The Source Nerds give their thoughts on the classic preparation checklist before your big interview.
It’s been a few weeks since you started looking for work. There are some days where you hit the internet hard, plastering your resume to as many relevant postings as you can find out there. You target a few specific ones, crafting the perfect cover letter that demonstrates not only your enthusiasm over the job, but also the skills that you are able to offer your future employer. Weekends pass and you hope that your resume isn’t sitting in some dusty inbox that never gets checked. Finally it happens, maybe in the form of an e-mail or a quick call, and the excitement builds. They want to talk to you! You thank them, setting up a scheduled interview time and now have to wait for that fateful day. But now isn’t the time to relax. You have to get yourself ready for the next big step, the interview itself. “They could ask me anything. What can I do to prepare myself?” you ask yourself, pacing around your home. Well you are in luck as you’ve started your journey in the best possible way, by reading this article! We’ll give you our cheat sheet on how to prepare for an interview and what to expect next.
There is one important thing to note when going into an upcoming interview, they’ve liked what they’ve read. Your resume speaks volumes about yourself, (And follow us HERE! To make sure you catch our future posts about Resume Tips & the functions of a resume) and they’ve liked what they have read. You’ve met their criteria on what they are looking for and now all they want to see is if you really know your stuff, and if they think you’d be a good fit for their organization. They might even be looking at you as a resource to invest in, as many companies are now getting into the routine of planning ahead for the upcoming years and see you as a potentially valuable resource. What could be that entry level job you are applying for might play a bigger part in the grand ideas of the company hiring you.
The interview date looms ahead in your calendar, and you now begin to wonder what to do. It’s still a few days (or even just hours) away and you are excited about the chance to make the case for yourself about why you’d be great for the job and the company. But why would you be great for the job? Your resume speaks for itself, but what is the company you’ve just applied to be a part of actually looking for? This leads to Source Nerds first tip:
1. Understand what they are looking for
More often than not, the job posting you originally applied to should still be up. And even if it isn’t, a quick search online should show you that original post, or at least some cached version of it. Now spend some time giving that job posting a readthrough to understand what they are looking for. Are they specifically looking for 3+ years of experience in a software you are familiar with? Maybe they are looking for a particular type of designation that you have. This is also a great time to see what you might be lacking in your skillset that you can brush up on. That application that you haven't used in several years might require a refresher and could be discussed during your upcoming interview, so give that application a once over to see what changes there have been to it.
This is also a great time to look at their online presence. Take a look at their corporate website to better understand the company that you are applying to. Most, if not all, companies have listed a set of their core values, usually in the form of a mission and vision statement. Microsoft’s mission for example is “Our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.” If Microsoft was the company you were applying to, does their mission match yours? Is it something you would be passionate about?
While you've got that job posting open, you also should follow Source Nerds second tip:
2. Understand what you are looking for
Maybe you've hand selected who you sent your resume out to, reading over their posting carefully to make sure you know what you are getting into. You also could have just sent your resume out to every job posting board out there in order to get your name out there. In either case, there is a good chance that you might not fully remember who you applied to and what they have to offer. Take a look now to see what they are able to give you.
As of writing, much of the world is starting to open up. Offices that were long left dormant are starting to fill with employees excited to see one another after a long hiatus. Others are still working from home, now having found a work/life balance that fits their schedule and lifestyle. Many job postings now mention if this new position is remote, in office, or a mixture of the two. Your lifestyle might have changed over the years, so does the lack of remote work make this upcoming job a dealbreaker? What about their hours of work, is there any flexibility to the schedule? Even something as simple as benefits could make or break your interest in a job.
The current trend for many companies has one thing frustrating potential employees, and that is that many job postings don’t include salary; more often than not the biggest deal breaker when it comes to a potential job. When it comes to ‘understanding what you are looking for’ don’t shy away from this important topic. Give yourself a range of what you consider acceptable, and when you conclude your first interview don’t be afraid to bring it up if it hasn’t naturally come up in conversation.
You’ve now gone through their job posting and everything seems to look good. What their job posting lists sounds great, and you are getting more excited about this upcoming interview. We’ve still got a few more steps to go through, and this next process now looks at your own resume you’ve just handed off.
3. What does your resume say about you?
You already know what they are looking for by re-checking their job posting, so what about your resume do you think interests them? Was it your years of experience at a specific place of employment, or maybe even a job from several years ago that signals to them that you’d be a great fit. Checking out your past employment acts as a refresher of your duties there which is also why you might have been selected for an interview. Pay attention to the specifics you used in your resume too, one of your briefly mentioned duties might be the guiding reason why you were picked for this interview.
