Your must-read guide to preparing for a job interview — helpful tips, tricks and more

Your must-read guide to preparing for a job interview — helpful tips, tricks and more
Source: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

You polished up your resume, cranked out a cover letter, applied for that dream job — and snagged yourself an interview. Nice.

Now it's time to prep!

Chances are good you'll need to get ready for the most common interview question: "What's your biggest strength?" That's followed closely by, "what's your biggest weakness?" according to career site Glassdoor.

As for other questions? It can be nerve-wracking to guess at what your prospective employer will throw at you, let alone plan out your answers.

Here's a cheat sheet on what to expect — and how to get ready — for your big job interview.

Job interview tip 1: Know when the interview really starts.

As soon as you arrive, the interview has begun. 

Your punctuality, your shoes and the noises your phone makes — that's all fair game to be evaluated by the interviewer.

Source: Giphy

So, first and foremost, remember not to spend all your prep time on questions: Perfecting your outfit, checking traffic ahead of time and silencing your phone are crucial moves.

Job interview tip 2: Anticipate common interview questions with key stories.

Think of interviews like face time for your personal brand: You are in charge of crafting its narrative. How did you get to where you are today? What qualities do you want to convey?

As long as the story is true, it's up to you.

Behavioral questions — the "tell me about a time when ..." kind — are popular discussion prompts among interviewers, said Rachel Marcuse, vice president of people operations at nonprofit NextGen Climate. Another variation? "Tell me about yourself."

Either way, recruiters are "looking for authenticity and thoughtfulness," Marcuse said.

It's a power move to get ahead by prepping examples, ahead of time, of professional anecdotes that show your creativity, flexibility, drive — or any other crucial characteristics the job description suggests might be important.

That good old "show don't tell" rule applies here; specific stories are always better than vague adjectives.

Source: Giphy

Don't just say you're "detail oriented" — talk about that day you saved your team's butt by catching and correcting an important math error in a PowerPoint before a big client meeting.

Instead of just calling yourself a "people person," describe how the time you spent mentoring new staff led to a promotion.

Job interview tip 3: Avoid planting red flags.

As you field questions, watch your tone, lest you sound anxious or defensive.

Interviewers are on high alert for negativity, Marcuse said. They notice when candidates use a story to throw another person under the bus — or describe themselves as a rock star without sharing credit, she said.

The easiest way to present yourself sympathetically is to anticipate tricky questions ahead of time and prep in front of a mirror or trusted friend: Expect recruiters to ask how you've handled conflict or recovered from a mistake.

Add those to your crib sheet of common questions, and review answers recruiters warn never to say. Remember, great answers explain what you learned from a mistake or challenge — not who was at fault.

Now, even seemingly more straightforward questions — "What makes you want to leaving your current job?" or "What about that employment gap?" — could make you anxious.

Don't worry. Just be honest and keep your responses focused on the positive: You're "seeking a new challenge," not "bored" by the current gig. You didn't "do nothing" for three months — you freelanced and took care of your kids. That's OK — just say it with confidence.

In general, it helps to have your big-picture narrative in mind: For example, "I left my job at firm X to go to smaller firm Y, so I could have more hands-on experience doing Z."

Also be ready for forward-looking questions: "Why do you want to work here?" "Where do you see yourself in five years?"

And if you're asked about your biggest weakness, don't say you're a perfectionist and you find it hard to delegate. They have definitely heard that before. 

Job interview tip 4: Prepare questions for the interviewer. 

"Any good interviewer will leave plenty of space for you to ask questions," Marcuse said. 

The questions you do pose can leave a lasting impression of your character and listening skills — for better or worse.

One option is asking about the company's daily operations, what a "day in the life" would be like, and about any specific technologies or systems you might work with. That can show you are a serious candidate — and that you're actually thinking through whether the job will be right for you.

Source: Giphy

Another smart way to make a good impression is to ask the interviewer how long he or she has worked at the company, and what he or she likes best about it.

Asking about company culture doesn't just make you look savvy — it's an important way to find out if a potential employer is actually a good fit.

After all, the interview is just as much an important chance for you to judge a potential employer as it is for the company to judge you.

One last tip?

Don't forget to send a thank you email when you get home.