I have been through some crazy interviews for jobs.  I’ve been through interviews where the employer was forced by luck of the draw to interview but was clearly not interested, I’ve been through 8-hour interviews with 6 different people, I’ve flown to Vegas on short notice for an interview, and I’ve been in an interview where the only question I was asked was, “So, do you have any questions about the job?”  In my experience, the only common denominators in job interviews are that they can be stressful and unpredictable.

So how do you prepare for that?

I have a few pointers, and they involve preparing your appearance, your knowledge about yourself, your knowledge about the employer/job, and preparing for the unexpected.

1. Prepare your appearance

  • I know that there are varying opinions on what to wear for an interview, but in my experience and opinion and from talking to people across careers, there should be some basics.  If you are applying for any type of office job, professional position, or anything that you might call a career, wear a suit.  You may have to read the feeling of the office/job to know how formal to get, but it never hurts to err on the side of more formal than less formal.  For men, a matching suit jacket and pants with a crisp button-down shirt, tie and dress shoes is almost a no-brainer.  Since women in the work place have a wider variety of what is considered corporate attire, you can certainly take your pick of which direction to go, but I still will always recommend a suit with a button-down shirt or nice shell underneath. Whether this means skirt suit or pant suit and high heels or flats is up to your personal taste.  I have certainly heard from career counselors that skirt suits and closed-toe high heels are considered “more conservative,” so I feel an obligation to pass that along to you.  However, I personally always wear pant suits.  For colors, you will always look professional if you stick to your dark neutrals for the suit itself – black, navy or dark grey, and either the classic white or blue for your button-down shirt.  Make sure you lay your outfit out the night before, and make sure it is clean, ironed and free of pet hair.
  • Consider taking a small emergency kit with you – safety pins, hem glue, bobby pins, lint roller, Clorox pen – you never know what may befall you the day of the interview, and its good to always be prepared.
  • Included in your appearance is your resume – print out a nice clean version on resume paper (if possible) to have on-hand, as well as your list of references and a copy of your cover letter.  Place these in a nice portfolio and carry that with you into the interview.  Have a pen and paper in the portfolio as well in case you need to write down some information they give you.
  • Practice your smile.  A polite and firm handshake and welcoming smile will always give a good first impression.

2. Prepare your knowledge about yourself

  • Make sure you can talk about each and every item on your resume. Brush up on what all is contained in that little nugget of information about you – they could ask you about anything.
  • Be able to express why you want to work there and how they fit into your plans and goals.
  • Think of one or two things that are not on your resume that might be good descriptions of you or help to describe your abilities.  For example, I had a short internship in sports information my freshman year of college, but this isn’t on my resume.  However, if I was asked about my ability to compile information and communicate it effectively, this might be an interesting tidbit to hearken back to in my response.

3. Prepare your knowledge about the job and employer

  • Make sure you know what job you are interviewing for. Review the job posting to remind yourself of what they are looking for – you want to give the right impression for the job.
  • Research the employer. Know their mission and goals, if possible.  If you can find out who your interviewer is ahead of time, research him/her and their work.  These are all talking points you might find useful in the interview if you are stuck or want to show your interest in and any link you may already have to the job and employer.  For example, if you note that your interviewer went to the same school you did, note that.  If the employer has a mission statement that speaks to you, bring that up and show the link between your interests.   Or, if there is a lull in the discussion, you can always say something like, “I see that you all at XYZ company have recently begun a company-wide Green Initiative to be more environmentally conscious.  Can you tell me more about that and how this job we are discussing might be involved in that?”  All of a sudden, you seem interested in not only the paycheck, but truly the job itself.  What’s great is that you can find a ton of this information on the company’s website, usually!

4. Prepare for the unexpected!

  • By this, I mainly mean prepare for any type of question you could possibly imagine.  Rehearse answers to the traditional questions, the more modern questions, and come up with some bizarre questions to practice as well. For example, prepare to be asked:
    • What are your weaknesses?
      • Less and less employers seem to be asking this, but some when stumped still do.  You have 2 choices – give an actual weakness that you can then show your willingness and ability to improve upon (but don’t make it too weak!) or give a strength masquerading as a weakness.  Be prepared that most employers who ask this question can easily spot the second answer and may push for an actual weakness.
      • Give me an example of a time that something difficult/unexpected occurred on the job and how you responded?
        • Many employers are leaning more towards experience-based questions such as these.  Make sure you are prepared to explain actual things you have done and situations you have been in.  Sit and make a list of them and go over it beforehand to refresh yourself so you don’t panic in the moment.
        • What’s your favorite M&M color and why?
          • There are many odd questions out there like this one, if not this one specifically.  Employers are trying to see how you respond to unique and unexpected situations and/or determine what a creative thinker you are and how you problem solve.  Take a deep breath, allow yourself to actually come up with a response you can explain, and don’t let yourself get panicked by the silence as you think.

As long as you are prepared, you should be able to knock a lot of the stress and nerves out of the interviewing process and impress the interviewer with how polished and professional you are!