Career counselors say a good job interview starts well before the jobseeker and interviewer meet. Preparation can be as important as the interview itself. Researching, practicing, and dressing appropriately are the first steps to making the most of a job interview. Read on to learn the proven skills that will present you in the best light!
For many people, job interviews are the most stressful part of any employment search. But they don’t have to be.
Employment interviews are an opportunity to show you’re an enthusiastic worker who would do a job well. You can make the most of that opportunity by being prepared, presenting a professional demeanor, and describing your qualifications well.
There are many types of employment interviews, and each may have a different purpose. Screening interviews, for example, are designed to whittle the applicant pool. Group or panel interviews yield multiple perspectives from a single meeting. And telephone and videoconferencing interviews help employers find the best prospects before investing time and effort in a face-to-face interview.
Preparation for the Interview
Learning about the company and the position for which you are being interviewed is essential—and it will help you to show employers that you are really interested. A company’s website is a great place to start, and a web search might reveal additional details on recent projects or achievements the company has made.
Before arriving for an interview, you should know what the company does and any recent changes it has undergone. Learn about the company’s mission and goals. With these in mind, you can show during the interview how your qualifications match the company’s needs.
Employment and social media sites, especially those related to business networking, may have more specific information about the company’s culture. For example, current and former employees may post reviews of the employer or offer details about questions they were asked during a job interview.
Practice Answering Questions About Yourself
Another important step in preparing for a job interview is to practice describing your professional characteristics. Think of examples from past jobs, schoolwork, and activities to illustrate important skills. Recalling accomplishments beforehand, when you are not being evaluated, helps you to give solid answers during the interview.
Every interview is different, and it’s always possible there will be questions that surprise you. Nevertheless, interviewers suggest rehearsing with a career counselor or a friend to build confidence and poise. As a starting point, try answering these questions aloud:
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- Can you tell me about a time you dealt with conflict as part of a team?
- Why did you leave, or are you leaving, your job?
- What are your goals?
- Why should we hire you?
Each question allows you to illustrate your favorable characteristics. When responding, focus on subjects related to the job. For example, if asked to describe yourself, talk about your professional characteristics and background, not your personal life.
Some questions, such as those about hobbies or interests, may seem irrelevant. Interviewers ask these types of questions to learn about your personality and test your interpersonal skills. These questions also let you highlight some of your other strengths. Participating in a sport might demonstrate teamwork, for example. And ability in a craft, such as jewelry making, might show your attention to detail.
Whatever the question, emphasize the positive. If there is a weakness evident on your résumé or transcript, such as being fired from a job or receiving poor grades, rehearse an explanation before the interview in case you are asked about them. Focus on what you learned from the experience, and be careful never to criticize a previous employer or coworker.
How to Ruin a Job Interview in Five Seconds
As an aside from the obvious tips, did you know you could destroy any change of getting the job by answering this question wrong? A successful business entrepreneur shared this ‘deal killer’ scenario with our staff, and it was so interesting that we had to include it. Here it is:
If asked, “How do you see yourself doing this job?” the answer should include tasks mentioned in the job posting. This is your chance to show you read the entire job description as presented to you in your application. Our industry expert said that at least 30% of applicants that appeared qualified, had not even read the job description and applied blindly. This revealed that they were not serious about the actual job, and were randomly applying everywhere.
“How would you feel about hiring someone who didn’t know what the job entailed prior to the interview?”, said our expert. “In that moment, the panel of interviewers, who had taken valuable time to meet the applicant were immediately aware that this person was not going to be selected.”
In summary, companies publish the job description for a reason, read it and be ready to ask questions about the duties you may not understand. It will go a long way to impressing the interviewer and show you came prepared to work.
Appearance Matters – Dress Professionally
While it may be wrong to judge a book by its cover, it would be naive to assume people don’t do it everyday. Especially in a job interview where the search for the best candidate is underway.
Dress for an interview as you would for an important day on the job, such as a meeting with a supervisor or a presentation to a client. Don’t let your appearance distract the interviewer from your qualifications.
Keep your hair neat, and cover any tattoos or piercings, if possible. Avoid cologne and perfume, large pieces of jewelry, and heavy or unnatural makeup. Clothes should be clean, ironed, and fit well. And shoes should be polished and closed-toe.
Many employers expect jobseekers to wear a suit—preferably one in a conservative color such as navy blue, gray, or black—but not all do. A company with an informal dress code might be fine with your wearing a button-down shirt and dress slacks. If you’re not sure about what to wear, dressing up is more prudent than dressing down.
Showtime – The Day of the Interview
On the day of the interview, give yourself plenty of time to get ready for and travel to the interview. Plan to arrive 10 to 15 minutes early. (Some career counselors suggest making a test run to the interview site in advance to familiarize yourself with the travel route.)
Running Late? Call them and tell them, showing up late without notice is extremely disrespectful and could result in your interview being cancelled.
Consider carrying a folder or briefcase to the interview so you have access to things you’ll want while you’re there. These include a pen and paper to record important information, such as the proper spelling of the interviewer’s name and the time and date of followup interviews; multiple copies of your résumé or application and references; and examples of your work, such as writing samples.
Similarly, have these items within easy reach for interviews conducted over the phone or through video conference. For phone interviews, consider disabling call waiting on the day of the interview; you don’t want to put the interviewer on hold, and persistent call-waiting beeps may distract you. For video conference interviews, make sure that the Web camera is angled correctly and that the surrounding area is neat. Good natural lighting (by a window) can improve visual quality. Be aware of background noise and keep the microphone near, so you don’t sound like you are shouting across a room. Additionally, whatever the scene behind you– will become part of your first impression, choose wisely.
What If I Get Nervous?
It’s natural to feel nervous when interviewing. But remember: You have skills the employer needs. The interview is your chance to show how those skills would be a good fit for the job. Nervousness can actually work for you, making you more energetic and animated than someone who is completely calm.
To reduce nervousness, interviewers recommend getting a good night’s sleep and maintaining your usual morning routine. If you never eat breakfast, for example, don’t eat a hearty morning meal on interview day. They also recommend putting yourself in a positive mindset before the interview by calling to mind some of your happiest memories or proudest moments.
Remember: Each opening you interview for is not the only job that exists. There are openings with other companies that might be a better fit. Every interview is an opportunity to practice getting more comfortable talking about yourself.
Making the First Impression
An in-person interview begins the moment you arrive. Everyone you meet, from the receptionist to the hiring manager, will form an impression of you. To ensure the impression is positive, remember that your words and mannerisms affect how others perceive you. It is not uncommon for the interviewers to ask how you behaved the moment you arrived, before meeting the hiring manager. So be polite, to everyone!
- When greeting people, smile and shake hands.
- Make eye contact and maintain good posture.
- Don’t use slang or give curt, one-word answers.
- Don’t chew gum, bite your nails, or use your phone.
- Speak clearly, listen attentively and sit up straight to project enthusiasm.
Standard politeness is important in an interview because the interviewer knows little about you. For example, don’t presume that you should use your interviewer’s first name just because the company atmosphere is relaxed. Approach the dialogue with some formality and the interviewer will advise you if they prefer you to speak more personally.
Responding to Questions
After introductions, the interviewer may explain the job in more detail, discuss the company, or initiate friendly conversation. The interviewer will then ask questions to gauge how well you would fill the position.
Note: Avoid “stories” as an answer. The interview has a time limit, everyone has questions they want to ask, and a long answer takes away time from that. It is likely that a story vs. an answer will not answer the question, but might reveal details about you that are better left for a less formal setting.
When responding to the interviewer, avoid vague answers, such as, “I want to work with people” (or animals, or cars, or whatever the job entails). Instead, describe the specific ways you want to work with them, perhaps by giving examples of how you have successfully done so in the past. Focus on your strengths, but be honest.
Let the interviewer direct the session. He or she may use your resume as a guide and ask for additional details. Listen attentively, and answer each question completely. Pay attention to the interviewer’s mannerisms for clues about whether to elaborate or to keep your responses short.
Some jobseekers are so focused on specific answers that they forget to relax and connect with the interviewer. An interview should be conversational. However, that doesn’t mean you’re expected to speak without pause. Stop to consider an answer before responding to difficult or unexpected questions. And if a question is confusing, ask for clarification.
In a group or panel interview, try to engage the whole group. When interviewing with other candidates for a job, take initiative in responding to questions—but be careful not to dominate the discussion.
Your Turn to Ask Questions
At some point, usually toward the end of the interview, you will have the opportunity to ask your own questions. Use this time to learn more about the position—and, often, the person who would be your boss. After all, you’re also deciding whether you want the job.
Questions you might want to ask include:
- What do you expect me to accomplish in my first 6 months?
- Can you describe a typical assignment for this position?
- What kind of employee training do you provide?
- Will this position lead to advancement opportunities?
- What do you like most about working for this company?
Note: An interview is not the time to inquire about salary or benefits; the best time to discuss those topics is after you have been offered the job. You don’t want to seem more interested in financial rewards than in contributing to the company. If asked about salary requirements, try to convey flexibility.
Before leaving the interview, make sure you understand the next step in the hiring process. Find out whether there will be another round of interviews, whether you should provide additional information, and when a hiring decision will be made. Remember to thank the interviewer at the end of the interview.
After the Interview
Even after the interview is over, an important task remains: Secure a good impression by sending a thank you letter to the interviewer, preferably within 2 days, although with email it is acceptable to respond sooner.
Thank you letters should be brief—a few paragraphs if emailed, less than one page if typed or handwritten. Thank the interviewer for the opportunity, briefly reiterate your skills, and confirm your enthusiasm for the job.
Address the letter to the person who interviewed you, and make sure to spell his or her name correctly. If a group interviewed you, write either to each person you spoke with or to the person who led and coordinated the interview, mentioning the other people you met. Be sure to proofread the letter, and ask someone else to proofread it, too.
If you don’t hear back within the time frame the interviewer specified, call or email to check on your status. Making that extra effort could mean the difference in getting the job—or not.
An interview is an audition, a chance to see if what you offer is a match for a company’s needs. It is also a chance for you to see if the company is a match for your needs, not only in pay, but in culture and reliability as an employer. You will never regret putting your best foot forward, and each time you interview you become more polished and ready to present yourself to a future employer. Good Luck!
Article source includes content from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics and survey responses from industry managers and executives.