to do your homework, but the term homework is a misnomer. In school, it means answering an assignment for which there are right answers. But in real life, particularly in an interview, you have to prepare much more extensively. No mean task. No winging it. You get the job (pass) or you don't (fail). Here are some ways to begin that preparation successfully.

No matter the level or profession you are interviewing for, you can expect the inevitable questions to arise. Assume they don't remember your resume, and prepare yourself to answer the following:

- Why should we hire you?
- What are your skills?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- What happened in your last job?
- Give examples of when you took initiative, overcame obstacles, exerted leadership, set and met a goal, tried something and failed, motivated other people, anticipated potential problems and developed responses to prevent them.
- Talk me through your resume.
- Do you have any questions for us?

For every question, come up with a quick response. Practice answering with a smile on your face and in a strong, yet understanding voice. Often when we are thinking, we look away and unconsciously frown. By practicing even in a mirror, you will overcome that nervous response. Think of a television anchor or host you admire, imagine how that person would answer, and imitate that tone and pitch until it suits you.

In responding, fully describe the situations that you were in and their outcomes, using facts and data whenever you can. Then sum up with a positive statement. When you get a difficult question or one you aren't prepared for, you can say, "that's difficult, let me think for a moment." Or give an example of something that's close to it, even if it isn't exactly that.

In addition to answering the basics, you have to do a self-evaluation so that you can explain what makes you qualified as a professional match for the company. Prepare examples for why they should hire you -- citing your talent, proven track record in accomplishing goals, working cooperatively with your team and contributing to the organization. Don't be overly modest. Don't talk as a team -- say "I" instead of "we." Remember to breathe, smile and make eye contact. This will help you be more relaxed.

Remember: this is not a test. There is no right answer. Essentially, you're telling a story about yourself and the way you have approached work and relationships. The word interview means that which you can see between the two of you. It's not a one-way street. You can ask what happened to them in their career. Try to fully engage with the interviewer by following up on something they said earlier or commenting on something hanging on their walls. If you want the job, you have to create a bond.

In addition to presenting yourself, you must show that you know about the organization and position you are applying for. To start that, visit the company's website and become familiar with its content. Note the "careers" or "about us" section to get an idea of who is already employed there and what they might be looking for from future employees. Next, do a more comprehensive online search of the company and read annual reports, press releases and any other relevant articles. Use this material to come up with questions to ask the interviewer about the future of the company and how the position you're applying for fits in.

And of course, don't overlook the simple things. These may seem like silly reminders, but don't underestimate how important it is to:

- Find out the location and know exactly how to get there, including where to park
- Allow plenty of time to get there -- don't be late
- Find out how they dress, and use this as your guide for grooming yourself
- Print and bring along multiple copies of your resume and any work samples
- Prior to the interview, check in with people that you are planning to list as references
- Gather the contact information of anyone you should send a thank you note to, and do so as soon as possible after your interview

So far away from a test, consider the interview as a courtship or dance. If you're prepared and relaxed, you're more likely to develop enough chemistry to land the job.

Make your luck happen!