So, you’ve sent in your CV and have been invited in for a chat, but now you’re wondering how to prepare for an interview. What should you wear? Do you need to get your hair cut? What will they ask you? What are the key points you need to communicate about why you want the job? These are all questions which will be going through your mind as you start thinking about how to prepare for an interview. But there are also some basic things you should consider between now and when you arrive on the day. Let’s take a look at five key things you can do to ensure you are well prepared. Don’t end up like the Instron Crash Test Dummy above.
How to Prepare for an Interview: Research the company
This might sound like an obvious thing to say: “Research the company”. However, most people spend very little time doing proper research into the company when thinking about how to prepare for an interview. But what do we mean by this? Well, you should read every single page on the company’s website for a start. Even the pages you think have nothing to do with the job for which you are applying.
Start with the “About Us” pages which most company websites usually have. Or the “News” or “Blog” section. Read every news or blog page. If they have a “Media” section that doesn’t require registering for a password, read every press release. Even if these are not things you think are relevant, you will be surprised at how much you will learn about the company. You may even begin to find it interesting. And this will come through in your interview.
How to Prepare for an Interview: Research the industry and competitors
Where most people fall short when considering how to prepare for an interview is when they restrict their research only to the company itself. To mark yourself out from other candidates, you should also research the industry and the key competitors. You will be much more impressive if you can discuss key industry issues that the business faces and how you think the company should respond to those issues. If you can demonstrate a working knowledge of its competitors, you can talk about how a competitor offers a better product or service and where this company can improve and grow opportunities.
The key message here is to make sure you understand the competitive landscape in which the company operates. Understand the key issues facing the industry and how the company needs to take advantage of these opportunities. A company will be very interested in hiring you if you can bring fresh eyes to the business and show it where it can grow.
How to Prepare for an Interview: Dress smartly
Again, this might sound like an obvious thing to say, but you need to dress smartly for any interview. There is a saying: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”. Make sure your hair is clean, brushed and tidy. Check your fingernails and cut them if necessary. Make sure you don’t have any black gunk under your fingernails from working in the garage on your bike at the weekend.
Inspect the collar and the cuffs and buttons of your shirt to make sure there are no frayed edges or missing buttons. Take your suit to the dry cleaners if there is a mark on it anywhere. Read our blog for more suggestions: How to Dress for an Interview.
How to Prepare for an Interview: Arrive 5-10 minutes early
Another suggestion which might seem obvious. However, when planning how to prepare for an interview, you need to work out how long it will take you to get there. Do a dry run a few days before if you can. Work out which buses or trains will get you there. And take the one before to allow time for any traffic or delays. Drive there at the weekend so you know which roads to take – but allow extra time for traffic during the week.
You should arrive at the company no more than 10 minutes before the interview time, and no less than 5 minutes before. Be super polite and smile at the Receptionist. Once you’ve signed in, ask where the toilets are. Even if you don’t need to go to the toilet, go anyway. Go and wash your hands in cold water – it removes the sweat. There is nothing worse than shaking someone’s warm and sweaty hand. And check yourself in the mirror. Remember, this is your last chance to make a first impression.
How to Prepare for an Interview: Observe the Reception area
As soon as you return to the Reception area, look around and make a mental note of everything you can see. This step is an essential part of learning how to prepare for an interview. The Reception area is the “public face” of the company. What does the Reception area say about the company? Is there a cabinet full of trophies and awards? If so, look at them and remember what they are for. Make a note to mention one of them during your interview. For example: “I see you won the award for most reliable widgets last year. Which products in particular was that for?”
A colleague’s favourite question when interviewing new candidates was: “What did you learn about our company while you were waiting in our Reception area?” If you can’t answer that question, then you haven’t been paying attention. And you aren’t really that interested in the company. Spend the 5-10 minutes in Reception looking at everything: the awards, the certificates, the magazines on the table, the pictures on the wall. Think about what you have just learned about the company. You can learn so much about a company from its Reception area, and it’s an essential part of understanding how to prepare for an interview.