How to Prepare for an Interview (Step-By-Step Guide)

By Mike Simpson

If you want to land a job, there’s one hurdle you’re essentially guaranteed to face: the interview. After all, hiring managers don’t choose a candidate based on their resume alone in nearly all cases. They want to meet the candidate and learn more about what they bring to the table. And, if you’re going to impress, knowing how to prepare for an interview is a must.

Overall, companies may receive 250 resumes for a single corporate job. Then, they’ll usually invite four to six candidates in for an interview, only one of which will actually get hired.

By preparing for your interview, you’re honing valuable skills that increase your odds of shining during the meeting. Additionally, you’re making sure your interview strategy is on point, and that you’ve learned critical information that can help you stand out.

If you want to make sure you’re on the path toward success, here’s what you need to know about how to prepare for an interview.

What Does “Being Prepared for an Interview” Really Mean?

For many, the idea of being prepared for anything is a bit ambiguous.

Is there a specific point that separates the prepared from the ill-prepared? Do you have to dedicate a certain number of hours to the process of getting ready? Is there a critical step you have to make to cross the threshold?

Technically, the answer to those questions is “no.” In many cases, being prepared means you’ve done some due diligence. You know how to talk about your achievements in a way that entices the hiring manager. You can sprinkle in relevant tidbits of information based on research.

Essentially, being prepared means you’ve taken whatever steps were necessary to set yourself up for success, allowing you to arrive at your interview brimming with confidence. You’ve dedicated time and attention to the process.

Even if the idea of being prepared isn’t highly defined, that doesn’t mean you can’t do what it takes to make it happen. By following the right steps – which we’ll cover in a moment – you can do proper laser focused research, prepare and practice relevant and engaging answers, and increase your odds of handling even the trickiest questions with ease.

Common Interview Preparation Mistakes to Avoid

When it comes to preparing for an interview, the biggest mistake you can make is not doing it at all. Even if you’re a highly-skilled professional overflowing with potential and natural poise, you can’t assume that is enough.

On average, it takes five job interviews before you’ll land a job.

Wow, right?

Plus, 57 percent of professionals say they’ve had a job interview go poorly. That’s more than half of all professionals, people who know their jobs well and are likely at least reasonably successful.

An interview isn’t like a normal conversation with a colleague. Instead, you’re being tested, put on the spot, and asked (in a way) to defend your resume. Some questions are designed to put you back on your heels. Others are so open-ended, that it’s easy to drift off-topic.

Preparation allows you to be at your best when that fateful interview day arrives. You’ll have great answers just waiting to be deployed, and a strategy that can help you navigate the unexpected. In turn, you’ll be more likely to succeed, making all of the effort worthwhile.

However, that’s not the only misstep aspiring new hires make. Choosing the wrong mock interview questions can also hurt you. For example, some candidates spend all of their time on generic interview questions. Sure, you need to be ready for classics like, “Tell me about yourself” and “What motivates you?” but you also need to be prepared to face off against field- or job-specific ones, too.

Similarly, failing to talk about critical traits in your answers can work against you. During an interview, you can’t, for example, simply claim you’re detail-oriented. Instead, you have to show that you’re detail-oriented, highlighting the capability by discussing an accomplishment.

Finally, one of the surprising mistakes a candidate make is not enlisting the help of a trusted friend, family member, or colleague. Having someone else ask you the practice interview questions and getting feedback on your answers – including the responses themselves, your body language, and anything else – is ridiculously valuable. It allows you to really hone your approach, ensuring you can make the best impression possible.

MIKE'S TIP: When you choose a person to help with your preparation, you don’t necessarily have to limit yourself to people in your field. They don’t have to understand the nuances of your job to provide you with great feedback. So, if you’re trying to keep your job search quiet and don’t want to ask a colleague or person in your niche for assistance just in case they might discuss your efforts with your manager, pick someone else. As long as they can be open and honest with you, they could be the right person for the role.

