How to Prepare for an Interview in 7 Easy Steps

After writing an outstanding cover letter and perfecting your resume, you finally landed an interview. Congratulations! There’s hard work ahead, though, and interviews can be intimidating. After all, your career is on the line. But with enough preparation, you can calm your nerves and impress your interviewer. Follow these steps, and you’ll be set for your next interview.

1. Research the company

First, research the company you’re interviewing with. You should have done some research before writing your cover letter, but make sure to refresh your memory and check out specifics. “Look at the company’s website, and check if they have a Facebook or LinkedIn page, or another social network they might be on,” suggests Carlyn Crowe, an Internship Coordinator at Drake University. “That can give you an idea of how involved the company might be.”

Then do some basic research about the specific person or people who are interviewing you. Make sure you know who will be conducting your interview. Call or email ahead of time to ask if you will be interviewing with one person or a team. “You don’t want to walk in and be surprised when there are 10 people in the room and you thought it was going to be just one," Crowe says.

For added comfort, look up your interviewer on Facebook or LinkedIn. “It can give you a feel for who they are and what they look like,” Crowe says. “It helps your comfort level when you go into the interview so you know what to expect.”

However, don’t bring up personal information that you find on Facebook in the interview—talking about their kids or a vacation they took will sound super creepy, not impressive! Reading about the interviewer’s job on LinkedIn, on the other hand, can give you a leg up in knowing what the company or department does.

2. Understand the job description

You should have seen a job description before you applied for the job, so before your interview, be sure to review it. Doing so can help shape your responses to the interviewer’s questions.

“It will help you organize what you're going to talk about in your interview,” Crowe says. “They might ask you questions where your answer may not be the best way to showcase your skills. Looking at the description and thinking about ways to tell them how your skills match that can help you.”

If you know the qualities and skills needed for the position, you can tailor your answers to show how you possess and can utilize those skills and characteristics on the job. For example, if you know the position requires you to work with Microsoft Excel, you can talk about how you’ve used the software past internships, projects, or classes.

3. Rehearse your answers

There are some questions you can assume the interviewer will throw your way—for example, they’ll probably ask about your strengths and weaknesses, your previous work experience, and your involvement on campus.

For predictable questions like these, practice your answers as much as possible. “Practice, practice, practice,” Crowe emphasizes. “You don’t want to ramble on. It’ll help you be concise and cover what you want to say.”

Of course, the interviewer may also ask questions you didn’t anticipate. To prepare for these, Crowe suggests thinking of specific examples of accomplishments or challenges you’ve faced in your field of work. Draw on experiences from classes or past internships or jobs to demonstrate your skills and qualities. Bring a notebook that has a few bullet points to remind you skills that you want to showcase. This will show the interviewer you’re prepared and that you really want the job!

4. Plan questions to ask your interviewer

At the end of the interview, you know you’ll be asked, “Do you have any questions?” Don’t be caught off guard—have a few questions in the back of your mind. (You could write these down in your notebook, too!) But make sure you don’t ask these “illegal” interview questions.

“Ask how you fit into their team, how you can expect to get feedback on your work, and what kind of projects they're working on in the future,” Crowe suggests. Ask questions assuming that they’re going to hire you. What would you want to know if you stepped into the job on the first day? You can also ask what the timeline for filling the position is, so you know when you will hear back from them.

5. Choose your outfit

Don’t scramble for an outfit a few hours before your interview—choose your outfit a few days before to avoid another stressor the day of the interview. Planning ahead also gives you a chance to iron or dry clean your clothes, if necessary. Choose your accessories, too. Are you going to wear jewelry or bring a purse?

“Something like a pair of black pants and a simple top is ideal—something that won’t distract the person interviewing you,” suggests Kathryn Marwitz from Drake University. “Pick something you’re comfortable in. It should obviously be professional—nothing too low-cut. And if you know you’re going to be nervous, don’t wear something you’re going to be really hot in.”

For more ideas, read HC's tips on what to wear to an interview.

6. Find out where you're going

There's nothing worse than being perfectly prepared, then being late because you got lost or stuck in traffic. Definitely bring a GPS or print out directions. If you can, drive by the location of the interview a day or two before. This will also give you the chance to scope out a place to park if you’ll be driving. Give yourself plenty of time on the day of the interview!

Of course, getting to the interview can be difficult if you don’t have your own car. If you are going to take public transportation, like a bus or train, give yourself even more time than you think is necessary. Lizzie Callen, a collegiette at the Art Institute of Chicago, deals with public transport dilemmas often because she lives in a busy metropolitan area. “It’s definitely more stressful, but since I don't have a car, it's all I have!” she says. “I would definitely map things out and leave earlier than you think. For a recent interview, ended up leaving 45 minutes earlier than I really needed to, just so I knew that if somehow there were delays I would have some time to spare.”

If your interview is over the phone or Skype, read HC’s tips on phone interviews and Skype interviews for more tips.

7. Print important documents

Even if you know your interviewer already has your resume, it can’t hurt to print out an extra copy—or a few extras, if you’re interviewing with a group. Also, bring a list of references and a business card if you have one.

Depending on the internship you’re applying for or your major, you might also want to bring your laptop or a tablet to pull up electronic examples of your work. If you have a portfolio of writing or design samples, be sure to bring extra copies of your clips to leave behind. “That way, they can put your samples with your resume,” Crowe says, which will help the interview remember you even more clearly.

 

The bottom line: Don’t wing it! Knowing how to ace an interview is crucial to your professional success, so take it seriously. Your preparedness will impress the interviewer because they’ll know just how much you want the job. If you start planning a day or two in advance, you’ll be able to calm your nerves and rock the interview. Good luck!