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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Williams

How are top candidates preparing for their interviews?

In the last month, I spoke to dozens of candidates who recently had interviews at top companies to learn more about how they prepare and how we could help them.

I found out the best people are dedicating lots of time to preparing to make sure they stand out. I wanted to summarise some of the best preparation techniques while sharing my own advice.

I hope this will give you plenty of inspiration for how you can prepare for your interviews like a pro.

Ask the company what the interviews will cover

Companies often have different hiring processes depending on where you're interviewing. Therefore, it's common to receive an interview invite (either with HR or the hiring manager) without any indication of what they're looking for. The best candidates ask, "What will you be testing in this stage?" The company often responds with helpful insight that informs what to prepare for.

Research the company in depth

I've written previously about the areas to research before interviewing at a company, which I'd recommend reading as a starting point. The best candidates are taking this research to another level. Below are some examples that I thought were impactful.

  • The best candidates applying for a sales role prepare how they'd pitch the company. They look at the website, blogs and marketing material to understand the right tone of voice and unique selling points. They look at reviews (such as Trustpilot) to see what customers think, so they're ready for objection handling.

  • The best candidates applying for a customer success role research different reviews across different sites and start correlating trends and spotting patterns. They also take note of publicly available response times and the channels they appear to cover.

  • The best candidates applying for a marketing role look on all channels to find recent advertising campaigns. They think through what the target audience is and pull out the key marketing messages.

  • The best candidates applying for a product role trial the product and think through the opportunities for improvement. They look for public roadmaps or indications of where the business is headed to ensure they can speak confidently about the priorities.

Look into the team structure

The best candidates spend 10 minutes on LinkedIn to understand the current team structure. I like this approach as it provides valuable information, and you can show an understanding of the team dynamic, where people typically come from and how long people have been in the company before an interview.

For example, suppose you could be the 2nd salesperson to join the team. This is a big difference from being the 10th. You'll stand out by showing an understanding that an early salesperson will need to help shape best practices.

For example, suppose you find out the manager has just taken on a dual role as the VP of Product and Technology. You'll stand out by pointing out that they are likely to have a lot of priorities, and so you can bring a lot to the role by being independent and owning decisions.

Think through "would I fit in here?"

All organisations have strong and varied cultures, and the ways of operating can differ significantly between startups, corporates, governments, charities, etc. The best candidates look for Glassdoor reviews, blogs and information on the careers page to understand how the company operates. Some candidates even seek out current/former employees to ask a few questions. This will give you more information to explain why you're a strong fit for the company.

Assess your skills versus the job description

Companies think deeply about what they're looking for, so there are typically a lot of valuable signals in a job description. The best candidates take a job description and go line-by-line to ensure they understand the requirements. They think about how their strengths align with what's needed. This preparation means you're ready to emphasise to the hiring manager that you will deliver value where it's needed.

I was impressed to hear some candidates think about the challenges they'd face in the role (e.g. "I haven't led a team this big before"). This level of self-awareness can make you stand out. You aren't expected to be 100% perfect, but if you can identify challenging areas, you're already 2 steps ahead of most candidates.

Prepare great questions

Recruiters like inquisitive people. The best candidates understand that asking a great question at the end of the interview will help them stand out as someone curious and able to challenge. Asking good questions can also show you are excited about the company.

My top tip: be ambitious, prepare follow-up thoughts, and use open-ended questions (Why..? How..? What if..?) This part of the interview is often overlooked but deserves thoughtful preparation too.

Think through what the interviewer may ask

The best candidates consider questions they may be asked and write bullet point notes. When writing bullet points, they refresh their memory about previous experiences at work. It can often be helpful to consider the impact of a project, the decisions made, and the challenges faced as well as the skills you developed and learned in the process.

You'll likely be asked questions to understand if you have these qualities, so it's an excellent place to start. Here are the types of questions the best candidates are preparing for:

  • Motivations (e.g. "Why do you want to work for Spotify?" or "What gets you excited about a company of our size?")

  • Previous experience (e.g. "Talk me through a time when you've solved a tricky problem")

  • Beliefs (e.g. "What do you believe is the best way to build trust?")

  • Feelings (e.g. "How do you feel when someone says one of your ideas isn't very good?")

  • Skills-based (e.g. "We're about to walk into a sales pitch with a potential customer. How would you prepare?")

Practise essential skills that may be tested

Sometimes interviews require you to demonstrate your skills rather than talk about them. For example, a sales job may have an interview where you role-play a pitch. The best candidates practise skills necessary to their role, so they put their best foot forward during a pressured situation.

The best designers practise talking through their portfolios.

The best strategy managers practise structuring a problem.

The best product managers practise running a product prioritisation session.

The best engineers practise coding exercises and talking through their work.

The best customer-service people practise going through their phone conversations techniques to build trust with customers.

Evaluate your interview technique

The best candidates understand that an interview is about effective communication, so they evaluate their interview technique. They either ask a friend to role-play a few questions with them or record their answers and watch the videos to see where to improve or get tighter with responses.

I like this approach, as I believe interviewing is a skill. It's not something you often do, and it isn't natural for everyone to sell themselves. It may feel awkward to hear your voice and try to pick out improvements, but it could ensure you're close to being 10/10 on the interview day.

Think about whether your answers are structured, whether you're giving enough detail, if you're using filler words (e.g. "umm" and "like") and whether your body language shows confidence and positivity.

Reflect on your interview immediately after

The best candidates will reflect on the interview the same evening. They jot down the hard questions, areas where they gave unclear answers or moments they were nervous. The next time they go for an interview, they spend more time on these areas to improve.

Unfortunately, many companies still don't give helpful feedback after an interview, so I think this is a great tactic to increase your learning on how to improve.

It's competitive to get a job, so I hope this article provides some ideas on how to elevate your preparation. If you're thinking, "this will take lots of time", try and find the 2-3 things you can do in an hour that will be most effective. My advice is always to make fewer, better applications. This helps ensure you have the time and headspace to prepare for the jobs you want and stand out amongst many other candidates.


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