Job interviews are a chance for a potential employer to get to know you and your work history better, to inform you of the details of the job and answer any questions you may have. For this it is important to put your best foot forward and come ready with answers to any questions they may ask you. You should also know exactly what you are getting into.
Do some research on the company before you get there and if you know the name of who you will be meeting with, google them so you know what you are getting into. You should understand the employer, the requirements of the job, and the background of the person (or people) interviewing you. The more research you conduct, the more you’ll understand the employer, and the better you’ll be able to answer interview questions (as well as ask insightful questions). Scour the organization’s website and other published materials, search engines, research tools, and ask questions about the company in your network of contacts.
Another key to interview success is preparing responses to expected interview questions. First, ask the hiring manager as to the type of interview to expect. Will it be one-on-one or in a group? Your goal is to try to determine what you’ll be asked and to compose detailed yet concise responses that focus on specific examples and accomplishments. A good tool for remembering your responses is to put them into a story form that you can tell in the interview. No need to memorize responses (in fact, it’s best not to), but do develop talking points.
Plan out a wardrobe that fits the organization and its culture, striving for the most professional appearance you can accomplish. Remember that it’s always better to be overdressed than under and wear clothing that fits and is clean and pressed. Keep accessories and jewelry to a minimum. Try not to smoke or eat right before the interview and if possible, brush your teeth or use mouthwash.
There is no excuse ever for arriving late to an interview. Short of a disaster, strive to arrive about 15 minutes before your scheduled interview to complete additional paperwork and allow yourself time to get settled. Arriving a bit early is also a chance to observe the dynamics of the workplace. The day before the interview, pack up extra copies of your resume. If you have a portfolio or samples of your work, bring those along, too. Finally, remember to pack several pens and a pad of paper to jot notes.
As you get to the offices, shut off your cell phone. (And if you are chewing gum, get rid of it.) A cardinal rule of interviewing is to be polite and offer warm greetings to everyone you meet from the parking attendant to the receptionist to the hiring manager. Employers often are curious how job applicants treat staff members and your job offer could easily be derailed if you’re rude or arrogant to any of the staff.
When it’s time for the interview, keep in mind that first impressions, the impression interviewers get in the first few seconds of meeting you, can make or break an interview. Make a strong first impression by dressing well, arriving early, and when greeting your interviewer, stand, smile, make eye contact. Offer a firm but not bone-crushing handshake. Remember that having a positive attitude and expressing enthusiasm for the job and employer are vital in the initial stages of the interview; studies show that hiring managers make critical decisions about job applicants in the first 20 minutes of the interview.
Once the interview starts, the key to success is the quality and delivery of your responses. Your goal should always be authenticity, responding truthfully to interview questions. At the same time, your goal is to get to the next step, so you’ll want to provide focused responses that showcase your skills, experience, and fit with the job and the employer.
Provide solid examples of solutions and accomplishments but keep your responses short and to the point. By preparing responses to common interview questions, you’ll ideally avoid long, rambling responses that bore interviewers. Finally, no matter how much an interviewer might bait you, never badmouth a previous employer, boss, or co-worker. The interview is about you and making your case that you are the ideal candidate for the job.
While the content of your interview responses is paramount, poor body language can be a distraction at best or a reason not to hire you at worst. Effective forms of body language include smiling, eye contact, solid posture, leaning forward active listening, and nodding. Detrimental forms of body language include slouching, looking off in the distance, playing with a pen, fidgeting in a chair, brushing back your hair, touching your face, chewing gum, or mumbling.
Studies continually show that employers make a judgment about an applicant’s interest in the job by whether or not the interviewee asks questions. Thus, even if the hiring manager was thorough in his or her discussions about the job opening and what is expected, you must ask a few questions. This shows that you have done your research and that you are curious. The smart jobseeker prepares questions to ask days before the interview, adding any additional queries that might arise from the interview.
The most qualified applicant is not always the one who is hired; the winning candidate is often the jobseeker who does the best job responding to interview questions and showcasing his or her fit with the job, department, and organization. Some liken the job interview to a sales call. You are the salesperson and the product you are selling to the employer is your ability to fill the organization’s needs, solve its problems, propel its success.
Finally, as the interview winds down, ask about the next steps in the process and the timetable in which the employer expects to use to make a decision about the position.
Common courtesy and politeness go far in interviewing; thus, the importance of thanking each person who interviews you should come as no surprise. Start the process while at the interview, thanking each person who interviewed you before you leave. Writing thank-you emails and notes shortly after the interview will not get you the job offer, but doing so will certainly give you an edge over any of the other finalists who didn’t bother to send thank-you notes.