Cheat Sheet: What You Need to Know to Nail a Last-Minute Interview

For weeks you’ve been actively sending your resume out and applying for job openings when (finally!) you get a call from a company who wants you to come in for an interview—today! Because you still have to do your current job today, you have exactly an hour to prep. How do you get ready for this?

You obviously don’t have time now to do exhaustive in-depth research, so you’ll need to prioritize and nail the basics. As an agency recruiter, I know firsthand what an employer actually expects you to know when you walk through the door for an interview—both when it’s been scheduled in advance or when it’s been arranged at the very last minute.

In this scenario, after you Google directions and figure out exactly how to get there and how much time you’ll need (better to give yourself extra minutes so you don’t run the risk of arriving late), here’s what else you can do with your limited time.

The People: Who Are You Interviewing With?

Names and titles can be a blur, particularly if you’re hearing them for the first time. Write down everyone’s name and check out their LinkedIn profiles. This may help you find commonalities or shared interests that could be helpful in building rapport. If the company website has an “About Us” page, read through it and memorize key facts, names, and titles.

The Organization: What’s the Latest News?

See if there’s a Facebook page, LinkedIn profile, Instagram handle, or Twitter presence, and pay attention to anything striking. For example, did the company just secure another round of funding or launch a new CSR initiative? Knowledge of these types of items can be good conversation starters, particularly when you don’t know as much about the organization as you would if you had more prep time.

If nothing of note stands out on social media, you can do a simple Google News search with the company name, or, if they have a press page, you should be able to find recent coverage or press releases.

The Product: What Is it Selling?

Make sure you’ve tried the product and know what it’s about. In an ideal world, you’re applying to companies you admire or already have some familiarity with. But, if you’ve been sending out tons of applications and the interview happens to be at a company you’re less knowledgeable about, use 20 minutes to take a high-level stock of what your potential future employer does.

Nothing’s more annoying or disheartening to a hiring manager than to see that the interviewee has no idea what the organization does. It’s OK to ask for clarification about the company’s product or to probe for more info during the meeting—after all, this person knows he or she just called you in—but the expectation is that because you applied for the position, you have a baseline understanding.

The Culture: What’s the Dress Code?

The biggest way to signal you don’t understand your potential employer is to arrive in an outfit that totally clashes with its culture. Don’t arrive in a very formal and conservative look if you’re interviewing with a scrappy tech company. Likewise, you’re not going to want to go straight from your bare-bones startup, where your uniform is basically jeans and a T-shirt, to a law firm.

If you have no time to change, remain calm and do the best you can. Freshen up in the bathroom at your office, make sure your shirt’s tucked in, double-check there’s nothing in your teeth. If you can’t dress the way you would’ve liked, you can at least make yourself look as polished and put together as possible.

And if your outfit’s completely off-base, let the hiring manager know that you’re aware. It’s as simple as saying, “As you may know, I was invited at the last minute to interview today, and didn’t have time to change. I definitely recognize that this is a formal work environment [or a casual one], and will be more appropriately dressed the next time. “

The Candidate: What Do You Have to Offer?

During your commute—whether you’re driving or taking the bus—take advantage of the minutes leading up to your arrival. Spend a few minutes thinking through your work history and career trajectory. Can you recall a specific example of an achievement you’re proud of, a challenge you overcame, and what and how you learned from those experiences? You better believe someone in the interview is going to ask a question that prompts you to connect the dots and demonstrate your value.

Remember: This person’s on your side and he called you in at the last minute because he’s very interested in meeting you and moving you through the process. The last thing to do before you step into that room is take a deep breath and remind yourself that you’ve got this.

And if the worst-case scenario happens and you bomb, fear not. Even a bad interview isn’t always the end. Don’t underestimate the power of a well-written thank you note. In this letter, along with thanking everyone for their time, you can address the parts you fumbled over. Explain that you while you weren’t able to articulate a response on the spot, after having some time to think it through, you have an answer you’d like to share now. That small gesture often leaves a lasting impression.

Photo of man on laptop courtesy of Westend61/Getty Images.

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