10 Basics of a Job Interview

You just got a call/email asking if you would be available to come in for an interview for that job that you applied for!  YEAH!  GEAR UP! Here’s some advice on how to prepare.

1. Review the job description again, making notes.

Typically, you are applying based on a job description, so you should spend some time making sure you understand the position, and make a list of any questions you might like to clarify during the interview.  Cross-reference: Make some notes about how your skills and interests match up with the job description.  These are good points to emphasize in the interview.

Also, I just want to note here that you are not likely to have ALL of the qualifications listed on the job description and that is OKAY. Don’t let that deter you! Here’s a statistic for you:

“Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.”


Source:  This fascinating study was conducted by the Techniche Universitat Munchen, and is posted here https://www.tum.de/en/about-tum/news/press-releases/detail/article/31438/, but you can find it quotes several places, including https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140403095421.htm

Seriously? Be that guy, not that girl. (P.s. All the women should read “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg! Also, definitely check out more on that study.)

2. Know the Company and Industry.

ABSOLUTELY do some research on the company that you are interviewing with. You should be able to demonstrate a general understanding of their business.  You also should know anything big currently going on with the industry.  You don’t need to know EVERYTHING (you can’t possibly, and they won’t expect you to) but you should know enough that you don’t come across as not caring enough to do any homework.

As a bonus, you might know someone (or someone who has a relative you can talk to) who works here or in the industry. Pick their brains a little bit about what they know, but also be sure to do your own internet research.

3. Know your interviewer.

Hopefully the recruiter is going to tell you who you will be interviewing with (if not, ask), unless you are just having an informational/screening interview (which sometimes will be on the phone) with a recruiter. 

Look him/her/them up on LinkedIn. Google them. Have a feel for who they are and make note of any interesting facts or commonalities that you have, e.g. hometown, past employer, alma mater, interests.  Better yet, if they’ve posted an article on LinkedIn, ask about it. Great point of discussion. 

4. Bring a notepad, pen and copies of your resume.

Resumes…. pad of paper…pen… business card (if anyone uses those anymore.)

Seriously, do not even think about arriving at an interview without these items. Maybe even invest in a little portfolio thingy, like this. You can get a fancy leather one that you’ll have for the rest of your life or a cheap one for $15 on a certain marketplace website.

5. Be prepared for tough questions. Rehearse.

Oh, man, some interviewers like to ask tough questions and the tougher the better so be prepared for the worst and trust me, you’ll be ahead of the game. If you’re like me, you dont think fast on your feet and always think of the PERFECT thing to say, several hours ex post facto. So, here are some practice questions:

  • Tell me about a time when you had to demonstrate leadership.
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?  
  • Tell me about a time when you made a mistake at work. (This is a trick question. Be humble and carefully admit your mistake… then turn it into a positive.)
  • Describe a situation in which your work was criticized (This is similar to the above – be sure to turn it into a positive.)
  • Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your boss.
  • Describe the biggest challenge you have encountered in your work life
  • What did you do in your last job to make your team more effective?

6. ALWAYS have questions for the interviewer.

When an interviewer says, “Do you have any questions for me?” (or even if they don’t ask that, you should ask questions), have some good ones ready. Ideally, they should include some clarification about the role, but maybe they really did a good job explaining so you don’t have any.  So, here are some other good basic questions:

  • What would you say would be the biggest challenge for someone taking on this role?
  • What do you enjoy the most about your job/working for XYX company? What is the most satisfying part of your job?
  • What are your biggest frustrations with your role? What about it keeps you up at night?  
  • Beyond experience and skills, what would you say are the biggest soft/personal skills that a candidate needs to bring to this role?
  • Tell me a little bit about the culture here at XYZ company.
  • Tell me a little bit about how the company has grown or evolved over the past several years?

7. Be prepared for a phone interview

Ugh, I don’t like phone interviews.  That’s not to say I haven’t had some AWESOME ones but it’s harder to make a connection.  So, that just makes all of these other tips even MORE important: Be prepared so you know what you’re talking about so you can be more comfortable/less anxious. Make sure you are in a nice quiet, private place with a good phone connection. Personally, I like to dress like I am at the interview, even though they can’t see me (but what if they ask you to Skype or Facetime?) because I feel more professional/sharp/organized.

