If you’re among the millions of Americans currently unemployed, you’ve probably had time for reflection to truly, deeply consider the positions you’ve had over the span of your career and recall which ones were fulfilling and which ones you’d never want to return to. You’ve probably downloaded free mobile apps–like ZipRecruiter– that make the process of applying for jobs a lot less stressful. If new to the world of video tech, you’ve probably accessed resources like this article on tips for a successful video or Skype interview.
How many hours should you spend preparing for an interview
In a July 2020 LinkedIn poll, job search strategist Sarah Johnson (founder of The Briefcase Coach), asked job-seekers to share how long they spent preparing for their most recent job interview. With 5,681 current job-seekers, HR professionals, and others weighing in on the topic, the overwhelming majority of responders – 43% to be precise, indicated that they do between 2 and 4 hours of prep. Trailing behind, were 21% of responders, who spend between 5 and 10 hours preparing for an interview. Many of these job-seekers who spend quality time on interview preparation left a comment, indicating what specific things they do in order to prepare and ultimately, make them stand out.
If you are one of the 19% of responders who shared that they spend an hour or less preparing, reading these 7 interview prep tips from fellow job-seekers might help you level-up your game so you can ace your next interview and perform better than your competition.
How to spend your time preparing for an interview
A recommended schedule includes:
30 mins – 1 hour thoroughly reading the job description.
30 minutes reviewing the LinkedIn profiles of the individuals interviewing you with the goal of identifying 2-3 conversation points for the interview (key: look for connections or common ground). If they have been interviewed by a podcast recently, take the time to listen.
30 minutes review the company mission statement, culture, diversity and inclusion statement.
30 minutes read the CEO’s letter at front of the prior annual report. Watch exec interviews or speaking engagements to learn how they talk about the business and what their priorities are. If they are publicly traded, listen to their earnings update.
2-4 hours preparing for common interview questions. Make sure you read the job descriptions carefully assuming that any “job requirement” could be turned into a behavioral interview question. See examples of this here.
1 hour doing a mock interview with an interview coach or friend in HR.
30 minutes looking at their competition on LinkedIn, Google articles or Twitter. Take notes on what their competition is doing new or differently *in your industry/department*
30 minutes creating thought provoking post interview questions (like these here!)
15 minutes to interview friends/acquaintances who have worked for the company for insight or an employee referral.
2-5 hours consider doing a value validation project to stand out from other candidates and showcase your interest in the opportunity.
Preparing for a video interview
Video interviewing leaves you with a lot to consider, since you have to choose where you’ll be in your home for the interview and plan ahead to make sure that pets and family members who will be at home during the time of your interview won’t be super noisy in the background. For best results, refrain from interviewing from the living room couch. Instead, try to choose a quiet space in your home (preferably, an office or spare bedroom), where you can sit at a desk or table and lock the door so that other family members can’t barge in mid-sentence (side note: we love this LinkedIn Learning video on setting up a home office).
While you might not think much of this, having complete chaos in the background or seeming like you’re lounging around on your couch during an interview won’t communicate that you’re serious about the position to an interviewer.
If you’re a parent with young kids at home, it may be wise to see if a spouse, family member, or friend can watch your kids while you do interview prep, so you can be sure nothing but the position is on your mind right before, and during your interview. If the pandemic has limited your access to having friends and extended family members help with childcare, consider scheduling your video interview and prep time around little ones’ nap times so that they will be asleep while you’re interviewing. If no video interview option is mentioned, consider partnering up with a neighbor who is also looking for work – you can trade off watching each other’s children while you attend job interviews so that childcare limitations don’t impact your ability to get hired.
There’s a lot swirling around LinkedIn lately about the idea that it’s great to work from home because you can wear sweatpants and still get the job done. For the sake of job interviews, please ignore this concept. You should show up for video interviews professionally dressed the same as you would for an in-person interview. As my interview with expert stylist Monica Barnett recommends, make sure your outfit matches the culture of the company you’re interviewing with.
Remember, if you wouldn’t wear something to an in-person job interview, you certainly should not wear it to a video interview.
If being laid-off has left you financially unable to find an adequate job interview outfit, consider borrowing an outfit from a friend who wears a similar size, or look up your local chapter of charities like Dress for Success (for women), or Career Gear (for men) to see if you’re eligible to receive a donated outfit to help you look sharp even if you’re really struggling to make ends meet.
As you may know, the interview questions you’ll encounter will likely vary depending upon the nature of the position you’re applying for. While some, especially those focusing solely on experience listed on your resume, may have straight-forward answers, others, such as behavioral interview questions, require some practice to perfect.
Many sites offer practice questions (Glassdoor even sometimes lists questions that have been asked during interviews). You can print these out and practice via writing down answers, but you also really should practice refining your responses with a live person, since writing is very different from responding.
Before you interview, spend time doing a practice or mock interview
Nothing beats a mock phone or video interview with executive career search strategy expert Sarah Johnston, since she not only provides a 1×1 mock interview experience for clients, but also has knowledge that is backed by years of healthcare recruiting expertise. She can provide a recorded mock interview for clients so that they practice forming responses and get quality feedback on how best to answer particular experience or behavioral interview questions.
If you’re unable to work with a career search expert, pick a friend or family member who has recent experience with job interviewing to act as the interviewer in an at-home mock interview.
