Your Complete Guide to the Interview Process

interviewSource: The Muse

Between the 20 or so of us, The Muse team has probably been on several hundred interviews in our day.

(We know. We cringe thinking about it, too.)

In other words, we’ve been through all of those OMG-what-should-I-wear panic attacks and bathroom-mirror rehearsals of the perfect answer to “What’s your biggest weakness?” that you’re probably dealing with as you prepare for your big day.

But all those pantsuits and practiced answers weren’t for naught. In the interest of sharing our hard-won job search expertise, we’ve put together a list of the biggest job interview questions we had going in—and answers that will help you go into yours totally prepared.

Consider it everything you ever wanted to know about interviewing—answered.

1. What Should I Wear?

Traditional interview wisdom will tell you a dark suit, a pressed button-down, and perfectly shined pumps or shoes. But truthfully, it all depends on the gig you’re applying for. This getup works great in a traditional environment, like a bank or law firm, but at a more creative business or a startup, you’ll be way overdressed—and a polished business casual look might be much better. Check out our guide on pulling off a business casual look to learn more.

Read More: The Secret to a Perfect Interview Outfit? Stalk the Company’s Social Media

2. What Should I Ask the Interviewer Beforehand?

Knowing all the small details can make a big difference in your confidence on interview day, so it’s totally OK to ask a few clarifying questions. Make sure you’re clear on who you’ll be meeting with (especially if there are multiple people), if there are any special directions or parking details, how long the meeting will last, and if there’s anything you should prepare.

Read More: 6 Questions That Will Ease Your Mind Before the Interview

3. What Should I Bring?

Three copies of your resume, a few of your best work samples if you have them, a notepad and pen, and, well, the basics you’d bring going anywhere (cash, your silenced phone, breath mints). All held in a classy padfolio or bag!

4. What Should I Prepare?

For most interviews, you’ll want to think through the most common interview questions hiring managers ask. (And yes, we have ideas for all of them.) While you don’t have to have scripted answers to them (in fact, please don’t), thinking through common questions and how your experiences can help answer them will help you feel a lot more comfortable on the day of.

Read More: How to Answer the 31 Most Common Interview Questions

5. How Much Research About the Company Should I Do?

In short, as much as possible. You should be up to speed on what the company does, your interviewers’ backgrounds, and any current events or press. You should also try to get insight into the culture and interview process using Glassdoor or, yes, informational interviews.

You want to work here, right? That said, remember, you’re going to an interview, not trivia night. While it might be key to know a company is rapidly expanding in Asia, you don’t need to memorize how many offices it has in each country. Read up on the company, but don’t stay up all night stressing over the details.

Read More: The Ultimate Guide to Researching a Company Pre-Interview

6. What Time Should I Get There?

Early! We like the better-safe-than-sorry approach here and suggest planning to get to the office with about 30 minutes of leeway—you never know what traffic or subway gods could be working against you. Disclaimer: If you do arrive early, don’t tell the receptionist you’re here just yet—sit in the lobby or Starbucks and gather your thoughts until about five minutes prior to your meeting time. No one appreciates a too-early bird.

Read More: One Thing That’s Killing Your Interviewer (Before the Interview Even Starts)

7. What Do I Do if I Know I’m Going to Be Late?

Um, that’s why we said to get there early. But in reality, life happens, and being late (for a really good reason) generally isn’t a deal-breaker. If you’re in your car, use your hands-free to calmly call and ask the receptionist if he or she has suggestions for an alternate route. It’s a way to hint that you may be unavoidably late without calling and complaining about traffic. Serious subway delays? Get off at the next stop and hoof it or catch a cab. And if you still arrive late? Apologize sincerely—once—and put your game face back on. Don’t keep bringing it up.

Read More: Your Go-To Email Template Anytime You Are Running Late to an Interview

8. What Should I Do if I’m Sick? Can I Cancel?

The best way to handle this situation is to avoid it. Feel like you’re getting sick on Wednesday? Don’t chance your Friday interview—call and ask to push it to the following Monday. If you wake up the day of and feel a little scratchy? Ask yourself what you would do if you had a major presentation: Would you be able to load up on DayQuil, push yourself, do a good job, then go home and get into bed; or do you know you’d be foggy and coughy?

If you won’t be able to make a good impression, email as early as possible. Try to schedule an alternative time by offering your availability, and make sure it’s more than a day away so you won’t have to call if off again.

9. Should I Reach for a Handshake or Wait for the Interviewer?

Go ahead and reach on out—it shows you’re friendly and assertive. And follow pro Olivia Fox Cabane’s tips to make sure you’re shaking the right way.

Read More: Are You Making One of These Handshake Mistakes?

10. Where Should I Sit?

As etiquette expert Nancy R. Mitchell explains, “after you shake hands with all of your interviewers, stand behind a chair until you are invited to sit down, or politely ask where the interviewer would like you to sit. When you take your seat at an interview table, do not place personal items on the table—no cell phones, Blackberrys, handbags, briefcases… All of these things should be placed under your chair or on a chair beside you.”

11. How Should I Sit to Show I’m Professional—Yet Interesting?

Ah, the power of body language. Sit up straight, which is professional, but lean forward a little bit, which shows you’re engaged in the conversation. Plant your feet on the floor or cross your legs, and, as Mitchell offers, “don’t sit with both hands in your lap beneath the table” if you don’t want to “look like a nervous child.” Instead, “rest an arm on the arm of your chair or on the table.”

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