Four Things To Do Before A Job Interview

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“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success”
-Alexander Graham Bell

Getting an interview can create a great feeling of triumph.  From the pile of applications, resumes, and networked connections, you have risen to the top of the stack and have a chance to get in front of the employer to present yourself as the best candidate.  This doesn’t mean the work is over though.  From the minute you schedule a job interview to sitting down at the table you should be preparing for your interview.

1. Research The Company

At some point during the interview you will get the question “What do you know about our company?”  Have an answer.  That answer doesn’t have to be the year the company was founded or a stock quote, but you should have some information.  There’s a handful of ways to get this info.

  • Learn the Company’s Mission Statement. Find the Mission Statement on Google and learn it so that you can state it back to the employer.  Speak it out loud while you’re learning it, because the more you say something out loud the better you’ll remember it when necessary.
  • Look at the company’s web presence. Read their company website and their social media pages.  Their web presence is going to be where they show you what they want you to know about them.
  • Network With Their Employees. Talk to any friends that you know work for the company or get on LinkedIn and do a search for people who work for the company and send a message to anyone that you know.  This is a good way to learn about the specific position you’re applying for and what the interview might be like.

2. Practice Your Part

You know a few things they’re going to ask, so practice.  There are three questions you’re almost certain to get in every job interview –

  • Tell us about yourself. Not technically a question, but the most important part of the job interview.  We’ve talked in depth about it here, but just know that this isn’t a question about how you enjoy spending your down time.  This is where you know what you wrote on your resume, customized to the company as a selling point for the work they do.
  • What do you know about our company? A chance to show off just how serious you took the interview, because you were willing to prepare beforehand.  Bonus Points for knowing something that no other applicant knows.
  • Do you have any questions for us? There are all sorts of good questions to ask here.  The worst questions focus on topics that you don’t need answered yet like insurance, salary, or benefits.   Good questions could be “What do you like about your job?” Another could be “What is the biggest challenge for a person in this position?”

Several other questions will come in a “Tell us about a time…” format.  Remember the acronym C.A.R.  This means challenge, action, response.  There was a problem (challenge), this is what I did (action), this is how the situation was fixed (response).

3. Prepare Your Outfit

Find an outfit that is one level above the job you’re applying for.  So think of the position you’re applying for and guess what your boss will likely be wearing.  Get it out the night before, get the wrinkles out of it, and keep it away from cigarette smoke until after the interview is over.  Do not smoke while wearing your interview clothes.  Do not wear cologne or perfume in case the interviewer may be sensitive to it.

4. Ready Your References

Let your references know that you’re going in for a job interview at Company X, the job you’re interviewing for, and tell them what’s involved in the job so they can focus on selling you for the job.


What NOT To Do In A Job Interview


We’ve focused a lot on things to do for a job interview.  We’ve told you what to wear, how to prepare for the first question, how to answer the rest of the questions, and how to follow up with the employer.  This time we’re going to focus on what you should NOT do during an interview.

Do NOT show up unprepared

There are two types of unprepared to battle here.  First is the unprepared to have any job interview, where questions aren’t answered appropriately and the “tell me about yourself” portion of the interview is spent talking about kids and fly fishing.  Prepare for a job interview by reviewing resources on the topic and then practice the answers you know you’ll have to give so you sound confident and smooth.

The second type of unprepared is the interviewee that has a blank expression when asked “What do you know about us?”  Look into the company.  Find out what they do on their website.  Go to their social media where you can learn the type of things they like to show off about themselves.  Pack away little tidbits from social media, like a recent staff retreat or a project they’ve been working on, and talk about it in the interview.

Do NOT talk poorly about a prior employer

Remember your audience.  You are going into a room with an employer, who may know they have had someone else complaining about them in a different interview.  Save the crummy boss stories for talk with friends or family who know you and will believe you, employers will chalk it up to sour grapes and be worried you are disagreeable.

Do NOT lie about your personal history

That being said, don’t lie about your history.  If you left a place on bad terms, they’re going to want to know why.  Take accountability for your part in any prior problems but also go a step further to show how those problems won’t recur.  If you have a criminal record, be willing to talk about it by showing what steps you’ve taken towards rehabilitation.

