Here’s some tricks to master your next job interview and get hired!
My first job was at age 14 selling Coke’s at Neyland Stadium during the University of Tennessee football games. Since then, I’ve worked in restaurants, retail stores, call centers, a used car dealership, and real estate firm…before settling into the finance industry 5 years ago.
In my life, there have been some great interviews such as a time I walked out knowing, without a doubt, that they were going to pick me (which they did), and I have had some lousy interviews where somebody asked me a pretty simple and job-specific question… and I took a 30 second pause before eventually saying “I don’t know“. I didn’t get the job.
I have also interviewed people. I’ve seen some shining candidates who had all the right answers, and one who only spoke to the general manager…thus ignoring the assistant manager and every single person they may potentially work with. The worst of the worst was somebody who left their kid to run around the lobby while they interviewed. Not only did their child bang on the manager’s door looking for their parent, but the entire team was abandoned with an energetic child for 30 minutes. I’m not making this stuff up.
I’ve said all this to summarize one point… I’ve interviewed a LOT in my life, and today I’m going to share some pointers that I use to ace every interview.
Before you go, google them.
We live in a world where anything from “cash me ousside” to the furthest star from our planet can be found in less than two seconds. You have NO excuse to say “I don’t know“.
Before you can master the interview, you need to master the employer. Find out what they do, why they exist, what the requirements are, and the background of anybody who may be interviewing you. The more you know about the company, the better you can address their concerns, and ask insightful questions yourself.
As an added bonus, you get a chance to interview THEM. It’s easy to feel pressured to be a good fit for the company, but you also need to be assured that the company will be a good fit for YOU.
Practice common questions.
You will need to determine what you’ll be asked and role-play some scenarios. Think of times that you’ve gone above and beyond (at a past employer or experience). Find a story where you had to deliver bad news. Recall a time when you had to juggle many tasks, or work hard to meet a deadline.
Prepare to answer all questions in the form of a story. You don’t want to sound scripted, so having an engaging story that fully addresses their question will help them feel like they can relate to you.
Likewise… when they call and schedule an interview, ask the hiring manager what type of interview you can expect. Are you meeting with one person? Will you meet with the entire team? Is it going to be a group interview with other potential hires?
Dress the part.
Plan an outfit that fits the organization and company culture, while always prioritizing professionalism over everything else. Remember, it’s always better to overdress than it is to under-dress. Make sure your outfit is clean and ironed. Brush your teeth and use mouthwash right before the interview. Do not smoke or eat before you go, and keep fragrances to a minimum.
Even though most applications are online only, you need to exercise this same tactic if you’re going to be walking into a building to apply. You never know who’s going to see you, if they decide to interview you on the spot (hey, you’re already there…right?), or what they’ll remember about your appearance when you applied. Anytime you are in the parking lot of a place you want to work, dress the part. Seriously.
Arrive on time, relaxed, and ready.
There is no excuse for being late for an interview. Plan to arrive about 10-15 minutes before your scheduled time so you have a chance to find the right place and get settled. Arriving early also allows you an opportunity to see the dynamics of the company.
You arrived ready…so stay ready. Assume that everyone you meet/see/pass before and after the interview will be the one who eventually hires you. It doesn’t matter if they’re on break, sitting in their car, or walking out of a corner office. Stay ready. I have been part of numerous companies where the hiring manager asked every employee who made contact with a candidate what they saw or thought. Likewise, there have been a few times where the top manager greeted them at the door, and the person didn’t even know it.
Added tip. As you wait to meet with the hiring team, pretend that you’re being watched…because you probably are. Even if you’re sitting alone, assume you’re being watched on camera. Some managers will deliberately wait a few minutes before calling you into their office so they can see you “sweat things out” and look for nervous energy, slouchiness, or other non-verbal cues.
Make a killer first impression.
I’ll say it again. Be polite and offer warm greetings to every single person you see, pass, or meet from the second your car hits the parking lot. These people may be working with you 8 hours a day. Everybody is watching. If you come off rude to somebody along the way, your job offer could easily be derailed before you even shake the interviewer’s hand.
When it’s time to interview, make a killer first impression. People form impressions in the first few seconds, so make sure you’re is perfect.
