Thinking about what can go wrong during an interview seems a lot easier than thinking about what can go right. From arriving on time, to proper attire, to thoughtfully answering questions, the opportunities for committing a fatal error seem endless.
But by making and working your way through a pre-interview checklist, you can reduce the odds of committing mistakes and feel more confident. Here's what you should put on your list.
Know where you're going. Before hopping in your car, have a firm idea of the interview location. Either print out directions the day before or use a smartphone app like Google Maps. Arriving late can blow your chances before you even enter the door, says Alan Carniol, founder of Interview Success Formula, an online training program that helps job candidates prepare for interviews. "You're already nervous, so anything that can make you even more nervous and be a distraction during the interview can just really hurt your chances," he says.
Carniol also suggests finding out where you need to park, and if the interview is taking place in a large business complex, which building you need to go into.
Pick out proper clothes. According a CareerBuilder survey released earlier this year, 60 percent of hiring managers said dressing inappropriately was a detrimental job interview mistake. The person scheduling the interview, past and present employees or pictures from the company website are all possible sources for finding out what makes for appropriate attire, Carniol says. But he notes, "You basically want to be a half-step up from what they generally wear in terms of daily attire."
Research the company. A good starting point is the company website, where you can find out its mission and history. But also check out its social media sites. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube can be great channels for discovering what the company is doing on a day-to-day basis and what it's promoting, Carniol notes. Along with connecting you to past and present employees, LinkedIn can also be useful for researching a smaller, lesser-known company, for which information may be sparse.
Speak to past and present employees. Who better to give advice about being in the interview hot seat than those who have sat in it before? If you speak with a current employee, Carniol says, make sure it's someone who hasn't been with the company for either too short or too long a time. "People who have been with the organization forever, they know the culture so well that they can't really explain it. And people who are brand new just don't know it that well. But you get someone who's been there a year or two, at that point, they get the culture, but they haven't absorbed it to where they can't talk about it," Carniol says.
Run through questions you may be asked. Spend time thinking about questions that may come your way and formulate answers that specifically address what the employer is looking for in a candidate, says Alison Doyle, job search and employment expert for About.com. By providing vivid examples of how your skills and past experience will help you excel in the position, "you're showing why you are the best candidate for the job," she says.
Think of your own questions to ask. You'll likely have the chance to pose inquiries of your own. Asking meaningful questions shows that you're truly interested in the job, Carniol says. He suggests two lines of questioning.
The first is geared directly at your interviewer(s): What's the most rewarding project you've worked on since being here? Why do you enjoy working here? Such questions are helpful for learning what motivates employees and for picking up possible red flags about the company culture, he says.
The second is for gaining an idea about the company's short- and long-term prospects: What projects and/or challenges is the company facing over the next few months? Where is the team and organization heading? What is management most excited about?
Practice with a friend or family member. Performing a mock interview with a spouse, family member or friend "lets you think about what you're saying, how you're saying it, [and] it can help preclude a few moments of silence if you don't have a clue how to answer during an interview because you've thought about it ahead of time," Doyle says.
If no one from your immediate circle is available, check with the career office at your former college and tap someone there. Also, a Google search can provide information about which nearby state workforce offices and public libraries offer mock interview services, she notes.
Relax in the hours leading up. Don't spend the final hours before the interview frantically studying and practicing, Doyle says. "I wouldn't recommend cramming, looking up information, practicing. You're just going to stress yourself out more," she says, adding that it's best to go into the interview with a "clear slate and clear mind."
Put the necessary work in. There's no single standard for how much time you should devote to preparing for an interview. What matters is that you spend some time gearing up for the sit-down, especially if it's been a while since your last one.
"A a lot of folks just don't put in a lot of time to stand out in the interview process," Carniol says. "If you haven't been interviewing in awhile, it's not necessarily like riding a bicycle – it's more like exercising a muscle."