How to Prepare for a Job Interview

In the lead up to a big game, professional athletes visualize success, double-check their equipment or listen to a favorite song on their headphones – all before heading into competition. The minutes before you leave your house for that big job interview might not contain the same level of intensity, but mental preparation can still mean the difference between victory (getting the job) and defeat (back to the classifieds).

Experts recommend that job hunters visualize in their minds how the interview will go. A little edginess before an interview can be helpful if it makes you alert and energized, but too much anxiety can be disastrous. Practicing deep breathing or repeating a tranquil word like “calm” are popular methods people use to get themselves ready for a tense situation. And, again, mental preparation well in advance of an interview is key.

To gain confidence, executive coaches advise you write down several of your greatest accomplishments and then list the skills you used to achieve them. If you know your skills and how you make a difference, it will be easier to talk about them in an interview setting.

The same logic applies to your weaknesses. Long before the day of the interview, candidates should think of solid answers to three questions they don’t want to be asked. Write them down if you have to and go over them several times. This will go a long way toward relieving anxiety.

And what about everyone’s most hated question – how old are you? Most interviewers are savvy enough to know it’s illegal to directly ask, but often you’ll get a question such as, “What year did you graduate from college?” that indirectly probes at your age. If you tell the truth, the interviewer then knows your age and may not want to hire you because of it. If you say you don’t want to answer the question, you could come across poorly and may make the interviewer uncomfortable.

Here’s how you can finesse the situation. First, assume the interviewer doesn’t have ulterior motives. Instead, figure that he or she is trying to learn something, albeit clumsily, about your ability to do the job. So listen to the question, then ask your own question in return to determine the interviewer’s underlying agenda.

For instance, you could respond, “I’m curious to know why you are asking me this. Are you worried that my skills might be out of date?” or “That’s an interesting question. Are you probing to learn about the applicability of my skills or my course work?” The interviewer should then respond with the reason for the question, which allows you to say something good about yourself. Frame your response as a showcase of what you’ve learned and prove that your training is current.

Pre-interview assessment tests are another source of anxiety – or annoyance – for many heading into an interview. Candidates should take the assessments seriously, even if they feel they aren’t necessary. And clear your schedule. Ask recruiters about how long a pre-employment assessment might take, as you may need to devote anywhere from a few minutes to several hours of your time. You can also familiarize yourself with pre-employment assessments by taking free ones on the Web, such as eTest Inc., a pre-employment testing and assessment company in Atlanta. Practice tests can help you feel more comfortable for when it’s your turn in the hot seat.

Knowing you look your best for an interview creates confidence as well. Be sure to get that suit pressed well in advance of the big day, break in your shoes and don’t go overboard with flashy accessories or designer touches. Feeling rushed or worrying you might be late can throw off your mojo, too, so it’s a good idea to give yourself more travel time than you think you need.

Overall, before a big interview, psychological and career experts agree that it’s important to focus on the positive. The bottom line? Always think about, talk about, and practice exactly what you want to happen.