Interview Skills

Preparing for Your Ideal Role

The position that José has always dreamed of has just opened up in his company. While he's confident in his ability to do the job, he's been with his organization for a long time, which means he needs to spend time relearning his interview skills if he wants to impress the management team.

Like José, all of us need to "brush up" on our interviewing skills from time to time; and there are many reasons why you need to be able to answer tough questions and stay cool under pressure.

Perhaps you're looking for a promotion. Maybe your firm is going through a restructuring process, and you now need to reinterview for your own job. Or, you may need solid interviewing skills when pitching your firm's services to a new client.

In this article and video we'll review the skills you need to prepare for – and ace – your next interview.

Click here to view a transcript of this video.


Many of the strategies we present in this article are based around job interviews. However, as we've already mentioned, you can use these strategies in a range of other situations.

Preparing for a Job Interview

There's no doubt that interviews can be stressful. It's no fun for anyone to get this sort of grilling!

However, the more time you spend preparing for the interview, the more confident you're going to feel. That confidence will be noticed, favorably, by your interviewer. So, follow these steps:

1. Research the Organization

If you have an interview with a new organization, or you're pitching your firm's services to a new client, start by finding out more about the interviewer's organization.

Learn about their mission, their corporate culture, and major events in the company's history. You'll show the interviewer that you took the time to find out about their organization by bringing this information up during the interview, or by using it to ask important questions.

It can also be important to research your interviewer or client as an individual. Find out what they're like, and about learn about any major successes that they've had recently.

2. Research Questions (and Role-Play)

You'll likely be asked some tough questions during your meeting. This is why it's so important to research possible questions, and to prepare good, well-rehearsed answers.

Remember, you're probably going to be nervous during the interview: knowing the answers to the most common – or most difficult – questions will help you ensure that you don't forget to bring up something important.

Our article on Hiring People: Questions to Ask will give you an indication of what you'll be asked during the interview process. It can also help to refamiliarize yourself with the job advert or job description at this stage, as it's likely that the interview will be partly structured around these.

Many people find role-playing helpful before their interview. This is where you sit down with a friend or colleague who's willing to act as the interviewer. The two of you then go through several rounds of mock interviews, so that you're comfortable answering questions.

3. Polish Your Image

You need to show up to your interview looking polished and professional. This means that you need to dress "one level up," compared with how regular employees dress.

Lay out your outfit the night before. Make sure that your clothes are clean and pressed, and ensure that your personal appearance is tidy and professional.

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4. Prepare Materials

If you're bringing a portfolio that shows your career highlights, make sure that this material is ready the night before. Also, pack extra copies of your resume.

You might also want to prepare something that your interviewer can take away from the interview, for example, copies of work you've completed. (Be careful of confidentiality here – you absolutely need to respect this.)

5. Plan Your Journey

This may sound obvious, but people have been known to miss interviews, or turn up late, due to an unexpected hitch with their journey.

So plan your journey well, and leave plenty of time to get to your destination. (If practical, it may help to do a test journey, just in case.)


If possible, find out about the format of the interview. How many people will be interviewing you? Will any of the interviewers be joining by telephone? Will you be expected to do any tests before or afterward? The more you know about the situation, the more comfortable you'll be with it.

During the Interview

1. Make a Good First Impression

This may be your first interaction with this organization or with this group of people. So, as soon as you walk through the door, remember that you're making a first impression on everyone, not just your interviewers. Treat everyone as though they might be the person who will interview you.

For instance, imagine that you're running late to your interview, and, as you start the elevator ride up to the organization's office, you start complaining about the journey to the woman who's sharing the elevator with you. Only after you both get out on the same floor do you realize that she's the CEO of the organization!

It's important to make a great first impression with everyone you meet. So, arrive early and be well prepared. Give a genuine smile to everyone you meet. Be courteous and polite.

2. Ask Questions

It's helpful to think of your interview as a conversation, not as an interrogation. Yes, the interviewer will be asking you plenty of questions, but it's important that you ask questions of your own. This will help you make a better decision about whether this organization or role is a good fit for you (this is a really important thing to think about!), and it will show the interviewer that you're truly interested in the role.

What should you ask? Think about what you really want to know about this organization, its culture, and your possible role within it.

Here are some ideas to consider:

  • What is the biggest challenge in this role?
  • Who will be my boss, or who will I be reporting to? What are they like? What are their expectations?
  • Who previously held this role? Why did they leave?
  • What does this company value the most?
  • How will my success be evaluated? What metrics will be used?

Although it's important to ask questions, your first interview is generally not the best time to ask about salary and benefits. These are touchy questions, and asking them too early can send the wrong signal to employers. That being said, however, salary, benefits, perks, and work flexibility can be deal-makers or deal-breakers for job seekers; and it's important that you and your potential employer are on the same wavelength about them.

