The Job Interview Process in 3 Steps: A Quick Guide for First-Timers
Entering the workforce for the first time can feel overwhelming, with job interviews being especially daunting. There’s a lot to consider, and yes, the result of your job interview could have major implications for your career trajectory. It’s certainly not something to take lightly. At the same time, you don’t want to overthink it.
The job interview process doesn’t have to be as terrifying as you’re making it out to be in your mind—don’t forget that you have already come this far! You put your resume together, scoured job boards, wrote cover letters, applied for vacant positions, and made it to the interview stage, which proves you’ve been doing something right. If you consider how many other candidates have likely applied for the job as well, you’ll realize that landing an interview means you’re in the very top percentage of applicants. Just getting this far is an achievement—don’t ever forget that!
However, if this is your first time going into a job interview, you’re probably wondering what you can expect from the process. Every employer you meet with will likely have their own process and protocol for interviewing and hiring new team members, and you should receive most of this information in your invitation to interview. If not, you’ll probably be filled in on the day of the actual interview, but don’t be afraid to ask the interviewer about the next steps if it’s not clear by the end of the meeting. Asking insightful questions about the process indicates enthusiasm and interest, and an employer is likely to view your inquisitiveness in a positive light.
Regardless of the differences among employers, some things remain the same across most job interviews. There are three basic steps a candidate should follow for every job interview, whatever the industry or their level of experience.
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Let’s take a look at the three basic steps in the job interview process.
1. Get ready for the interview
One of the most important steps is preparation. Even if you have solid experience with job interviews, it’s important to thoroughly prepare for each upcoming one. Careful preparation can make the difference between landing your dream job and losing out on a great opportunity. Once you get the invitation to meet with your potential employer, remember the three Rs: research, rehearse, review.
First, research the organization you’ll be interviewing with. Learn about it and the job by checking not only the official website but also its social media profiles and any mentions of it in the press. Learn as much as you can about the company’s trajectory, finances, reputation, and goals so you can figure out the best way to match your skills to its needs. This research serves a dual purpose—not only does it equip you with a solid knowledge base to impress the interviewer and prove your interest in the position, but it also provides a great opportunity for you to vet the company and determine whether this is a job you truly want.
Next, rehearse your answers to interview questions. You can practice in the mirror or with a friend, or you can set up a mock interview with a professional. Whichever method you choose, record yourself if possible so you can go back and check your body language, tone, and vocabulary. You may find you look and sound entirely different from what you imagined, so watching the recorded footage can help you detect areas in need of improvement and allow you to polish your interview skills. In fact, make it a dress rehearsal—don the outfit you’ll wear for the real interview so you can ensure it’s appropriate and comfortable. You want to look poised and professional, but if you’re uncomfortable the entire time, you won’t be on your best game, and the interviewer will sense your anxiety.
Finally, review your resume, cover letter, and the correspondence you’ve had with the employer so far, and make sure you have the correct details to be early for the interview, whether it’s in person or online. In fact, if it’s an in-person interview, you should go to the site a day or two before the scheduled date so you can study the route and spot any potential obstacles. For an online interview, make sure to test your camera and internet connection, and show up early in case any technical issues arise.
2. Show up for the interview
On the day of the interview, you need to be calm, focused, and confident. Be polite to everyone you interact with, and allow yourself enough time to visit the restroom and collect your thoughts if you’re feeling particularly nervous. As a general rule of thumb, aim to show up for an on-site interview roughly 15 minutes earlier, giving yourself additional time to account for unforeseen delays such as traffic jams.
During the interview, pay especially close attention to what the interviewer says, remember to be mindful of your body language, and listen carefully to the questions you’re being asked. Indeed, make sure you focus on what the interviewer is saying rather than trying to formulate your answer before they’ve finished. It’s better to take some time with your response than to give an immediate but irrelevant one. Also, candidates who dance around the questions instead of answering them directly might as well wave a huge red flag at the interviewer.
That being said, try not to ramble or talk too much, and don’t volunteer any information that might cast a more negative light on you, the company, or anyone else. It can be easy to overshare if you let your nerves get the better of you, which is one of the reasons why it’s so important to build your confidence before an interview.
Most interviewers ask a series of common questions about the candidate’s job history, skills, and professional experience. While the questions themselves may differ from interview to interview, the basic information the employer is trying to obtain remains roughly the same, so learning to recognize what a question aims to achieve and field the most common job interview questions is critical.
If this is your first job interview, they might focus more heavily on your goals, interests, expectations, and skills. You’ll probably be asked how you would react in a number of hypothetical scenarios, which will help the interviewer determine how you might behave in specific situations you’re likely to encounter on the job. Be honest and be yourself, but use appropriate language, and don’t forget you’re in a professional setting where you’re trying to make a positive and lasting first impression. Essentially, you never want to lie or misrepresent yourself, but you do want to lean into the more professional side of your personality.
3. Follow up with the interviewer
Although this has already been a challenging process, you’re not quite finished when the job interview is over. It’s good etiquette to send a follow-up letter to the interviewer, thanking them for their time and letting them know you’re still interested in the position—doing this will not only reinforce your professionalism but also help you stand out from the crowd. Job interviews are a two-way street: Don’t forget that you’re assessing them as much as they’re assessing you, so the follow-up is your chance to reaffirm your commitment to the job and to remind them that your enthusiasm and willingness to learn will more than make up for any lack of professional experience.
Don’t think of it as extra work—think of it as a simple way to further improve your chances of success. Besides, some interviewers take thank-you notes extremely seriously, even going so far as to disqualify applicants who fail to send one. This one little letter can make a huge difference to your career.
If you’ve already aced your first job interview, check out our professionally crafted follow-up letter templates and enhance further that great first impression!