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Preparing for a Job Interview

Believe it or not, you need to know the basics of workplace etiquette right from the start—at the job interview. Sure, you’re anxious, but here is a situation in which how you look and everything you say and do—that is, your overall demeanor—may have a critical impact on your future. You have to be on your best behavior.

And the person opposite you seems to have all the advantages. Recruiters and interviewers usually take courses to help them develop sophisticated screening methods. The interviewer has the home-turf advantage, and you do not. You are being measured against standards and guidelines that are clear as a bell to the interviewer, but not to you.

But you also have some important advantages of your own, including

  • The company or organization needs someone, or it wouldn’t be interviewing people.
  • The company or organization is hoping you are the person for the job.

These two facts are key. But you also have to be prepared by dressing properly, preparing a list of the points you want to make, and having a pretty good idea of what will happen and how to respond. By doing so, the situation won’t seem nearly as one-sided.

Be Prepared

Find out everything you can about the company before your interview. Read any reports or brochures you can find. Also, try to contact somebody you know who works at the company, preferably a friend, acquaintance, or someone who attended the same college as you did.

Some of the things you should find out about the company you are interviewing with are ...

  • The correct pronunciation and spelling of its name
  • The business of the company: what it produces or what services it provides
  • Whether it’s a national or international company, as opposed to regional or local
  • The size of the company
  • Its attitude toward women and minorities
  • How long the company has been in business
  • Its general reputation
  • The reputation the company has for working conditions and environment

Before your interview, you should also find out everything you can about yourself. Take a long, honest look at yourself and be prepared to talk about your traits. One way to help with this process is to make a list of the important points about yourself, including

  • Your level of education
  • How much and what kind of volunteer work you’ve done
  • Any honors and awards that you’ve received
  • Your interests, hobbies
  • Why you want to work for this company
  • The abilities you can bring to the company

The Interview

In general, you should dress conservatively for interviews. However, dress can vary dramatically from company to company. Khakis and Docksiders might be the standard at one place, whereas wingtips and double-breasted suits are typical of another. When in doubt, don’t hesitate to ask an employee or someone in the human resources department about appropriate interview attire.

Upon arriving for your interview, enter the room, smile, and make eye contact with your interviewer. Then wait until he or she asks you to sit before taking a seat. During the meeting, don’t fidget or handle things on the other person’s desk. Also, listen carefully to what you are being asked and don’t treat any question as unimportant. If a question is difficult, pause before answering. Compose yourself. At the end of the meeting, thank the interviewer cordially and follow up with a note.

Live and Learn

Remember that the interviewer wants to know more than your past employment record or your grades and courses in school. He or she wants to get a feeling for your personality, your trainability, your potential for success. So, you shouldn’t dwell too long on your past experiences or make repeated references to past achievements. The interviewer heard you the first time.

Bear in mind that your first interview with a company will probably be a “screening interview.” The purpose of this interview is to screen out applicants. For instance, companies want to know whether you’re willing to relocate, have sufficient language skills, and fill other requirements or prerequisites.

The interview will be held at the company site, a hotel suite, an airport lounge, or even by telephone. You must arrive on time (but no more than a few minutes early). If you are being interviewed by telephone, make sure that you have your materials on hand. If you don’t, get the name and telephone number of the interviewer and call back promptly. Whether you’re being interviewed on site or by telephone, don’t volunteer information you haven’t been asked for.

The Next Step

After the screening interview (and perhaps other preliminary interviews), you'll have a meeting with the hiring manager. This person makes the final decision, and this interview is the most unpredictable. The interviewer usually has no formal training in interviewing, may ask the wrong questions, and may be vague. The hiring manager is casting around for enough information to make the decision. The manager may be looking for that undefined "certain something."

"So, tell me about yourself." When an interview poses this challenge, reply by being enthusiastic but honest and polite. Make eye contact. Talk about your strongest skills and your greatest area of knowledge. Use positive, active language such as "I enjoy detail work. I am committed to excellence."

In general, it is a good idea to think of a job interview as an opportunity, not as a test.

More on: Manners

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Etiquette © 2004 by Mary Mitchell. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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