How to prepare for a winning job interview

Congratulations, you have been invited for an interview. You feel special and valued. However, we will disappoint you a little bit. You are not the chosen one. Not yet. You still have a lot of work to do in order to win.

At your interview, you need to stay focused and mention all the important facts about yourself. According to a survey, 33% of interviewers decide in the first 90 seconds whether they are going to hire the applicant. It means that you will not have a chance to make up for a bad first impression. We cannot stress enough how important the first impression is if you want to land the job.

Think of a job interview as a blind date. If you want to go on a second date, you should impress the interviewers and show you are the person they are looking for. They will assess everything - from your skills through your body language to whether you show enthusiasm. You may be asked all sorts of questions – common, specific to the company or industry, or unconventional. You should be ready to tell your story and answer all the questions without stumbling, stuttering or making long pauses. Moreover, original answers to cliché questions speaks volumes about you.

The question is how to get in top condition. And the answer is easy: do like athletes, train for your interview. The best presentations involve careful research, thought and rehearsals.

However, most of your competitors for the position will be prepared as well. You have to outshine them. We can compare the series of interviews you are going to have with speed dating. Interviewers meet a number of candidates in order to find the perfect match. So, you need to stand out from the crowd. Don’t worry, we will give you some really good tips on how to work your way to success.

Craft your story

Carefully analyse the job requirements and compare your skills and qualifications. Then turn your resume into a presentation of yourself. Do not confuse your presentation with a report. Do not simply state facts. The key to crafting a brilliant interview presentation is to write stories. Stories are what people remember, not bulleted lists. Stories are not only more memorable but also more entertaining and can have an emotional impact on your listeners and help you connect with them.

Instead of saying “I am a great negotiator”, show how your negotiations skills provided benefits for a company you worked for. Thus, you can convince your potential employer that you are competent and possess the skills they need. In her book Get That Job! A Quick and Complete Guide to a Winning Interview, career coach Thea Kelley recommends that you prepare 20 stories or more if you expect to go through a series of interviews at the same company. For each experience or skill mentioned in the job posting ask yourself how you have demonstrated it in the past.

Highlight the most important skills for the open position. Choose good examples from your previous work experience to illustrate how you used those skills and how they helped you solve a problem, improve work processes, increase results or boost productivity. Numbers are your best friend in this case. Use numbers, percentages or quotas to support your statement and prove the recruiter or hiring manager that you are not just boasting but your accomplishments are genuine and significant.

When you prepare your presentation, always keep in mind your audience and their knowledge on the topic. In other words, mind your language. Use specific jargon when talking to experts but do not use professional buzzwords with people who are not members of your profession. Otherwise, you may lose your audience.

Prepare answers to the most common questions you might be asked at the interview: What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses? What motivates you? Where do you see yourself five years from now? What is your greatest professional achievement? Tell us about a challenge you have faced at work, etc. Though very frequently asked, these questions are difficult to answer, and you are expected to reply quickly. Never say you have no weaknesses or have not encountered difficulties. Nobody will believe you. Try to find an answer that presents you in the best possible light, for example, showing that you can overcome any weakness or resolve any problem.

It is also important to be ready to explain why you quit your previous job. Interviewers would want to know whether you left for a good reason. Do not go into an office drama. When it comes to employers, say either good or nothing, especially when you are talking to a potential one. Do not over-explain why you lost your last job. You will sound as if you have not got over it or, even worse, it may seem it was your fault and you are looking for excuses. Include a sales pitch in your presentation. You are trying to sell your services and should be able to convince the potential employer that you are a great fit. Even if you are not asked why you are the best candidate, you can imply that you are the most suitable applicant for the job and support your claim with examples. Write your own success stories and include quotations about your achievements from managers, co-workers or clients. What other people say about you will give more credibility to your story.

Do your research

The above-mentioned survey reports that 47% of employers will reject applicants who have little or no knowledge of the company. Moreover, to find the answers to some of the questions you will be asked, you should research the company, its products and the industry, if you are not familiar with the latter. Only then you will be able to explain why you want to work for the respective company and point out how you can contribute or help them.

Do not limit your research to the company’s website only. To get a better idea of the company and its values, read any article or interview with management or employees you can find. Do not forget social media. Check profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, even Pinterest or Instagram to get an inside look into the company, its team, vision and culture. Research competitors but do not mention them unless you are asked.

Find out who you are interviewing with and as much information about them as possible. Personal achievements, hobbies or shared interests gives you an opportunity for a friendly chat and a chance to connect with the interviewer.

Draw up a list of questions

At the end of an interview, you are expected to further inquire about the company or the vacancy. Hiring managers consider the number one mistake of candidates their failing to ask questions about the job. Prepare a long list of questions, so you won’t run short because some of them will be answered during the interview.

Avoid yes or no questions because you will fail to engage the interviewer. Aim for focused questions about the industry, company, position, work processes, or the team. On the one hand, you will prove you have some preliminary knowledge, and on the other, you will show you have carefully listened to your potential employer and are genuinely interested in their business.

Never bring up a salary before the interviewer does. It is a turnoff for any potential employer. Nobody hires candidates who care only about the money and lack any passion for what they are doing. If you want to impress and develop rapport with the hiring manager prepare open-ended questions. By inquiring about the company, position or the team, you will reaffirm your interest in the job.

Choose your outfit

More than two thirds of employers admit that clothes could be a deciding factor when they have to choose between equal candidates. Think carefully what you are going to wear. You do not want your clothes to be a deal breaker.

The above survey dispels the myth that you should dress to impress: 70% of employers claim that they do not want applicants to be fashionable or trendy. If you ask whether you should wear a suit or dress more casually, our answer is that it depends on the job, company and industry. As a rule of the thumb, do not wear too bright colours and try not to be overdressed. If you are still not sure what to put on, look at the photos of the team on social media or take a walk to the office of the company and have a look at what employees are wearing.

Rehearse your presentation

Memorise at least the key points of your presentation and start practicing. You cannot become a great actor or a speaker without a rehearsal. Daniel Coyle says: “Greatness isn’t born. It’s grown.” Presentations consist of two elements: what you say and what you show. It is common knowledge that approximately 60% of human communication is non-verbal.

Try to master every detail – your handshake, eye contact, facial expression, tone of voice, smile, posture, and gesture. You can train in front of a mirror or your web camera to see if your smile looks genuine or fake, if you are making quirky gestures or faces, if you maintain eye contact, whether your body posture is upright, etc. When you communicate with other people, they perceive your body language, not only what you say. Your body language is more eloquent than your words when you try to suggest that you are passionate about the job.

Even if you do not have much experience or lack some of the skills required for the job, if you are well-prepared for the interview, show that you are a better fit and try to convince the potential employer that you will bring value to the company, you stand a good chance of being preferred over a more experienced candidate.