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Tips for before the interview
In the days before your job interview, set aside time to do the following:
1. Start by researching the company and your interviewers. Understanding key information about the company you’re interviewing with can help you go into your interview with confidence. Using the company’s website, social media posts and recent press releases will provide a solid understanding of the company’s goals and how your background makes you a great fit. Review our Complete Guide to Researching a Company.
2. Practice your answers to common interview questions. Prepare your answer to the common question: “Tell me about yourself, and why are you interested in this role with our company?” The idea is to quickly communicate who you are and what value you will bring to the company and the role—it’s your personal elevator pitch. Review our guide to answering Top Interview Questions.
Tip: You should come prepared to discuss your salary expectations. If you’re unsure what salary is appropriate to ask for, personalized pay range based on your location, industry and experience.
. Reread the job description. You may want to print it out and begin underlining specific skills the employer is looking for. Think about examples from your past and current work that align with these requirements.
4. Use the STAR method in answering questions. Prepare to be asked about times in the past when you used a specific skill and use to tell stories with a clear Situation, Task, Action and Result.
5. Recruit a friend to practice answering questions. Actually practicing your answers out loud is an incredibly effective way to prepare. Say them to yourself or ask a friend to help run through questions and answers. You’ll find you gain confidence as you get used to saying the words.
6. Prepare a list of references. Your interviewers might require you to submit a list of references before or after your interview. Having a reference list prepared ahead of time can help you quickly complete this step to move forward in the hiring process.
7. Be prepared with examples of your work. During the interview, you will likely be asked about specific work you’ve completed in relation to the position. After reviewing the job description, think of work you’ve done in past jobs, clubs or volunteer positions that show you have experience and success doing the work they require.
8. Prepare smart questions for your interviewers. Interviews are a two-way street. Employers expect you to ask questions: they want to know that you’re thinking seriously about what it would be like to work there. Here are some questions you may want to consider asking your interviewers:
- Can you explain some of the day-to-day responsibilities this job entails?
- How would you describe the characteristics of someone who would succeed in this role?
- If I were in this position, how would my performance be measured? How often?
- What departments does this teamwork with regularly?
- How do these departments typically collaborate?
- What does that process look like?
- What are the challenges you’re currently facing in your role?
Tips for during the interview
After you’ve spent time preparing, you can be successful on interview day by practicing these tips:
9. Plan your interview attire the night before. If you’re speaking to a recruiter before the interview, you can ask them about the dress code in the workplace and choose your outfit accordingly. If you don’t have someone to ask, research the company to learn what’s appropriate.
10. Bring copies of your resume, a notebook and pen. Take at least five copies of your printed resume on clean paper in case of multiple interviewers. Highlight specific accomplishments on your copy that you can easily refer to and discuss. Bring a pen and a small notebook. Prepare to take notes, but not on your smartphone or another electronic device. Write information down so that you can refer to these details in your follow-up thank-you notes. Maintain eye contact as much as possible.
11. Plan your schedule so that you can arrive 10–15 minutes early. Map out your route to the interview location so you can be sure to arrive on time. Consider doing a practice run. If you’re taking public transportation, identify a backup plan if there are delays or closures.
Tip: When you arrive early, use the extra minutes to observe workplace dynamics.
12. Make a great first impression. Don’t forget the little things—shine your shoes, make sure your nails are clean and tidy, and check your clothes for holes, stains, pet hair and loose threads. Display confident body language and a smile throughout.
13. Treat everyone you encounter with respect. This includes people on the road and in the parking lot, security personnel and front desk staff. Treat everyone you don’t know as though they’re the hiring manager. Even if they aren’t, your potential employer might ask for their feedback.
14. Practice good manners and body language. Practice confident, accessible body language from the moment you enter the building. Sit or stand tall with your shoulders back. Before the interview, take a deep breath and exhale slowly to manage feelings of anxiety and encourage self-confidence. The interviewer should extend their hand first to initiate a handshake. Stand, look the person in the eye and smile. A good handshake should be firm but not crush the other person’s fingers.
