Interviewing is a vital component of any job search process, and a successful interview is
oftentimes the final step needed to clinch employment. While there are certainly ways to
generally bolster interview skills – at Early Stage Careers we work with clients on of
interview preparation – it’s also vital to tailor your preparation to each specific interview and
By taking the outlined steps below, you can confidently position yourself as an engaged,
prepared, and curious applicant who is excited about the upcoming opportunity.
Get Comfortable with the Context
What is the context for the job you are interviewing? Take some time to look at the industry,
the company, its competitors and the area of the company you will be joining. Look at
everything you can find; positive news, awards and recognition, negative news, and product
issues. Use your search engine and any specific resources that the company makes available
It’s important to begin with this macroscopic view, because you are not only going to fill a
position, but enter a professional field. It’s important to have a basic, objective grasp on the
industry you’ll be discussing, and the way the company fits into this landscape. What is the
history of this company? If it is the product of a merger or divestiture, or a start up, you need
to be versed in those facts. What are the prospects for this market? Is this industry expanding,
consolidating or contracting? Who are their customers: are they consumers, other businesses,
the government, or some combination of these? Is the company an innovator with very few
competitors close on its heels? Will you be joining a large division of experts, or, taking the
role of soloist in a small company?
Balance your research to understand what the company chooses to publish and highlight in
contrast to what the outside world observes. If you find differences in those perspectives,
these might be questions to raise during the interview.
Fit the Role
Next, focus on understanding the specifics of the role. Examine the tasks, tools and people
involved by creating your own personalized version of the role description. Focus on the core
components of the position – what will you do and who will you work with – and push
extraneous details and perks (like ping-pong tables or a pet-friendly office policy) to the
Be prepared to explain how your past work at school, in projects, or at early work
experiences mirror what is described in the job description. Capture short bullets of those
examples you most want to recall. If you realize that you are missing one of the requirements
or preferred skills, be prepared to explain your level of competence and inquire as to how you
could ramp up in that area before you start in the role.
If the job-listing includes skills with specific technologies, you should be familiar with the
purpose of each even if you aren’t proficient. If you are unable to find examples of a listed
technology, it is likely proprietary to the specific firm, which is something you can inquire
about in the interview. To this point, it is important to note that job descriptions are often
written for both internal and external applicants – if you notice any puzzling acronyms be
sure to highlight them, so that you can ask for clarification about the meaning and their use.
If the role involves working with other teams, such as marketing, legal, or accounting, plan to
share any collaborations you have with those specialties. Also, ask if this is the description
for the person doing the job now, or if it is a newly designed role; this may reveal information
about changes going on within the company or team.
Last, if, by chance, you are a dog-loving, nationally ranked ping pong player, aligning with
the company culture, don’t forget to mention those details along the way.
Your Role in “Our” Future
It’s important to understand not only your ability to serve a specific role, but your holistic fit
within the company you are interviewing. Envision yourself working there over time, say 2-3
years – you are about to invest your most precious resource, your time, in the company’s
future, so it’s important to think with this outlook in mind. With this perspective, try to
generate forward-thinking questions that demonstrate your investment. Ask about the
business itself, growth in markets and products. Seek to understand how you might add value
immediately, and how your role might grow over time. Understand how people are evaluated
and trained. For smaller companies, ask about the relationships of more recent hires to the
founders or first round of talent they hired. For a large company, seek to understand if there
will be opportunities to move laterally into other areas, or to new locations.
Write out at least five questions to ask that demonstrate you care about the future of the
company, and your role in that. During the interview, you may develop better questions in the
moment, but these questions are your foundation and will demonstrate both your interest and
At Early Stage Careers, our coaches work with clients on every aspect of interview
preparation. We help ensure that these preparatory steps are managed throughout the job
search process for all types of roles, and help job-seekers implement this method for key
interviews. Remember, there is no such thing as being over prepared for an interview – if
your research does not yield dividends during an interview, perhaps this knowledge might
serve you well in a future interview round (or even during the job, if you’re hired).
Consider that you may be asked, “What did you do to get ready for our meeting today?”
Being able to honestly answer this question to convey the depth of your preparedness, your
familiarity with the company and the role, and the thought you’ve given to your fit with the
company is a major asset during an interview. That answer, coupled with your engagement
during the interview, will help the interviewer picture you as a valuable part of their team,
and may very well lead to a job offer.