This is the moment in your job search you’ve been waiting for; the chance to differentiate yourself from the pack, impress some strangers, and land yourself an awesome job. There is a lot of information out there on interview tips, and much of it is very valuable. This post won’t hit on every single strategy that exists, but rather what was successful in my own personal past and what I have learned along the way. Before refining and aligning my interview skills, I spent a lot of time botching interviews. I’ve probably gone on more interviews than any other person I have met of my own age, and have many hilarious failure stories as well. Luckily, I was finally able to learn from those failures and figure out what I was doing wrong. This may be the most valuable post on this site, and hopefully this information will work for you as well as it worked for me – and also save you a lot of time and misery!
What to do before an interview
If you’re serious about a job, the real victory starts right after you learned that you have been granted an interview, not when you walk in the door and shake hands with the person interviewing you.
Researching before an interview
It’s imperative that you do extensive research on the company that may be bringing you in. This is one of the biggest interview tips I can provide. If you walk into an office and don’t have a clue what they do, then you have already failed – and I can assure you you’re not getting that job. Believe me, this happened to me on the first few jobs I interviewed for. So what do you need to know and do?
- What they do
- I know this sounds ridiculous, but there are a lot of positions advertised out there for companies that are pretty vague in their descriptions. Visit their website and get a solid understanding on what it is that they do.
- What the position is
- This may be a little harder to figure out on some occasions and perhaps the job post will have a lot of the information that you need already. Try to gain more insight by visiting the website and clarifying where the position you are about to interview for fits in with the business as a whole.
- Where they are physically located
- Again, this is a silly point, but one big failure I had was asking the person I was interviewing with (the owner of the business), where his company was located before I came in. I learned later on that this small snafu hurt me quite a bit; it was clearly posted on his website, and he viewed me as not showing any interest in his company since it was clear that I hadn’t even researched the company before I came in.
- Company culture
- This may not be possible to find, but it may be possible to find out quite a bit about a company’s culture. Learning this before you come in will allow you to tailor your personality a little to fit better with the company culture.
- Any and all information on the company that could be relevant.
Above all, you must be able to ask intelligent questions about the job and company, and to show real interest in the position. This is very, very important, and another high value interview tip. At the very least, you need to be able to fake it, and having prior knowledge about the company will help you do just that. Trust me, an interviewer will not appreciate someone who has no interest or knowledge in the job or the company. If they ask you why you want this job, you can’t reply “because I need it.” That isn’t good enough. You need to be able to talk at length about why you are so interested in the job and company, and doing preparatory research will help you accomplish that.
How to Dress for an Interview
There is no one perfect way to dress for an interview. Unless you are interviewing for a very prestigious job, you probably don’t need a three-piece suit, but that doesn’t mean you should look like you just finished a shopping trip to Goodwill. Use common sense. Go out and buy a few pieces of business-casual clothing, and make sure you follow basic fashion principles (don’t wear brown shoes with black pants for example). Go in clean-shaven if you are a man, look professional if you are a woman. Hide tattoos if you have them, get a haircut if you have to. Look presentable, but don’t overdo it unless you think it is necessary. Gauge the position; it could honestly hurt your chances if you walked in wearing a full-on three-piece suit at a more laid-back company. You can’t falter with basic business-casual. Wearing a suit, you may be overdressed at a few places, but you’ll never be looked at wrongly for wearing a simple shirt and tie combo. Ladies, business-casual pants with a nice top or a skirt and jacket combo work well.
One strategy that I have heard on numerous occasions (and even tried myself), was to dress boldly on the first interview and, if you get a second, wear calmer colors. Now, I actually did get a job using this method, although I like to think it was thanks to other factors not involving my attire. I wore a “power tie” (a tie with bold colors and patterns) against a white shirt, and slacks. On the second interview, I wore blue against a blue and black tie with black slacks. Not at all complicated, and nothing risky about it. Perhaps it did play a small role in getting myself that job, and you might as well try a strategy like this as long it won’t sabotage you. If it helps you even 1%, then it’s worth it.
One final interview tip on clothing is to dress like the rest of the company does. This goes back to researching the company, and gaining insight into their culture. While you still want to dress up a bit, you can scale it back for a more casual company. Conversely, go all out for a highly professional one.
Asking questions on an interview
Before I really knew how to have a successful interview, I assumed that the process would involve being asked a variety of questions, and that I would simply have to hope that they liked my answers well enough to hire me. While answering questions is certainly an important part of interviewing, asking your own questions is arguably more important. It shows that you are actually interested in the company and position.