15. Win them over with your authenticity and positivity. Being genuine during interview conversations can help employers easily relate to you. Showing positivity with a smile and upbeat body language can help keep the interview light and constructive.
16. Respond truthfully to the questions asked. While it can seem tempting to embellish on your skills and accomplishments, interviewers find honesty refreshing and respectable. Focus on your key strengths and why your background makes you uniquely qualified for the position.
17. Tie your answers back to your skills and accomplishments. With any question you answer, it is important that you tie your background to the job by providing examples of solutions and results you’ve achieved. Use every opportunity to address the requirements listed in the job description.
18. Keep your answers concise and focused. Your time with each interviewer is limited so be mindful of rambling. Practicing your answers beforehand can help keep you focused.
19. Do not speak negatively about your previous employers. Companies want to hire problem solvers who overcome tough situations. If you’re feeling discouraged about your current job, focus on talking about what you’ve gained from that experience and what you want to do next.
Tips for after the interview
When the interview is over, give yourself the best chances of moving forward by doing the following:
20. Ask about next steps. After your interview, it is appropriate to ask either your interviewer, hiring manager or recruiter about what you should expect next. This will likely be a follow-up email with results from your interview, additional requirements like an assignment or reference list or another interview.
21. Send a personalized thank you letter after the interview. Ask for the business card of each person you speak with during the interview process so that you can follow up individually with a separate thank you email. If you interviewed in the morning, send your follow-up emails the same day. If you interviewed in the afternoon, the next morning is fine. Make certain that each email is distinct from the others, using the notes you took during the conversations.
20 Tips for Great Job Interviews
1. Research the industry and company.
An interviewer may ask how you perceive his company’s position in its industry, who the firm’s competitors are, what its competitive advantages are, and how it should best go forward. For this reason, avoid trying to thoroughly research a dozen different industries. Focus your job search on just a few industries instead.
2. Clarify your “selling points” and the reasons you want the job.
Prepare to go into every interview with three to five key selling points in mind, such as what makes you the best candidate for the position. Have an example of each selling point prepared (“I have good communication skills. For example, I persuaded an entire group to …”). And be prepared to tell the interviewer why you want that job – including what interests you about it, what rewards it offers that you find valuable, and what abilities it requires that you possess. If an interviewer doesn’t think you’re really, really interested in the job, he or she won’t give you an offer – no matter how good you are!
3. Anticipate the interviewer’s concerns and reservations.
There are always more candidates for positions than there are openings. So interviewers look for ways to screen people out. Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself why they might not want to hire you (“I don’t have this,” “I’m not that,” etc.). Then prepare your defense: “I know you may be thinking that I might not be the best fit for this position because [their reservation]. But you should know that [reason the interviewer shouldn’t be overly concerned].”
4. Prepare for common interview questions.
Every “how to interview” book has a list of a hundred or more “common interview questions.” (You might wonder just how long those interviews are if there are that many common questions!) So how do you prepare? Pick any list and think about which questions you’re most likely to encounter, given your age and status (about to graduate, looking for a summer internship). Then prepare your answers so you won’t have to fumble for them during the actual interview.
5. Line up your questions for the interviewer.
Come to the interview with some intelligent questions for the interviewer that demonstrate your knowledge of the company as well as your serious intent. Interviewers always ask if you have any questions, and no matter what, you should have one or two ready. If you say, “No, not really,” he or she may conclude that you’re not all that interested in the job or the company. A good all-purpose question is, “If you could design the ideal candidate for this position from the ground up, what would he or she be like?”
If you’re having a series of interviews with the same company, you can use some of your prepared questions with each person you meet (for example, “What do you think is the best thing about working here?” and “What kind of person would you most like to see fill this position?”) Then, try to think of one or two others during each interview itself.
