How to Prepare for a Job Interview: A Checklist

This article first appeared on Random Acts of Management and is re-posted here with the author’s consent.

Landing the job interview is an important step towards getting a job, but failing the interview is incredibly easy if you fail to prepare well. Read on to learn how to avoid rookie mistakes and present the most professional version of yourself possible.

Your C.V. is a picture of yourself, and how you approach the interview is like putting a frame around that photo. That frame changes the way people look at you.

There are some things that all of us can do to be in the right frame that puts our best self forward. Putting some structure around interview preparation puts people at ease, one step at a time.

What I’ve learned is meditating on what you need to do now, what happens next, and how you are already prepared for what’s going to happen is a very powerful habit. I made this checklist to take some of the anxiety out of the process.

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The main points of this job interview preparation checklist

Know Where You’re Supposed to Be, and How to Act

  • People. Who you will meet, their title, and how to pronounce their name. If it’s a Chinese name, you can ask a friend for help.
  • Logistics. Where you are supposed to be and when. How long it will take to get there, so that you arrive 15 minutes early.
  • The first impression. When you arrive, make sure you turn off your phone. When the interviewer arrives, greet them. Shake hands firmly. Follow the interviewer, wait for them to offer you a seat, before sitting down.

“Hello, yes, I’m (YOUR NAME). It’s a pleasure to meet you (Mr./Mrs. INTERVIEWER). Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule.”

  • Body language. Sit up straight, look interested. It’s okay to write down notes in a notebook, but don’t pull out your phone because then you look disinterested. It’s important to look like you want to be there. (Edit: My friend Sean notes he’s brought out his phone to show a website or an app he’s developed, which of course, is a great idea.)
  • Personality. Being charismatic means being a good listener and a good talker, as well as smiling and maintaining eye contact. You should be someone the interviewer would like to work with — a capable (capable > smart), kind (not an asshole), and an emotionally stable person.

Know What You’re Supposed to Know

Most people focus on learning a little something about a company’s products and services, although you should know at least as much about the company. You’re interviewing to go work for the company, not to be a customer.

  • History. Remember something interesting about the story of how the company was started.
  • News. If it’s a publicly-traded company, what people are saying about the stock price
  • Its mission (this is more important than its vision, which is abstract)
  • Industry Segment. Which markets it competes in and who their competitors are in those market

A Quick Warning

Don’t make internet gossip, theories, or rumors part of your company research — now is not the time to create doubt. Mentioning these things just puts the interviewer in a tough position. They probably already know how to respond to rumors when people bring it up. But now they aren’t sure whether their reality aligns with your assumptions, how well you deal with the difference, and understand how that relates to your work.

What to Bring

  • Bring extra copies of your C.V.
  • Bring the job description, but keep this to yourself. Review it to remember the things they are looking for, like you’re studying for a test.
  • Before you go to the job interview, make a copy of your C.V. for yourself, and write notes in the margins of the relevant skills and competencies you have, based on the job description. Also, prepare some examples.

Dress Like You Want the Job

Note that the information in this section is applicable both before, during, and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether you are interviewing via webcam or in-person, putting on a suit for an interview is a sign of respect.

  • Wear a business suit. Even if it’s a startup or everyone is casually dressed. Dressing appropriately is a way of showing respect for the other person. You can still be yourself, just be the version of yourself that’s easier for a complete stranger to trust. Usually this means appearing more conservative.
  • Try not to be better dressed than the interviewer — if you have some luxury or valuable accessories, leave them at home. Things like cufflinks or a Rolex watch.

I sometimes used a beautiful vintage folio that was gifted to me. I brought it on an interview for an internship, and the interviewer offered to give me the internship… If I’d give her the folio. I kept the folio, and still received an offer.

  • If you’re still unsure what to wear and you’re definitely not going to wear a suit, my rule of thumb is dress like someone who would be a good representative of that company, to their customer.

About the Author

Philip Chang has had a varied career, with roles in the USA, Taiwan, and abroad. Previously, he was a communications strategist for global corporations including GE Capital, HSBC, MF Global, and more. Currently, he researches smart manufacturing issues in the semiconductor industry.

Connect to Philip on LinkedIn here.

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