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How to Prepare for a Job Interview

Updated on April 2, 2012

A job interview is your opportunity to sell yourself to a prospective employer. Your CV is clearly impressive enough to convince the employer that you're qualified and able to do the job or, at the very least, worth meeting and talking to. The interviewer usually makes up his or her mind about you within the first 60 seconds of the interview. Your first impression relies only 7 percent on the words you use - your tone of voice accounts for 38 percent and your body language for 55 percent. The secret to making a good impression lies in the preparation you do for the interview.

Do research

Study the job description you received when applying for the job, research the company and, if needed, the industry. This will not only help you understand the types of questions you may be asked and what your interviewer is looking for in an employee, but industry standards could influence the way you dress and present yourself. While how you dress won't get you the job, being inappropriately dressed may cost you the job.

Presenting yourself properly

Being well dressed shows respect for the interviewer and that you are serious about the job. However, your clothing should never be the thing that people remember most clearly about you following an interview. The key is to dress conservatively, choosing clothes that are too formal rather than clothes that are too casual. Even if you know you'll be working in jeans if you get the job, wearing something neat will leave a good impression. Remember that an interview is not a party or a date. Never wear something that you would wear to a club.

Both men and women should always make sure:

  • Hair is clean and neat;
  • Shoes are cleaned, polished and not down-at-heel;
  • Clothes are clean, neatly pressed, free of lint and tacking stitches, there are no missing buttons visible, shop tags have been removed, hems are intact and long enough, and there are no hanging threads;
  • Hands and fingernails are clean and well-groomed;
  • Perfume or cologne isn't overpowering, if worn at all, and they don't smell of cigarette smoke;
  • Wear conservative colours and clothes made from good quality fabric. Clothes don't have to be expensive, but a well cut suit will be fashionable for years and is a good investment.

Men must wear trousers and a jacket that match and avoid extremes when choosing a tie. Shirts must be long-sleeved, even in summer, avoiding trendy shirts in a formal setting. Socks must be a dark colour and shoes should be leather lace-ups, right for business wear. Your belt should match your shoes and the buckle must never be big and flashy. Facial hair should be neatly groomed if you're not clean-shaven. Jewellery should be limited to a wedding ring and a conservative watch. Earrings and facial piercings should be removed.

Women should take care not to look frumpy, while choosing a graceful outfit and not something loud and flashy. A two-piece matched suit is neat and professional, with pants being the better choice when making site visits or getting into or out of a car. Skirts should cover the thighs when you're seated and come to the knee when you're standing. The best way to check this is to sit on a chair in front of the mirror to see what the interviewer sees. Avoid short skirts and high slits. Wear a tailored blouse in a plain colour or conservative print and never show too much skin, especially not cleavage. Keep make up and jewellery simple for a polished look. Shoes should be comfortable and easy to walk in, so avoid stilettos or platforms.

What your body language says about you

Your first impression is 55 percent body language. You can't control every non-verbal cue you give, but some points to remember include:

  • Greet the interviewer with a firm, not crushing, handshake;
  • Look the interviewer in the eye when speaking or listening. Staring at the floor gives the impression that you're not interested in what the other person's saying;
  • Don't slouch or fidget and keep your hands out of your pockets. Sit up straight with your feet squarely on the floor; and
  • Don't fold your arms or cross your legs. This will make the interviewer feel that you're disinterested or defensive.

Keep in mind that greetings and body language considered polite in one culture may not be considered polite in another. Westerners expect a firm handshake and eye contact, while a Japanese interviewer expects a limp handshake and no eye contact since prolonged eye contact is considered rude and disrespectful. Follow this with a small bow to show respect. In India, greet your interviewer with both hands clasped together and a slight head bow. Here men may shake hands with men, but not with women. When preparing for an interview, remember to research the culturally appropriate greeting and body language.

Securing the job

Despite your qualifications and experience, your behaviour during your interview will be the deciding factor in whether you get the job. Always:

  • Know the company and ask intelligent questions about the job;
  • Be personable. Don't be conceited, but be confident;
  • Turn off your phone before the interview begins;
  • Be articulate;
  • Be polite; and
  • Know interview etiquette, such as, never sit down before being invited to.

Deal breakers include behaviour like:

  • Chewing gum;
  • Lying or giving evasive answers;
  • Overemphasizing money and what the company can do for you;
  • A lack of maturity, tact or courtesy;
  • Speaking ill of previous employers; and
  • Not looking the interviewer in the eye and offering a limp handshake as a greeting.

Going equipped

When preparing for an interview, make sure you have everything you need before and during the interview. Take:

  • Enough copies of your CV for everyone present;
  • A pen and paper;
  • References (if they are not included in your CV or application)
  • A list of questions about the job and company, research material and the job advertisement;
  • Directions to the interview and contact information for the interviewer
  • Breath mints or gum;
  • A folder or briefcase to keep documents tidy;
  • Your driver's licence or photo ID;
  • Money if you need to pay for parking or lunch;
  • Your appointment calendar in case the interviewer wants to see you again; and
  • Bottled water.

While interviews and the prospect of a new job can be exciting, some may feel anxious before an interview. Preparing well, remembering that you are qualified for the job and going over your experience and achievements the day before can help keep you calm. Get enough sleep the night before, don't drink, smoke or take medication before the interview and eat wisely. Listen to music in your way there, breathe deeply to relax, arrive early and approach the interview calmly and rationally. With a confident attitude and enough preparation, the job will be yours.


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