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Before the Interview

Interviews are far more complicated today than ever and interviewers are expecting a lot more from you. This means that preparation is very important and a lack of preparation is one of the biggest mistakes a candidate can make.


Here are 6 steps to being prepared and ready for your next interview.

Research the Company

One of the most popular questions in modern day interviewing is “What do you know about our company/products/services?” One of the most common complaints from recruiters is that candidates don’t know how to answer this question successfully.

As an employer, there are two types of candidates: those who want a job, and those who want a job with them. If you want the job with that company, you will need to know about them. A lot of information can actually be found on the job ad itself.

When doing your research, focus on the organization’s... 

  • vision / mission statement or company philosophy: Most companies will have these and it’s something you can speak to in the interview, explaining why you like it.
  • history: When and how did they get started? What recent changes have they experienced? What major accomplishments have they done?
  • current projects and future direction: What are they advertising about themselves on their website or social media?
  • company culture: Are they laid back or more formal?
  • physical setting: This can sometimes be found from the website, or if it’s a public place, can be visited.
  • comments about themselves on social media

If you have the names of the people that will be conducting your interview, try to find out more about them.

Finally, research the company’s dress code (this can often be determined by photos on the company’s website). This will not only help you learn about their company culture, but also what you should wear at the interview.

Research the Type of Candidate the Employer Wants

Do you know what the company is looking for in a candidate? This is an important part of your research, as it helps you make sure you match their expectations. So how do you figure this out? The first step is to read the job ad very carefully.

Most job ads are detailed enough to provide the needed information on who the company wants. It’s not only about the skills and qualifications, but about how those are to be used in the job.

Many companies will use broad titles that have many different meanings depending on the context. No two “Project Manager” jobs are the same. Even though the qualifications may be similar, the way those are used can be very different.

How to read a job ad:

  1. Get a pen or highlighter.
  2. Start at the top of the ad, working down, and highlighting all the keywords found in it.
  3. Read the ad again, but this time do an “overall” view to understand what type of person/personality is being looked for by the organization.
  4. Have someone else read the ad to see if they come up with the same conclusions.

What if there is no job ad? Then research and understand the company and what they do as much as you can. You should also know your industry well enough to see what an employer typically wants in this kind of role.

Know & Research Who You Are

One of the most difficult questions to answer in an interview is one of the most popular and usually the first one asked: “Tell me about yourself.”

This may be because the question is so broad that most candidates may not be sure where to start or even what relevant information to say. This question and what it represents should be viewed as the foundation for the interview. By understanding how to answer it you can have a successful interview.

Part of the context of where to begin in answering this question can be found in your company and candidate research. Then you can focus your answer on the academic and career interests, projects, or experiences that are the most relevant to this potential employer.


What To Know: Hard and Soft Skills 

Hard skills, also known as technical skills, are your provable, quantifiable skills and background. Some examples are: educational and work background, computer skills, physical skills, and technical knowledge. It is important to understand how these skills match up to the job for which you are applying.

Soft skills, also known as personality, is who you are as a person. These are your non-quantifiable skills such as communication, teamwork, organization, initiative, professionalism, and many others. One potential trap you may fall into is just focusing on your hard skills and neglecting this area. However, most of your competition will have similar hard skills, so this area is what can make you unique. 

Decide What to Wear

It is possible to under- and over- dress for an interview. 

Part of what a company is evaluating when they meet you is whether or not you will fit in, and dress is important to that. Type of dress will also vary with companies depending on the role. A background computer technician may dress very differently than a frontline sales staff.

So what to wear? The guideline is to match the company culture and go a little higher. In general,

  • jeans, running shoes (or other non-professional footwear), and shorts are not acceptable.
  • clothes should be neat, ironed, clean, and professional looking.
  • avoid overly bright, flashy colours, even as accessories.
  • keep perfume/cologne to a bare minimum, if you wear it at all.
  • it’s ok — even important! — to show some personality, just don’t let it become distracting.
  • make sure what you wear is comfortable, as some interviews can last for hours.
Practice & Prepare

Do not go empty handed to an interview; it can show a lack of preparation or professionalism.

Here are some items to bring with you:

  • The names of the interviewers, company address, and phone number.
  • Directions on how to get there. Remember to check the weather and transit conditions the day of your interview.
  • Some extra copies of your resume; make sure it’s the same one you originally submitted.
  • At least three references.
  • A portfolio of your work. Having a physical portfolio can help separate you from others as you can show what you have accomplished.
  • A list of questions to ask the employer at the end of the interview.


Preparing Yourself

Make sure you have a good night’s rest before the interview. Eat smart and avoid caffeine before your interview as it can dehydrate you.

Also avoid smoking, drinking alcohol, coffee, garlic, and other strong spices/herbs before your interview. The smell of these will stay with you well after you finishing ingesting them.



Practicing or having a mock interview will help you greatly. It will not only deliver a smoother presentation, but will also help you with your confidence level.

You can have a friend interview you or book a mock interview with the Career Centre for practice. You can even record yourself to see how you perform.

Bring References


Most employers will want a list of references, usually between 3–5. Some employers will want the references at the end of the interview, others will ask for it much later. It is a good idea to bring your references with you to the interview, but remember to wait for the interviewer to ask for them.

On your reference sheet include all the needed information about your references. This includes their full name and title, current contact information (email and/or phone), and a brief description on your relationship to the reference and what characteristics about you they can discuss.

Who can be you reference?

  • A current/former supervisor

  • A professor

  • Current/former co-worker

  • Personal reference (i.e. a friend who can speak about your character)

But you can not use family as they are considered to be biased.


Prepare Your References

Contact your references after the interview to let them know they may be contacted. Inform them of who may be calling them and let them know what the job was about (you can even email them the job ad).

Discuss with your references what you want them to say about you and on what to focus. By doing this you will help your references give a thorough and positive response about you.

For more tips, read: 'Interviewing & the Job Offer' on pages 48 - 60 in CAREER COMPASS

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