Whether you’re a new graduate looking for your first job, an old hand making a career change, or one of the millions of unemployed Americans displaced by the pandemic, landing a job interview stage in a big deal. It’s both exhilarating and nerve-wracking, as you hope to start a new chapter of your professional life. We have some handy job interview tips to help you nail your next interview — whether it’s your 15th interview this month or your first interview in years. We’ll break it down into three sections: before the interview, during it, and when the interview is over.
Before the Interview
Do Your Homework
Showing up for an interview without any knowledge of the company is a good way to hear, “don’t call us; we’ll call you.” But exactly what sort of research should you do ahead of time?
In short, you need to have a basic understanding of what your potential new employer needs from the position. That way, you can focus on proving that you will fulfill those needs. Start by Googling the company and finding out the basics: what they do, how big they are, who the important people are. If it’s posted, check out their mission statement — it’s a great thing to reference later.
Go ahead and dig a bit deeper. Check for independent news stories or trade journal articles about the company — not corporate press releases. It’s perfectly okay to research a company’s negative press too. You’ll want to know about both their strengths and their weaknesses. Not only will this give you the necessary background info to nail the interview, but it will give you a better idea of what kind of culture you will be entering if you’re hired.
Finally, it’s a good idea to look up the names and professional histories of any hiring managers or HR personnel that you might be doing your interview with. It can be very easy to forget a name when you’re feeling nervous. If you know ahead of time whom you will be meeting, you can focus your energy and attention on impressing them.
Practice the Interview at Home
Practice makes perfect and this is especially true when it comes to job interviews. Take some time to practice the interview at home with your partner, a friend or a family member. Rehearse your answers and how you will respond to follow-up questions. It’s natural to be nervous during a job interview, but the more prepared you are the less stressed you will be on the day of the interview.
So, take the time needed and practice for the interview. Also be sure to have the person asking you questions be tough and direct. This is the best way to boost your confidence and have you feeling prepared for whatever comes your way on the big day.
Take some time to think about what your interviewer will want to know about you. Look at your resume through the prospective employer’s eyes. Then try to guess what kind of questions you’re likely to be asked. If possible, have a friend come up with questions based on your resume. You can then practice how you will best answer them. It’s best to go ahead and do this aloud (over the phone or video call, if needed). That way you won’t feel as nervous speaking during the interview.
Another good way to anticipate questions it to thoroughly read the job posting again. Remind yourself of the open job title and the posted requirements. Plan out how you will pitch yourself as someone capable of meeting most (or all) of the requirements in the job listing itself. Not only will it provide you with strong answers in the interview, but hopefully you’ll impress everyone with your attention to detail.
Bone Up on Current Events
In addition to learning about the organization interviewing you and their business, it is also a good idea to have a good knowledge of current events heading into a job interview. You never know when an interviewer might bring up something relevant that’s in the news or when chit chat might stray into current events happening in the wider world. For example, if the World Series is going on at the time of a job interview, you should know which baseball teams are playing in the “Fall Classic” and which team is winning.
Similarly, you should also know if something dramatic has happened in the world of politics, science or other current events. Having this knowledge will show that you are well-rounded and well read, and it will help you to establish a rapport with the people conducting the interview. You could also find that you have things in common with your future co-workers.
Have Salary Expectations and a Start Date in Mind
At some point in the hiring process, you will be asked what your salary expectations are and when you could start in the new position. So, it is a good idea to have these answers top of mind when heading into a job interview. Keep in mind, of course, that salary and start date are negotiable. But you don’t want to look caught off guard or surprised if you are asked these questions during an in-person interview.
It is also advisable to have a minimum and maximum salary in mind. You could provide a range to the potential employer and then see what they come back to you with. Another strategy is to be flexible on the start date if you are unwilling to give ground on your salary expectation. How you structure it is up to you, but have a salary and start date in mind when you walk through the doors on the day of the interview.
Get Your References in Order
The final part of any hiring process is typically a reference check. So be sure to get your references in order and be prepared to submit them to a potential employer as soon as they request them. Most employers ask for two or three references, but some organizations ask for as many as five or more.
Reach out to your references before you submit their names and contact information and confirm with them that it is alright for you to use them as a reference for a job that you have applied to. This will ensure that your references are not caught off guard if contacted by the organization that is considering hiring you. Keep in mind that companies usually like to see references from your most recent employers and put special emphasis on past supervisors who can speak about your work and interpersonal skills.
Get Some Sleep
This one can be difficult, but it’s still important. Make sure you get enough sleep before the interview. This is especially important if your interview is first thing in the morning. You don’t want to look sleepy (or bored) to the interviewer. Your brain will also work more efficiently when you are fully awake. You may not remember when the last time you had enough sleep, but don’t underestimate this step.
First Impressions Matter
Remember that your first impression begins in the waiting room. It’s a good idea to think of your interview beginning the moment you walk in the building. So project your confidence, even while you’re waiting for your interview time. Dress appropriately for the position. Remember that it’s always better to be over-dressed than to be under-dressed. Take the time to get a haircut/shave/do your makeup/whatever before your interview. We all know that appearance shouldn’t take precedence over merit. However, looking sharp for your interview can only help your chances.
During the Interview
Listen, and Take Your Time
When you’re nervous, it’s easy to focus on your nerves and miss details. It’s also common for nerves to make you sail into an answer to a question before you’ve really had a chance to think about it. So make sure that you focus on what your interviewer is saying. You also want to pause a moment before you answer any question.
While it may feel like you have to get your answer out quickly, there is usually no rush. In fact, there are plenty of great reasons to add pauses to your speech. Take a moment after each question to get your thoughts in order, so you don’t talk yourself into a corner.
A job interview is an opportunity for you to sell yourself to prospective employers. This means that you should not hesitate to promote yourself when being interviewed for a job. In fact, the company conducting the interview will expect you to promote yourself. This will show confidence and experience.
So don’t be shy about using self-promotional language when speaking in an interview about your past jobs, responsibilities and successes. Take credit for the great work you’ve done, and any team wins that you were apart of. Remember that the interview is your chance to shine and demonstrate why you’re the best candidate and should be hired.
Ask Intelligent Questions
One of the hardest parts of any interview is when the interviewer asks if you have any questions for them. This is when your homework comes in handy. If you know of something the company has struggled with, you can ask what they are currently trying to do about it. Or even make a suggestion, if you feel comfortable enough.
Here are some other good questions to ask:
- “Tell me about the management style of this department.”
- “What is a typical day or week like?”
- “What did the previous employee in this position move on to do?”
Try to think of open-ended questions. You want to build a rapport with the person sitting across the aisle. It can be hard to do so without conversation.
One question that suddenly has become very relevant is “How did your company respond to the pandemic?” It can help you understand how much they valued the health and safety of their employees when March 2020 caused the whole world to stop. Did the company force employees to work through the pandemic? Or did they get flexible and creative, offering employees as much support as possible — including financially. Ask about things like paid sick leave, flexible working hours, paid vacation time, and work from home policies.
After the Interview
Thank Your Interviewers
You should offer profound thanks, verbally, as the end of the interview. A day or two later, take the time to send a thank you email or letter to each individual interviewer you spoke to. It will make you stand out from the rest of the candidates who are simply waiting by the phone. It will also hopefully remind them of why you were the best candidate for the position. At the very least, it keeps your name in the forefront of their thoughts. If you had a brief additional thought (now that the interview is over and you’ve had time to self-analyze it), go ahead and mention it in the thank you note.
Follow up by phone after a week to two weeks. When you call, just briefly reiterate your interest in joining the team and politely ask how the selection process is going. You may get a non-answer, but that’s alright. The point is that sometimes the squeaky wheel gets the grease. There’s no shame in showing an eagerness to join a new team and take on a new challenge. Just remember, though, that one call is enough. Calling frequently and demanding an update on the hiring process is a great way to get your name crossed off the list.
Confirm Next Steps
Before concluding an interview, be sure to confirm what the next steps are with a prospective employer. This could include the possibility of a second interview, a reference check, and when the employer plans to make a final decision and hire someone. Asking for confirmation on next steps will show a level of professionalism on your part and provide you with a timeline that you can work with going forward. Also be sure to confirm who you should speak with at the organization after the interview has concluded, whether it be the hiring manager, a human resource professional, or someone else. Ensure you have a contact when you leave the interview and that you know the expectations for any follow-up.
Don’t Use a Template
Do not ever use a template. Don’t do it on a cover letter or resume. Definitely don’t use one for your thank you or follow up note. In fact, don’t even copy and paste the email you send to thank each interviewer. Can you imagine if an interviewer thought your thank you note was impressive and shared it with their co-workers, only to discover you wrote the exact same thing to every person?
It’s time to demonstrate that you can put words together coherently. Make your English teachers proud. It really doesn’t take that much effort.
The Bottom Line
It can be easy to get your hopes up after every job interview. However, try to keep a level head. Only one person can get the job, after all. If you follow the advice in this article, you’ll be well prepared for every interview. Afterwards, make sure you follow up in a timely manner. It’s perfectly okay to reach out after a few weeks, but don’t overdo it to the point that you’re being annoying. Persistence pays off, but don’t be pesky.
At this point, it becomes a waiting game. Sooner or later, you’ll get that job offer you’ve been waiting for. Good luck!