How to Prepare for a Job Interview

When you're on a job search, time takes on a strange quality. Afternoons spent searching for suitable job openings can feel like eternity, but somehow the first of the month, when the bills are due, seems to come around awfully quickly.

Liz Ryan CEO and Founder, Human Workplace 17th Jan 2014





When you get a job interview, it's a big occasion. You can say to yourself "It's no big deal, it's just another job interview" but it's hard to keep your cool as the big day approaches.

You want to believe that any given interview doesn't matter all that much, but your bank account is shrinking. Wouldn't it be wonderful if this were the job you've been waiting for, and wouldn't it be fabulous and life-saving to get the offer?

No wonder people tense up before job interviews. When you need a job, every interview feels like a chance at salvation.

There are two elements that will help you walk into a job interview feeling ready to rock it. The first is preparation before the interview date, and the second is a set of techniques for the interview day itself. Let's start with your advance preparation.


Let's Talk About Pain

If there weren't any business pain, there wouldn't be a job opportunity. Behind every interview there's at least one painful and expensive problem plaguing the organization that's interviewing you, or they'd never take the time to meet you.

Luckily for Mojofied Job Seekers, business pain is everywhere. Companies lose customers. They have trouble getting new products to market. Their marketing efforts fall flat. Expenses climb out of control.

There's business pain everywhere! Whether an organization is growing or shrinking, they've got pain. It's an unavoidable consequence of doing business.

Your job on a job interview is not to sit in your chair like a docile little mouse, answering questions the way children do in school. Your job is to dig in with your hiring manager and learn as much as you can about the business pain behind the job ad. The more preparation you can do ahead of time, the easier your task will be in the interview.

How can you learn about the business pain that's keeping your hiring manager up at night?

Start with the organization's own website. How old are they, and how large? Check out their press releases and other announcements. Read the leadership team bios. Where do these folks come from, and how long have they been with the firm?

Is the company a lumbering giant that needs to wake up and smell the new-millennium competitive coffee, or a ready-fire-aim startup that could benefit from a little more process and altitude?

The company's own website will fill in lots of gaps in your knowledge base (and if there is no website or a shoddy one in need of an overhaul, that should be duly noted).

Make a Hypothesis

When you get the call or email message inviting you for a job interview, don't reply to it with "Sure! Great!" Do reply to the interview request, but ask a few questions of your own. You want to know who you'll be meeting with, for how long, and the title of each of your interviewers.

If the recruiter really doesn't know (some employers invite candidates in for interviews before they know which team members will be doing the interviewing) ask about the cast of interviewers as soon as you get to the building.

Bring a notepad with you, and write down the list of interviewers you'll be meeting and each person's role in the organization. Even a few minutes to think about each interviewer's most likely priorities, based on his or her position, will help you tremendously.

Focus your Pain Hypothesis on your hiring manager. What is the most likely reason this job opening was approved and this manager is willing to talk with you today? What's not working right, thus costing the company money and time?

If you walk into an interview with a Pain Hypothesis, you can quickly get the manager off the track "So, tell me about a time when you..." and onto more solid, fruitful ground talking about Business Pain and remedies.

Examples of Pain Hypotheses

  • If the job opening is the first-ever Customer Support Manager for a $10M pet neutraceuticals maker, what's your Pain Hypothesis? A solid guess is that customer service is horrendous and customers are leaving because of it. Who ever created a Customer Support Manager position for any other reason?
  • You're interviewing for an Administrative Assistant role for the VP of HR in a regional grocery store chain. Grocery stores have razor-thin margins, and they throw around salary nickels like manhole covers, especially for staff jobs like HR. Why would they get the HR VP her own admin assistant? They have to - there are 8,000 employees with needs and only one VP and two roving HR teammates to serve all of them. Too many employees, too many issues and too few HR folks to go around. Voila - business pain!
  • What if you're pursuing a Consulting Software Engineer position with an ERP implementation firm? Their pain most likely concerns integration of the big, cumbersome ERP application they're hired to install and the client's own systems. Nobody wants to tell the clients that they can't have the newest, shiniest features because they're using Mad Men-era systems, so they're hiring you to make everything work flawlessly together or at least make it seem that way. On the interview, focus on the pain -- the fact that projects are going too slowly, customers aren't happy about the results or the cost, and the delays are damaging the company's reputation.

Hypothesis? Check! Next: Questions

Once you've got a Pain Hypothesis, you can broaden your research to learn more about the organization. Who are its customers, and what are they buying? Who are the organization's competitors? Check out your company's LinkedIn Company page, and follow its Twitter stream to see what they consider important to their followers.