Research, Anticipate and Plan: Tips to Ace Your Job Interview

Advice and tips on how to perform well during interviews.

Your application was filed, you got the all-important call-back and the interview is scheduled. Now what do you do? The job application process is different from the job interview process, and so are the preparations. The ValuePenguin Careers team has compiled a three-phase plan for you to get ready the next time you're seeking to impress, in person or over the phone. Read on for our tips, which have been culled together through research and experience.

A Deep Dive into Research

Given that you have already applied for a specific position at a specific company, some of your research into said company may already be complete. If so, dig deeper. In this information-gathering part of the process, it's beneficial to know your potential employer inside and out. You can start by asking the recruiter or human resources represenative about what you should expect and bring to your interview. Secondly, see if you know anyone who already works at the company -- someone in your alumni or social network? -- and pepper them with questions. If you don't have an inside source, peruse the reviews section of glassdoor; see what others have said about applying to work or actually working at the company.

Once you've been given some background into the company, it's time to head back online. After re-familiarizing yourself with the job description, visit every last page of the company's website; view its recent social media posts; test out its product (if it has one); and consider the company's staff. Review the titles and job descriptions of higher-ups that you might encounter at your interview, and more closely LinkedIn-stalk the person or people that you will be interviewing with and/or reporting to should you get the gig. If you really want to show your research chops, find out who last held the job you're applying for and why they left it. The answer could be useless, but it could also be illuminating.

Come up with Questions and Answers

There are three important steps of this phase in the interview-prep process: anticipate questions you might be asked in the course of your interview; prepare answers to those questions; and, just as importantly, think of questions that you would like to have answered by your interviewer. Let's take these one at a time.

Of course, you're feeling anxious. Turn the feeling into anticipation. Look at the interview from the employer's perspective, and list all of the questions that you think you might be asked. Now prioritize them according your comfort level with each. Which questions leave you searching for an answer? Which questions do you hope they don't ask? And which are the questions that you know will be asked (i.e. why you're interested in joining the company)? We're going to need to work on answers for all of them.

Now comes perhaps the hardest aspect of the job interview-prep process, for it requires hard self-assessment. As you begin forming answers to the questions you expect to be asked, you'll need to comb through your education and work history and find facts, examples and stories to explain what you would bring to the up-for-grabs position. There's no shame in writing all of this down. Think about your skills, improvements and achievements in terms of stories, and learn how to tell these stories well. Go a step further. Do some calculations. If you can come up with a numerical factoid -- "I increased our website's domain authority by 35% during my 12 months at my last company." -- to illustrate your background, it could go a long way toward impressing your potential boss. (Now, you should also prepare a numerical answer for your desired salary, should the "What am I worth" question come up in this initial conversation.)

At this point, you should have a good sense of the questions that will be asked and the answers that you should give. Beyond practicing these Q&As -- you could do so in front of a mirror or by recruiting a role-playing friend -- to ensure your body language is also on point, the time is ripe to come up with your own questions. Remember -- or realize -- that every interview goes two ways; you're also interviewing this person or people to determine if you want the job as much as you think you do. There are two parts of this question-asking business. First, perception matters. You can ask questions that you actually want the answers to (as you should), but understand that you may be judged for the questions you ask. If you ask about how collegial the atmosphere is, the assumption could be that teamwork is important to you. (If you ask only about your anticipated salary, well, then the assumption might not be a positive one) Secondly, use your time as the questioner to show off your knowledge of the company. In other words, ask questions about one of the company's current challenges and, perhaps, throw in a potential solution or two. This will show that you have been thinking not just about the job, but about the company as a whole.

Plan Every Detail of the Day

You're ready for the actual interview but, as they say, the devil is in the details. And, in this case, it's important to plan the details in advance. Here, in chronological order, are some steps to ensure that the first two steps of this job interview-prep process weren't for naught:

  • Print out five copies of your resume, perhaps even a reference list, and bring a flash drive in case you'd like to show off your digital portfolio materials mid-interview.
  • Also bring a pen and a notebook and feel free to take notes during the day.
  • Make yourself aware of the dress code, and launder and lay out those clothes ahead of time.
  • Go to bed on time the night before the interview
  • Eat a good breakfast (if you're body is used to one), perhaps even sneak in a workout if you have the time.
  • Figure out the directions, distance to the interview site and plan to arrive 15 minutes early. Use the bathroom beforehand to avoid excusing yourself mid-interview.
  • If you need to be psyched up at the last minute, remember that you already accomplished something by meriting an interview, but remember that you have a lot more to prove.
  • Check the company's social media accounts one last time. It will be helpful to be aware of any current events going on at the company. You can use this as small talk upon your arrival.
  • Be courteous to every person you meet -- the receptionist might be asked later what he or she thought of you -- while maintaining eye contact and saying "please" and "thank you."
  • And hey, if the interview goes well but not well enough, see if the company might like you to go the freelancing route.
  • Either way, plan to take notes on how well or poorly you did, what worked and what didn't. There's always next time.
Andrew Pentis

Andrew is a former Associate Editor at ValuePenguin. He focused on an array of personal finance topics, from money management to career development.