How to prepare for your job interview

Photo by Alan Cleaver.

Before you even consider looking for work, make sure your CV matches your online profile. Every good employer will investigate you, and if you want to make it to the interview stage, make sure you clean up your act online. You want to have a Facebook profile (who doesn’t?), but keep it locked down with the strongest privacy settings. Twitter? Google Images? YouTube? Dating sites? Previous blog posts? You bet that your interviewers will look at them all.

Develop your personal story

Have your story straight – why do you want the job? How does it fit with your previous experiences? How does it fit with your private life and your personal interests? Why do you want to leave your previous employer? And then there are the usual questions that need to work well with your personal story: What’s your major weakness? What’s your most memorable project and why? What do you think is most important when it comes to teamwork? Etc.

Find data to back up your statements

Research the company – from their websites, blogs, tweets, Facebook, etc., and also from what others say about the organization. Time spent on due diligence will provide you with the factual data needed to back up statements you make in your interview, and will also fill you in on some of the conversations about the company. Use technology to your advantage. If you don’t know what RSS feeds are, what Google Alerts are or how to use social monitoring tools like Hootsuite, now is the time to beef up your skills.

If you need to relocate, research the city

Research the city. Know who the mayor is and what political party they represent. Learn what some of the most important historical, recent and current socio-political and economic issues are. What are some of the main companies in town, what are the main industries? What’s the unemployment rate, and how hot is the real estate market? Know what area of the city you would like to live in (and why), what attracts you to the city outside of the position (e.g. you like hiking and want to move close to mountains), what the major sports teams are, etc. This shows that you have looked into the city in preparation for the interview, and assures that you can carry on conversation beyond the job talk. Have some questions about the city you can ask the interviewer, but stay away from asking about their opinion on contested political issues.

Speak and write like a grown-up

Weeks before you start interviewing, start speaking and writing like an intelligent grown-up (unless you work for a hip startup that behaves like a bunch of teenagers). Stop using “like” and “snap,” and find better expressions for “think outside the box,” “win-win,” “it is what it is,” etc. I have added a list of my pet peeves below.

Take notes and ask follow-up questions

On the big day, remember that “they” are interviewing you as much as you are interviewing them, and good interviewers will take notes. Always bring some paper and a nice pen, take notes throughout your interview and ask follow-up questions. This shows that you are prepared (there’s nothing worse than a candidate who has to ask for a pen), that you pay attention to the details discussed in the interview, take the interviewer and the interview seriously, and that you are truly interested in the position. If alcohol is offered during a meal, refuse the offer politely to stay level-headed, even if your interviewers drink.

Dress appropriately and watch your posture

Dress appropriately – not too flashy, but not too conservative. Add something personal that you can talk about: An interesting, narrow tie bar between the third and forth button of your shirt (I have a Karman Ghia tie clip), or cool cufflinks, or a national flag on your lapel, a bracelet, a necklace, a watch, etc. Also, if you don’t know what your body posture says about you, look into it and behave accordingly.

Ask this one last question

I saw this at a Forbes site once, and immediately liked it. Before your interview ends, ask this one last question: “Have I said anything in this interview or given you any other reason to doubt that I am a good fit for the role?” This now only shows a serious backbone and a real desire for the job, but also provides a chance to clarify potential misunderstandings that might have otherwise left a negative impression.

Send a thank-you note

Follow up with an email to thank your interviewer(s) for their time. Remember that they might have seen lots of other candidates – add a link to your conversation from the interview to remind your interviewers who you are.

My pet peeves

1) Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.

2) And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction.

3) It is wrong to ever split a sentence with an infinitive.

4) Verbs has to agree with their subjects.

5) Avoid clichés like the plague.

6) Also, always avoid annoying alliteration.

7) Be more or less specific.

8) Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary.

9) Also, too, never ever use repetitive redundancies.

10) No sentence fragments.

11) Contractions aren’t necessary and shouldn’t be used.

12) Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.

13) Do not be redundant; do not use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.

14) One should never generalize.

15) Comparisons are as bad as clichés.

16) Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, e.g., etc. and i.e.

17) One-word sentences? Eliminate.

18) Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.

19) The passive voice is to be ignored.

20) Eliminate commas, that are, not necessary. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.

21) Never use a big word when a diminutive one would suffice.

22) Kill all exclamation points!!!

23) Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.

24) Understatement is always the absolute best way to put forth earth-shaking ideas.

25) Use the apostrophe in its proper place and omit it when it's not needed.

26) Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”

27) If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: Resist hyperbole. Not one writer in a million 
can use it correctly.

28) Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.

29) Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.

30) Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.

31) Don’t verb nouns.

And my personal favourites:

32) Puns are for children, not groan readers.

33) Who needs rhetorical questions?

Good luck with your job search!

About the author

Associate professor Jan Kietzmann received his PhD in 2007 from the London School of Economics and joined the Beedie School of Business at SFU in 2008.

As a professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Jan's research interests combine organizational and social perspectives related to new and emerging technologies. Jan is perhaps best known for his award-winning 2011 article Social media? Get serious! Understanding the functional building blocks of social media. He is also an instructor in our Applied Project Management Diploma

Take a class with Jan Kietzmann