People can be nervous in an interview, especially if it’s for a job they really want, with an employer for whom they would like to work, or it is one of their first interviews; really, however, an interview is just a business meeting with a specific purpose. Understanding the intent behind the meeting means that both interviewer and candidate can make the most of it.
The employer uses the interview to check you out to see if you might fit their organization and be a benefit to their company. They need to get an idea of the kind of worker you might be, so they look at how you prepare for the interview as a precursor to how you will prepare to work for them. At the same time, the interview gives you a chance to decide if the employer is right for you.
It is important to remember that whether the employer invites you to an interview (the most common route) or you invite yourself (as in an informational interview), the meeting focuses on the employer’s needs and what you can do for them, even though the questions seem to be about you.
It is a good idea to understand the different types of questions that may be asked and to have thought about the way you might structure your answers. You do not need to memorize your answers. In fact, that can make you sound like you are acting in a play. Instead, you should prepare so that you can relax and pay attention to the conversation and the information the employer is providing, rather than having to quickly come up with answers to questions that you never thought about before.
In addition to thinking about the conversation, it is equally important to plan for the event in practical ways. Try to get a good night’s sleep before the interview, eat properly that day, and prepare your clothes the night before so that you will arrive on time.
Whether you do an interview in person (the most common), over the phone, by Web link, or even via an audition, preparation and planning are as important as your answers to the interview questions. Before the interview, make sure that you know the:
- Name of the company.
- Position you are being interviewed for.
- Name of the person (or people) that will be conducting the interview.
These first three pieces of information can be obtained from the person that books your interview. Do not, however, bother them for the following additional information unless they offer it. For example, sometimes a Human Resources staffer will offer to send you the links to the company Web site or provide copies of the annual reports.
- Know the company’s purpose and goals.
- Gather some information about the company that applies to your interview. Don’t just focus on the size of the company or the number of employees. Ask questions like: Do they provide a particular (or peculiar) service? Do they have people working in different places? How does what they do relate to the job you are applying for?
- Familiarize yourself with their Web site.
- Check the local library for news articles or other publications containing information about the company.
This preparation may seem like a lot of work, but think of the potential for your conversation. With some research, you can answer a question by framing it with comments that tie their organization to the benefits that you bring to the potential job.
You can use phrases like:
- “When I read your annual report, I noticed that…”
- “I found an article on your Web site that talked about…”
- “I see that you are expanding operations into… Can you tell me more about that?”
Any organization wants to know that they are noticed. When you express an interest and do a little homework, you will stand out from other candidates who have not taken the time to learn about the company. This planning will also help you to answer the often asked question: “Tell us what you know about our company.”
In reality, the company really wants to know just five things about you:
- Why do you want to work there (as opposed to somewhere else)?
- What can you do for them?
- What kind of a person are you? (Will you fit in? Are you easy to get along with? Do you know what the company thinks is important, and do you share those values?)
- What makes you different (stand out) from the competition?
- Can they afford you, or might you come on board, get trained, and then leave for the first outside opportunity?
You probably want to know similar things about the company:
- Why do I want to work here? (Would I like to do this job for this company?)
- What do I need to know (skills, knowledge, and attitude) to do this job well?
- Would I like to work with the people that work there?
- If this seems like a good place to work, what will make me stand out from the competition so that they offer me the job?
- Can I convince them to hire me at the salary, vacation, and benefit levels that I want?