Your interview session may be the second-most powerful item in your job search tool kit (after a winning resume !), and if you use your face-to-face to leave a lasting impression in the minds of your employers, you’ll stay in the ring no matter how tough your competition may be.
Of course, coming off as a strong, capable, reliable option in the minds of your potential employers can sound like a cinch on paper, but when it comes to the reality of the interview, it can be far more challenging to set yourself apart from the other strong and capable contenders in the pool.
The good news is that with the right preparation, you can ace this meeting and take the next step on the path to an offer. To get you started, here are 18 interview tips that can help you wow even the most intimidating interviewer. Keep them in mind as you prepare for your session and do follow-up afterwards.
Preparation before your session
When your employer calls to schedule your session, swing into action the minute you hang up the phone. You may have only a few days to prepare, so you’ll have to move fast and use your time efficiently.
1. Get the details down. Clear up any uncertainty about where the session will be held, how you plan to get there, and when you’ll arrive (plan on being at least 5 minutes early). Of all the interview tips on the list, this is the MOST important. Any stumbles that occur during your conversation can be fixed, but you’ll blow your opportunity immediately (and fully) if you miss the session, show up on the wrong side of town, or arrive late without giving notice.
2. Work out a plan. Attending your session may mean leaving your current job for a few hours, or it may mean leaving children and pets with a caregiver. Anticipate every hitch days before your session is scheduled, so absolutely nothing can go wrong. (An additional tip: you don’t need to tell your current employer where you’re going; your job search is your own business. But you want to make sure there’s no chance of you being grabbed and pulled back into the office by an emergency just as you’re heading out the door.)
3. Gather your tools. This will mean choosing an outfit (see below) and printing out a few hard copies of your resume that you can hand over during your session.
4. Ready your elevator pitch and identify three to five accomplishments that relate to the job. The former is that 30-second sound byte that explains in a nutshell why you’re the best person for the job, and the latter are key elements that you should work into some of your answers. If you need some help gathering your big wins, download our eBook, Highlight Your Achievements and Interview to Win the Job.
What to wear to an interview
5. If you’re hoping to work in an office setting, keep in mind that the rule of thumb is slacks or a skirt in a subdued neutral hue (black, grey, tan), paired with a blouse or a buttoned shirt. Wear the nicest and most professional shoes you can afford. Do note, though, that some offices are more casual or more formal than others. So it’s a good idea to do some research and see what the general office attire seems to be. Once you’ve done this, dress one level more professionally than what you see.
6. If you expect to work on a shop floor or in an outdoor setting, wear khaki slacks and stable shoes that look clean, neat, and new. Men can pair this with a buttoned shirt, and women can wear any shirt or top that looks professional and neat. Keep in mind that your interview may involve a tour of potentially messy or dangerous work areas – so dress accordingly. Also, as mentioned in the above tip, every company’s dress code is different. So research the general attire and dress one level more professionally than that if you’re unsure of what to wear.
Start with a greeting.
Use these interview tips to make a great impression. The first 5 minutes can have a powerful impact on the outcome of your session.
7. Relax and show that you’re happy to be here. Use your greeting to put your interviewer at ease. Make it clear that you’re having a great day so far (smile!) and you only expect things to get better (good posture and eye contact). This kind of body language communicates confidence, which research has shown makes you come off as likable and competent.
8. Remember your interviewer’s name and try to use it one more time in the interview. As Vice Dean of the University of Maryland’s Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program Joyce E. A. Russell explains , using someone’s name shows that you’ve made time to create a personal connection with them.
Answering common interview questions
Your interviewers will probably ask a few curveball questions that you can’t anticipate, but they’re also likely to present you with traditional, predictable questions like the ones below. Follow these tips for answering these common questions, and you’ll be poised to deliver standout responses.
9. “Why did you apply for the job?” Your interviewers would be fools not to ask some version of this question at some point during your session, and you’ll answer by explaining exactly why you want this particular job and why you’re a great match. Explain where you are at this point in your career, and tell your employers what attracted you to this opportunity.
10. “Why should we hire you?” Of course you have experience and of course you’re qualified. But what sets you apart? What can you offer that other candidates can’t? Use this question to highlight your extra selling points, not just your basic qualifications.
11. “Tell me about a time when you….” This is called a behavioral question , and it encourages candidates to use stories of past experiences and accomplishments to demonstrate their value. Think carefully before you answer. Choose a moment from your past that best highlights the skill or personal trait that your employers are looking for.
12. Use the STAR method to answer behavioral questions. Tell your story by sharing details in this order: Situation, Task, Action, Results. What situation did you face, what tasks were required of you, what action did you take, and what results did you achieve after taking this action? This approach can help you structure your answer and deliver the information the interviewer is looking for.
Following up after the interview
Even if you hit a home run during your session, you still need to continue making a lasting impression. Use these interview tips to keep the pressure on until the offer is officially in your hand.
13. Send a thank you note before the sun sets. As soon as you leave the interview venue, write a short, simple note to thank your interviewer for the meeting. Aside from expressing gratitude, reemphasize the most important reason why you’re perfect for the job and that you’re excited about the opportunity.
14. Don’t leave your interview without asking about next steps. The interviewer should be able to give you a timeline or at least a date by which you can expect to be contacted. If you don’t hear anything by this point, then (and only then) follow up and politely enquire about where the employer is in the process. Again, you’ll want to reemphasize your interest in and enthusiasm for the position.
Topics to discuss and topics to avoid
Wondering about no-go topics or points you shouldn’t leave an interview without discussing? Read these interview tips to get the lowdown.
15. Don’t feel pressured to answer interview questions about these topics: Your religion, your ethnicity, your personal traits (appearance, height, weight, age), or your marital status. Your interviewer is not legally allowed to ask about these topics. If this happens, politely change the subject.
16. Don’t ask your interviewer these questions either. You can (and should) ask about their career path and relationship with the company. But all other personal topics are off limits. Be sure you also ask more general questions about the company – after all, this is your opportunity to size up the employer as well.
17. Stay focused on your best credentials and qualifications. Even if your interviewer asks about a weakness or a failure, use the opportunity to talk about how you managed to transform a challenge into a victory. Everyone has made mistakes (so don’t pretend you haven’t), but make sure you always end each story by describing how the incident helped your grow.
18. Don’t talk negatively about your former colleagues or companies. Even if you had some terrible experiences, keep these to yourself. Badmouthing the people and places you used to work raises a lot of questions in the interviewers mind about the validity of your story, what role you played in the situation, and what the chance of you doing the same thing to their company may be.
Stay positive, confident, and in control, and don’t miss a single opportunity to shine. Did we answer your questions about job interviews? If you still have more, download Interview Game Plan to access a comprehensive program of coaching, video instruction, and tips to help you get the job faster.