Your resume has already done a lot of the talking about you, so make sure you understand the tone of your resume. In your past jobs have you always been passive in your environment? Are you an eager employee who often takes charge of projects coming to you? After giving that job posting a read you should get a better understanding if they are looking for someone to be part of the team, or be the team leader. If your resume mentions a comprehensive understanding of certain applications, make sure that is actually the case so you aren’t thrown off when they ask you specific questions.
Some people might be nervous about this next suggestion. It puts you out there, and is often considered uncomfortable to do. But this step is just as crucial as the others listed before:
4. Check in on your references
Odds are very good that if this interview does go well, you’ll be asked to provide references, and the importance of these references might change from company to company. Some just want confirmation about your past employment, and whether or not you did work for a specific company and that your resume listed job duties are accurate. Some people want to try and get to learn more about you, your work ethic and what it’s like to work with you. And who better to ask than your past employer and colleagues? These are the people who work with you daily, for months and years of their lives, and might know your work ethic better than you do.
Reach out to two or three colleagues who you feel comfortable talking to about looking for work. Aim to have at least one of these colleagues as someone from your current/most recent place of employment as they would know your most recent work ethic the best. The person you reach out to doesn’t need to be a superior, but at the very least someone you work with and who you know will speak well of you. And that should apply to all your other references as well, people who you know will speak well about you. It’s also important to tell these references that you are looking for work, so they aren’t surprised when they get a phone call asking about your work experience with them.
Now that interview date is coming closer. You’ve prepared what you’ll wear the day of (even if it’s only a phone call interview). You’ve triple checked the address you are headed to and the fastest route there for the day of (Don’t forget to arrive 10 minutes early for your interview, classic bonus tip!). Is there anything else you can do? Well the classic adage of ‘practice practice practice’ comes to mind.
5. Give yourself some practice questions
It’s difficult to give yourself a set of questions as every interviewer is different. Some want to focus on the knowledge of the industry you are applying to, while some want to understand you and your work ethic. Consider these our three Source Nerds tips within our top five list, who doesn’t enjoy a list within a list?
Tell me about yourself
It feels like a loaded question. And sometimes even after practicing it in your head a hundred times over, you might freeze on it. The real trick to this question though isn’t about yourself, but your past employment. Imagine it phrased like this: “Tell me about your work history”. Depending on where you are in your career, this can start at the beginning of your education. Mention your degree and place of graduation, and talk about the enthusiasm for the field you are currently in. When you talk about your places of work, mention some of the important duties that you did. Even if you are just repeating your resume, there is often the chance your interviewer has skimmed over your resume and has forgotten crucial details about your past jobs that you can bring up here. Make sure you focus on quantifiable goals as well, and always put them in context. For example, if you were the top salesperson at your company, how much more did you earn that your colleagues? You can reference how much you earned for your company as a percentage, but make sure that the percentage has a frame of reference. Make sure that you don’t talk for too long though, at most talk for two minutes and be prepared to discuss any of the topics you just brought up.
What is your biggest weakness?
If the above question can feel loaded, this one feels like a trap. Don’t fall into the trap of giving a weakness that isn’t actually a weakness. Working too hard isn’t a real weakness. And saying you’re a perfectionist gives the impression that you will focus on a single job or task and have difficulty juggling multiple projects. You are allowed to have weaknesses, everyone does. The real test is how you overcome that weakness.
I’ll use myself for ‘my biggest weakness’. I am someone who can often lose track or forget about tasks at hand, or requests by colleagues. It’s something that we all experience, so there is a level of relatability we can all share. How I overcome my weakness though is I write down everything. No matter how small or insignificant the request is, I can go back and reference what someone has asked me to do. Sometimes I even shock colleagues as they have even forgotten what they’ve asked me to do, things can move quickly on any given day of work. I even put on my calendar specific tasks, making sure that I give myself allotted time to work on a project.
The question isn’t “What is your biggest weakness” it’s “how do you overcome your biggest weakness”
Where do you see yourself in five years?
And no, on a tropical beach isn’t an acceptable answer as much as we all might want it to be. Hopefully this is a question you’ve asked yourself when dealing with tip two from this list. Like many interview questions, it helps to reword it into something more manageable, and thankfully this one doesn’t require much of a change. “What role/position do you see yourself in five years from now?”. Do you see yourself in a managerial position five years from now overseeing a small team? Maybe whatever field you are in has a specific designation that you are in the process of obtaining, and that is something you can speak towards. If you see yourself with a specific role or title in the next five years that this company doesn’t seem interested in offering, is this a position you’d really want for yourself?
And there we go! The Source Nerds tips to help get you in the interview headspace. Do you agree with our tips? Leave your own tips at the bottom and we’ll address them in an upcoming blog!