6. Practice, practice, practice.
It’s one thing to come prepared with a mental answer to a question like, “Why should we hire you?” It’s another challenge entirely to say it out loud in a confident and convincing way. The first time you try it, you’ll sound garbled and confused, no matter how clear your thoughts are in your own mind! Do it another 10 times, and you’ll sound a lot smoother and more articulate.
But you shouldn’t do your practicing when you’re “on stage” with a recruiter; rehearse before you go to the interview. The best way to rehearse? Get two friends and practice interviewing each other in a “round robin”: one person acts as the observer and the “interviewee” gets feedback from both the observer and the “interviewer.” Go for four or five rounds, switching roles as you go. Another idea (but definitely second-best) is to tape record your answer and then play it back to see where you need to improve. Whatever you do, make sure your practice consists of speaking aloud. Rehearsing your answer in your mind won’t cut it.
7. Score a success in the first five minutes.
Some studies indicate that interviewers make up their minds about candidates in the first five minutes of the interview – and then spend the rest of the interview looking for things to confirm that decision! So what can you do in those five minutes to get through the gate? Come in with energy and enthusiasm, and express your appreciation for the interviewer’s time. (Remember: She may be seeing a lot of other candidates that day and may be tired from the flight in. So bring in that energy!)
Also, start off with a positive comment about the company – something like, “I’ve really been looking forward to this meeting [not “interview”]. I think [the company] is doing great work in [a particular field or project], and I’m really excited by the prospect of being able to contribute.”
8. Get on the same side as the interviewer.
Many interviewers view job interviews as adversarial: Candidates are going to try to pry an offer out of the interviewer, and the interviewer’s job is to hold onto it. Your job is to transform this “tug of war” into a relationship in which you’re both on the same side. You could say something as simple as, “I’m happy to have the chance to learn more about your company and to let you learn more about me, so we can see if this is going to be a good match or not. I always think that the worst thing that can happen is to be hired into a job that’s wrong for you – then nobody’s happy!”
9. Be assertive and take responsibility for the interview.
Perhaps out of the effort to be polite, some usually assertive candidates become overly passive during job interviews. But politeness doesn’t equal passivity. An interview is like any other conversation – it’s a dance in which you and a partner move together, both responding to the other. Don’t make the mistake of just sitting there waiting for the interviewer to ask you about that Nobel Prize you won. It’s your responsibility to make sure he walks away knowing your key selling points.
10. Be ready to handle illegal and inappropriate questions.
Interview questions about your race, age, gender, religion, marital status, and sexual orientation are inappropriate and in many areas illegal. Nevertheless, you may get one or more of them. If you do, you have a couple of options. You can simply answer with a question (“I’m not sure how that’s relevant to my application”), or you can try to answer “the question behind the question”: “I don’t know whether I’ll decide to have children in the near future, but if you’re wondering if I’ll be leaving my job for an extended period of time, I can say that I’m very committed to my career and frankly can’t imagine giving it up.”
11. Make your selling points clear.
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, did it make a sound? More important, if you communicate your selling points during a job interview and the interviewer doesn’t get it, did you score? On this question, the answer is clear: No! So don’t bury your selling points in long-winded stories. Instead, tell the interviewer what your selling point is first, then give the example.
12. Think positive.
No one likes a complainer, so don’t dwell on negative experiences during an interview. Even if the interviewer asks you point blank, “What courses have you liked least?” or “What did you like least about that previous job?” don’t answer the question. Or more specifically, don’t answer it as it’s been asked. Instead, say something like, “Well, actually I’ve found something about all of my classes that I’ve liked. For example, although I found [class] to be very tough, I liked the fact that [positive point about the class]” or “I liked [a previous job] quite a bit, although now I know that I really want to [new job].”
13. Close on a positive note.
If a salesman came to you and demonstrated his product, then thanked you for your time and walked out the door, what did he do wrong? He didn’t ask you to buy it! If you get to the end of an interview and think you’d really like that job, ask for it! Tell the interviewer that you’d really, really like the job – that you were excited about it before the interview and are even more excited now, and that you’re convinced you’d like to work there. If there are two equally good candidates at the end of the search – you and someone else – the interviewer will think you’re more likely to accept the offer, and thus may be more inclined to make an offer to you.
