Getting a job interview can feel like a great accomplishment in this job market -- and it is. But don't sit back and relax once your interview is scheduled, because what you do before your interview can either pay off enormously or end up hurting you.
Here are seven mistakes you might make before your job interview ever happens -- mistakes that can bite you when it comes to your interview performance and the impression you make on your interviewer.
1. Not researching the company. Interviewers pay attention to who appears to have done their research and who doesn't. If you go into your interview not knowing basic facts about the company, it will show. So before your interview, spend some time browsing the employer's website. Spend 20 minutes learning enough about them that you're able to speak intelligently about the work they do and how they see themselves.
2. Not looking up your interviewers on LinkedIn. If you spend a few minutes reading your interviewer's LinkedIn profile, you might find out that you both know Jane Smith, that you were both in the Peace Corps or that you're both from the same area of Ohio -- information you probably wouldn't otherwise have and which can help create rapport. You also might learn that your interviewer has a special interest or expertise in some particular area of the work you do, which you can then be sure to talk about when you meet.
3. Not checking to see if you have any connections in common. LinkedIn is also great at letting you see what connections your network might have to the company or to your interviewer. For example, if you discover that someone in your network used to work at the company or is connected to someone who did, you can then reach out to that person for insight about the company's culture and key players.
4. Not practicing your answer to common interview questions. Interviewers tend to have some overlap in the questions they ask, and there are some common questions that you should always be prepared for, like: Why are you thinking about leaving your current job (or why did you leave your last job)? What interests you about this opening? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What experience do you have doing each of the major responsibilities of the job? If you practice your answers to these questions until your answers flow smoothly off your tongue, you'll generally do better in interviewers than candidates who don't prepare like this.
5. Not figuring out how you'll talk about the topics that most worry you. If you're like most people, there's a topic you're hoping won't come up in the interview -- like why you left your last position or why you have so many short-term stays on your résumé. Whatever you're most nervous about, spend some time deciding exactly how you'll answer it, and then practice that answer over and over. The more you practice, the more comfortable you're likely to feel, and the better your answer is likely to be if the topic does come up. And speaking of questions people don't like to talk about ...
6. Not preparing to talk about salary. It's tough when an interviewer asks you what salary you're looking for without revealing anything about the range for the position, but it's highly likely to happen, so the worst thing you can do is not prepare. If instead you just wing it, you're far more likely to lowball yourself or say something that comes back to harm you in salary negotiations later. So make sure that you do salary research ahead of time and come prepared with numbers that the market supports.
7. Not coming up with your own questions for your interviewer. At some point, your interviewer is going to ask you what questions you have for them. This is an important part of the interview -- not only because the questions you ask say something about you, but because this is an opportunity to learn about whether this job and this company are right for you or not. Good questions at this stage are clarifying questions about the role itself, details of the work and questions about the office culture.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search and management issues. She's the author of "How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager," co-author of "Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results" and the former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management.
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