8. A few important things to AVOID on an interview

  • Wimpy handshake:  LEARN A GOOD FIRM (but not too strong) HANDSHAKE.  Women – this means YOU TOO.  Men, NEVER shake a woman’s hand like it’s 1920, where you just take her fingertips. UGH.  WOMEN HATE THAT.  I could go on, but I won’t. LEARN IT. PRACTICE with your friends, parents, classmates, peers, mentors.  CONFIDENT.  ENTHUSIASTIC. RESPECTFUL.
  • Bad news: In an effort to show you did your homework, don’t bring up anything negative about the company you read online/in the news. It could be uncomfortable.
  • Overly personal information:  While I encourage friendly ice-breaker conversation, keep it professional and safe. No politics, no religion, no “party like a rock star” stories when asked about your weekend. Also, I know this might sound odd, but try to avoid bringing your mom into any kind of professional discussion. There have been too many stories like this over the years. [Story: I had I had a summer intern whose daddy knew the CEO, and her mommy called HR and said that her precious butterfly had to leave the office every day by 3 p.m. to take a class. Now, we all know full well that was total bullshit. But, too bad for you, but I am now scarred for life and when any potential employee brings up his/her mom in a way that suggests over-involvement, it’s game over.]
  • Salary, Benefits or What’s In It for Me (WIFFM): This is all inappropriate for the first interview. In fact, the recruiter may screen you for your salary range requirements BEFORE the interview to make sure you are in the ballpark. Salary and benefits, including vacation and holidays, and even official work hours or work-from-home options are follow-up conversations with Human Resources/Recruiting once you are offered the position. You should KNOW what your reasonable salary range should be given the position and your experience (and any salary history) but in the interview, you should focus on communicate your skills and how you can contribute in a significant way to the company, not what they can do for you.

9. Ask about next steps.

Make sure you follow up with HR about next steps, either on the way out the door or in an email a few hours/next day. Are you supposed to send samples of your work? Writing samples? References? If so, do that promptly – same day or next day. Also, the recruiter should be able to tell you how soon you can expect to hear back, but it may be vague.  Do not pester your contacts. Hiring usually takes way longer than you would expect. But not always, so be ready.

10. Lastly, send a real ‘Thank You’ note.

I highly recommend you go OLD SCHOOL and send a hand-written ‘thank you’ note. I really would. (In fact, you should always send ‘thank you’ notes to people, even family, for any gift, even if that gift is just an inordinate amount of time and energy. It’s called respect and appreciation. But I digress.)  You’ve got to admit, no matter who it’s from, a hand-written note is just way better/more sincere (because it’s more effort and more meaningful) than an email. 

That said, an email thank you is better than no thank you at all.  So, if you’re going to wuss out on the hand-written note, send a thank you note to the recruiter and ask him/her if they would please forward your note to the interviewee. Please be sure to also thank the recruiter. An email is fine, otherwise, they’d get a stack of mail every day.

Buy some simple, classy notecards (that either say thank you or are blank).  You should always have a box of these on hand anyway.

“But, Kim,” you say. “I don’t know HOW to write a thank you note! What do I write?” Come on! It’s easy – about 3-4 lines.  It goes something like this:

  • “Dear __________, (First name is usually fine, but if you are more comfortable using Mrs./Mr./Ms., that is always respectful.) 
  • Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me this week about the [insert] position with [company]. 
  • [insert one creative line here – call out something specific you talked about.  Examples: I really enjoyed talking/hearing about xyz. I’m particularly excited to hear that the company does xyz /position will include xyz.  Or, I followed up on that thing you mentioned and saw that xyz. I picked up a copy of [xyz] book/read that article/watched that video you mentioned and blah blah. One simple unique line or two.
  • I look forward to hearing back/talking more about how I can leverage my skills to make a strong contribution to [company].
  • Thank you again.  Kind regards/Sincerely,  Bob Smith

hAlright! Congrats. You got this!


(P.S. Read the post “To Wear or NOT to Wear” before your interview.)

10 Basics of a Job Interview

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