Below are some before, during and after guidelines for having a successful interview.
Before the Interview
1. Think like the boss. A job interview is an opportunity for you to convince an owner/boss/hiring manager that you would be an asset to the organization. The company has a need. It won't hire you to fill that need so that you can "further develop your skills" or have a job that excites you or benefits you in some way. A company hires someone when they are convinced that person will bring value to their organization. If we each treated our jobs as if we were the owner or major representative of that company, our whole outlook would change.
2. Dress the part. Dress the part. For office or corporate jobs, wear a suit in a dark, conservative color, men and women. Wear socks (men) and closed-toe shoes (women). Your appearance can lend you confidence and confidence is attractive, so don’t cut corners here. Buy at least one quality suit (that fits and is in style) and good accessories to go with it prior to starting the interview process.
See Professionalism & Etiquette for more.
Groom well. Bathe, shave, go easy on perfume, get a nicely styled haircut, and have clean trimmed fingernails. Stay minimal and classic with accessories: only carry one bag (purse OR briefcase women, not both), and a professional portfolio that includes extra copies of your resume, copies of your reference page, a notepad for pre-considered questions to ask and to take notes, and samples of your work. Have all needed information well organized.
3. Research the company. Nothing impresses interviewers more than evidence that you researched the company. One way to make this evident is to have pre-considered questions on the ready.
4. Arrive 10-15 minutes early to the interview. Drive the route a day ahead, plan for traffic at your appointment time, know where to park and how long it will take to get to the office. It's better to have a moment to sit in your car and take a deep breath than it is to dash in feeling late, rushed and harried.
5. Practice! Most interview questions are common and can be planned for. Your 60-90 second elevator pitch is your answer to the typical first question: “Tell me about yourself.” Your resume is the agenda for the interview. So have extra copies for any extra interviewers who may be present, and have a copy for yourself with prepared notes to jog your memory to any items you want to highlight.
It is best to package responses in story. Stories are memorable and illustrate behavior. Past behavior predicts future behavior. A question that begins with "tell me about a time" is a direct invitation for a story that illustrates behavior. This is called behavioral interviewing or the STAR method: an interviewer gives you a Situation or Task, and wants to know the Actions you took, and the Results of those actions. Considering strong responses ahead of time, making notes about them, and practicing them will increase your confidence level.
6. Polish your Social Media. Do your socials reinforce the strong work ethic you claim? Or counter it? Your potential employer will likely check you out on social media, either before you arrive or immediately following the interview.
Pictures of you at events with alcohol, drugs, or inappropriate behavior (even if it is folks in the background and not you, directly) along with postings with vulgar language (you or your friends’ notes to you) can turn a hot job possibility cold. Employers want employees who are reliable and will not cause workplace drama.
7. Consider your posture. If you haven't heard of Amy Cuddy or "power poses" you can watch her TED Talk here. Power posing prior to an interview is a game-changer.
During the Interview
1. Once again, consider your posture and your non-verbals. Your non-verbals speak volumes. In fact, most interviewers have made their decision about a candidate (to hire or not) in the first 5 minutes and the remainder of the interview will be verification that this first hunch was right. So make eye contact, extend your hand in a hearty handshake, lean forward a bit, and smile! One of the biggest mistakes job candidates make is not showing enthusiasm for the job. Lastly, wait to sit down until you are invited to do so.
We all carry ourselves in a way that says much about our confidence level, whether we have a chip on our shoulder, how enthusiastic or comfortable we feel. Carriage is perhaps our strongest non-verbal signal. So do everything you can to radiate quiet confidence in yourself and your ability to do the job. But remember, if you are not hired, it doesn’t necessarily mean you did something wrong. Competition may have been fierce. While much depends on you, it doesn’t all depend on you.
2. Address people formally. Call people “Ms.” or “Mr.” unless invited to use a first name regardless of the age of your interviewer.
3. Take notes. Don’t be a court reporter and take down every word of the interview or it will be distracting (and creepy). But note important things, like names of administrative assistant, etc. so you can thank him or her on your way out and potentially impress. Taking notes shows you are conscientious.
4. Keep answers brief and to the point (1-2 minutes). If you have practiced, you’ll have a good sense of how long this is. Remember to show rather than tell by using stories. Connect your skills and strengths to solutions. Employers want results and great outcomes.
For example, "Tell me about a time you failed." This is an opportunity to talk about an important lesson gained.
"When I failed to make that important deadline, I learned to give myself more time on projects. Now I schedule them on my calendar to be completed two days early, to give myself an extra day to work through any unexpected delays."
5. Take a portfolio. This is a sampling of your work. Again, it's stronger to show than to tell. You can say you created a website, or you can show that website. You can say you increased analytics, or you can show before and after numbers for those analytics. And remember, your skills come from a variety of sources besides paid work experiences. They come from class projects, mission trips, international travels, club memberships, sports programs or events, volunteer work, job shadowing, career events, etc.
6. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” Yes, it will look bad if you don’t know the answer to some questions like “Are you familiar with what we do here at Company X?” But sometimes trying to guess the answer to something is worse than saying, “I don’t know.” Make a note of it and this gives you a great reason to follow up after the interview, or to include on your thank you note, "I learned the answer to that question you asked, and wanted to share it now."
7. Have questions for your interviewer. Prepare these ahead of time, and take notes during the interview in case a question comes to mind. Smart, conscientious questions are impressive. “To whom would I report?” “With whom would I be working?” “May I follow up with you in a couple of weeks if I have not heard back?”
8. Steer clear of offering information considered illegal to ask. Some questions are illegal for employers to ask, such as age, ethnicity, religious preferences, health history, marital and parental status, and sexual orientation. Be aware of illegal questions and do not offer this kind of information during an interview as it can make people uncomfortable. Sometimes interviewers accidentally/innocently ask an illegal question and you must decide how to handle it. You can say “I prefer not to answer that question” or gently steer the conversation elsewhere. Becoming hostile to your interviewer is not typically an effective strategy.
What if you have a disability? Should you bring it up?
A good rule of thumb is that if you have a documented disability but it is not obvious, you do not have to bring it up during a first interview if you are concerned that it could put you at a disadvantage. Once an offer had been made, you will need to disclose it if you need an accommodation. Before accepting a job offer you should consider whether you can perform the essential functions of the job in fairness to your employer. If you can with an accommodation (or accommodations), then you need to make your employer aware so that they can help set you up for a successful employment experience.
What if I was in the military and honorably discharged?
Help educate a potential employer that "discharged" does not mean "fired." This is a common misperception for some. Discharged simply means you fulfilled your contract and did not choose to renew.
9. Leave on a positive note, and note your observations. You interview the company while the company interviews you. Be observant of the setting, the tone, the atmosphere, etc. Did your interviewer seem prepared? Did the folks you passed on the way to the office seem miserable or engaged? Was the parking lot creepy? Traffic snarly? Is this company/work team/job really a good fit for you?
After the Interview
1. Send a thank you note. A handwritten thank you note or a typed thank you letter sent asap is typically best. You can send an email--it's faster-- but it shouldn’t substitute for a hard copy note or letter. A handwritten note is more personal, and a typed thank you letter gives you the chance to write more and reiterate your qualifications and interest or offer follow up information to a conversation during the interview. The beauty of an actual note or letter is that it's more rare and the interviewer may keep it longer.
2. Follow up. You should always ask before leaving the interview when an employer plans to make a final decision or what the next step in the process will be, then ask if you may follow up at an appropriate time. When you follow up, it shows you have follow-through and do what you say you will do. It also gets your name and interest in front of your interviewer once again.
3. Continue to network. 80% of jobs come through networking. So if you have any connections, mention them. Your goal is to become a known entity as it reduces the employer’s risk. Follow-up communications help you become a known entity.
4. Note lessons learned. Noting the lessons you learn as you journey through the job-search process will help you develop into a stronger interviewee and will help you avoid making the same mistakes repeatedly. Mentors can be a great source of growth during the job search process. Ask them to review your resume and let you practice questions responses. Once you get hired, continue to cultivate trusted mentors within your company and industry.
Five qualities Google looks for as they hire new grads (GrowingLeaders)
Career Journal: Impressing at a new job (Wall Street Journal)
Remember to thank your mentors and everyone who helps you get where you’re trying to go. You never know when the great impression you made on someone today will lead to an incredible job opportunity five years from now.
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