14. Bring a copy of your resume to every interview.
Have a copy of your resume with you when you go to every interview. If the interviewer has misplaced his or her copy, you’ll save a lot of time (and embarrassment on the interviewer’s part) if you can just pull your extra copy out and hand it over.
15. Don’t worry about sounding “canned”.
Some people are concerned that if they rehearse their answers, they’ll sound “canned” (or overly polished or glib) during the interview. Don’t worry. If you’re well prepared, you’ll sound smooth and articulate, not canned. And if you’re not so well prepared, the anxiety of the situation will eliminate any “canned” quality.
16. Make the most of the “Tell me about yourself” question.
Many interviewers begin interviews with this question. So how should you respond? You can go into a story about where you were born, what your parents do, how many brothers and sisters and dogs and cats you have, and that’s okay. But would you rather have the interviewer writing down what kind of dog you have – or why the company should hire you?
Consider responding to this question with something like: “Well, obviously I could tell you about lots of things, and if I’m missing what you want, please let me know. But the three things I think are most important for you to know about me are [your selling points]. I can expand on those a little if you’d like.” Interviewers will always say, “Sure, go ahead.” Then you say, “Well, regarding the first point, [give your example]. And when I was working for [company], I [example of another selling point].” Etc. This strategy enables you to focus the first 10-15 minutes of the interview on all of your key selling points. The “Tell me about yourself” question is a golden opportunity. Don’t miss it!
17. Speak the right body language.
Dress appropriately, make eye contact, give a firm handshake, have good posture, speak clearly, and don’t wear perfume or cologne! Sometimes interview locations are small rooms that may lack good air circulation. You want the interviewer paying attention to your job qualifications — not passing out because you’ve come in wearing Chanel No. 5 and the candidate before you was doused with Brut, and the two have mixed to form a poisonous gas that results in you not getting an offer!
18. Be ready for “behavior-based” interviews”.
One of the most common interview styles today is to ask people to describe experiences they have had that demonstrate behaviors that the company thinks are important for a particular position. You might be asked to talk about a time when you made an unpopular decision, displayed a high level of persistence, or made a decision under time pressure and with limited information, for example.
Step 1 is to anticipate the behaviors this hiring manager is likely to be looking for. Step 2 is to identify at least one example of when you demonstrated each behavior. Step 3 is to prepare a story for each example. Many people recommend using SAR (Situation-Action-Result) as a model for the story. Step 4 is to practice telling the story. Also, make sure to review your resume before the interview with this kind of format in mind; this can help you to remember examples of behaviors you may not have anticipated in advance.
19. Send thank-you notes.
Write a thank-you note after every interview. Type each note on paper or send them by email, depending on the interviewers’ preferences. Customize your notes by referring specifically to what you and the interviewer discussed; for example, “I was particularly excited about [or interested by, or glad to hear] what you said about …” Handwritten notes might be better if you’re thanking a personal contact for helping you in your job search, or if the company you’re interviewing with is based in Europe. Whatever method you choose, notes should be sent within 48 hours of the interview.
To write a good thank-you note, you’ll need to take time after each interview to jot down a few things about what the interviewer said. Also, write down what you could have done better in the interview, and make adjustments before you head off for your next interview.
20. Don’t give up!
If you’ve had a bad interview for a job that you truly think would be a great fit for you (not just something you want badly), don’t give up! Write a note, send an email, or call the interviewer to let him or her know that you think you did a poor job of communicating why you think this job would be a good match. Reiterate what you have to offer the company, and say that you’d like an opportunity to contribute. Whether this strategy will get you a job offer depends on the company and on you. But one thing’s for sure: If you don’t try, your chances are exactly zero. We’ve seen this approach work on numerous occasions, and we encourage you to give it that last shot.