Follow These Steps to Get Properly Prepared for Your Interview

Alright, now that you know a bit about why preparing for an interview is important, as well as some mistakes to avoid, let’s get down to brass tacks: how to prepare for an interview. After all, knowing you need to do it is only half the battle; you have to follow through, using the right approach, too.

Luckily, we have your back. If you want to blow away the hiring manager, you need to take your interview prep to the next level. Here’s how to do just that:

1. Review the Job Description

The first step you need to take when preparing for an interview is to review the job description. The job description is chocked full of critical details, including the must-have skills and traits the hiring manager needs to find.

Once you bring up the original vacancy announcement, go over it word-by-word. When you spot skills and qualities, consider highlighting them or writing them down in a list. Anything the hiring manager felt was worthy of inclusion will likely come up during your interview.

Essentially, the job description is a cheat sheet. If the hiring manager listed a skill or quality in the job description you should be prepared to show the hiring manager you possess them!

2. Reread Your Resume or Application

Reread your resume? Why would you need to do that? After all, you know your own background, right? Well, sort of.

If you tailor your resume to each job (which you should), and you’ve applied to more than one recently, you may not remember which details you included. That could spell trouble.

You can almost guarantee that the hiring manager is going to talk about your resume. If you forgot which accomplishments you mentioned, you might not prepare to discuss them. Then, if the hiring manager asks – which they almost certainly will – you might give a stumbly answer.

Review your resume! Know what you said! Remember, your resume might be all the hiring manager knows about you, so make sure you can discuss those points with ease.

3. Research the Company

We know, research isn’t always the most fun. But it is nonetheless crucial.

Many hiring managers ask candidates to tell them what they know about the company. If you answer that question with the silence, you can essentially kiss the job goodbye.

Take some time to review the company’s products and services. You need at least a general idea of how the business makes money; that’s a must.

Additionally, head to the company’s website and review its mission and values statements. This gives you major clues about the organization’s priorities and culture. Also, head to the company’s social media page for more insights, as well as details about its recent achievements or newsworthy events.

The more company-specific details you can work into your interview answers, the better. It shows you went the extra mile to learn about them, and that can help you stand out from the crowd.

4. Learn About the Hiring Manager

If you know who will be interviewing you, try to learn a bit about them, too. If you can find out about the hiring manager’s professional history, perspective, and priorities, you can align your approach with their preferences. This makes it easier to find common ground and develop a rapport.

5. Reflect on Your Accomplishments

Now that you have a bit of an idea of what you’ll need to cover, spend a little time reflecting on your achievements. During an interview, you’ll want to show the hiring manager you have what it takes to excel. Typically, that means discussing a relevant accomplishment.

Ideally, you want to identify key moments in your career that showcase you as a great fit. As you reflect, write down the ones that stand out most and that show that you possess the skills and qualities you found on the job description. Those are the accomplishments you want to work into your answers.

6. Quantify the Details

With a few achievements picked out, it’s time to gather some additional details. During an interview, numbers can speak louder than words, so quantify those accomplishments.

At times, this requires a bit of research. You might not remember how big a budget you managed was or how many people ended up using something you developed. Look it up! That way, the information you provide is enticing and accurate.

7. Learn the Types of Interview Questions

At this point, it’s time to start figuring out how to work in relevant details into interview answers. One of the best ways to start is to learn about the different kinds of interview questions.

By refreshing your memory about the types of questions you may encounter, you can start developing a strategy for responding. When a question is straightforward, the process is usually simple. For example, if the hiring manager asks if you have skill X, you start with a “yes” or “no.” When a “yes,” you follow it up with a relevant example of you putting it to use or with details about how you’ve honed it. Done.

If you need to say “no,” you’ll need a different approach. Pivot by discussing how you intend to acquire the skill (if you have immediate plans) or by focusing on your willingness to learn and excitement about professional development. Many hiring managers will consider a candidate who doesn’t have every hard skill if they are enthusiastic and have potential, so this method can work.