Do NOT ask about salary/benefits

That’s a conversation for when they offer you the position, not for the interview itself.  You can always turn down the job if the benefits aren’t good enough; spend time in the interview selling yourself.  When they ask you for questions at the end, use the questions to talk about the open position or the company, not about the pay.


Do Your Research


The two questions we’ve spent the most time focusing on in a job interview are the first question: “Tell us about yourself” and the last question: “Do you have any questions for us?”  A third question is likely to come up in every job interview that we haven’t addressed, and that is “What do you know about our company?”

The first bit of research is easy: learn the job description.  Some job descriptions are short and some last forever, but go through them, pick out the important points, and be able to repeat them.  If you know that a company needs someone that has a forklift credential, then you know something about what the company does.  You’re going to need this information throughout the job interview to show how you are the perfect candidate for the job.

The second bit of research is networking out to your contacts that currently work for the employer or have worked there before.  When you talk to them, ask about what the company does, about the management structure, about the hiring process, and if they remember anything about the interview.  It would be good to have a few tips on what’s coming.

The last place to look is the internet.  Companies now have corporate sites, Facebook pages, Twitter profiles, Linkedin pages, and all other forms of media.  They might even have some Youtube videos of what they do.  You should always know something about a company that you’re applying to and the internet makes it easy.  It also can help you network, because you can find people you know on LinkedIn that have worked for the company and send them a message looking for some basic information.

One other way that they may ask you to show off your research: “Why do you want to work for us?”  This may seem obvious, but “I like money” isn’t the answer that they want to hear, no matter how true it is.  Because you’ve done some research, point out something good about the company you learned.  If it’s a job you think you’ll enjoy say so.  Talk about how much you enjoy helping people, or customer service, or whatever field you’re applying for.  Tell the interviewers about the good things that your network told you about the job.

Knowing something about a company that you’re applying for may make common sense, but with the increased use of internet job banks, sometimes a job will come up with a company you don’t know a lot about.  Fortunately, we live in an Information Age with dozens of avenues to do research into companies before sitting down with the employer.  Do your research!

Dress For Success

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Mark Twain once said, “Clothes make the man.  Naked people have little or no influence on society.”  What we wear creates assumptions from the people that are around us, both at work and in our day-to-day lives.  What you wear to a job interview CAN determine your fate in the job interview.  There are some simple rules for a job interview that everyone should follow.

Dress for the position one level above the job.  For example, if you are applying to be a welder, wear what you would imagine a welding supervisor might wear – probably a button up shirt or polo with khakis.   It is better to be overdressed than underdressed, but within reason.  There will not be many job interviews where you need to wear a tuxedo or evening gown.  Make sure that clothes are not too tight, too baggy, nor too revealing.

Have your clothes ready ahead of time.  Pick them out, hang them up somewhere that they are safe, and put them on as you leave the house.  The less time you are wearing those means the less risk of accumulating cat hair or food crumbs on your suit jacket or skirt.

Remember good hygiene.  You should come to the interview appearing to be clean with combed hair, trimmed nails, and fresh breath.  If you are a smoker, do not smoke on the way to the interview.  Not only will the smoke affect your breath, it will affect the way your clothes smell.  Once you have your interview clothes on, your cigarettes need to be put away.

Some gender specific rules:

Gentlemen, keep the jewelry to a limit, professional hairstyle with groomed facial hair, neatly trimmed fingernails, and no visible chest hair.  No cologne and light on the aftershave, as the interviewer could be sensitive to the smells.

Ladies, the word to remember is Conservative.  You want to keep jewelry to a minimum (not much of it and nothing extravagant), earth-tone makeup, no perfume, no more than one bag, neat hair (consider a bun or other professional style, depending on the interview), and only heels that you’re comfortable walking in.  Your fingernails should be manicured with no dramatic choices made in terms of color or print.

One last point to consider before we end this post: first impressions last a lifetime, and they don’t always happen when you shake a person’s hand.  Especially in the smaller towns of our region, you may make that first impression with potential employers at the grocery store, at the gas station, or at a restaurant.  Do not let that interaction doom you as the person that wears bunny slippers to Hy-Vee, the person that wears inappropriately revealing clothes to Parent Teacher Conferences, or the person who smelled so bad that an aisle of Wal-Mart cleared out.  We all like to be comfortable, but every situation has an appropriate level of comfort and below that is when you build a reputation as someone who doesn’t care about their appearance, hygiene, etc.


