Preparing job-search materials is often difficult and time-consuming, and the process doesn't stop once you've scored an interview. To make the best possible impression, follow these four steps to prepare for the conversation and show you're the best candidate for the job:
1. Research common questions. This is the easy part. There are a myriad of resources out there listing common interview questions. After you've compiled a list, organize them in terms of similarity. Don't get overwhelmed by the sheer number of questions that could be asked. You don't need to be prepared for all the possible questions that could be thrown at you, but you should know how to respond to each type.
2. Formulate your answers. It's not enough to know what's going to be asked; you must also know how you're going to answer. Formulate your answers by thinking of a few specific stories and experiences that illuminate your best skills and results. Try to explore your experience from all sides and angles, from strengths and weaknesses, challenges and successes, to behaviors and skills.
Your cover letter and resume is a good place to start here, as your interviewer has been intrigued by what they read, and has brought you in to learn more. Express your answers concisely, and use the accomplishments and skills listed on your application materials as a jumping off point to expand. Stories are simple to remember and a few examples in your pocket will make it easier to address unexpected surprises in the interview.
Next, after formulating your individual answers, take a moment to step back and look at the complete picture. Do your combined answers give an accurate and compelling picture of why you're the right person for the job? Are you focusing too much on one specific skill? Are you addressing all the company's needs and wants from the job description? If not, go back and keep working.
3. Write your answers in bullet form. Writing out complete stories will make it difficult for you to remember the "right" things to say, and will be a harder and more time-consuming exercise to complete. Besides, you know your work experience inside and out. The point is not to memorize your answers, but to ensure that you are prepared with the best possible examples.
Create just a few bullet points around each of the ideas you want to discuss. A few key words or phrases will be enough to act as a trigger, reminding you of exactly what you want to say. You may find these bullet points resemble the notes from your resume, which means you're on the right track. It wouldn't hurt to carry these bullet points around with you, either on a sheet of paper or on note cards, in the days leading up to the interview. Study them just as you would if you were studying for a class.
4. Practice your answers. Your interview should be treated as a conversation that requires deliberate practice, much like a speech. Make sure you practice out loud, and don't just read your answers to yourself. Go ahead and figure out what you'll do with your hands, and try to look your imaginary interviewers in the eye. Think about how you'll listen and respond in the interview, and make sure your body language and facial expressions are open and positive.
It's often 10 times harder to do a speech in front of people you know well, so if possible, practice your answers in front of your partner or a family member—or even in front of a mirror. You may even try recording yourself on your phone or computer, and listening back to what you sound like. If these activities make you nervous, now is a good time to practice some breathing exercises to help you relax as well.
Remember, you're talking about the person you know best. By adequately preparing for your interview, you'll have the confidence and composure to impress and get the job.
Rebecca Thorman's weekly blog Kontrary offers tips to create the career, bank account, and life you love, and is a popular destination for young professionals. Her goal is to help you find meaningful work, enjoy the heck out of it, and earn more money. She writes from Washington, D.C.