6 Key Steps in Job Interview Prep

It isn't easy to face down a job interview, particularly in this environment. Prepare for it.

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At an interview last month for an associate position at a major consulting firm, one candidate reports whipping through a marathon afternoon session and being asked about a business case with "very little time to organize a response." A different candidate reports having interviewed in January for an associate position at the same consulting firm and being questioned largely on experience. Both candidates said they got, and accepted, offers from the company—and the latter offered a bit of advice to others interviewing for the position: "If you are friendly, warm, and knowledgeable, then things ought to go well."

These firsthand accounts of interviewing experiences from Glassdoor.com may offer job seekers some of the more useful insights into the abyss of the interview process. The website launched last year with give-and-get salary info and employer reviews (offer up your own salary or your review and you'll get entry to the others), but these days job seekers are hunting for work in a much more competitive environment and may be less interested in the insider details that would help them negotiate a higher bonus than in the kind of details that will help them get an offer. The appeal of Glassdoor's interviewing offerings has much to do with the seeming total opacity of the process. In this economy, nerves are running particularly high. That's why preparation is key.

Here are key steps to preparing for a job interview:

Know the company: Ferreting out basic details on the company you're applying to seems like one of the most obvious efforts candidates would undertake, but it's not a given that they will. Ellen Gordon Reeves, author of the recently released Can I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview?, recalls working at a book publishing company and interviewing candidates who thought they were there for a magazine job. It's not just young people who underprepare, Reeves says. Job seekers should be doing rather ambitious research—reading annual reports, learning company business plans, and setting up Google Alerts so they're up to date on company news. Some career coaches teach job candidates to learn the issues or problems a company is facing and to prepare some thoughts on tackling those issues.

Research the people: It's important to know what the company does, but it may be even more important to know who you'll be talking to once you get there. Reeves suggests asking who you'll be interviewing with—name and title. Then get familiar with his or her staff biography and LinkedIn profile. "You need to know as much as possible about the people you're interviewing with," Reeves says. It's not a fail-safe, however. Company plans could change, and you might end up interviewing with someone entirely different.

Find an insider: Find someone who knows this company and can provide valuable insights into the work you'll be doing, Reeves suggests. He may be able to provide some details on the people you'll be interviewing with and their style. He may also be able to tell you about the person who's leaving the job you're interviewing for and about his or her skills and the issues he or she dealt with.

Know what's coming: Check out the Glassdoor data, even if your company isn't among those listed. If you're lucky enough to be applying for a software engineering job at Microsoft, you'll have four interview reviews to check out. But if you're applying for a software engineering job at a small company in Indiana, just reading through the 215 sample software engineer interview questions can still be useful preparation. Job seekers tend to fear the interview experience because it's filled with unknowns. "The only thing that can ease the anxiety is information," says Robert Hohman, founder and chief executive of Glassdoor. Arming yourself with potential questions and reading what others suggest as good answers can prepare you for the often hypothetical level of conversation in job interviews. It's easy to get stymied and stunned by a seemingly impossible question—i.e., How many blades of grass are there in Michigan?—but the interviewer is generally looking to see how a candidate thinks and processes, not to test her level of knowledge on Midwest horticulture.