Saying All the Right Things: Answering Job Interview Questions

Saying All The Right Things: Answering Job Interview Questions - IowaWORKS-Southern Iowa BlogLast month we covered how to answer the first question of a job interview. Even if you follow every step of what we told you to do, the employer probably isn’t going to shut the interview down after that question to hire you. But with the confidence you’ve given yourself with that first answer, you can coast through the rest of the interview with a few expert tips.

Questions that ask for prior experiences should be answered in a Situation, Action, Result format. If you’re asked a question about a prior work experience, for instance “Tell me about a time where you experienced conflict in the workplace”, you want to come up with a situation where there was a conflict, an action that you took to resolve the situation, and what resulted from your action. “One time I had a customer who was very angry about a broken watch. I apologized for the watch not working, explained what options were available to him including repair or refund, and he accepted the refund and appeared satisfied as he left.” There was a situation, then an action, and a good result came of it.

If questions about your job history come up, always be positive about prior work experiences, no matter what terms you left on. If you were terminated, be honest about what happened without attacking or blaming your prior employer. Offer an explanation where you take accountability for a poor choice and discuss how you’ve learned from that mistake.  Trash talking an old company just comes off as sour grapes that will leave a bad taste in the mouth of the interviewer.

If you have a criminal record, be ready to be fully honest with the person doing the interview about your background. Touch base on how you’ve rehabilitated yourself and any restitution that you’ve paid. There’s no good that will come from trying to hide or minimize the charges because they are going to show up on your background check, so just be prepared to use the negative things in your history as a springboard for the positive things that you have done since.

There are all sorts of strategies for how to answer the question “What’s Your Greatest Weakness?” We suggest going with the answer that can be considered a weakness but also looks like strength to the employer. Brutal honesty, being too nitpicky, or wanting things to be too perfect before accepting them are examples of answers that you can say are a weakness, but employers would want.

The last question of the job interview is almost always going to be “Do you have any questions for us?” Because you know this question is coming, be prepared. Ask them questions that will make them think. One good question could be “What do you like about your job?” Another could be “What is the biggest challenge for a person in this position?” Don’t ask questions about office policy, benefits or salary. Those can be discussed or negotiated later. This is a chance for you to leave a lasting impression on the people doing the interview, you can find out about the dress code later.

The first question and the last question of a job interview are the two most important questions you’ll face in the interview.  Both are opportunities to leave a lasting impression.  The questions in between give you a chance to explain your history, show yourself as a successful employee, and build upon the sales pitch from the beginning.

Tell Me About Yourself

Tell Me About Yourself: Answering the Most Important Question of a Job Interview.  IowaWORKS - Southern Iowa Blog

The first question in most job interviews is as simple as they come: “Tell me a little bit about yourself”.  As ordinary as it might come across, this is a loaded question with heavy consequences.  Answer it right and you’ve made a good first impression that will help you through the rest of the interview, go the wrong direction and at worst you’ve dug a hole you can’t dig out of in the interview.

So let’s start with what not to do: Don’t talk about your family, don’t talk about your hobbies, and definitely don’t talk about what you did last weekend.  That is probably the perfect answer for meeting a new friend or a group introduction, but it doesn’t accomplish anything towards the reason you’re in the room: gaining employment.  There will be plenty of time for everyone to learn about your children, your fly fishing trophies, or your awesome quilt blocks once you’ve got the job.

Instead, use the question as a chance to sell yourself as the perfect person for the opening.  This should include a brief overview of your work history, focused on how you can complete the key requirements of the position and the skills you bring to the position.  You can also note previous work accomplishments or honors.  This is your time.  Tell them exactly why you should be hired.

Knowing how to answer the question and actually answering it are two different things.  If you want to deliver this message smoothly, it’s important to prepare for the question before the interview.  You know the question is coming at you, so put your thoughts in order and then speak them out.  The more times you practice your answer out loud, the better you’ll deliver it in the room.  You can say it out loud several times.  I find the best place to practice a speech to be alone in the car.  Don’t be afraid to perform for a family member, they’ll be happy to help you practice and they might even give you notes to improve it.  It might feel awkward or silly, but this feeling will pass and be replaced with the confidence you earn from getting the job.