by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
As part of the celebration of Quintessential Careers’s 15th anniversary, we’re presenting lists of 15 tips on some of the most essential topics in college, job search, and career.
Kudos for getting invited to a job interview or for anticipating that you will soon receive the invitation. Your cover letter and resume are important tools for opening the door — to the interview — but it’s your performance in the employment interview that will go far in making or breaking your shot at a job offer. Over the years we have counseled thousands of job-seekers on how to excel in the interview — and we offer the very best of our advice in this article.
Here’s our list of the 15 best tips for acing the job interview.
- Start with knowing who you are and what you want. It’s amazing how many job-seekers flub the easiest of all job interview questions — “tell me about yourself.” By articulating a concise response to this question, you’ll be — and more importantly appear — more confident.
- Gather work samples. The time and effort of reviewing your work samples and accomplishments lays an excellent foundation for composing responses to typical interview questions. Once you’ve gathered all your samples, consider assembling a career portfolio for the interview. For help with your portfolio, check out our article, our Your Job Skills Portfolio: Giving You an Edge in the Marketplace.
- Develop and polish stories that demonstrate excellence. No matter the type of interview you might face, with a collection of stories that demonstrate your passion, expertise, and accomplishments, you’ll be ready. If you don’t know where to begin in preparing your anecdotes, start with the SAR (situation-action-results) technique.
- Ask what to expect when you’re invited for the interview. Information is a key to your success, and knowing the type of interview to expect — and who will be conducting the interview — is crucial to your success. Interviewing strategies and types vary widely — from traditional questions to stress interviews. Learn more about different kinds of interviews in our article, Types of Job Interviews.
- Use your network to learn more about employer, open position. See if any of your network contacts — or any of their network contacts — works for your prospective employer. Learn as much as you can about the organization and job opening. Try to uncover why the position is open.
- Conduct interview prep and practice. Write out responses to typical interview questions, making certain to provide enough detail to properly answer the questions. Don’t memorize the responses, but do run through them a few times — after all, as the saying goes, practice makes perfect.
- Take your interviewing skills for a tryout. If this interview is your first in a while or just a really big one for you — take your interview prep to the next level by working with a friend or career expert and conducting a mock interview. Remember to evaluate both your verbal and nonverbal responses. Even better? Consider video recording the mock interview so you can watch it back yourself. Learn more in our article, Best Bet for Job Interview Prep: Rehearsed, Mock, and Videotaped Interviews.
- Dress for success. It’s a bit of a cliche now, but in all cliches there is truth — and that truth is that appearance does matter. Your goal is to look the part of someone who already works at the employer’s workplace. When in doubt, always err on the conservative side. And it’s not just about attire, but personal grooming as well. Learn more in our article, When Job-Hunting: Dress for Success.
- Bring extra copies of your resume to the interview. You never know when the hiring manager might misplace your resume — or when you will spontaneously get invited to interview with others within the organization. Taking along a few extra copies of your resume is a simple, but smart idea.
- Plan to arrive a bit early to interview. Arriving 10-15 minutes before your interview — avoid being any earlier — offers several advantages. First, the time allows you to catch your breath, compose yourself, and do any last-minute grooming. Second, it provides time to complete any paperwork. Third, it gives you time to observe the work setting and discern how co-workers treat each other.
- Greet everyone you meet with respect — and a smile. When you’re interviewing, everyone you speak with matters — from the receptionist to the assistant to the hiring manger… everyone. A surprising number of job-seekers have had their chances derailed by treating a support-staff member rudely.
- Shine from the very beginning of the interview. Making a great first impression begins with a firm handshake, smile, and eye contact. It’s important to show your enthusiasm and confidence in the interview, but if you don’t get the interview started correctly, you’ll spend too much time trying to dig yourself out of the hole.
- Excel in the job interview. This is the moment when all your preparation pays off. Using positive nonverbals (good posture, eye contact, smile, strong speaking voice) and solid responses should help propel you through the interview successfully. Remember to stay calm — even if thrown by an unexpected question.
- Close the interview strongly. As the interview winds down, now is the time to ask probing questions (unless you have done so already throughout the interview). Asking questions shows your interest. These questions should come from your research. Finally, always close the interview with a thank-you and a request for information about the next step in the process. Learn more in our article, Questions You Can Ask at the Job Interview.
- Follow-up the interview with thank-you note — and keep following-up. Once the interview is over, and you’re back home (or at a local hotel), sit down and compose thank-you notes to each person you interviewed with. Besides being a nice touch, a thank-you note gives you a chance to reiterate why you are the perfect candidate for the job — and to again stress your interest. Finally, continue to follow up regularly (and professionally) until the position is filled. Read our articles, FAQs About Thank You Letters and The Art of the Follow-Up After Job Interviews.
Final Thoughts on Job-Interviewing Success
While our focus here is helping you come across as the best candidate for the employer, remember that a job interview is not just convincing the hiring manager you are the best person for the job — you also need to evaluate whether the organization is the best employer for your needs and personality.
Finally, you should also be prepared to talk salary in any job interview. While it’s always best when this discussion comes later — when the employer is sure you are a strong candidate for the position — some interviewers like to talk salary from the very first interview. Learn more in this section of Quintessential Careers: Salary Negotiation and Job Offer Tools and Resources for Job-Seekers.
Remember to check out all of our job interviewing tools, resources, and advice — including our job interview question database — in this section of Quintessential Careers: Guide to Job Interviewing Resources and Tools.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Dr. Randall S. Hansen is founder of Quintessential Careers, one of the oldest and most comprehensive career development sites on the Web, as well CEO of EmpoweringSites.com. He is also founder of MyCollegeSuccessStory.com and EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. He is publisher of Quintessential Careers Press, including the Quintessential Careers electronic newsletter, QuintZine. Dr. Hansen is also a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He’s often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Finally, Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Visit his personal Website or reach him by email at randall(at)quintcareers.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.