Prepping for your job interview

Many people show up to job interviews completely unprepared. Don’t be one of them.

man holding his eyeglasses
This guy is nervous because he didn’t prepare enough for his job interview. Photo by Benjamin Ranger on Unsplash

You’ve heard me say it a few times already, but at the risk of sounding repetitive, here I go again: your job interview is the most important test you will ever take so you must study for it. I’ve interviewed many people and have always been struck by how few people take the time to do basic preparation.

Don’t be one of these people! Do not go into an interview not knowing what the company you’re applying for does. Don’t forget which position you applied for. And be prepared to answer questions that you know you’ll be asked.

There are tons of free resources to help you prepare for your interviews online. Simply Googling “top IT Support Interview questions” will bring up some study material for you, and of course, there’s my top interview questions to prepare page where I’ve gathered some of the most important ones.

So today, let’s go into how you’d prepare for a job interview.

In the ideal scenario, you would have read the A+ certification book by the time you’d started sending out résumés. I’d advise you to budget roughly three months for this. As you read through the book, underline everything you don’t know. Do this for anything you’re not familiar with, whether or not you think it’s important! If you’re just starting off your career, you do not yet have a good gauge of what will and will not be important.

The actual reading of the book should take you two months; the third month is for making note cards (or whatever works for you) of the things you underlined. Study those note cards until you’ve memorized and understood everything you didn’t previously know.

Again, I can’t stress enough that you should not skip over things that seem unimportant to you. Knowing the different types of monitor cables may not seem important to you, but you may get an interview question on it! For example, did you know that an HDMI cable carries sound but a VGA cable does not? Well, you’d better know it before your interview! Read the A+ book!

At this point, you’re at the three months mark. Let’s assume you started off with zero IT knowledge; now, you know enough basics to start interviewing. You know the difference between a hard drive and memory, how many bits are in a byte, and some operating system basics. Great! Time to send out résumés!

This is the tough part: you’ll send out tons of résumés and get no answers. At this point, it becomes a numbers game. Don’t focus too much on only applying to your dream jobs at this point. Your first job probably won’t be your dream job. (It might be, but if that’s the case you’ll have gotten amazingly lucky!) Think of sending out résumés like you’re swiping on Tinder. You’ll swipe right a hundred times before you get a match. For now, don’t focus on how many responses you get. You cannot control that. Focus on the part you do control: aim to send out a certain amount of résumés each day.

Set yourself a goal of sending out twenty résumés each day. You’ll have sent out 100 in your first week (assuming you’re sending these out weekdays only.) Make this your full time job while you don’t have an actual job. Start trawling LinkedIn, Monster, Indeed, and all the other places you’re likely to find a job posting at 9am each day. Keep track of the following on a spreadsheet: Name of business, link of posting, job title, and miscellaneous notes you may find useful. You’ll need that once you get a response so you can refresh yourself on the job, the requirements, which company it’s for, and other useful tidbits of information.

For each posting, send your résumé and a cover letter. Tailor your cover letter to each posting. I know this sounds like a lot of work, but you really only need to change a sentence or two each time. If you create a form cover letter with x’s marking the areas to individualize, it will make the process faster to zero in on the items you’ll need to update. I’d recommend using a unique name on each cover letter (if one is provided) and a sentence about why you’re interested in working in that particular place. For example, if you’re applying to Amazon for a help desk position, you might add in the sentence: “I would be very interested in starting my career at Amazon as an IT Support Specialist and one day growing into an AWS Architect role, which is my long term career goal.” Amazon is the creator of AWS, so this sentence shows that you’re not simply sending out hundreds of résumés indiscriminately (even though that’s kinda what you’re doing…)

After dutifully sending out one (or two) hundred résumés, you finally receive an invitation to interview. You could choose to not prepare for your big day and go back to sending out résumés, but being a reader of this blog you’ve decided to put in some prep work and actually get the job. The good news is that if you’re properly prepared, getting the actual interview is the hard part, not the interview itself.

woman looking at the floor
This lady is sad because she didn’t prepare for her interview enough. Guess it’s time to send out another hundred résumés… Photo by Tiago Bandeira on Unsplash

You’re already prepared knowledge-wise: you’ve read and internalized the info in the A+ book. Now, you need to prepare for the interview itself.

