How to Prep for an Interview, According to a Career Coach

There’s no sugarcoating it. The job search is a grueling process. Between the cover letters and phone screenings with recruiters, it’s a time-consuming process. So when you do finally have some interested employers, you want to make sure you know how to prep for an interview so that you can land your dream job. For instance, Charnay Horton, CEO of Resume Addict, advises that you thoroughly research the company and position, prepare your responses to common interview questions and even jot a few questions down of your own to ask your interviewer. Below, more tips from the resume expert.

Meet the Expert

  • Charnay Horton is the CEO at Resume Addict, which provides career coaching and resume services.

What Is Quiet Hiring—and Who Benefits?

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1. Do Your Research and Prepare Questions

The amount of interview prep you do depends on the role. Horton tells us that if you’re recruiting for an entry- or mid- level role, 30 minutes to an hour of preparation will usually suffice. If you’re going for a senior or executive role, you probably want to spend between two and four hours, if not more. “The candidate should be researching the company website and studying the job description. Hiring managers tend to formulate questions according to the job description. You should assume that they will ask you about the bullet points.”

Even though you’re being interviewed, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t come with your own questions—in fact, this is tantamount. Don’t be afraid to dive deep and ask what you really want to know. Horton says this is how you can ensure that you’ll be landing in a better position than your current one. You don’t want that sinking gut feeling on day one telling you it was a mistake.

Additionally, make sure to ask questions that clarify the employer’s expectations about the role. Horton’s examples include, “How will my performance be measured in this role? Are you interviewing candidates internally and externally? What are the characteristics of someone who does exceptionally well on the team?”

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2. How to Answer Common Interview Questions

We’ve all heard them. “Tell me about yourself.” “What is your biggest strength and weakness?” And we’re all wondering, how do I answer that without making myself look bad or being arrogant?

What you say when the interview says “tell me about yourself” is the most vital response, says Horton. “This is what's going to catch the interviewer engaged. It's three simple steps: what you currently do, what you did previously and why you're applying for the role. You must be specific and align with what they're asking for on the job description.”

As for strengths and weaknesses, Horton says that the key is to talk about how you’ve become a better person because of them. “You should start by describing what your strength and weakness are and then how they have impacted your professional development.”

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3. How to Prep for an Interview: Phone vs. Video

“The phone interview should be taken seriously, but it's surface-level information. Phone interviews are usually conducted by HR, and they want to qualify you for the role according to the job description requirements, and if you are a cultural fit for the company,” Horton explains. “A video or in-person interview is more in-depth and will require more research. You should be specific when you respond [to their questions] and provide examples of your impact.”

For example, you can say, “I increased revenue and/or website traffic by $X or X percent.” Or, “My program led to a X percent decrease in web support tickets” and “My policies led to increased employee retention by X percent.” If relevant, it also doesn’t hurt to mention any awards and third-party recognition you’ve received for your work.

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4. How to Answer Delicate Interview Questions

Some interview questions are tricky to navigate, like talking about a resume gap or why you’re looking to leave your current job. The best thing you can do in this case, shares Horton, is to be honest and straightforward. “For example, if you took a career break for two years, say that, but then bring it back to the company and express your excitement for the role. Ultimately, you are looking for a new challenge and the employer needs to understand why.”

One thing to keep in mind when discussing past experiences? Have a kind word for everybody. “Never speak negatively about past experiences or employers,” Horton advises.

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5. Take Notes and Be Specific

When in an interview, Horton encourages note taking as both a way to remember what you discussed and to ensure that you've understood everything. “You absolutely should, and repeat questions when they are unclear, or you need clarity. This shows engagement and that you are serious about the opportunity.” To minimize distractions (you don’t want them to hear you tapping away on your phone or keyboard), old-fashioned paper and pen is best.

Horton reveals that a big mistake people often make in interviews is that they fail to elaborate on their experience. “If you're going to multiple interviews but not getting any offers, employers aren't connecting with you, or they aren't getting enough information from you. Being specific and being personable during an interview will help you secure the role.”

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