The most underutilized tool in preparing for job interviews is the job description. As a job seeker, you rely heavily upon the job description in the early stages of the hunt—after all, it’s the only piece of information you have to help you land an interview. But, once you’ve landed that interview, the job description gets tossed aside because it’s no longer relevant.
Job descriptions actually contain a secret wealth of knowledge that can aid you in preparing for an interview. Instead of balling up that piece up paper (or closing that browser tab), use these tips to prepare for a smoother, successful interview.
1. Talking points
When preparing for an interview, most people will focus on what questions they think the employer is going to ask. While this is a valid approach, it can also be a complete guessing game. Instead of focusing on what the employer might ask, focus on creating answers you can use for any number of different questions based on the things included in the job description.
A good job description will lay out all the essential skills the employer is seeking. The employer wants to understand how you developed those skills and what you’ve accomplished using them.
Prepare for your interview by:
- Brainstorming a talking point for each technical or hard skill or listed in the job description. Focus on highlighting your accomplishments, milestones, and the goals you’ve achieved using that specific skill.
If they are seeking someone with “2+ years of experience leading a team,” make notes on the key successes that a team has accomplished under your direction in the last few years.
The hiring manager who wrote the job description is likely to also be the interviewer, unless it’s a technical position where they are screening for technical abilities. Demonstrating that you understand the job and its requirements from the job description well enough to structure your answers around their desired qualifications is a good way to build rapport.
While not every bullet from the job description will be brought up in the job interview, if you’re prepared to explain not only that you possess each skill, but also how you excelled at it, you’ll have talking points for any skill-related question they throw your way.
- Identifying stories from your past that will demonstrate you possess the characteristics and soft skills the employer is seeking.
Assessing soft skills in an interview is difficult because the employer usually spends less than an hour with you. While they’ll be able to get a snapshot of your general personality and interpersonal skills during the interview, you need to paint a complete picture of what you’re like in a professional setting day-in and day-out.
Create a list of stories from your previous jobs, school, and volunteer work that correspond to soft skills in the job description. If they want someone “highly communicative and client-centric” be armed with a story of a specific time you went above and beyond your normal job duties to satisfy a client or kept them abreast of developments in a highly important campaign you headed up.
If you’re prepared with talking points about both your hard and soft skills, including specific stories and examples to back up your claims, you don’t need to stress over what the questions will be—you’ve already got your answers!
2. Identify weaknesses
Don’t feel disheartened if you don’t meet all of the criteria for a position. In a job description, the employer essentially lays out their “unicorn employee.” In reality, most candidates will have mastered some skills, but lack others.
In preparing for the interview, your weaknesses should become apparent. As you developed your talking points in step one, you probably struggled to come up with stories for some of the desired qualifications. Those are your weak spots, and you need to be prepared to talk about them.
To combat your weaknesses before the interview:
- Be honest with yourself about your skill levels. If you exaggerate your skills during the interview, and can’t perform them upon landing the job, it will reflect poorly upon you—and could even get you fired.
Be armed with specific plans about how and where you can learn the skills where you are weak or lack experience. Also share any related skills you already possess that will speed up the learning curve.
- Start learning as much as you can about the areas in which you are weakest. Even if you only spend a couple hours reading up on the subject, you will at least have enough knowledge of the topic to understand what the employer is seeking. Plus, there’s always the chance you know more about the subject than you realized!
Honesty about what you can and can’t do is important during the interview. The employer will appreciate your honesty, especially if it’s coupled with a sincere desire to learn the skills necessary to perform the job. And by acknowledging your weaknesses ahead of time, you can avoid being stumped by related interview questions.
3. Create questions
While a job description can give you a ton of useful information on how to prepare for your interview, it does not present a complete picture. Company websites and resources such as Glassdoor can be useful tools to gather further information, but interviews provide the best access to information—directly from the source.
After you’ve read the job description, you should have a broad sense of what the position entails, what the company values, and how you stack up. Ask yourself what the job description doesn’t tell you. Those are the questions you want to ask during the interview.
Consider the following:
- What does the job description tell you about company culture?
- Do you get a clear sense of what the company’s ideal candidate would look like?
- Do you understand how this role fits into their team? Their organization? The company?
Use the questions above to guide you and think about what missing information you want to gather in the interview. Most interviewers expect you to have questions prepared, because it demonstrates that you’ve been researching the company and are serious about the job.
The other bonus to crafting questions based on the job description is that you can verify how accurately it portrays the job and the company. If the job description says the company values a good work/life balance, and that’s a big selling point for you, don’t be afraid to ask, “The job description mentioned this company prioritizes work/life balance. Can you tell me about the policies you have in place to promote this?”
Remember, you are interviewing the company just as much as they are interviewing you. A good employer will be impressed, not put off, by your attention to the details in their job description and your interest in their priorities.
The job description is only a starting point, but it can help you assess what you don’t know, as well as what you do know about the job. It’s up to you to collect the rest.
When you land an interview, keep in mind that one of the hardest parts is already over. Your resume beat their applicant track system and now you have the opportunity to meet with someone face to face. The company has already shown an interest in you, so showing up to the interview prepared and relaxed will just affirm their decision to select you.