No matter how many interviews you’ve done or how many jobs you’ve held, you must always prepare before speaking with a potential employer. In my 15 years of recruiting, I’ve never seen a candidate land a position without preparing for an interview — it’s of the utmost importance.
Preparing isn’t just about rehearsing responses to a specific set of questions. It’s about cultivating a strong sense of self and deep knowledge of the company. Use the following checklist to develop a thoughtful, strategic approach to interviewing.
1. Understand who you are.
The interview process begins with self-reflection. Who are you? What are your skills? What are your weaknesses? What are you passionate about? Why do you want this job? Being clear on those questions allows you to present your authentic self to potential employers, which is critical in today’s workforce culture. Companies no longer hire based on credentials alone. They look for candidates who share their values and mission, and you can only speak honestly to those elements when you understand yourself.
2. Remember that the interview isn’t about you.
You may be the one answering questions, but hiring managers want to know how you can help their company. Plan to present yourself in a way that indicates genuine interest in and commitment to the organization. If decision-makers sense that you’re more concerned with advancing your career than contributing to the company, they’ll be turned off, regardless of your qualifications.
3. Research the company.
One way to demonstrate interest is to learn everything you can about the business ahead of the interview. Read through its website, review its most recent SEC filings, search for news articles about the organization. If it’s a private company, find out who the investors are. Visit the LinkedIn page to see if you have any connections at the company. Being able to mention a former colleague who now works for the organization is a great way to establish credibility and familiarity during the interview.
As you’re researching, develop a list of questions to ask the hiring manager. Topics might include the company’s products, details of its most recent press release, or what challenges the leadership expects to face in the future. Such questions showcase your business acumen and ability to think beyond finance and accounting to see the company as a whole.
4. Reflect on the job description bullet by bullet.
Evaluate each aspect of the job description. Prepare detailed examples of what you’ve accomplished in past jobs and relate those instances to the requirements in the job description. Don’t panic about the areas with which you’re less familiar. The key is to show intelligence and resourcefulness, along with a willingness to learn. Hiring managers value those attributes as much as they do technical qualifications, so don’t let a lack of experience shake your confidence.
Ask yourself what challenges you expect to face in the position based on the job description. When possible, map out potential solutions to discuss during the interview. Not only does this demonstrate that you’ve thought seriously about the job, it also allows you to offer value before you’ve been hired.
5. Own your résumé.
Don’t be shy about your achievements. Share your triumphs and challenges, and be candid about what you’ve learned from your mistakes. No one is perfect, and hiring managers want to know you can grow from both setbacks and wins.
Preparing for an interview isn’t limited to your professional accomplishments, however. Companies like to hire well-rounded people who are enthusiastic about their lives outside of work as well. Be ready to discuss the books you’re reading right now or the hobbies you enjoy during your downtime.
It all comes back to authenticity — show employers who you are, both on and off the clock, and you’ll ultimately land the perfect job for you.