Preparing for a Job Interview

by Julie Andersen, MA on Sep 01, 2005

Ace your interviews through conscientious preparation.

Got laid off and looking for a job? Love your current position but ready to challenge yourself with a new one? Being a top-notch interviewee will help you win your dream job. If the thought of interviewing fills you with dread, however, you’re not alone! Know that thorough preparation can be a tremendous asset in interviewing. Being well-prepared will reduce your anxiety, enable you to put your best self forward and, most important, ensure that the job you are offered is the right one for you. Use the following steps to shine brightly during your interviews.

Assess Yourself

Begin your interview preparation with a look at yourself. The better you know yourself, the better you will represent yourself. Consider these questions:

  • What are your strengths and abilities?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • What have you accomplished in the past? (List quantitative outcomes, not just responsibilities.)
  • What are your short- and long-term goals?
  • What are your personal and business values?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What kind of environment do you thrive in?
  • What type of supervisor do you work best with?
  • What needs and restrictions do you have? (Consider geographical, financial, health, family and social restrictions.)
  • What aspects of your training and experience do you want to emphasize?
    Research the Company and the Job

Learn everything you can about both the company you are interviewing with and the specific job. Matching what you learn about the job to your self-assessment will help you determine whether the position is a good match for you. (Remember: You need to hire an employer as much as he or she needs to hire an employee.) Your interviewer will also be impressed with your resourcefulness.

Information to look for includes job description, company history, size, location(s), products/services, financial data, mission, values, strategies, goals and work atmosphere. You can learn about the company online, by talking with current employees and members/clients, and by spending time in the facility. Ask the interviewer for permission to attend a class or observe a program before the interview. How satisfied are current employees and members/clients? What do they like best about the organization? What, if anything, would they change? Once you have obtained background information, you will want to think of additional questions to ask the interviewer.

Prepare Questions for the Interviewer

The opportunity to ask questions usually comes at the end of the interview. However, one question you want to ask as soon as possible is, “Tell me about this position and the kind of person you are seeking.” The answer will help you understand more about the job and the areas you want to emphasize during your interview. Do not attempt to control the interview, but turn your answer to an interviewer’s question into an information-gathering question. For example, in answering the question “What makes you interested in this job?” you can respond by stating your reasons and then asking, “What can you tell me about this job and the kind of person you are seeking?” Other questions you may want to ask should address outstanding information that will help you determine whether the job suits your interests, abilities and needs.

Here are some sample questions:

  • What are the company’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • What is it like to work here?
  • How would you describe an ideal employee?
  • How is performance measured and reviewed?
  • What is a typical day in this job?
  • What are the opportunities for growth and advancement?
  • What is the company’s philosophy on employee education and training?
  • Why did the last person leave this job?
  • What success is the company having?
  • How is the company responding to the competition?
  • Why did you personally decide to work for this company?
    Prepare for Questions You’ll Be Asked

To avoid being tongue-tied in the interview, practice answering frequently asked interview questions. By preparing in advance, you will reduce your fear of the unknown and calm your anxiety. You may want to have a friend conduct a mock interview so you can practice.

Standard interview questions include the following:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why should I hire you?
  • What are your goals and aspirations?
  • What do you want to be doing in 3–5 years?
  • How has your training and education prepared you for this job?
  • Describe how you interact as a member of a team.
  • Have you ever had a conflict with a coworker or a manager? How did you handle it?
  • How would your previous coworkers describe you?
  • How would you describe your ideal supervisor?

One “classic” interview question is “What is your greatest weakness?” Be prepared to state a challenge that could get in your way and then immediately follow with steps you have taken to manage the problem in the past. For example, you might say that one of your weaknesses is your analytical nature. Then explain that in your last job you set specific goals and a time frame for each project to limit overanalysis, and you asked coworkers to call it to your attention if you spent too much time focused on unimportant details.

When answering questions during the interview, focus on what you can do for the company, not on what you will get out of the job. Give specific answers. It may help to think back to a prior job and describe how you handled a particular situation. Explain previous achievements, as well as what you can contribute to the new company in terms of quantifiable accomplishments rather than job duties and responsibilities. For example, say, “I increased the average class size from 18 to 30 participants in 3 months,” rather than, “I taught yoga and studio cycling.” Another example would be to describe some of the improvements your personal training clients achieved instead of just reporting the job responsibilities of your position. If you were instrumental in implementing a new program, explain what you did and the benefits it brought to the company. If you don’t know the answer to the interviewer’s question, say so. If you try to bluff your way through, it will be obvious to the interviewer and you will undermine your integrity.

Get Organized

After you have finished your research and prepared your questions, collect the items you will take to the interview. Include extra copies of your resumé and references. Bring proof of certifications and licenses. If you have marketing brochures or other information about yourself, take copies with you. Last, make sure you have the correct address and phone number for your interviewer. Know exactly how to get to the location of the interview and how much time it will take to get there. Start your interview calm and confident by arriving ahead of time.

Conquer the Interview

Your resumé and experience got you the interview. Your interpersonal skills will get you the job. Greet the interviewer with a firm handshake and maintain eye contact. Show enthusiasm for the job. Articulate your answers and keep them brief and to the point. (This is where preparation and practice pay off.) Be confident and maintain a positive attitude. Pursue every job as though it were the only job out there. You can turn down an offer later if you decide the job is not right for you, but you cannot turn down an offer you don’t receive.

Afterward, follow up. Simply following up with a phone call and a note can catapult you to the top of the interview list. Place a call within one business day to thank the interviewer for his or her time. If you do not reach the interviewer directly, leave a voice-mail message. Write a short note to thank the interviewer and to re-express your interest in the position. You may want to reiterate your qualifications, but keep the note brief. Mail it the same day as your interview. Although e-mail is a popular form of communication, a traditional handwritten note demonstrates greater time and energy and is more appreciated.

dress for success

The first impression you make will either motivate an interviewer to learn more about you or end the interview before it starts. Be neat with a well-groomed hairstyle. It is always better to err on the conservative side. Save visible body piercing for a night on the town. One pair of earrings for women is acceptable. Although you may be interviewing for a fitness position, proper business attire is more acceptable than workout clothing—unless you have been asked to train someone or to teach a class.

A good gauge of appropriate attire is what people in the industry or company would consider the norm. Remember, most interviewers will be analyzing you in relation to the company culture and assessing whether or not you will fit in.

Practice answering frequently asked interview questions.

Topics

Career Issues

IDEA Fitness Journal, Volume 2, Issue 8

© 2005 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Julie Andersen, MA IDEA Author/Presenter

Julie Andersen, MA, who has a degree in exercise physiology, is a management consultant specializing in leadership development. She is also a business and life coach based out of San Diego.