If you're reinterviewing for your own job, make sure that you ask what metrics you'll be measured by in the months to come.

3. Pay Attention to Your Body Language

It's also important to pay attention to your body language. When you role-play, practice giving good eye contact, offering a firm handshake, sitting comfortably but confidently in your chair, and smiling.

It's also important to stay in control of your arms and legs, even if you're nervous. Try not to play with items in your hands, touch your hair or face, fidget, or jiggle your feet or legs. These are all signals that tell your interviewer that you're nervous or uncomfortable.

After the Interview

You're not finished when you walk out of the interview room! Follow the steps below to make sure that you get the best out of the whole process.

1. Follow Up

After your interview, send a thank you letter or email within 24 hours. Try to send this to every person you've talked with during the interview process, not just the person at the top. (If you can't contact everyone directly, ask your primary contact to pass on your thanks.)

2. If You're Offered the Job

If you're offered the new job or position, congratulations! You now need to get all of the information you can about your new role. This is the time to get details on when you're starting, and what kind of transition assistance or training you'll receive. It's also worth understanding whether the organization expects any quick wins within the first 60-90 days.

You'll want to focus on achieving your own quick wins, of course, but it's helpful to know if your boss and the organization have any specific goals that they want you to achieve, right from the start.

3. Get Feedback

Once the process is complete, try to get feedback from your interviewers on how well you did, and how your skills fit with the position.

If you didn't get the job or contract, learn whatever lessons you can to increase your chances of success in the future. If you did get the job, you'll know which areas you can improve on once you're in the role.

Key Points

All of us need to brush up on our interview skills from time to time. We might be interviewing for a new job, reinterviewing for our current position, changing careers within our organization, our even pitching our firm's services to a new client.

It's important to put in plenty of preparation time before your interview. Do some role-playing with a friend or colleague, research the company, and prepare answers for difficult questions that you might be asked. During the interview, make sure that you pay attention to your body language, and ask questions.

Once the interview is over, send a thank-you letter to everyone who worked with you during the process, and get feedback to help you in the future.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Subscribe to our free newsletter, or join the Mind Tools Club and really supercharge your career!

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Comments (13)
  • Over a month ago charlieswift wrote
    We've added a video to this popular article - let us know what you think. Meanwhile, remember to bear in mind these tips even when you're hoping to move within your existing organization. Different managers and teams can have very different expectations and priorities, so take some time to research and plan with fresh eyes! - Charlie Swift and the MT editorial team
  • Over a month ago paradox wrote
    Hi Midgie and Dianna,

    Thanks for your tips. I just got back from the interview on Friday and I think it went really well. I definitely over-prepared as they only asked me a couple of the dozens of things I went over before the interview.
    Overall I think I stand a pretty good chance of getting the job, except that towards the end of the interview I may have let my guard down a bit and this may hurt me.

    Remembering the few things they did ask about wasn't too much of a problem since I'd rehearsed them in advance and it was pretty much what I would have said naturally anyway.

    The only question for myself is, do I really want the job as it is not quite what I thought it was. I think I will take it though as I've been underemployed for a while and this will help get my career on a new track. It'll be an engineering position on a boat for long periods of time without much time off. If I had more time off in between rotations I'd be a lot more happy about it, but everybody tells me to just bite the bullet for a year or two and then try to renegotiate.

    I wrote thank you cards and sent by mail the next day, if I don't hear back within a few days to a week I plan to call them back to see if they have any questions and will have some statements prepared that relate to what they might ask me. Otherwise I'll just move on to other potential positions. If you have any further advice I'd be very appreciative.

  • Over a month ago Midgie wrote
    Hi Josh,
    Congratulations on getting another interview for a company that head-hunted you! That must be quite flattering to be approached so they obviously see something in your that you want.

    The fears you express about using the research effectively, missing something or forgetting things are fears that many people experience before a big interview. The best you can do is be relaxed and be yourself. Trust that the answers will come out easily and effortlessly.

    A couple of thoughts though ... if you pick up some interesting points during your research, why note write a few brief notes and take that into the interview with you. Preparing a few key questions you can ask them will also stand you in good stead ... and these questions can be written down along with the notes.

    An excellent way to prepare for what they might ask you is to identify the key skills, qualities and attributes they want from the person in the job. If there is nothing formally written like a job description, then what has been said to you. Plus, what common things are written in the other job descriptions you have seen. Then, come up with examples that you can talk about where you have used that skill or demonstrate that experience.

    The more you can prepare answers to potential questions, the more ideas you will have when you head different questions. Plus, it can boost your confidence levels as you go to the interview knowing that you have rehearsed lots of questions and answers.

    Good luck and keep us posted on how things go.
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