Preparing for a Job Interview: The Complete Guide

Everything you need to know about the most nerve-wracking part of the job search process.

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

Job Interview Guide

The thing about job interviews is that, no matter how many of them you go through, they continue to give you butterflies every time. Not the good kind, normally (unless you have bulletproof optimism) — more like the kind that knocks the wind out of you and gives you a light stammer.

The good news is that familiarizing yourself with this step of the hiring process can make it appear far less intimidating. So, as a form of exposure therapy, let’s talk about all things job interview: what the different types are, what they entail, and what you can do to ensure you make a great first impression!

Interview basics

Before we look at how you can prepare for and crush your interview, let’s start with the basics! This is all you should know about interviews:

What is a job interview?

A job interview is a meeting during which a jobseeker discusses with a prospective employer. The objective, of course, is to arrive at a mutual agreement that leads to employment, be that on a part-time, full-time or contractual basis.

What are the different types of job interviews?

Not all interviews are the same! A lot of the time, a mixture of the following types of interviews takes place:

  • Phone interviews: Phone interviews are normally the first step in the hiring process, enabling interviewers to quickly screen candidates. They tend to last 15–30 minutes long.
  • Coffee interviews: These are informal meetups between jobseekers and interviewers, normally taking place over a cup of coffee or tea in a casual setting.
  • Video interviews: These are conducted using video conferencing software, such as MS Teams. They sometimes follow phone interviews and precede in-person interviews.
  • In-person interviews: In-person meetings are more formal, typically taking place at the employer’s premises and lasting between 45 and 60 minutes.
  • Group interviews: When companies are pressed for time and looking to hire multiple people for the same position, one interviewer might end up speaking with several candidates at once.

What does a job interview involve?

Job interviews are essentially an exchange of information between two parties: the jobseeker and the employer. As such, they consist of a series of questions and answers (from both parties, that is).

The interviewer typically begins by saying a few words about the job opening or the company, and then invites the candidate to speak about themselves. Talking them through your educational background and work history is typically the first thing you’re asked to do.

Depending on your response, they may then ask follow-up questions or move on to enquiring about something else. Closer to the end, candidates are normally encouraged to ask questions, too.

How long is an interview?

Interviews come in many forms, from 15-minute phone calls to hour-long in-person meetings.

For most jobseekers, the hiring process (with one employer, that is) falls somewhere between three and six weeks and comprises an average of three interviews. For entry-level positions, one or two interviews are common; bigger companies, however, often require candidates to attend four or five rounds of interviews. This is especially true for higher seniority positions!

How do you get an interview?

One of the most common ways to get invited to an interview is to put together an effective cover letter and résumé, and submit them in response to a job ad. Networking and referrals are also popular paths to landing an interview: having someone on the inside who can vouch for your talent and work ethic will always work in your favor.

In some cases, you may even grab a prospective employer’s attention by submitting a job application letter. Unlike cover letters and résumés, which are submitted in response to specific job advertisements, application letters are longer documents that let you introduce yourself to prospective employers and express your interest in working with them.

How to prepare for an interview

These 10 steps can help you prepare effectively and make the interview process a much more pleasant one!

1. Do your research

One of the most important things to do prior to your interview is research the company. Check out their website and social media accounts to get a sense of their values and mission, and think about how that relates to your own goals and aspirations as a professional.

2. Look up different kinds of interview questions

Interview questions can vary in nature (more on this in a few moments!). Familiarizing yourself with industry-specific as well as general interview questions can help lower your anxiety levels, allowing you to turn up prepared. Devote some time to doing this!

3. Rehearse

Though the idea might make you cringe a little, consider filming yourself answering some basic interview questions, or doing so in front of a mirror or with a friend. Getting feedback from another human on little (yet important) things, such as the vigor of your handshake or the speed at which you talk, could make all the difference.

4. Use a Gen AI tool to practice with

Using a tool such as ChatGPT to prepare for your interview can make the process more effective. These tools can generate specific questions to your industry as well as give you feedback so you can improve your answers.

5. Reread your résumé

The interviewer will likely expect you to walk them through your résumé. If you’ve done a bit of job-hopping, especially, it’s important to refresh your memory on all your past duties and achievements and their respective dates.

6. Reread the job listing

When you feel confident in remembering what’s on your résumé, you’ll also want to read the job description a couple more times. The description is full of hints (as well as loud declarations) as to what your prospective employer is looking for. Watch out for keywords, such as “communication skills” and “adaptability” so you may form your answers in a way that showcases those qualities.

7. Choose an appropriate outfit

If the company has a “team” section on their website, or photos of their staff on their social media, you’ll want to match your outfit to the dress code you see pictured. Though it’s better to show up a little overdressed than underdressed, make sure your outfit is comfortable and flattering.

8. Get all your materials together

Although the interviewer will likely have their own, it can be good to take copies of your résumé with you. Having a copy in front of you, even if the interviewer doesn’t need one, can help when you’re answering questions regarding your work history.

A pen and paper, as well as some pre-written questions for the interviewer, can also come in handy.

9. Plan your journey

If you’ve never been to the area where your prospective employer is located, you may like to visit it prior to your interview (given that it’s not too far).

Otherwise, look at an online map, locate a parking lot nearby and get an estimate for how long it takes to get there at the same time of day as your upcoming meeting.

10. Think positively

We all have negative thoughts sometimes. Though it’s good to process these, try not to engage with them too much. Instead, replace any self-defeating thoughts with positive and encouraging ones.

How to ace an interview

The following 10 tips can help you present yourself as the ideal candidate for the role:

1. Arrive early

Aim to arrive at the area 15–20 minutes early so you have some time to catch your breath, take a final glance at your résumé or the job listing, and locate the building.

