Preparing for an interview: what it takes to ace it.

Expert tips for preparing for an interview.

Preparing for an interview takes time and effort. A job candidate only gets one chance to make a first impression. I have never regretted over preparing for an interview. It can help candidates stand out from the competition and leave a lasting impression.

In a poll of over 5,700 LinkedIn users, over 60% said they spent less than 5 hours preparing for an interview. Most Briefcase Coach clients, leaders and executives wanting to level up, spend over 10 hours preparing for a single interview. A quality of job search requires a candidate to spend time on application and resume. To land the job, it is also import to spend time preparing for the interview.

Poll results showing over 60% of those surveyed spent less than 5 hours preparing for an interview.

What are the best practices when preparing for an interview?

I suggest candidates for mid-level positions, spend 5 to 10 hours of targeted time preparing for an interview.

Study the job description.

First, get out the job description and read every line. Use a highlighter and a pend and prepare an example for each line item. Think of an example of a time you performed a task or met a goal that resembles what the position entails or the qualifications are requesting. Speak to your experience and quantify results when possible. The interviewers will want to see how you can serve their pain points help alleviate them.

Research people who are interviewing you.

Look for public facing articles, podcast, etc. Prepare to make small talk, draw connections between their interests and experience and yours. This can be done whether the interview is virtual or in person. 60% have made a decision within first 5 minutes. Make those five minutes count.

Prepare STAR stories.

The STAR technique allows candidate to stay focused and deliver a results driven situational anecdote. Use the job description and company profile to help anticipate the types of scenarios that may be helpful to reference during the interview.

Practice answering questions.

LinkedIn rolled out a feature for premium to help prepare for interviews. Users are able to answer questions on video and then receive professional feedback on their answer. Users are also able to play their recordings to work on tone, dictation and refine their answers. A strong interview response is 60 – 120 seconds – under 3 minutes. Practicing what you are going to say can help your answer be professional, natural, and concise.

Career expert Bogdan Zlatkov suggests using a timer to help practice – and to practice more than once. “It’s important to practice your answers systematically too. I recommend setting a timer for 3 minutes and answering each common interview question. Repeat 5 times for each question to hone in your answer, then move on to the next question.”

Dig into company research.

Read about the corporate values, leadership team, and culture of the company. Think about how you personally connect with the values. Look for relevant information in current news about the company or industry. Weaving this into your conversation and answers can show genuine interest in the company and the work they do.

Determine your unique value proposition.

I remind my executive clients all of the time that different is better than better. Sometimes it’s hard to evaluate in an interview which candidate is the best. It’s much easier to assess out who is doing things differently.

It’s important to go into an interview with clarity on who you are, what you’re passionate about, & what opportunities or learning experiences you’ve had that are unique to you.

An interviewer’s number one job is to find the best candidate for the position they are hiring for. Forewith, your job is to prove to them that you’re the perfect candidate. It’s important to articulate clearly what makes you different than other job seekers.

Fight your nerves.

Nerves can be high in group interviews. Therefore, focus on trying to make a small connection with each person interviewing. Be sure to have something to take notes on and write down each persons name. When asking questions or following up with answers always try tto direct the interviewers by name. People love to hear their name and will feel seen and heard.

Look the part.

Dress for success. Be sure to get a good sense of the proper attire for your interview. It is always better to show up overdressed than underdressed.

What if you are pressed for time when preparing for an interview?

If you do not have a of extra time to prepare for an upcoming interview maximize your time by focusing on these three things:

  • Be familiar with the job description. There is so much information in a job description. Therefore, read each line carefully and understand what the role is and what the company is looking for in their new hire.
  • Focus on first five minutes. Prepare points for small talk and nail tell me about yourself question. When describing yourself, be sure to connect who you are with pain points of role.
  • Know the most popular questions in interviews and how you would answer them. These are: What is your strength/weakness? Why are you looking for a new position? (This can easily cue red flags. Be sure to tie your stories back to job description. Define your unique value proposition.)
  • Practice your answers. I recommend using Yoodli, a non-judgemental tool powered by AI that helps track how many filler words that you used, your pace, repetition, and more. If you have an interview coming up, I highly recommend using the tool to practice essential interview questions like “Tell me about yourself” or “Why are you looking to leave your current company.”

How to use the job description when preparing for the interview.

The job description is the road map for the opportunity. The hiring team is (or should be!) assessing their candidate pool based on the requirements in the JD. I went through the requirements and underlined the content that I thought was important to the role (simple term: OPP/opportunity pain point).

sample job description showing examples of key phrases to use when preparing for an interview.

You want to look at each line and consider that they could turn it into a behavioral-based interview question. For example, the third line of bullet point #1 states that the role will involve coordinating the use of outside legal counsel. Knowing this, it’s highly likely that a question will come up in the interview about managing outside counsel.

What would *𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐩𝐚𝐧𝐲 𝐜𝐚𝐫𝐞 𝐚𝐛𝐨𝐮𝐭* in regards to outside legal counsel?

– Cost savings?
– Diversity/representation?
– When does it make sense to work with outside legal counsel?

If these are OPPs for this specific requirement, consider the questions that could come from this:

– Tell me about a time that you helped control costs or reduced outside counsel spend? How did you do it and what was the impact on the business?
– Was there a diversity value at your past employer? If so, did you make an impact on this?

Be sure to mind your manners.

Finally, thank you notes are a really powerful tool in the interview process. It is important to follow up with a note to reinforce that you want the role, your unique qualification and your value and passion for the work. Decisions are made quickly and there is not always a lot of time to turn around a hand written note. Email is time efficient perfectly acceptable. Be sure to get contact information for everyone you meet with. Following the interview, send them each a personalized email within 6 hours of meeting. Do not send a mass email. Take the time to make this impression count.

Author

  • Sarah Johnston

    I’m a former corporate recruiter and industry “insider” who got tired of seeing talented high-achievers get passed over for opportunities because they did not have the right marketing documents or know how to position themselves in interviews. I have relocated multiple times across the country as a “trailing spouse” and have had to execute job searches in completely cold markets (where I literally knew no one!) I have been named a LinkedIn Top Voice in the career space in 2019, HR Weekly’s Top 100 Most Influential People in HR, named the owner of the “best resume writing firm for experienced executives” by Balance Careers and a “top follow” by JobScan in 2019 and 2020.

Sarah Johnston

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