For behavioral interview questions, you’ll need a robust strategy. Usually, combining the STAR Method and the Tailoring Method is the best approach. So, let’s take a look at those.

8. Get to Know the STAR Method

The STAR Method is a classic approach to answering behavioral interview questions. It allows you to turn a generic response into a compelling story. That’s why, when you’re trying to figure out how to prepare for a job interview, learning the STAR Method is a must.

While we took a deep dive into the STAR Method before, here’s an overview. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Results. It’s an approach for outlining how an event arose and played out, making it ideal for structuring how you discuss an accomplishment.

With the STAR Method, you can make sure the hiring manager has every critical detail. You’re showing them how you put your skills to work, giving them important context about how you perform on the job.

9. Dive into the Tailoring Method

Alright, the STAR Method alone is a pretty strong approach. But, by also learning the Tailoring Method, you have a secret sauce for creating delicious answers to behavioral interview questions.

The Tailoring Method is all about customization. You don’t want to give the hiring manager a basic answer to a question; you want to make it relevant and enticing, building an exceptional value proposition by showcasing how you can help their company thrive. That’s what the Tailoring Method helps you do.

It’s an approach that makes the hiring manager and company the priority, not you. It’s about positioning yourself as a solution to the problem the hiring manager is trying to solve (which, by the way, is finding the ideal candidate for the job they need to fill). That makes the Tailoring Method a competitive advantage, as not all job seekers are going to go that extra mile.

10. Practice Common Interview Questions

Certain job interview questions are almost universal, so it is smart to practice them. Grab a list of common ones and get cracking, using the techniques you’ve developed so far to create compelling answers.

11. Practice Job-Specific Interview Questions

While you should spend time on general interview questions, you also want to get job-specific. Each kind of position requires unique skills and traits, so hiring managers are going to ask questions that help them figure out if you have what it takes to thrive.

So, for example, if you’re trying to land a data analyst position, research data analyst interview questions. If you’re interviewing as Microsoft, Facebook, or Google, review questions that hiring managers at those companies ask. That way, you’ll be as ready for your interview as possible.

12. Get Some Questions Ready

At the end of every interview, you typically have a chance to ask the hiring manager a few questions. Make sure you have a few ready to go. That way, you won’t be at a loss when that moment arrives.

If you don’t know where to begin, ask them to describe a typical day in the position. You can also ask if there’s anything preventing them from considering you the top candidate, giving you a chance to address any concerns head-on.

Check out our article for more questions you can ask the hiring manager!

13. Interview Yourself in Front of a Mirror (or on Video)

Once you have your questions and answers ready, interview yourself in front of a mirror or on video. That way, you can watch your body language and practice eye contact, allowing you to get everything working in your favor.

14. Do a Mock Interview with a Buddy

Having someone you trust help you out is a smart move. Give them a list of practice interview questions and have them put on their hiring manager hat. Once done, ask for feedback and hone your approach.

15. Gather Your Must-Bring Items

Usually, you’ll need to bring a few things with you during your interview. At least the night before, print out resume copies, pack up your portfolio, and gather anything else that needs to come with you.

16. Choose Your Interview Attire

You want to make sure your outfit makes you look like the ideal person for the job. A few days before, choose your attire. Try it on to make sure it fits and examine it for signs of wear and tear. That way, if there’s an issue, you can choose something else without having to rush.

Putting It All Together

That’s it! When it comes to how to prepare for an interview, that’s what you need to know. Take those tips and use them to your advantage. By doing so, you’ll increase your odds of job interview success, making all of the effort worthwhile.

Good luck!

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About The Author

Mike Simpson

Co-Founder and CEO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Mike is a job interview and career expert and the head writer at TheInterviewGuys.com. His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan, Penn State, Northeastern and others. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.