Going in 10 minutes early, once you’ve taken a breather and reminded yourself that it will all be okay, demonstrates punctuality and professionalism!

2. Practice mindfulness

In the hours leading up to your job interview, your thoughts may start to race. This is especially true when interviewing for a role you consider to be your dream job.

To curb the anxiety before it starts to impact your performance during the interview, stay grounded in the here and now. Notice the sounds and sights around you, focusing on one moment at a time.

3. Take deep breaths

The 4-4-4 and 4-7-8 breathing techniques can help reduce your anxiety. If you haven’t come across these before, the first number symbolizes the number of seconds you breathe in for; the second number shows the number of seconds you hold your breath for; and the third number indicates how many seconds you exhale for.

4. Mind your body language

To appear friendly and confident, be mindful of what your body is saying. Relax your shoulders, avoid slouching, and try not to cross your arms or legs.

At the same time, don’t take it to the other extreme where you’re so self-conscious of your stance you end up not paying attention to what’s being said!

5. Maintain eye contact

Some people find it easier to maintain eye contact than others. As much as you can, meet your interviewer’s eyes while you speak, as this can help you demonstrate confidence — a quality hiring managers definitely want to see.

6. Pause if you need to

If a question catches you off guard, ask for a moment or two to think about your answer. And, if for some reason you feel stuck, ask to return to the question later.

This can demonstrate great communication skills as well as confidence. It can also ensure you don’t blurt out the first thing that comes to mind without thinking first.

7. Answer truthfully

Your former (or current) employer is just a phone call away. Lying about your professional achievements or responsibilities is, therefore, a terrible idea.

Honesty is the best policy when getting to know people, be that a Bumble date or a prospective employer!

8. Relate your answers to the job listing

As much as possible, think back to those keywords you saw on the job listing: the more you relate your answers to what your employer is looking for, the greater your chances of advancing to the next step.

9. Ask questions

Though answering questions is the main thing you’re called to do in an interview, asking questions yourself can be just as important. It conveys your interest and enthusiasm for the role, and it gives the sense that you’re serious about your next career move.

10. Be yourself

Hiring managers don’t just care about your technical skills and qualifications; they can find many others who know how to use a piece of software or hold the same degree as you.

What they also want to see is whether you’d make a good fit for the team, and that’s something they can only assess if you display your personality.

Interview questions

Now for a closer look at the dreaded topic that is interview questions. Here is what you need to know:

Types of interview questions

As mentioned, interview questions fall under different categories, namely:

  • General questions: These are popular questions such as “What are your strengths?” that anyone can get asked, regardless of industry.
  • Behavioral questions: Behavioral questions such as “Describe a time when you used creativity to overcome a problem” can reveal a lot about your personal qualities, like your critical thinking or stress management ability.
  • Opinion questions: Like behavioral questions, these questions can help the hiring manager assess whether you’d make a good fit for the team. An example would be “What is your opinion on using AI in content creation?”.
  • Competency questions: These can be industry-specific questions, such as “How would you carry out a health and safety risk assessment?” or broader questions like “What is your biggest achievement to date?”.
  • Brainteasers: Sometimes, employers ask unexpected questions, including brainteasers to see how you react and test how well you can think on your feet.

How to answer questions

Honesty, conciseness and specificity are three qualities you should aim to give all your answers. As mentioned, practicing your answers to common questions beforehand can improve the quality of your responses, allowing you to formulate them with a clear structure in mind.

As far as specific answering techniques go, the STAR method is a very popular way of answering behavioral questions during interviews. “STAR” stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result — covering all four points in your answer can make it more impactful.

Common interview questions

The following 10 questions get asked very often in job interviews, regardless of industry. Take some time to consider your answer for each one!

What to do after the interview

The anticipation that follows a job interview can sometimes be as intense as what you experienced before! Here is how you can navigate it:

1. Ask about the next steps

Before you and the interviewer part ways, ask what the next steps are. Knowing when you can expect to hear back, and what the next step in the hiring process may be if you are successful, can put your mind at ease.

2. Send a “thank you” note

Within 24 hours after your interview, send the interviewer a “thank you” email. Briefly explain who you are and what position you interviewed for, keeping your message positive. Thank them for their time, reiterate your interest in the position, and say you look forward to hearing from them.

3. Follow up

If the hiring manager didn’t give you a timeframe as to when you’ll hear back, you can send a follow-up email about a week later. Otherwise, wait a day or two after the given date.

Your follow-up email should concisely mention who you are, what role you interviewed for, and that you’re still very interested in the position.

4. Reflect on your experience

Regardless of the outcome of your interview, there’s always something you can learn about yourself or the hiring process more generally. Spend some time reflecting on the questions you were asked and how you answered them, noting what you can keep for future reference.

5. Try not to rush ahead

When you’re excited about a role, you might start to think about the interview a little obsessively. But thinking about it all day won’t make the interviewer get back to you any quicker.

Instead of becoming anxious or trying to predict the outcome, remind yourself that these decisions can take time.

Final thoughts

The more you prepare for a job interview, the more confident you’ll feel once you’re there. And, by reading this article, you’ve already taken the first step towards successfully making a great first impression.

As we’ve seen, the hiring process typically entails a mix of different types of interviews; for example, a phone interview at the beginning, followed by an in-person one (or two). No matter which stage you’re at in the hiring process, try to relate your account of your day-to-day responsibilities, qualifications and achievements to what the employer is looking for. The more aligned your responses are with their requirements, the greater your chances of being offered the position.

Do you have any more tips or advice to share with fellow jobseekers? Let us know in the comments section below!