The Ultimate Job Interview Preparation Guide
How to prepare for your job interviews and get more job offers
by Josh Doody
Use this interview preparation guide to jump right to your current stage in the job interview process or read it straight through and learn all the valuable strategies and tactics to ace your interviews and get more job offers.
Where are you in the job interview process?
Quick overview: How the job interview process works
The job interview process is very similar from company to company, which makes interview preparation extremely important and valuable.
There are typically two ways to get an interview: You either search for new jobs and submit applications until you get a few interviews, or someone refers you for a specific role and you get interviews that way.
Once you’re interviewing for one or more jobs, you hope to get multiple interviews for the same job as you progress through the company’s hiring process.
If you do well in each interview, you’ll move ahead, usually interviewing with more and more senior members of the company until they decide whether to extend you an offer.
It’s important to prepare for each interview ahead of time since you’ll be talking to a new person each time. Not only will they ask you different questions, but you’ll have new information from your previous interviews and you want to make sure you incorporate that information into your interview preparation.
You may find a great opportunity that yields an offer right away, or you may go through this process several times with different companies until you find the right fit.
Your primary objective throughout the interview process is to differentiate yourself as the candidate for the position. You need to stand out, and that’s what you’ll learn to do in this interview preparation guide.
If you’re applying for jobs via a job board or just submitting résumés to individual companies, you need to be sure that your application is different than everyone else who is applying for the job.
This is your first chance to use “Positioning”, which is your best chance to differentiate yourself from all those other candidates.
Positioning starts with a strong cover letter and résumé, both tailored to the specific company for the specific job you’re pursuing.
How to write a compelling cover letter
Your cover letter and résumé are a one-two punch. Before they look at your résumé, which can take some time, they’ll probably look at your cover letter.
You have 60-seconds to make an impression with your cover letter. Why? The person reading your cover letter wants to ball it up, throw it away, and get on with their day. They’re burnt out and have a stack of applications on their deck. They’re an expert at reading resumes and they’ve seen all the tricks. In 30 seconds, they’re going to decide if you’re headed to the shredder or the interview pile. You need to make it easy or them to realize how interesting you are.
How to write a compelling résumé
Once you’ve convinced them that your application is worth their time, they’ll move on to skim your résumé. Notice I said “skim”—hiring managers and recruiters aren’t going to take their time savoring every word of your résumé. They’re going to skim it for a few seconds to see if anything stands out.
The greatest value in the résumé writing process is gaining an understanding of the specific problems the company is facing and how to position your experience and qualifications to solve those problems.
What hiring managers are looking for in your résumé
Once you’ve written your résumé, take a step back and consider it from the hiring manager’s perspective. What are they looking for? How do you get their attention?
Believe it or not, most hiring managers will only spend about 30 seconds looking at your résumé!
5 things you should know before applying for that job
Once you start submitting applications, you’ve passed the point of no return. So take a few minutes to review these five things as you look ahead to a potentially long and draining interview process.
Now that you’re submitting applications and your cover letter and résumé have done their job, you’ll start scheduling interviews and it’s time for some interview preparation.
Before you schedule an interview with a hiring manager or someone on your future team, you’ll probably have a “pre-screen” or “pre-interview” call with a recruiter.
This is typically a short 5- or 10-minute call where they will verify that you could be a good candidate for this role. But there’s a very, very sneaky question lurking and you need to be ready for it.
How to answer the “What’s your current or expected salary?” interview question
You’ve probably been asked “What’s your current or expected salary?” in an interview before. And it probably made you very uncomfortable.
That’s because you intuitively know that this is an important question, and that your answer could be very costly if you get it wrong.
Preparing for your interviews—what to bring and what to expect
There are three main venues where you might have a job interview: in person, over the phone, or virtually (like Skype). Each venue is unique and you’ll want to do different things to prepare for each one.
You’ve lined up some interviews and you know how to prepare for them. But now comes the tough part: answering interview questions in real time without any sort of script to follow.
They could theoretically ask you anything, and that makes preparing for job interviews very challenging. But there’s a framework you can use to prepare for your interviews effectively and answer questions in a way that speaks directly to the interviewer.
Answering interview questions using your positioning
Your job in the interview can be boiled down to a single sentence:
Tell them a story about how their company and team will be better if you’re a part of it.
They are hiring someone to solve a specific need or set of needs. Maybe they need more workers to handle the workload, or maybe they need a specific set of skills for a particular project.
Your job is to understand those needs and describe how you’ll address them.
A real-life example of how to find your positioning before your interviews
Now that you understand how to refine your positioning to describe how you’ll help this particulate team accomplish their goals, it may help to see a real-world example of this process in action.
How to handle dumb interview questions
There’s a fine line between challenging interview questions and dumb ones. Just in case, let’s make sure you’re ready for the dumb ones when you get them.
Ask good interview questions when you have the chance
Near the end of pretty much every interview, you’ll be asked a different kind of question:
Do you have any questions for me?
You do! This is a great chance for you to demonstrate that you truly understand the needs of this company and this team and to gather more information to refine your positioning before your next interview.
Once you’ve run the job interview gauntlet, you may be tempted to relax, but it’s not quite time to take it easy!
Reminder: Don’t disclose your current or expected salary!
Until you actually have an offer in hand, you should not disclose your current or expected salary. Sharing this information will almost always cost you money when you negotiate your salary later on.
Following up after your interviews
Occasionally, you’ll get an offer right away, but that’s the exception.
Usually, the hiring manager, HR, recruiter, and your future colleagues will huddle up for a couple of days to make their final decision.
Waiting the right amount of time and checking in with a short email can help keep you top-of-mind without being annoying.
Negotiate your offers with this Salary Negotiation Guide
Once you’ve finally gotten that job offer, you should negotiate it. Why? Because there might be room to negotiate.
It sounds so simple, but it’s true. You can’t know whether you got the best possible offer until you negotiate your salary.
Check out our complete salary negotiation guide to make sure you get the best salary possible!