Have you ever had someone ask you something you know, but you get nervous because you’re on the spot and you don’t remember the answer? Then, you spend the next ten years hating yourself for not remembering? That’s what we want to avoid on interview day.

Don’t worry, it’s easier than you might think. The secret is to be overly prepared. When you’re asked a particular question, you won’t be nervous because you’ll have thought about your answer in advance and will know exactly how to answer. You can focus on delivery without having to spend brain power on thinking up your answer.

Let’s go through the process for one question and then you can do the same thing for all the questions you’ll be preparing. In a previous post, “Tell me about a time you made a judgment error,” I dealt with a question you’ll most likely be asked (and should definitely prepare,) so let’s use that here.

This can be a real nerve wracking question if you haven’t prepared it. The interviewer asks it and you start panicking and trying to think up of something that fits the question but doesn’t make you look really bad. You might get lucky and answer well, but a poor answer can raise lots of red flags and cost you the job.

But there’s no need to get nervous now, because you’re at home and thinking through your ideal answer to this question. I’ll lift this answer from my previous post, but you’d obviously want to come up with an answer that matches your own experience.

“One of our sales people brought in his laptop and requested that I swap out his memory. He’d experienced a blue screen of death and had seen the error message: it was an issue with the RAM. He was fairly tech savvy and I was swamped with work, so instead of taking the time to diagnose the issue as I would normally do, I quickly replaced his memory sticks and sent him on his way. Unfortunately, the issue wasn’t with the memory at all. A driver was causing a memory leak. Since I hadn’t re-installed the driver, he blue screened again – this time, it was during a presentation to a potential client. I apologized to him and quickly let my manager know what happened. Luckily for me, the sale still went through, but it could’ve easily gone badly because of me. I learned a valuable lesson that day: take the time to do your due diligence. Short cuts will only end up costing you more time… or worse!”

You don’t want to try to memorize this answer word for word. You’ll be preparing fifty to sixty interview questions, and if you can memorize that many answers, color me impressed! But even if you could memorize all those answers, don’t – they’d only come out sounding robotic and artificial.

What I want you to do is prepare bullet points for each question. I personally always use a notebook where I write out each question along with bullet points, but use note cards if that’s your preferred way of studying. You know what works for you.

For the above answer, here’s how my entry would look:

“Tell me about a time you made a judgment error. How was it discovered, and what did you do to correct it?

1) Sales person with laptop
2) He thought it was a memory issue and I took his word for it
3) Turned out to be a memory leak
4) What I did: notified manager
5) Lesson learned: no shortcuts when troubleshooting!”

You’ll write out an entry in your notebook (or one flash card) for each question you want to prepare. The time I’d budget for this is roughly two weeks. That’s ten business days, so shoot to think about and create bullet points for five questions each day. That’s very doable! After you’ve done your five questions each day, review all the entries in your notebook. Read the question while covering your bullet points with a piece of paper and try to remember all your talking points. Did you forget a bullet point? Remember it for tomorrow.

By the end of the two weeks, you’ll have reviewed that first set of questions ten times, so you should know those in your sleep. You’ll probably be an expert at the first twenty five questions, which is the first week’s worth of questions. But no matter, review them every day anyhow. Keep sending out twenty résumés and studying your questions every day. By the time you’re getting some leads from the résumés you’ve sent out, you’ll be cool as a cucumber because you’ll have answered each of those questions in your head a zillion times.

You’ll have put in less than four months’ worth of preparation from start to finish and will now be ultra-prepared for your interview. Your goal now should be to try to ace your first interview. Following the techniques I’ve highlighted, this is doable. What I want you to avoid is falling into a rut where you send out hundreds of résumés, bomb the interview, and then start feeling discouraged. By being overly prepared, you’ll ace that first interview by standing head and shoulders above the rest of your competition.

Now go get started on that A+ book. You’re less than four months away from that first interview!

With each post, I cover a new topic to help you get your start (or keep progressing) in your IT career. If it’s your first time visiting this blog, start here. Or, see all my posts about interview questions you should be able to answer.

Author: Silicon Wanderer

I'm a merry wanderer on the path to financial independence through IT. I'm doing it, and I want to show you how you can to!

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