Preparing for a job interview
The four aces of job interview prep
- Ace what you wear: First impressions count—you’ll want to appear polished and professional.
- Ace what you bring: Your resumé, cover letter and references should all be neat and up to date.
- Ace what you know: Study up on more than just the job description—get a real feel for the company.
- Ace what you say: Study your own work experience and know your strengths and weaknesses.
Get interview ready, from head to toe
- Listen up: Do you ever catch yourself planning out your answer to a question before the asker has even finished speaking? Listen actively so that you don’t miss any vital information or accidentally interrupt your interviewer.
- Fend off fidgeting: Avoid wearing rings or other accessories that you know you’ll be tempted to fidget with during the interview.
- That’s so extra: Bring multiple copies of your resumé and a list of references with you (even if you haven’t been asked to do so).
- Ditch the drink: Carrying a cup or a bottle in with you can be seen as unprofessional—plus, it gets in the way of handshakes and poses the risk of spilling everywhere.
- Java jitters: Watch your caffeine intake on the day of the interview—you might think an extra shot of espresso will make you feel extra alert, but stimulants like caffeine can increase anxiety levels.
- Stress-test your outfit: Do those pants dig into you when you sit down? Does that shirt emphasize pit stains? Is that blazer itchy? You don’t want your clothing to detract from your confidence, so test-run your outfit before the big day.
- Nose no-nos: Take it easy with scented products—strong perfumes and colognes can overwhelm your interviewer.
- Leave the phone alone: Triple-check that your phone is turned off (or is at least on silent mode) before heading into the interview, and keep it out of sight.
- Don’t be late: Schedule plenty of time for travel, parking, and even a washroom break before heading into the office.
- Keep it subtle: Accessories give you an opportunity to express some personality, but you’re probably better off leaving the novelty tie at home.
- Clean it out: If you’re bringing a bag or purse with you into the interview, clean it out before you load it up—you want to showcase your resumé, not your collection of crumpled receipts!
- Break in your shoes: If it’s been ages since you’ve donned your “fancy shoes” (or if they’re brand new), wear them around the house the week leading up to the interview to break them in.
Finding your voice
Interviews can be especially challenging if you’re not used to speaking about yourself for a prolonged period of time—to get comfortable with the art of conversation, try at least one of the following before your next interview.
- Improv or acting workshops: Comedy and performance classes are a fun way to refine your communication skills and as a bonus, they don’t even feel like studying!
- Public speaking classes: Check your local library and community center to see if they offer any drop-in speech classes—this is a great way to practice speaking in front of a supportive audience.
- Mock interviews with a friend: Ask a friend or family member to run through a few common interview questions with you—this is a great way to work on that eye contact (it might seem awkward at first, but it’s totally helpful).
- Practicing out loud: Practice interviewing in front of the mirror or record your practice session on your smartphone—pay attention to your body language and try to minimize any “ums” and “uhs”.
Sources: BigInterview.com, CareerBuilder.com, LinkedIn Global Recruiting Trends, Uptowork
Three Job Interview Mindsets
It’s the night before the interview. Your outfit is all laid out, your resumé is hot off the press and you’ve Google-Mapped your route. You’ve done your company research and you’ve practiced answering the tough questions. You are perfectly prepared—and you still feel like a nervous wreck.
That’s because, although we’re generally pretty good at anticipating and preparing for external challenges, we tend to be somewhat less great at anticipating internal challenges. We spend a lot of time thinking about what we need to communicate to our interviewer, but we don’t take much time to think about what we need to say to ourselves while navigating the interview process.
Even the most straightforward job interview is mentally demanding. You need to be alert and primed to listen. You need to think on your feet and be quick to recall relevant examples and experiences. You need to gauge your interviewer’s reactions and adapt accordingly. And while your brain is attempting to process all of this, you still need to smile and act naturally and somehow maintain a basic level of ease and confidence. It’s a tall order.
Luckily, there are a few observations you can make that will help ease the pre-interview jitters. If you’re looking for some nerve-calming, confidence-boosting thoughts, consider the following approaches to your job interview. Read them, reflect on them, journal about them—whatever it takes to make these concepts accessible to you throughout your interview preparation process. Along with your list of references, extra copies of your resumé and cover letter, and a stash of breath mints, here are three helpful mindsets to take with you on your next job interview:
1. Your nerves are a sign of your excitement
It’s not uncommon for a friend or family member to say “Hey, don’t be nervous!” before a big presentation, performance or competition. The trouble is that this comment can make you feel even more nervous than you did before. Sometimes, the attempt to discount or ignore feelings of anxiety just ends up heightening them. Instead, it can be helpful to acknowledge the presence of that nervous feeling, to explore it, and then to reframe it as something positive. Instead of interpreting your anxiety as a fear of failure, you can choose to interpret it as genuine excitement. Maybe you’re nervous because, deep down, you know how potentially life-changing this opportunity is. Perhaps beneath the nerves, you can see all the good things that are waiting for you on the other side of a successful interview. In a recent study by Harvard Business School psychologist Alison Wood Brooks, it was found that reframing anxiety as excitement improved study participants’ performance in high-stress situations. So, the next time you feel your heart rate rising and your hands clamming up, see it as a signal that you’re excited for what’s to come!
2. Your interviewer is secretly rooting for you
In the stressful time leading up to a job interview, it’s easy to picture your interviewer as an antagonist. You might imagine them trying to catch you off guard, trying to make you look dumb or deriving some sort of twisted pleasure out of exposing your weaknesses. The truth is that your interviewer wants you to do well—in fact, they’re hoping you’re the perfect candidate for the job. Take a moment and put yourself in your would-be employer’s shoes: hiring someone new can be an expensive, frustrating and time-consuming process. At this point, your interviewer may have already paged through hundreds of resumés and conducted dozens of interviews with no end in sight. Your interviewer wants you to walk in and be the obvious choice. Consider that you are not in some sort of competition with your interviewer—a successful interview for you also counts as a success for your interviewer. Though it may not seem obvious in the room, your interviewer is your biggest (secret) cheerleader, so approach each question as an opportunity to highlight why you are, in fact, just what the company has been looking for.
3. You get to decide whether or not it’s a match
It’s easy to stress about things you can’t control, which is yet another reason why job interviews can jump-start your anxiety. There are so many unknowns in the process (What will they think of me? What questions will they ask me?) that it’s hard to feel that you have any power in the interview at all. It’s important to remind yourself that, although uncertainty is a natural part of the job hunt, you do have some control. The interview is a chance for you to evaluate your potential employer at the same time your interviewer is evaluating you. Don’t be afraid to flip the script and ask your interviewer some questions. Ask about the biggest opportunities and challenges facing the department you’re interviewing for. Ask about next steps. Ask appropriate questions that will help you assess whether or not the company is a good match for you. Flipping the script gives you a turn at steering the conversation and serves as a little reminder that there’s more to a job interview than simply pleasing others—you’re also looking to create a fulfilling opportunity for yourself.
In preparing for a job interview, it’s easy to focus on how you’re meeting others’ expectations of you, instead of considering what expectations you have for your next job and future employer. The three mindsets outlined above serve as gentle reminders that, despite its unknowns and stresses, the job interview is ultimately an empowering experience that brings you closer to your career goals, and your life goals.