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Use this 15-minute checklist to prepare for a job interview

In just a few minutes you can make sure that you’ll nail your first impression.

Use this 15-minute checklist to prepare for a job interview
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Your job interview is just days away and you’re feeling unprepared. You’ve reread the job posting about 67 times and you’re pretty clear on the role itself–but you can’t really think of much else to do to brush up.

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Don’t sweat it. In fact, you may only need another 15 minutes or so in order to prep, so here’s what to do.

1. Confirm everyone you’ll be meeting with

One minute. If the hiring manager or an HR officer set up your interview and didn’t explicitly tell you whom you’re going to be chatting with, don’t just assume it’s them and only them. It’s not at all uncommon for hiring managers to shuttle you off to someone else on their team who’s become available to meet you at the last minute. Firing off a quick email like this puts them on the hook to plan ahead rather than surprise you:

Hi Kamala, I’m really excited to come in on Tuesday. Just wanted to confirm that I’ll be speaking with you and Jarrod. Could you please let me know if there’s anyone else I should look forward to meeting? Thanks so much!

Hit send and move on.

2. Check out the interviewer’s LinkedIn and Twitter

Five minutes. Chances are you’re more familiar with the job description than with the roles and backgrounds of your interviewer. Once you’ve nailed down which people you’ll be talking to, it’s time to do some digging on each of them.

LinkedIn is the obvious great place to start. Skim their previous roles (including at other employers), take note of how long they’ve been with the organization, and then head way down to the bottom: If there are endorsements and recommendations, these can give you a feel for what a prospective boss might be especially good at. Any common themes in the praise their colleagues are sharing? Obviously, you’ll only find positive feedback in these sections, but that can still help you hone better questions about their management style.

Twitter is a handy guide, too: What articles is your interviewer sharing? Are their tweets opinionated and casual, or do they sound serious and formal? It’s certainly an imperfect measure, but this can still help you guess at an interviewer’s personality, interests, and values.

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3. Line up your “about me” answer

Seven minutes. Chances are your interview will open with some form of “Tell me a little about yourself” or the longer variant, “Tell me a little about yourself and what interests you about this role.” So plan your answer using a few quick bullet points in order to keep things short and concise.

As Glassdoor’s Isabel Thottam pointed out recently, it’s all about first impressions, so you’ll want to avoid sharing a lengthy backstory. “Skip your personal history and give about two to three sentences about your career path and how you ended up in this interview, applying for this job,” she explains. “You don’t need to be too detailed, there are plenty more questions coming. You just want to leave enough curiosity that the interviewer becomes excited to learn more about you throughout the interview.”

Take a few minutes to sketch out this capsule narrative and commit it (loosely, not word-for-word) to memory.

4. Brainstorm one great question to ask

Two minutes. Get one really sharp question lined up that you can pose to the hiring manager. Sure, you can brainstorm three or five if you have time, but interviews ted to get truncated more often than they drag on longer than expected–so think about the No. 1 thing you really want to know.

Not sure what that is? Here are a few good questions you might want to pose depending on your career-stage. These are a bunch of all-around sharp questions that help you probe deeper about how performance is measured, expectations for the role, career advancement, and more, and these are a few more that can help you really dig into the company culture.

But when in doubt, just ask a question that shows off your curiosity. According to psychologist and talent expert Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, “just being curious is a marketable job skill.” It’s “the precursor to learning faster and better, and thereby adapting to change rather than succumbing to it,” he explained in a recent Fast Company column. He suggests asking qualitative questions like, Why do you see X as important?” or “How do you see Y changing in the future?”

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This can help interviewers see that you’re thinking ahead and considering how the role fits into the bigger organizational picture, but it does something much more fundamental, too: Continued curiosity is a sign that you’re actually interested in the job and giving it some serious thought. At a minimum, you want to walk out of your interview having convinced them of that.

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About the author

Rich Bellis is Associate Editor of Fast Company's Leadership section.

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