Your first professional interview may be both exciting and nerve-wracking — but you can position yourself for success by doing your homework. A strong interview is built on advance preparation. When students visit Career and Professional Development for interview guidance, we make the following recommendations.

Research, research, research.

Before the interview, do as much research as you can: about the position you’re applying for, about the company, and, if possible, about the person (or people) you’ll be interviewing with. When your interview is scheduled, you can simply ask, “And who will I be interviewing with?” By looking at the company’s website and the person’s LinkedIn profile, you can determine how long that person has been with the company and what his or her professional background is. This information can help you anticipate what questions the person will ask and alert you to any common interests or experience you share.

Become an expert on the company.

Mock interview preparing students

Read everything you can on the company’s website. Read its recent stock reports, study recent news articles about it, and look at the board of directors. Think like an employee, not just a consumer. For instance, if you were interviewing for a corporate position with CVS, you’d want to know more about the company than what you see in the stores. Do you know how many locations they have, and where they’re expanding? Did you know that they acquired Target’s pharmacy business? Did you know that they were the first national drugstore chain to stop selling tobacco products?

Study the job posting.

The job description might list two dozen skills the company is looking for, but you want to figure out what the most critical ones are. We have students read through the job posting and highlight the key functions of the position in one color, and then highlight the key skills and abilities the employer is looking for in another. This exercise will help you focus your answers to their questions on your most relevant experience. For instance, if you see that the posting mentions “team player” and “working well in groups” several times, you will shape your answers differently than if the position emphasizes “working autonomously.”

Get the logistics down.

Make sure you have the time, date and place of the interview correct. If you haven’t been to the location before, drive there a couple of days before the interview to make sure you know how to get there, what traffic will be like, and where to park. On the day of the interview, you certainly don’t want to be late, but you don’t want to arrive so early that you’re sitting in the reception area for half an hour. Plan your travel to arrive at the property (or very close by) 30 minutes early, and then sit in your car for a little while to collect your thoughts before you walk into the interview just a few minutes before your appointment.

Come prepared and organized.

Arrive at the interview with extra copies of your résumé and your reference list; any instructions you’ve been given for the day; and a pad of paper to take notes.

The St. Edward’s University padfolio (or a similar folder) is a very helpful tool for keeping your interview papers organized. Our executive padfolio is given to graduating seniors when they complete the Beyond the Hilltop survey. It’s large enough to include everything you need, but it’s easy to carry under one arm, leaving you free to shake hands. You may be given business cards during your interview, and the padfolio is a good place to put those.

By Raymond Rogers, Director of Career and Professional Development, St. Edward’s University