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Before: Know Yourself

Every interviewer is looking for something simple — a good fit. A good fit varies by position and organization, of course, but there are some traits that every interviewer wants to see in a new hire: intelligence, enthusiasm, confidence, and dependability. Your goal during the interview is to draw out the best in yourself and showcase these traits. To prepare, turn within!

Make a list all about you:

  • The things I do best
  • My strongest skills
  • What I know best
  • My personality strengths
  • My major accomplishments

Next, pull up a copy of the description of the job you’re applying for. Connect the dots between your own personal abilities and the aspects of the job. Ask yourself: How can you best leverage your strengths with your potential employer? What achievements make you the most qualified for the position? Jot down notes as you go. The interviewer will be looking for a candidate that knows exactly what the position requires and how he or she can excel in it.

While you’re busy considering your strengths, however, make sure to also take stock of your weaknesses. Be honest with yourself: what areas could use improvement? What steps have you taken to overcome your trouble spots? Don’t be nervous that you won’t get the job if you admit to having any workplace weaknesses. An interview already knows that no one is perfect. Again, interviewers are looking for a candidate who is self-aware enough to have taken stock of his or her own abilities and shows the resolve to improve his or her performance.

One of the most important interview questions you might get may seem, at first glance, to be the easiest. Interviewers often open by lobbing their candidates a “soft ball” statement: “Tell me about yourself.”

This is where all your hard work before the interview comes into play! Remember to keep your answer brief — around 350 words, or a minute or two — and remember to cover your skills, experience, talents, and accomplishments, and make sure to tie them into the job requirements. The goal of your answer is to provide a snapshot of yourself in relation to the job you want and to make a good impression on the interviewer, which helps set the tone for the rest of the interview.

Think before you’re in the hot seat. If you can work through your strengths and weaknesses honestly, and can draw clear lines between them and the job your applying for, you’ll be ready to answer nearly any question thrown your way.

During: Know Your Potential Employer

Do some research on the employer. Generally this starts on their website. What do they do? How long have they been doing it? Can you get a sense of how your job fits into their mission, or what they do on a daily basis? Knowing something about the company shows that you take initiative and care about the job opportunity — you’re not simply on as many interviews as possible. Demonstrate enthusiasm and interest.

If your potential employer asks, “Why do you want to work for us?” you want to have an answer. “I was looking for a position in software development, and I read in your annual report that you’re developing five new software programs to launch in the coming three years. I’m excited by the growth and opportunity here. Would this position be involved in the development of those new programs?”

Show you know something a fact or two about the company, and ask a question to continue to engage the interviewer. You did your homework, so show it off!

Sometimes, though, an opportunity to ask questions doesn’t come until the very end. “Do you have any questions?” almost always signals the end of the interview, and you need to be prepared. If you thought of a question during the interview, use that. If not, here are some other questions you could ask:

  • “Does this job typically lead to other opportunities in the company? Which ones?”

You want a job that has opportunities, and this question helps you determine what those might be. Better to know now! For instance, what happened to the last person in this job? Did he/she move up, and if so, to what position?

  • “Please tell me about the people/team I will be working with if I get the job.”

This question can tell you a lot — is the interviewer enthusiastic about the individuals with whom you’ll be working?

  • “When will the hiring decision be made?”

This question can give you clues about how many other candidates they might be considering, and how long it might take to hear back.

After: Know Your Manners

You’re done! Now what?

Write a thank you note. This can be sent by mail or by email, and should be done shortly after the interview. Keep it short and sweet. Thank the interviewer for his/her time, and confirm your interest in the position. Make sure to spell check and proofread. Remember to send one thank you to each interviewer with whom you met.

If you know the hiring date, and you haven’t heard a response by that date, follow up. A phone call to ask about the status of the position is a good idea.

After congratulating yourself on making it, think through the interview. If you had it to do over again, what would you do differently? How can you better prepare for your next interview, whenever that may be? Rewrite sections of your resume if needed, or update your notes.

Make every interview a learning experience!