- Stand up to greet them.
- Make eye contact
- Offer a firm (but not crushing) handshake.
- Repeat their name, and introduce yourself…first and last name.
Remember that a positive attitude and enthusiasm is absolutely crucial in the beginning. Why? Studies show that hiring teams often decide if they’re going to pursue you or not within the first 20 minutes.
Stay upbeat, confident, and focused.
Once the interview starts, I like to remind myself of one thing… they’re a person. They laugh, cry, and feel vulnerable. Don’t put them on a pedestal of royalty because they have a fancy job title, but rather respect them as a fellow human being.
The key to success is the quality of your responses. Be honest and authentic. You want to answer questions in a way that demonstrates your skills, experience, and fit with solid examples of solutions. However, keep your responses short and precise. By preparing before you interview, you will avoid rambling or long answers, and you won’t accidentally talk yourself into a circle…or worse… forget to answer the question.
Here’s some tips that I always use:
- Give them your resume. They may have printed a copy out, but I like to make SURE they have it. Not only does it show that I thought ahead, but it gives us all another opportunity to highlight the things I’ve done.
- NEVER EVER badmouth a former employer, boss, or coworker. You want to keep yourself in a positive light, and airing dirty laundry only makes you look negative. The interview is about you and making the case that you’re the perfect fit, not about your past issues.
- Be aware of your posture. Sit up right. Don’t slouch, lean back, or do anything that suggests boredom. Body language is key because you want to look eager and engaged throughout the entire interview. I have a bad habit of bouncing my knees. When i’m interviewing, I keep my feet planted firmly, so it doesn’t come off as if I am anxious to get out of there.
- Avoid trying to fill dead space. Give them a chance to absorb what you’ve said, and don’t fill silence with pointless chatter. You may accidentally say something you didn’t mean to say, or can’t get yourself out of.
- Group Interview? Do the 70/30. Direct your answers (and eye contact) towards the person who asked you the question 70% of the time, but look at the other interviewers 30% of the time. Sound tricky? Address the person asking the question for 7 seconds, and look at somebody else for 3 seconds. This way, you distribute your attention and don’t ignore anyone.
- Good/Bad/Good answers. Be aware of questions that aim to paint you negatively, and answer them with this method. Some common questions are “what are some of your weaknesses?” or “Tell me about a time when you missed a deadline“. You want to answer these questions with a positive statement, note that you understood a negative quality, BUT you learned something positive from it. Here’s an example: “Well, Catherine, I think one of my weaknesses is public speaking. There were many times when my last project required that I addressed the entire team without much notice, and even though I felt anxious and caught off guard about the situation, I made sure to prepare by planning out some topics, addressing the project head on, and being confident in my solution for success. I have also realized that the more often I make a presentation, the better I feel about it.“
Studies show that employers will gauge a candidate’s interest in the position by whether or not they asked questions. So, even if the hiring team was thorough about the position and expectations, you NEED to ask at least 3 questions. If you prepared beforehand, this should be easy. Here’s three of my favorite questions to ask, or be asked:
- What do YOU find challenging about this position?
- What qualities do other people in this role have to be successful?
- Why do you like working here?
I try to ask more than 3 (but less than 6) questions, in a mixture of job-specific questions, and questions about the people interviewing me. People like to talk about themselves. You just spent a considerable amount of time talking about you, so flatter them a bit by taking an interest in them. You may learn something you wouldn’t have ever been told, otherwise!
The most qualified candidate doesn’t always get the job. More often than not, the winning applicant is the one who answered the questions the best and showcased their fit for the role, and company. People like to work with people that they genuinely like, so making sure you strike a balance between showing off your professional skills, and personal skills, almost always guarantees success.
As the interview comes to an end, ask them about the next step in the process and when they expect to make a decision. Thank them for their time, by name, and offer a handshake.
Pro Tip: You came in and warmly greeted every single person you passed, right? Do the same as you leave.
Most people interview, leave, and wait for a job offer. Give the company one more chance to remember you by writing a friendly and professional thank-you note or email to each person who interviewed you. It will speak volumes about your dedication, interest, and may remind somebody to give your resume ANOTHER look…which is always a good thing.