You’ve done the hard work – you’ve researched job openings that seem like a good fit, you’ve spent hours refining your resume, and hopefully, you’ve done a good deal of networking, and reached out to contacts close to the job to help get your application that extra bit of attention that separates you from the 1.7 million other people applying for the position.
Then, you check your email, and there it is – the organization to which you’ve devoted every waking hour for the past week wants to interview you.
Your first thought is something along the lines of “Of course they want to interview me – I’m awesome!” That thought, though, is soon followed by another that brings you back to earth – “Um, what now?”
Preparing for an interview is possibly the least emphasized aspect of finding a new job, but in reality, the interview is what separates the pretenders from the contenders. A quality resume is crucial, but anyone can inflate their accomplishments on paper. A solid network is absolutely vital, but 99 percent of the time, those individuals can’t actually get you the job. The interview is your opportunity to look your potential employer in the eye and make the case for yourself, a case only you can make.
In this post, I’ve included some tips that will hopefully help you prepare to make that case during your next interview. If you have other ones that I didn’t include, share them with me on Twitter.
1. Pump yourself up with some epic tunes.
2. Okay, seriously, dress to impress. You’ve probably heard that you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have, and that advice is applicable to job interviews. Even if you’ll be wearing business casual at work, show up to the interview in a suit. Some would argue that this makes you seem out-of-touch; in truth, it signals respect for the person taking the time to meet with you, and also reflects how seriously you take the idea of working for that organization. Look professional, and let your demeanor and personality persuade your interviewer.
Remember, you can always dress down, but you can’t put on the tie that’s hanging in your closet. First impressions are everything, and the way you dress goes a long way toward that impression.
3. Always arrive early. Obviously, doing so demonstrates responsibility, punctuality and respect on your part, and is an outstanding non-verbal way to win points with your interviewer. Additionally, however, it lets you gather your thoughts, go over any notes and get your mind focused on the interview. Traditionally, I always like to go to a Panera or similar cafe about an hour beforehand, eat and relax, and then head in for the interview. Find a routine that feels comfortable, and get there early (or first, if you’re meeting somewhere other than the organization’s headquarters).
4. Sell yourself – almost every interviewee is asked “Why should I hire you?” or “Why do you want this job?” And, predictably, most answer with a variation of “I’ve always had a passion for this work,” “I’m really good at it” or, in some cases, “That’s a good question,” followed by an awkward pause as they think about it.
There’s nothing wrong with the first two answers per se, but they usually aren’t convincing, and they indicate that maybe you haven’t really prepared well. Instead, go into the interview anticipating this question, and have a response ready to go.
The ideal answer combines the following elements: 1) your ability to add value, 2) your ability to lead, 3) your passion for the organization and its mission, 4) your skill level and 5) your desire to have a good time on the job (yes, the majority of employers want someone who will be a morale booster in their office).
*This, of course, isn’t the only question you should prepare for. You can Google “interview questions” and get a list of about 500 in .23 seconds. However, the way you answer this question can set you apart from the rest of the pack.
5. Always thank the person(s) conducting your interview, before and after. You’d be surprised how a simple “thank you” can impact others’ impression of you. It’s also a good idea to send a quick follow-up the next day reiterating your gratitude.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I hope it gives you some good pointers, and helps you think strategically about how to land your next job.
John Cooper is a public affairs associate at Judicial Watch and a former public affairs officer in the United States Air Force.