When you get a job interview, how you prepare ahead of time can be the difference between doing well and crashing and burning.
Here are eight key steps to take before every interview to maximize your chances of performing well and landing the job.
1. At least one day before your interview, drive to the location where you'll meet. Try to do this around the same time of day as your interview, so that you know what traffic to expect. The point? You might discover that your directions are wrong or a major road you were counting on is closed for construction, or that traffic is far worse than you anticipated. By rehearsing ahead of time, you'll be able to ensure you allow enough time on the actual day and don't get lost.
2. Try on your outfit. Don't wait until the day of your interview to try on your outfit for the first time. You don't want to notice an hour before your interview that your pants need to be cuffed or that your only pair of stockings has a run. A dry run the day before will give you time to fix anything that needs to be fixed or to pick a different outfit.
3. Research the employer. The easiest way to do this is to use the employer's own website. Read enough to get familiar with the company's work, its clients and its general approach. Don't leave the website until you can answer these questions: What does this organization do? What is it all about? What would the employers say makes them different from their competition?
4. Check LinkedIn. Not only can you check your interviewer's profile to get a better feel for her background, but you can also find out whether anyone in your network is connected to the company with which you're interviewing. If you find out that your college roommate's husband used to work there, you might be able to reach out to him for additional insight on the company, its culture and its key players.
5. Scrutinize the job description. Too often, candidates skim the job descriptions and miss crucial messages. Instead, you want to study it until you're absolutely clear on what you'd do in this job, what the challenges are likely to be, and why you'd be a good match. In fact, the best thing you can do is to go through it line by line and think about how your experience and skills fit with each line. Spend some time thinking about examples from your past that you can use as supporting evidence that you'd excel at this job.
6. Practice, and then practice some more. Write down at least 10 interview questions that you're likely to be asked and write out your answers to them. At a minimum, cover these basics: Why are you thinking about leaving your current job? What interests you about this opening? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What experience do you have doing ___? (Fill in each of the major responsibilities of the job.) Then, make yourself practice your answers out loud, until they fly off your tongue automatically.
7. If there's a question that you're especially nervous about, don't just hope it won't come up. Whether it's explaining why you left your last job or talking about your lower-than-desired GPA, figure out what you're most nervous about. Then, decide exactly how you're going to answer it and practice that answer, saying it out loud over and over and over. You'll be a lot more comfortable if the topic comes up in the interview.
8. Come up with questions of your own. At the end of the interview you'll be asked what questions you have, and you want to be prepared. Good questions at this stage are clarifying questions about the role itself and open-ended questions about the office culture. You should also ask about next steps and the employer's timeline for getting back to you.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.