How to prepare for an interview

How to Prepare for An Interview

By Anne Shaw and professionally reviewed by The Hartford's Vocational Rehabilitation Team

Whether you’re getting back to work after an extended period or pursuing an entirely new type of role, landing a job interview is an important step. S​​o, if you have one scheduled, pat yourself on the back! You’re one step closer to getting a job offer. We want to help you do your best during the job interview so we’ve put together some refreshers, including:

  • How to prepare for an interview.
  • Common interview questions.
  • Advice on how to answer and what to ask.

The Best Ways To Prepare for an Interview

What are the best ways to prepare for an interview, especially if it’s been a long time since you last did one? This is a three-part answer with some additional tips: Do your research, assess your qualifications and your strengths, and practice.

1

Do your research

Learning about the company is essential to a good interview – even an internal one for a new role at your current company. Doing so gives you context and prepares you to ask thoughtful questions about how your role fits into the bigger picture. When you come in with knowledge about the company, it shows that you’re proactive and care about making an impact.

Try to learn about the following:

  • Company mission
  • Company culture
  • Core products and/or services
  • Competitors
  • Challenges and strengths
  • The department you’ll join
  • Your future boss

You can often find this information on a company’s website, its LinkedIn page, and its Glassdoor page. Search for news stories that involve the company too. You may even be able to find your potential boss’ LinkedIn profile to get some insight ahead of your interview.

Finally, if the job description doesn’t include a salary range, consider looking for relevant salary data to ensure you have a realistic expectation going into the interview. Use websites like Salary.com, Glassdoor and Indeed to search based on job titles, geographic locations and years of experience.

2

Self-assess

Carefully read the job description to understand the role.
Ask yourself:
What will my responsibilities be?
What type of impact can I make?
How do my skills and experience line up with what’s needed?

When answering that last question, look critically at your own qualifications. Figure out your most relevant strengths for this role and prepare to highlight those during your interview. It’s also important to know ahead of time whether you fall short in some areas. If you do, be prepared to admit it and share that this makes the role an exciting learning opportunity for you.

Finally, refresh yourself on the contents of your resumé. Think back on past roles – how they built your experience, what you learned, and how you performed – particularly if you have any noteworthy accomplishments to share that you can tie into the open position.

3

Practice

Grab a friend or relative who’s willing to play the role of interviewer. Give them a list of questions (we’ll get to that soon) and treat the practice session like a real interview. You can also consider practicing with your Vocational Case Manager. After all, they have plenty of experience prepping people for interviews and would be happy to help.

Doing a couple practice interviews not only helps you get out some nerves ahead of time but also allows you to hear how your answers sound out loud. Your practice interviewer may even have some good feedback for you.

Additional interview preparation tip: Make a foolproof plan to be early and ready.

  • If your interview is in person, make sure you know how to get there and how long it will take from leaving your door to sitting in the waiting room – especially if parking might be tricky or if the interview is in a large building complex.
  • If your interview is over the phone, find a quiet place without distractions ahead of time. Be waiting in that spot with your phone at least three minutes before your interview. If you’re nervous, consider reading the employer’s website until your phone rings rather than sitting and waiting. Dressing the part can boost your confidence too, whether the interviewer can see you or not. Finally, always answer with a smile – your voice will sound friendlier.
  • If your interview is online (e.g., via Zoom), do a test run. Make sure your internet is reliable, download any necessary software and test the audio and visual ahead of time. As with a phone interview, find a quiet place with few distractions and keep in mind that using headphones may be helpful.

Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

Below is a list of common interview questions. Not included in this particular list is, “Tell me about yourself,” but we’ll cover that further down.

10 Common Job Interview Questions

interview in progress
  1. Why did you leave your last job and why have you been out of work since then?
  2. What’s your  expected salary?​
  3. What special characteristics should I consider about you?
  4. Why are you interviewing with us? (Hint: This is a good time to showcase some of the things you learned about the company.)
  5. Tell me about a time when you showed [an important character trait, e.g., initiative or teamwork]?
  6. What was the biggest challenge in one of your past positions? How did you handle it?
  7. What kind of work interests you most?
  8. Give an example of how you managed when two priorities were competing for your time.
  9. Describe the best manager you’ve ever had.
  10. If you were hiring for this position, what would you be looking for?