You may be surprised to find that questions you thought you’d sail through actually trip you up. This is especially true of behavioral interview questions since those are often designed to determine how you’d react in a particular situation. They might focus on how you’d react in a particular worst case scenario, or ask you to list out steps for how you’d solve a problem. To avoid having to think on your feet (which might cause you to get nervous and trip up), it’s best to over-prepare so that you can over-deliver with responses.
It’s probably not surprising to hear in 2020 that actively networking on LinkedIn and maintaining an updated profile can garner quality results when it comes to getting leads from recruiters about available positions or receiving notifications as soon as new positions are posted. However, many forget to leverage LinkedIn as a directory to look up their interviewer prior to an interview. Twenty minutes spent reviewing the interviewer’s profile can provide a lot of clarity on certain things such as what level of decision-making they have at the company, what their experience in the industry is, and what they look like so you’ll know what to expect. You may also get cues on what to wear for the interview from their outfit in their photo, too.
For more introverted people, looking up an interviewer ahead of time can actually make for smoother sailing since you can preview the person and determine how you will break the ice and bond with the interviewer over a topic that you have a common interest in.
Not sure how to find decision makers? Check out Sarah’s LinkedIn Learning course to learn how to use LinkedIn all filters.
Thoughtful interview questions demonstrate interest in the opportunity
In the hustle and bustle of preparing for an interview, many candidates think of every possible idea to prepare themselves – but often forget to write down some questions to ask their interviewers. Presenting an interviewer with a well thought-out question about the position or the company shows that you have a genuine interest in working for the company.
It also says to a potential employer that you have begun the process of thinking about whether the company is the right fit for you. Some candidates fail to assess this-which is a major hole in their strategy. As the company is interviewing a candidate, that candidate should be assessing the company. Usually a company can tell that a candidate is serious about a position by the kind of questions that they ask. If you’re asking what a typical day in the role would look like, it is apparent you sincerely can picture yourself in the role.
Something a lot of job-seekers may forget about in the midst of preparation, is returning to the actual job description. This should be an essential component of preparing, since the HR professional or recruiter interviewing a candidate will likely be using that description as a sort of checklist to evaluate candidates to determine if they have all the necessary skills and experience to successfully fulfill the role.
Don’t overlook the actual job description when preparing for your interview
Take a good look at the required experience so that you can formulate a strong narrative outlining how positions you’ve held in the past fit together to create the background that they are looking for. Beyond this, use the job description to prepare a quality set of samples of work from prior positions. Having something physical that shows an employer what you can really do for them is a great way to make yourself stand out from the crowd in the job market today.
While this might sound simple – having the confidence to go into an interview without going into panic mode is vital. It doesn’t matter how experienced, intelligent, or prepared you are if you are so nervous that you say the first thing that pops into your head when answering an interviewer’s questions.
One thing that works for a lot of people, is striking a ‘power pose’ in the mirror before your interview. While doing so, remind yourself of all of the prep work you have done. Take a look at your resume and portfolio- other reminders of how qualified, prepared, and serious you are about landing this opportunity.
BONUS TIP: “Don’t include the word ‘unemployed on your resume, LinkedIn, or conversation with an interviewer”
–Kathryn Severance, LinkedIn (Marketing Copywriter/prior client of Briefcase Coach)
As a recent job-seeker myself and someone who has studied the impact that using the right words have on success rates, I can advise you that the words that you use both to describe yourself in an interview and to reflect your current status on a resume have incredible power. Stop using the word ‘unemployed’ when describing yourself. It is an empty word-perhaps the least descriptive adjective in existence, since it reveals essentially nothing – except for the fact that no pay check hits your bank account currently. Using the term ‘unemployed’ on a resume, in a LinkedIn headline, or in a job interview, can be a red flag for prospective employers. In 2020, the word ‘unemployed’ shouldn’t prevent call-backs, after all, over 19 million Americans remain unemployed as a result of pandemic-induced lay-offs. However, the term can communicate to prospective employers that since you’re not earning a steady income, they can bet on the fact that you’ll accept a less-than-ideal offer (this could mean lower pay, or a slimmer benefits package).
Before I call this piece to close-I want to let you know that as a former job-seeker, I identify with the fear of the unknown that you experience each day, as you send out another resume, prepare for video job interviews, and sift through hoards of job notifications. It is my personal hope that you can save this article to use it now, or in the future to prepare for your next job interview.
I cut a lot of expenses while I was job-searching, yet I hired a top-notch career search coach. Certain things in life are worth saving for – and quality career coaching is one of those things. It will help you rise to the top in this tough job market and help you get back on your feet sooner-which is exactly what I wish for all of you reading this right now.
I’m a former corporate recruiter and industry “insider” who got tired of seeing talented high-achievers get passed over for opportunities because they did not have the right marketing documents or know how to position themselves in interviews. I have relocated multiple times across the country as a “trailing spouse” and have had to execute job searches in completely cold markets (where I literally knew no one!)
I have been named a LinkedIn Top Voice in the career space in 2019, HR Weekly’s Top 100 Most Influential People in HR, named the owner of the “best resume writing firm for experienced executives” by Balance Careers and a “top follow” by JobScan in 2019 and 2020.
I hope you enjoy reading this blog post.
If you want to get career advice, just book a call.