The Job Interview
Your hard work writing your resume and cover letter has paid and now you have a job interview! Your first step: celebrate! Your second step: prepare!
Preparing for a job interview helps you in two ways:
- By focusing in on the qualifications you have that match up with the job posting, you will be better able to present yourself in the job interview.
- By researching the company, you can show the employer that you have invested time in the application process and that you are serious about this job.
But how exactly does one prepare for a job interview? One of the most helpful things you can do when preparing for a job interview is making a few notes. You can nearly always take a notebook with you to the interview itself. While you don’t want to spend the interview flipping through a notebook looking for answers (limit your notes to just one page), there are some important things to think about in advance that you can write down.
What should I consider in advance?
Of course, there is no way to anticipate and prepare answers for every possible question you could be asked in a job interview. Nevertheless, there are some things you can do to help guide your answers to most any question.
First, take some time to re-read the job posting. Underline or highlight each of the qualifications and competencies listed in the job posting. Make a list of these qualifications and competencies. Next to each item on the list, make a note of an experience you have related to this qualification and competencies.
Then read through the job posting again. This time, identify and mark any tasks listed in the job description that you would need to do if you were hired. Now make a note of an experience you have related to that task.
Once you have made a list experiences that are related to the job description, you will have a good idea of what experiences you will want to talk about during the interview.
In a job interview, you want to present your skills, qualifications, motivation, and personal characteristics authentically to the interview committee, but you also want to focus on how these things relate to the job you’ve applied for.
You can also think about your answers to some questions that are frequently asked in job interviews. You can find some examples here.
If you’re invited to an interview, be sure to take some time to read through the company’s website and any other information you can find about the potential employer. Make a few notes of things you found interesting and or had questions about that you can talk about in the interview.
If you know who will be interviewing you, write down the names and their positions in the company! This will help you be able to refer to them by name during the interview, even if you get a little nervous and forgetful for a moment! If you don’t know who will be interviewing you, look through the company’s website to familiarize yourself with some possible interviewers (for example the team leader of the department or the lead researcher in the team).
Most interviews include some time for the job applicant to ask some questions. These can be questions about what the office environment is like, how employees are evaluated, if there are opportunities for advancement or professional development, etc. This is your chance to get to know your potential boss and/or colleagues! This can also be a good time to ask about when you can expect to hear from the company about a job offer.
As a general rule, you should prepare about 5 questions and then ask up to 3 of them in the interview. It’s better to be over-prepared. Plus, you can always ask more questions later if you are offered the job.
Tips for the job interview
- As stated earlier, bring a notebook and pen with you. You can use the notes from your preparation to help you answer questions, but you can also take notes during the interview itself, for example to remember people’s names or to write down parts of a complicated question.
- Turn your phone off or on silent before starting the interview.
- Dress for success! Wear clothes that you’re comfortable in but that are also professional.
- If you are offered a glass of water, say yes! You’ll be talking a lot during the interview and could get thirsty easily. Additionally, you can take a sip of water if you need an extra moment to prepare your answer to a particularly tough question.
- If you don’t understand a question or if you need some time to think of an answer, it’s perfectly okay to ask the interviewer to repeat the question or to pause and take a moment to think.
- Take a deep breath before the interview and smile. This will help calm you down if you’re feeling nervous and boost your self confidence.
- Be (professionally) authentic. Let your personality show during the interview.
- Show up for the interview 5-10 minutes early. If you are travelling to a different city for your interview, plan to arrive in the city at least 30-60 minutes in advance, especially if you’re using public transportation or expecting traffic.
- Start your interview with a firm handshake and introduce yourself to each of the interviewers.
- Bring a few extra copies of your resume with you, in case one of the interviewers would like to see it.
- Set up your computer in a room with a neutral background. Use a trial meeting (for example a meeting in Zoom for yourself) to see what the room will look like to other people in the interview. Is there a pile of dirty dishes or a messy desk in the background? Are there photos or posters hanging on the wall that are not professional?
- Make sure the room is well-lit. Try to face a window or other light source rather than sitting directly in front of one. Make sure there are no shadows on your face.
- Use a headset with a microphone to help reduce background noise. Make sure your family or roommates know that you are doing an interview and ask them to be quiet during this time. Close your door and minimize distractions.
- Prop your computer up so that your webcam is at eye level. You can easily do this by setting your computer on a stack of books.
- Do a trial meeting, if possible. Once you know what platform you’ll be using for the interview, see if there is a way to try it out online on your own first, especially if it’s a platform you don’t know very well. Even if you can’t do a test meeting, research the platform in advance so you know what to expect.
- Turn off any external notifications that you get through your computer (emails, text messages, social media, etc.). These notifications can be distracting to you and also have the potential to be embarrassing, if you find yourself sharing your screen while receiving one.
- Dress up in the same way that you would for an in-person interview, from head to toe!
- Place a glass of water next to you during the interview, in case you get thirsty or need to stall for a moment while preparing your answer to a question.
- Sometimes job applicants are asked to give a presentation during their interview. If you’re in this situation, you should always take time to thoroughly prepare for the presentation.
- Use a visual aid. You can ask the interviewers in advance if there will be a projector available for you. If so, you can prepare some slides to use during your presentation. If not, create and print out a few handouts for the audience. Try to make your visual aid interesting and informative (include some charts or graphics along with some text). If you are using slides, only include the keywords/phrases – don’t just read off the screen.
- Remember the time. If your interview invitation gave a specific amount of time for the presentation (15 minutes, for example), make sure it’s within the time limit. You may also want to wear a watch for an in-person presentation or set up a clock near your computer for an online presentation.
- Ask the audience if they have any questions at the end of your presentation.
- Practice, practice, practice! Run through your presentation at least one time before the interview. Try to practice it in a setting that is similar to the interview itself. Wear the clothes you’re planning to wear, ask a friend or family member to watch you and ask questions, and set up your visual aid. This will help you know what to expect during the interview itself.