How to prepare for your next interview:
- Know your interviewer
- Study interview questions
- Utilize various forms of practice
- Dress the part
- Elevate your portfolio
- Bring the right tools
- Keep your answers brief
- Focus on your strengths
- Be passionate
- Follow up
The job market can be a tough place, and even tougher for freelancers and artists.
But you're experienced. And after some rejections and ignored emails, you have become sharp at perfecting your resume and writing awesome cover letters. Your LinkedIn is level all-star; your portfolio is up-to-date. You’re ready to be hired.
Then it happens. You get the call. You have an interview with a good job—a really good job. A job you want.
At this point, you might be thinking, “What if I mess up? What if they don’t like me?” These are natural thoughts to have, but remember, employers will be looking for confidence.
But how do you conjure confidence? You can always fake it, but faking isn’t always easy or effective. Ultimately, the best way to feel confident is to feel prepared. That’s why we’ve listed 10 tips to prepare you for your next big interview. By following these steps, you’ll gain the assurance you need to succeed in the hot seat.
Know your interviewer
Knowing your audience is crucial in business, and knowing your interviewer is just as important. According to U.S. News, you should research the interviewer’s styles, as well as connections you might have in common.
Familiarity with an employer’s style will ready you for curveballs, and having a few connections up your sleeve will make you seem more like a person, rather than just an applicant. Additionally, knowing your interviewer will make mirroring their traits easier, something professionals look for in an employee. These may seem like small details now, but the more advantages you have in the interview, the more natural your interaction will be (and the less you’ll have to fake it).
Study interview questions
If you’re not sure what questions you might be asked during an interview, it’s best to over-prepare. Depending on the interviewer, you could be asked traditional questions, like, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” to unique asks, like, “If you were a salad, what kind of dressing would you be?”
A good answer to a traditional question illustrates your professionalism—it tells the interviewer this isn’t your first rodeo. Alternatively, slam-dunking a unique question shows your ability to improvise and think critically. Professionalism, improvisation, and critical thinking are valuable traits to employers. Let your answers show you’re prepared for anything.
Utilize various forms of practice
This tip is nothing new to seasoned interviewees. In fact, you’re probably rolling your eyes at the very mention of practicing for an interview; it’s just that obvious.
I mention it because there are a few ways to practice, and each has its own benefit. “Interviewing” in front of the mirror allows you to get comfortable with your body language and voice. Once you feel good about your reflection, it’s time to step up your game and interview with a friend. A true friend will act like an interviewer, which means potentially interrupting you, asking hard questions, and other awkward (but helpful) quirks. The best part? A friend can give notes at the end, whereas your reflection can only go so far.
The best practice—but perhaps the most difficult to come by—is actual interview experience. This means taking any interview you can get, because it’s one more practice session under your belt. Plus, modern interviews are not only in-person but also via phone call or video chat. Having experience with multiple kinds of interviews will develop your skills and expectations.
Dress the part
Yep, dressing the part matters. Think about it this way—when you’re in a dressy outfit and shoes, you probably feel a little differently than when you’re in, say, pajamas and slippers. You change depending on the outfit, so make sure you feel confident and well-to-do in your interview attire. This will affect your mood and even your disposition.
Your body language is not all you should be considering, however. In fact, Psychology Today explains many personality judgments are made simply based on attire. When people look at each other, they are making instant assessments that in turn affect how they treat one another. While it may seem superficial, employers are going to make snap judgments about you and even treat you a certain way, mostly due to your look. In other words, make sure you look good, even if it’s only for your interviews.
Elevate your portfolio
Your outfit is not the only thing that needs to be visually appealing, however. In fact, your portfolio is like your voice—speaking for you before, during, and even after your interview. Not only is it a visual key for your work, but your portfolio also complements your resume and interview. This means it needs to be well-designed and interesting (like you).
Luckily, there are plenty of tips on elevating your portfolio, along with available (and largely free) resources. In doing some simple online research, you can easily find free templates, inexpensive hosting, or ideas for home pages or about pages. And although there's plenty to consider, there are a few key aspects that will set your portfolio apart from the rest.
