The Twenty-Something Series: How to prep for a job interview in ten steps

Job interviews can be sickeningly stressful, which is why preparing in the right way can make a huge difference. I share ten steps on how to prep for a job interview in this post.

Job interviews are one of the most terrifying things there is.

At least - in the build up to them. That fearful anticipation of the interview is horrible. Often, the interview itself isn't that bad. But the build up to it? Knowing that your whole future could rest on how well it goes? That's the terrifying part.

The best way to ease that fear is to be well prepared.

In this post, I want to share some advice on how to properly prepare for a job interview.

1. Read back over the role description

Might sound obvious, but take ten minutes to go back over the job description. Just remind yourself of what the responsibilities are, what skills they're looking for.

(Here's a tip - make a copy of the job description to every job you apply to. If you get to interview and the role and description have vanished from the website, you'll be glad you did.)

2. Make some mind maps of your skills

Make two mind maps. One should be the skills mentioned in the job description, plus any additional skills you have. (Focus on the ones in the job description first.) 

Put each skill in a bubble and then branch off at least three experiences you can use to back up that skill. You'll probably only need to discuss one experience if they ask for it in the interview (eg. 'Tell us about a time you worked in a team') but you don't want to use the same example for three different skills they ask you about.

The second mind map should be each of your key experiences or previous jobs. It's basically the reverse of the first mind map: the experiences go in a bubble and you branch off from each with all the different skills it required or allowed you to develop and demonstrate.

These mind maps will be your saviour. Keep them in front of you for phone and video interviews and go over them before a face-to-face interview. They're all about you and you know this stuff inside and out, but it helps put it into the right perspective for the situation.

3. Research the company and the role (as much as you can)

Read up on what the company does, who they work with, their products, their market. Key information like that. Check if they've been in the news lately, and what for. You may not get asked about the company, but you need to be prepared if you do.

If there's anything else you can find out about the role, go over it. There may not be much to read on that, but it's worth a few Google searches to check.

Likelihood is you'll be asked what attracted you to the role/company (or both!) so prep an answer for that. Your research will help you. The more prepared you are, the more relaxed you can be.

4. Brush up on some industry news

Going to work for a company that manufactures cars? Great, you've read about them, know what they've been in the news for lately - but what about the car manufacturing industry in general? What's happening there? Smart cars, self-driving cars, electric vehicles... All stuff you might find you can talk about in the interview to help sell yourself for the role. 

Take a look at who the company's competitors are, too. Maybe there are small car manufacturers who focus purely on eco-friendly cars, so could be a big competitor in that part of the industry. Or maybe it's just an awareness of the big names you need.

If you don't need it, you don't need it - but don't take the risk that you simply won't need to know.

5. Re-read your cover letter/CV/application

You know what you've done and what skills you've got, but please, take the time to read back over what you said in your CV. If they ask you to tell them about a time you showed leadership skills, which you said you have in your CV, you can't afford to go blank and seem like you have none. It's fine - good, in fact - to use different experiences to back up the skills than you mentioned in your application, but at least read back over what you've said so that you can at least have something to say.

6. Get ready to answer the big question: 'Why do you want this job?'

They may not ask you quite that directly, but you need to be prepared to answer this as eloquently as possible. Not just 'because it sounds like a good job, it's near where I live, and the salary is decent'. You should come across as enthusiastic and passionate: prepare your answer and make sure you've got a few things to say about this.

It can help to practice out-loud, too. Maybe find a friend to practice with if you can, but even just talking aloud to yourself and practicing how you'll say some things can help you feel more at ease when you're there.

7. Prepare a question yourself

I'm actually going to do a whole separate post about this, but it needs to be mentioned in here. Never go into an interview without preparing at least one question to ask - because in my experience, they always ask if you have any questions right at the end. Look prepared and enthusiastic by having something ready to ask.

8. And ask any questions you have about the interview in advance

Been asked to prepare a presentation but not sure if you need to email it to them or have it on a memory stick? Ask them. You should have a contact number and email address if you've got an interview set up. Not sure if there will be parking near the offices? Ask them. Anything like that, however stupid it might sound, it's better to be safe than sorry.

9. Get your outfit ready the day before

Plan out well ahead of time what you're going to wear. (Those trousers you bought last year you want to wear - check they still fit. Do your shoes need polishing?) Make sure it's all ready the night before. Last thing you want is to show up in a crumpled shirt you didn't have time to iron because you had to get a train.  The interview is stressful enough - you want to come across as professional as possible. 

Make sure you take a spare pair of tights in your bag too, if you're wearing tights. You'll be grateful if you accidentally ladder yours when you're having another nervous wee ten minutes before your interview.

(Also - it's always better to err on the side of caution, and dress smart if you're not sure. I had an interview where they specifically said the dress code was 'relaxed', but worried that jeans were too relaxed: a skirt and jumper was my compromise - not too formal, but still smart.)

Get your bag together the night before with everything you'll need too. A notebook and pen, just to feel prepared; your purse and phone; any ID or documents they might have asked for; anything they've asked you to prepare in advance - on a memory stick, emailed to yourself, and a print-out, as a back up if technology fails you.

10. Know how you're getting there, have a contingency plan in place, and plan to be early

Being late to an interview when you've said you're a very reliable and punctual person doesn't exactly set the right tone. I tried to leave at least half an hour extra to get to an interview, and aimed to walk in fifteen minutes early. I'd rather be early than late.

And if you're that early, you can sit in your car or the Costa down the road until it's time to leave.

You need to know how you're getting there. Booked a train? Right, well make sure you've got everything you need to have to collect the tickets, have a note in your phone of the ticket collection reference, your seat number, and the train times.

It's also a good idea to have some kind of contingency plan in place, just in case. Train is cancelled? Okay, can you get a later one? Could you drive instead? 

If anything like a cancelled train gets in the way of you attending your interview, the first thing you need to do is call up the relevant people (HR contact who emailed you about the interview?) and let them know.

A pretty long list, but when interviews are such a stressful thing, it can never hurt to be too prepared! 

Are there any things you think I've missed off this list? How do you best prepare for a job interview? Share in the comments below!

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