Tips for Preparing for a Job Interview

How I prepare for job interviews

I have held a lot of jobs over the years and so I have been to a lot of job interviews. My resume doesn't always get me a phone call to come in to interview, but when it does I am almost always offered the job for which I interview. In fact, I've only been on three interviews in my life without getting an offer.

So here is how I prepare for job interviews. I believe that if you put it to use, as long as your resume is strong enough to get the phone call to schedule the interview, the job offers will start flowing.

1. Tell Yourself It Doesn't Matter

I always try to go into every job interview with the frame of mind that it does not matter if they offer me the job or not. The reason I do this is it keeps me from getting overly nervous about how it is going to go. When I get nervous, I find I can't communicate as clearly and as smoothly as I like, so I always try to keep myself calm and cool. After all, there's always another company doing the same one that company is doing and they'll have jobs with the exact same duties. So I don't need this one and if I don't get this job, I'll have learned something to prepare me for my next interview.

Is this your dream job? I've been there too! But if you walk into a job interview thinking that you "must get this job!" it is only going to make the interview more difficult. It will impact both your body language, your facial expressions and your communication skills. So if it all possible, convince yourself that there are more dream jobs for you out there.

2. Be Completely Prepared and Have Anecdotes

Once you've been on several job interviews, you'll soon realize that most HR staffers all interview from virtually the same scripts. There will be minor variations here and there, but you can easily anticipate the kinds of questions they'll ask you. What you need to do is make sure you are prepared with a series of anecdotes about previous job experiences. You want to know them well enough that you can simply pull out the anecdote that fits the question and adapt it on the fly, but you don't want to sound overly scripted.

One of the most common questions you will be asked is about how you deal with Challenging or Difficult Situations or People. Most of these questions are really about your communication skills since when it comes down to it, most of our problems at work are generally issues of miscommunication, so keep your focus on that. But it also pays to have a story in the back of your mind about a situation you couldn't handle because you didn't have the skills -- then you will of course talk about what you learned from the experience and how you gained the skills to deal with similiar situations in future.

I recommend having the following types of anecdotes in your arsenal for questions about dealing with challenges:

  • a story about challenging co-workers and/or boss and how you bridged the communication gap successfully

  • a story about difficult customers/clients and how you bridged the communication gap successfully

  • a story about a situation which you couldn't resolve alone - how you brought in another team member to help you and what you learned from that experience.

  • a story about how you turned a potential disaster around -- one in which you were clearly at fault in a minor way, but you corrected mid-course and had a successful conclusion

Some other questions you can expect are about your personal achievements. Make sure you have had some! For these types of questions, the interviewer is going to be judging your ability to be a "self-starter" and to show initiative. Can you suggest and provide solutions that will improve effectiveness, workflow and efficiency in the workplace? You should have at least a couple of major projects behind you already, but if you don't it is time to start volunteering to tackle some issues at your current job. I find it is always useful to have a story to hand about your life outside of work too.

Be Honest, Be Yourself, Be Flexible

Once you've made it past the HR vetting, there's usually a second interview with either the person you'll be working for or even the entire team you will be working with. At that point, the playbook kind of goes out the window, but I've found there are usually three interview scenarios I can expect.

  1. Questions about skills relating to the job
  2. Off the Wall questions about how you'd handle particular occurences
  3. Casual conversation that has nothing to do with the job

Dealing with #1 is easy. Know the job before you go in there. Go over the job description thoroughly and come up with some examples from your own work history on how you perform certain types of tasks. Be honest about your expertise with the person you might be working for. HR will only have a dim idea about what the job actually entails and so you can be creative with them, but when it comes to the actual people who do the work, they will know what they are talking about and most importantly, they will know what you are talking about.

#2 can be a bit strange. People who aren't trained in HR can often ask off the wall questions. I find it simpler to just answer honestly with how I would handle something rather than trying to suss out what they expect me to do.

