For many job seekers, the interview feels like a starting line: the first place you really get to communicate who you are and why you're a fit for the job. But in fact, what you do before the interview matters as much as how you present yourself when in front of the potential employer.
Here are five things to make sure you do before you get to the interview:
1. Build your online profiles. If you've held off building online profiles because you weren't sure how to start, or what to say, now's the time to get going. Even if your first profile is just a slim overview of your background, having online profiles helps interviewers get a sense of who you are, what you have done and where you're headed.
Start with LinkedIn. As a business social network, LinkedIn is often the first site employers will go to learn more about you. Ensure your headshot, experience list, skills and About (summary) section are professional and in line with how you'll represent yourself in the interview.
When you have more time, add testimonials, endorsements and more connections. Even a brand-new LinkedIn profile that lists your experience and skills is better than no profile at all.
2. Research the company. You should never walk into a job interview (even a phone screen) without knowing about the company. Learn about their business, market and stakeholders. Get familiar with their culture and organizational structure. You can typically glean these insights on the company website.
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Informational interviews with people who work there, or used to work there, are also helpful. These meetings are brief and focused: What can you tell me about the company, its culture and mission? This research often reveals insights you can't get from online sources.
3. Research the interviewers. When the interview invitation is sent, look online for insight about the people you'll be meeting with. Again, LinkedIn is invaluable here because what you'll find there is information that person put there for you. It's considered public and strategic, so research on this site. If you were to do a background check on the person you're interviewing with, that's creepy. Studying their LinkedIn profile is expected.
Find areas of commonality or shared interest. See what you can learn about the interviewer so you can build rapport in the interview. People reveal a lot about what they care about through their volunteer efforts, for instance.
4. Align your "why" with the goals of the company and the job. Be prepared and rehearsed in answering the question, "Why do you want to work for our company?" as well as "Why do you want this job?" Have specific examples of your past experience aligning you with the goals of the company and its mission. Then, clarify how the job you're interviewing for lines up well with your career path, during your military career and after.
5. Plan your follow-up. Before you even get to the interview, prepare how you will follow up. Gather the names and addresses of the people you'll be interviewing with so you can send a handwritten thank you note. Listen for information you'll have to send immediately after the interview to determine whether you'll follow up by email instead.
Once in the interview, you'll drive the conversation using a strategy you developed based on these five advance steps. The goal is to be informed, confident and clear about your candidacy for the position, and evaluate whether the job appeals to you.
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