Firstly, you want your portfolio to be user-friendly, starting with load time. Poor page load time negatively impacts your traffic and UX, which in turn affects your chances of getting work. Secondly, you want your site to be efficient and navigational. Creativity is vital, of course, but your artwork should be where your creativity shines. If your portfolio is cluttered, or you have unusual names for your pages (e.g. “Curation” instead of “Work”; “History” instead of “About”), clients and employers could find this witty creativity unappealing. Finally, make sure your art is an effective collection of work that you're proud to show.
Bring the right tools
While your portfolio is your greatest tool, there are a few additional resources that can increase your chances for success.
Bringing a resume (or a few) is so important, especially if the interviewer hasn’t taken the time to print yours. In a perfect world, you wouldn’t have to print your own resumes, but we all know that's not the case, and it’s not going to look good if you don’t have a few resumes handy. Reviewing credentials with your interviewer makes for an efficient meeting, especially if you've adapted your resume for the job.
Bringing a pen and agenda may seem like overkill, but you never know what you’ll need to write. Whether you have to copy an email address or check a date, having proper tools will simplify the process, and it will make you look prepared and organized—one of the key components employers are looking for in a hire.
Keep your answers brief
Short answers are sweet, and I’ll (briefly) explain why. I’m the world’s longest storyteller, and not in a good way. If you ask me a simple question, you’ll likely learn many boring facts about me that are unrelated to the question.
If, like me, your answers tend to go on and on, you may have to make a conscious effort to omit minor details. Long explanations can get boring, and that’s not good for your image!
Instead, think about what the interviewer is really asking. Tell me about yourself is a big question, but an employer isn’t looking for your age or astrology sign. Interviewers simply want to know your work and education experience, as well as some of your goals. Remember to cut yourself off before they do.
Focus on your strengths
Unless you’re interviewing with a big-name company or people you already know, there’s a chance you won’t be very familiar with the business going in. So, when the interviewer asks what you know about the company, you might be tempted to say, “I wasn’t super familiar with you guys at first, but…” Let’s stop right there.
It’s not an insult or even a negative, but you’re not focusing on your strengths when you say something like that. Instead, you might say, “I’ve been doing some research, and I see you’ve been doing a lot of growing.” This kind of comment not only focuses on the company’s positives, but it also plays up your strong ability to take initiative and do your research. Any time you have the option to present your positive qualities, take advantage and do so. In an interview, your only weakness should be too many strengths.
During an interview, it can be tempting to act casual. This is understandable, as social events are usually a time to play it cool. We learn early on to be aloof at parties and uninterested in first dates. The idea being, if we appear too excited, people will think we’re desperate. If we act uninterested, however, we’ll seem cool.
Well, interviews aren’t social events. And while you shouldn’t beg for the job, you should seem excited. After all, being cool doesn’t matter so much in an interview. Employers aren’t hanging out with you; they’re trying to hire qualified people who are passionate. Someone excited in an interview will probably be excited about their job, which is great for both work ethic and morale. An aloof interviewee might not care about work ethic, and that’s not desirable in a new hire.
Virtually everyone knows following up is essential to landing the job. However, how you follow up can change, depending on the company. The company vibe could have a big impact on how you say thanks.
For a corporate environment, consider sending a formal email and connecting via LinkedIn or Twitter (granted your tweets aren’t especially political or personal). For a hip startup, perhaps follow up, then ask if they’ll be doing any upcoming events. A physical thank you card may be just the thing to get attention from a family business. Consider the company environment and go with your gut, but just make sure to thank them no matter what.
Interviews can often be anxiety-inducing and even destructive to self-confidence. Because of this, we often want to show up, rush through the process, then forget it happened. However, by adequately preparing for your interview, you may find you don’t feel so anxious. Additionally, having a few steps to follow can serve as a guidebook for each interview you do. The more you interview, the better you’ll become, and eventually, you'll land that job you’ve been wanting.