One time I was asked what I would do if I saw a co-worker stealing office supplies or walking out with a computer. Would I report it to my supervisor? I actually answered honestly that I would probably report a large-scale theft, but for any small scale stuff such as office supplies, using the company phone for personal calls or the whole range of other stuff like that, I would say nothing because if the supervisor isn't on the ball enough to notice what is happening beneath her own nose, it is not my role to play snitch.

I walked out of that interview thinking for sure I blew it, but happy enough because I would never want to work in a snitch environment like that. By the time I got home, there was already a job offer on my voicemail. So you just never know what answer they are looking for, so you might as well say what you think.

Scenario #3 is all about being flexible. Someone who doesn't even talk about the job with you has already determined from your resume and from the HR feedback on your first interview that you have what it takes to do the job, but they want to know if you are someone they would enjoy working with and whether or not you would fit in with their team. So relax and follow the conversation and try and make it a conversation that flows in both directions. If someone shows interest in you, please show interest in them in return. In fact, it is probably best to flip the conversation into being completely about the person interviewing you.

Ask for the Job!
Ask for the Job!

Ask for the Job

Okay, the job interview is drawing to a close and everyone is standing up to thank you for your time and lead you out the door. Now it is time to forget everything I said about pretending you don't need the job and convincing yourself this isn't your dream job.

By the time you get through the interview you should have a good idea if you even want to come back for a second interview or ultimately whether you would take the job if offered. If you do, make sure you say so. If this is your dream job, make sure you say so and if you are just dying to work for them and are feeling really excited, make sure you say so.

You don't need to jump up and down or gush in any fashion. Just make sure that when you are shaking hands that you say to the interviewer directly, "I would really like to work for you (this company, on your team, fill in the blank) and I hope you will decide to let me join your team." Just put it in your own words, but make sure they know you are asking them to hire you. Never leave it at "thanks for your time" or "thanks for interviewing me" or "I really enjoyed talking with you" unless you don't want the job.


Yes, it's that important :)

How to Improve Your Job Interview Skills

The best way to improve your interview skills,especially if you find you get very nervous and tongue-tied, is to go on more job interviews. If it's really bad, start with jobs you wouldn't take in a million years. Just get yourself into at least three interviews. After the first interview,sit in your car or on the bus or at a coffee shop and try and remember everything they asked you. Write those questions down!

Now go over how you answered each of those questions and pull apart what you did right and what you did wrong. Start developing the set of questions that you'll know you get asked and start formulating your answers to them, with more than one answer for each question so you will never sound stale or rehearsed. I actually have a notebook with all my job stories written down and I re-read them 15 minutes before walking into any interview. Do the same and you will get more job offers.

Once you've been on about three interviews, you'll have heard virtually every question phrased in every possible way. Build your interview playbook from those questions and start practicing your anecdotes. Prepare an anecdote for each question about your former jobs. You can now walk into all your important interviews ready to respond to the scripts. And remember to be flexible. You should know your stories well enough that you can adapt them to each situation so they sound unique and not like a spiel.

You can practice your interview technique with friends or family, talk to yourself in a mirror or read lots of books about interview techniques, but when it comes down to it there is no experience like a real job interview. Think of even failed job interviews as a learning opportunity and get what you can out of the experience so you'll be better prepared for the next one.

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Comments 6 comments

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

This was a good one, clearly written from experience. So many 'business skills' pages are straight out of the airport or station bookstall. A refreshing change, yours.

embitca profile image

embitca 8 years ago from Boston Author

Thanks, I appreciate it, Paraglider!!

Amanda 6 years ago

I'm about to graduate college and found this while browsing for census opportunities, and it is really helpful. Thanks for all the effort you put in it!

Joe21 6 years ago

an alternate ending is, when they give you there hand to shake, go into the karate first possition HAI! this will impress them and show you're not a push over and could be usful in case office mutiny.

Luwanna24k 6 years ago

Thank you for your insight. I've gone on quite a few interviews in the past month but no bites! Recently, I attended a workshop on interviewing techniques. The workshop didn't mention the points that you did (and it should have!). Thanks again, maybe now I'll be able to find a job!

Ronald 3 years ago

Job interviews must be impotant. I have gone to two interviews in which I thought I would be the perfect candate for the job and did not get the job.

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