The interview. What is it really? At its core, an interview is the chance for a potential employer to meet with you, talk with you face-to-face, try and “get to know you”, and, hopefully, get a glimpse as to whether you’d be a good fit for their organization. In many ways, it’s like a first date; only they’re trying to determine after one date if you’re “marriage material”. And, the employer gets the benefit of dating as many people as they want to find “the one”.
For your part, if your resume was your initial opportunity to sell yourself on paper (trying to get the “date”), then the interview is your chance to prove you’re boyfriend/girlfriend material. Many people often forget that interviewing is both an art and a skill. And with any skill, it requires practice to become better and more relaxed in a sometimes otherwise uncomfortable setting.
7 Strategies for Giving a Great Interview:
1. Be Prepared
First and foremost, being prepared means doing your homework. Research the company you’re interviewing with. Find things you can address in your interview, whether it be noteworthy things the company has done, interesting things that stand out about their culture or something you can compare/tie to your current employer. Not everyone does this and it can make you stand out.
Also, dress appropriately and arrive early. While the adage “It’s what’s on the inside that counts” may be true, employers size potential candidates up very quickly, and first impressions really matter. Wear something conservative and professional, but nothing that “stands out.” A good rule of thumb; if you’re not sure if you should wear it (or keep it visible), then don’t. Additionally, get there 5-10 minutes early. Arriving too early can appear desperate, but give yourself enough time to use the restroom, review your notes or simply calm yourself and focus.
2. Practice Ahead of Time
Many people fail to realize the power of practicing for an interview. Search online for a list of the most common interview questions and rehearse what you’d say. Get comfortable with these questions. It doesn’t mean you won’t get some surprises. But at least you’ll be ready for some of them. Also, consider practicing with a family member, friend or mentor. It might feel awkward, but it’ll be a great way to simulate the experience. Not comfortable with that? Consider practicing in front of a mirror, or even recording responses to see how you respond.
Many employers are now using the STAR method for interviewing. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action(s), and Result. Essentially, they will be looking for examples of what you’ve actually done in different situations (whether at work or your personal life) rather than hypotheticals. Be prepared to share brief stories of experiences, good or bad, and what you learned from them.
3. Be Aware of Your Nonverbals
It’s common to have a “thing” you do when you’re nervous. For some, their eyes dart all around; sometimes a person’s voice drops and becomes a whisper; others rock back-and-forth in their chair; for some (usually women), they “bite” or twirl their hair. The problem is, these “nervous ticks” can distract an interviewer from focusing on you and what you’re trying to say.
It has been said that up to 55% of what you communicate to others is conveyed through your body language. The point is, nonverbals “say” more than you think. So, try to limit anything that can be a distraction. Limit the “ticks” as best you can, and use these positive nonverbals and you’ll be fine: give a firm handshake, maintain good posture and eye contact, speak clearly and loud enough that you can be heard, and smile often!
4. Sell Yourself
One of the biggest things people forget is, if they are brought in for an interview, that usually means the employer likes what they’ve seen so far (probably your resume). Sure, they might like others too (hence, multiple people being interviewed), but you have a chance! This is your opportunity to (briefly) tell your story and help them see why you’re the right person for the job.
When asked questions, don’t just give basic answers. Instead, always have an example to share. Be likeable; show an appropriate amount of enthusiasm and humor. Don’t be cocky, but be confident. Be honest; it’s OK that you’re not perfect. Don’t hide from previous mistakes. Instead, show them ways in which you’ve grown and what you learned from the experience.
5. Tips for Remaining Calm
According to a 2017 Candidate Experience Survey, “73% [of job seekers] say that the job search process is one of the most stressful things in life.” If this is true, it’s no wonder why people get nervous during an interview! However, experienced interviewers know there are a few strategies they can use to help themselves.
If you get nervous, take slow, deep (but quiet) breaths. It will slow your pulse, give your brain oxygen, and help you relax. Additionally, if you get asked a question you don’t have an immediate answer to, say, “That’s a good question. Can I think about that for a minute?” Even responding with a slow “Hmmm…” or restating the question can buy you a moment to think while letting the interviewer know you heard them and are considering a response.
6. Always Come with a Question to Ask
So, the interview is closing and you feel you’ve done well. The interviewer asks if you have any questions for them and you say, “No.” Unfortunately, all the good work you’ve done to this point might have just been undone. Studies show that having a question or two of your own is one of the things employers seriously look for. Why? Asking questions shows you are fully engaged, are serious about the job, and are considering whether the position is a good fit for you as well.
What questions should you ask? First, keep the number low 1 or 2 (no more than 3). Ask questions about company or team culture, what sort of professional development they provide, clarity over something in the role, involvement in the community, etc. The point is to show you’re interested. Don’t ask questions about salary, vacation, etc. Save those for when (and if) you get offered the job.
7. Show Your Gratitude
Let them indicate when the interview is over. When it is, be sure to shake hands with everyone present. If possible, refer to them by name (to show you were paying attention). Smile, look them in the eyes and thank them for their time. Remember, an interview is an opportunity to try and win the job; show your appreciation for getting the chance.
If the interviewer asks for anything as a follow-up, do it immediately. Even if they don’t, follow up with an email or even a card (within 24 hours), thanking them again for the opportunity. This is proper etiquette, but it also demonstrates you desire the position. If you haven’t heard anything after a week, don’t fret; they might not have made up their mind yet. But, that’s an appropriate time to wait before following up with them.
Looking for more resources? Check out these:
There are many “tips” and strategies for building interviewing skills. For the classroom instructor, teaching the basics of interviewing is an important first step. Providing students with authentic experiences - like mock interviews and other interactions with business professionals - will help students put theory into practice. Check out these resources for developing interviewing skills (and mock interviews) in your class: