Just the words “job interview” can strike fear into the heart of any job seeker.
What should you wear? How can you research the company? What should you say — and avoid saying?
But if you know how to prepare for a job interview, you’ll have the confidence you need to ace the process, and you’ll be more likely to hear the words, “You’re hired.”
How to Prepare for a Job Interview
It all starts with first impressions. You can make a good one before you ever walk in the door by researching the company you’re applying to.
1. Seek Information on the Company
A wealth of information is available online. Start with the business’s website and Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn pages.
You should also sign up for company newsletters and emails, and follow any influencers at the organization who can keep you up to date.
Be ready with stories from your professional life that demonstrate the company’s core values, such as collaboration, leadership, teamwork and integrity, says Jill MacFadyen, a career coach and former recruiter who works with clients nationwide.
“You’re demonstrating that you care enough to have done the research,” she says. “You’re setting yourself apart from the other people who are interviewing.”
Search newspapers, magazines and specialty journals to see whether the company or the industry have been in the news recently so you can demonstrate that you know the latest trends and developments.
“In my opinion, you can never overprepare,” says Carlota Zimmerman, a New York City career coach with more than a decade of experience. “I cannot stress how much passion and preparation you should bring.”
2. Do Your Homework on the Interviewers
Prior to your job interview, ask for the names of the people who will interview you, and search online to see whether you have any mutual friends or connections. You may also be able to get information about those who work in the department from the company’s website or LinkedIn.
Did you or one of your colleagues or friends previously work at the same organization? Go to the same school? Belong to any mutual clubs or groups? Check alumni networks, LinkedIn and community pages. You’re likely to score points if a current employee can recommend you.
“There’s a notion that this person has been vetted in some way,” says Mike Gellman, CEO and founder of High Five Career Coaching in Irvine, California. “There’s a level of trust there.”
Consider doing a mock interview with a friend to sharpen your responses.
3. Clean Up Your Social Media Profile
Most recruiters look at your LinkedIn profile, and some also comb Facebook and other social media. So make sure your pages reflect the image you want to convey.
“It’s about judgment,” Gellman says. “It’s about character for the company. Could this person be a good ambassador for us?”
More than two dozen states have laws prohibiting employers from asking for applicants’ social media usernames and passwords, while federal law prohibits employers from making hiring decisions based on factors such as religion, disability and pregnancy. Accordingly, some companies have stopped monitoring candidates’ social media accounts to avoid potential discrimination lawsuits.
But many companies still do check. You can protect yourself by avoiding posting photos of anything you’d be embarrassed to have a recruiter discover — or at least adjusting your social media settings to private. And remember: Nothing is absolutely private on the internet.
4. Dress Professionally
Even if you’re interviewing at a startup where the employees dress in flip-flops and shorts, you need to dress like, well, you’re on a job interview. That means professional and conservative relative to the industry. If you wear a jacket and find you’re overdressed, you can always remove it after you arrive.
“You have to convey a message that you’re serious about the job,” Gellman says. “And if you go in casually, you’re not going to convey that message.”
A good rule of thumb is to dress a level or two above the position you’re seeking, he says. Make sure your clothes fit and are clean and wrinkle-free — no stains, rips or pet hair — and that your shoes are in good shape.
“Err on the side that your grandmother would look at your outfit and say, ‘You look so professional,’” Zimmerman says.
5. Turn Off Your Cell Phone
To prepare for a job interview adequately, you must turn off your cell phone — or, better yet, leave it in your car. It’s too easy to reflexively reach for a phone that pings or vibrates. When Gellman was interviewing applicants in his role at a previous employer, the ones who texted during the interview — yes, it really happened — were immediately disqualified.
If you have to wait before you’re called in, bring a magazine or a book to read that’s relevant to the industry.
“These kinds of things may seem kind of corny and stuck up,” Zimmerman says. “Well, that’s corporate America. That’s what they want.”
6. Treat Everyone With Respect
Smile and greet everyone you meet politely, from the receptionist to the CEO; your behavior very well may be reported to the hiring manager, especially if it’s disrespectful.
Never use profanity, even if your interviewer cusses a blue streak. Sit up straight and don’t fidget. If your interviewer takes or makes a phone call that interrupts the process, just wait patiently. If you complain or get angry, it will be game over.
“They’re trying to get a feel for how you’d be every day in [the] office,” Zimmerman says.
After the interview, write thank you notes to everyone you met with and send them out within 24 to 48 hours. Email is acceptable, but an old-fashioned mailed card will distinguish you.
7. Show You’re Serious
Once you’ve done your research, study the job description and think about how your skills, knowledge and personality mesh with the duties the position requires. Have examples ready from your education and work experience that show you have what it takes to succeed.
Have you won any awards in the field? Did you attend seminars or read books that could help you stand out as well-informed and committed to the brand or industry?
It’s particularly important to explain how you helped your previous employers and clients turn a profit and attract new customers. Stress your achievements in concrete, measurable terms, such as, “I signed on 50 clients last year and brought in $250,000.”
Write down key points you want to get across so you don’t forget them, and store that piece of paper or notebook in a business-appropriate binder or folder so you can access it easily. Remove any extraneous items from your (clean) pocketbook or (polished) briefcase so you’re not rummaging around to find the essentials.
Bring at least half a dozen copies of your resume on quality paper (even if you sent it electronically) and, if applicable, a portfolio of your work. Not everyone may have had time to review your credentials. You’ll also want a functioning pen so you can jot down any questions you have for the interviewer.
8. Arrive Early
It’s a good idea to do a dry run of your trip to the interview site up to a week in advance, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the area or exact location. You’ll flub your chances if you’re late, so make sure you anticipate how much traffic you’ll encounter, where you’ll park and how long the door-to-door process will take.
Gellman says he made the mistake once of arriving only two minutes before the start of an interview on a windy day and didn’t notice that his hair was sticking up. It stayed that way for the entire interview, and nobody gave him a (drumroll) heads-up.
Allow enough time for unexpected glitches and for a stop in the restroom, where you should give your hair, face and clothes a final once-over. Be ready for show time 10 minutes before your appointment.
9. Picture Yourself Succeeding
It’s the night before your moment of truth. You’ve done your research on how to prepare for a job interview. You’ve picked out the clothes you’ll wear. Your briefcase is packed. Now it’s time to relax.
Stand up straight and take some deep breaths. Envision yourself greeting your interviewer with confidence, warmth, good eye contact, a clear voice and a pleasantly firm handshake (no spraining the interviewer’s hand, please). Visualize yourself nailing the interview.
Then do something you enjoy to wind down. That may mean watching a fun movie, doing some light reading or taking a warm bath or shower.
Then, get to sleep early enough to feel rested in the morning.
“The fact that you got an interview means you’ve done something right,” Zimmerman says. “Relax. Eat a good breakfast and believe in yourself. And then it’s up to the universe.”
Susan Jacobson is a former editor at The Penny Hoarder.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.