How To Prepare for Interview Questions

Once you have an idea of which questions you may be asked, you can better prepare your answers. Consider your job highlights: accomplishments, challenges you’ve overcome, teams you’ve worked with, and more. These are great experiences to keep in mind. Have them ready to share during job interviews.

Often, interviewers want you to dig deeper when answering their questions. While it’s not bad to give concise answers, you do want to make sure that you’re offering a full picture. So, as part of your answers, tell real stories from your experiences. This will allow the interviewer to see how you think and how you might act in the role. Consider using the C.A.R.T. method:

C – Open with the CHALLENGE you faced.

A – Explain the ACTION you took and why.

R – Outline the RESULTS you achieved.

T – Share the TIE-IN to your future work.

Keep in mind that many companies want to hire team players who aren’t afraid to adapt and learn new things. So, don’t be shy about sharing credit with others. This demonstrates your collaboration skills and team spirit. And don’t be afraid to talk about a time you failed as long as it’s clear what you learned and how you’ll apply the lesson moving forward.

How Do You Answer “Tell Us About Yourself” in an Interview?

While it sounds like it could be a personal question, keep things professional and succinct. This is an opportunity to add some color to what’s already on your resumé. Explain your most recent role, including what you did and what you accomplished. Then touch on any previous experience that helped you get to that point, especially anything that’s relevant to the current role you want. Wrap up by explaining what you’d like to do next, why you’re interested in this open role, and why you’re a great fit.

Finally, keep in mind that this question isn’t an invitation to give your full life history or share your political musings. That said, you won’t break any laws by briefly mentioning your favorite hobby or sharing a fun fact or two to showcase your personality.

What To Bring and What To Wear to an Interview

Not every interview requires the same things, but it’s a good rule of thumb to bring:

  • Your driver’s license
  • Your Social Security Number (if you need to fill out a separate application)
  • A copy of your resumé
  • Three references, including their names, their relationship to you (e.g., former boss), their phone number and their email address

A note on references: Consider people who have worked with you or have seen you perform admirably in some way. They could be past colleagues, bosses, teachers or even coaches. Ask your top three if they are willing to act as a reference for you. Only use them as a reference if they’ve given you permission to share their name, phone number, and email address.

When getting ready for your interview, aim for a clean, well-groomed appearance. Dress appropriately for the role. You may even want to aim for slightly overdressed compared to what you’d expect to wear on the job each day.

Tips on How To Act During an Interview

Now that you’re ready for your interview, here are some quick tips on how to behave once you’re in it:

  • Learn the name of your interviewer and greet them warmly.
  • Make eye contact throughout.
  • Use good manners before and during the interview.
  • Don’t chew gum or smoke.
  • Answer each question fully but concisely. Try not to ramble.
  • Show enthusiasm.
  • It’s ok to take some time to think about your answer, by try to respond as promptly as possible. If you need to buy some time, tell them that it’s an interesting question and ask for a moment to gather and organize your thoughts.
  • Ask questions about the position and the organization. You may even consider asking if they have any concerns about your experience or skills. This gives you an opportunity to speak to and hopefully overcome any reservations they may have about offering you the job.
  • Thank the interviewer and ask them about the best way to follow up.

If your interview includes any tests or assessments:

  • Listen closely to instructions.
  • Read each question carefully.
  • Write neatly if it’s a paper test.
  • Budget your time wisely, and don’t dwell on one question.

Prepare for an Interview | Your Preparation Checklist

To sum things up, here’s a checklist you can follow while preparing for your job interview:

interview checklist image

We wish you luck and hope these tips on how to prepare for an interview help you land the job!

As you’re preparing for your interview, is there anything else you want to know that we didn’t cover here? Let us know in the comments below.

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