This is where your pre-interview research becomes invaluable. You should use what you learned about the company to raise intelligent questions – and try to think of a few good ones before your interview date. Base these questions on what you already know about the company, raising items that will make you look inquisitive and intelligent. While you will really want to customize these questions for the company and its own company culture, a few basic ones are:
- Where is the company going in the next few years?
- Can you describe the company culture?
- What makes this company a great place to work?
- Is there anything specific about the job that wasn’t in the description that I should know about?
These questions make you appear concerned about how well you will fit in with the company – and fit can often trump experience or expertise. If they get the sense that you are truly looking for a good fit, rather than simply a place that will give you a paycheck, they will take note of that. These are also good “jumping-off point” questions, and will give you the opportunity to show interest and raise more questions, which makes this another great interview tip.
What not to ask on an interview
There are definitely questions that you don’t want to ask, and you’ll have to use your better judgment on what those are. Two that you should stay away from in any situation are:
- Specifics about the position or company that are on the company website or job description. If you do your research before you interview, you probably won’t run into this issue, but if you ask something like “so what do you guys do?” or, “what exactly is this job?” then you are really in trouble. Trust me, I actually did both of these before. It’s OK if you preface a question by stating that you didn’t completely understand something about the company or job description from their website and go from there, but make it clear that you did your research.
- “How much does this job pay?” NEVER ASK THIS. I also used to make this mistake. Refrain from asking about any compensation; not mentioning pay shows that you have the integrity to be more interested in the work than the money. A lot of the time the interviewer may mention salary or wage anyway, so let them tell you, don’t prod them for it. Be sure not to just jump in with your questions right when you walk in the door, or interrupt the interviewer. If you can find a natural place in the conversation to jump in then go for it. Luckily, you’ll usually be asked if you have any questions at some point, and that’s when you can go nuts. Ask as many as you can within reason, and keep them intelligent and high-level.
Remember, asking questions makes you look interested and enthusiastic, and those are qualities in a new hire that many hiring managers are looking for.
Controlling a job interview
Asking all of these questions positions you – in a way – as the interviewer, and that is a tactic that can often be successful. The last few jobs I received were due to the fact that I asked more questions than the interviewer asked me, which essentially put me in the driver’s seat. When you do this successfully, you are controlling the interview. This tactic works is because it conveys assertiveness and confidence. And, when viewed on a deeper psychological level, controlling the interview also puts the idea in the interviewers head that you don’t need this job. You have options, and you are looking for the best fit for yourself, not the other way around. People forget that job interviews are a two-way street, and you want them to know that you have enough self-respect and understanding of your own value to turn down an offer if you don’t think it will fit you well.
Eye Contact during an interview
It’s not rocket science, but it’s important. Maintain good eye contact. Look the interviewer in the eye when he or she is talking, and when you are talking. That doesn’t mean you want to have a cold, creepy stare the entire time; it’s ok to break eye contact. But don’t be looking around the room, down at your hands, or at the wall the entire time either.
If you are shy and have trouble looking someone in the eye for long periods, try to correct that. If you are nervous and not very confident, and are afraid to look them in the eye, you aren’t going to get that job. But maintaining eye contact will create the illusion of confidence that you may not have. I used to have the same problem with keeping good eye contact, and once I was aware of it, I was able to fix it and be much more successful in interviews. And really, being aware of making good eye contact is half the battle, just like….
Body Language in an interview
You can tell a lot about a person by how they carry themselves. And the thing is, most people aren’t aware of their body language. And really your body language is one of the biggest things you need to realize and take notice of. Do you fidget? Slouch? Make too many gestures? Be honest with yourself and think about it for a minute. Similar to eye contact, if you are aware how you present yourself you can usually fix it. Also similar to eye contact, you will want to use body language to project confidence, but also to convey that you are calm. The best way to do this is to sit up straight, don’t fidget, keep your hands on your thighs, and use slow, controlled breaths.
One of the best interview tips is to speak slower than normal; this makes you appear controlled and confident, rather than nervous and all over the place.
If you are naturally a more animated person, it’s OK to make hand gestures and express yourself. But try not to be all over the place or to seem over-anxious.
Also, you need to smile and show that you are a friendly person. Smile when you meet them, when you leave, and at any other appropriate time that calls for a grin.
Apply the same concepts when you are walking as well (through the building, into the office, and out of the office). Don’t walk too fast. Use slower, controlled movements and remember to maintain good posture.
Really, it’s pretty simple; slow yourself down and straighten yourself up. Do this while maintaining good eye contact and you will appear confident, calm and cool.
Personality control and tailoring during an interview
A problem that I had early on was I wasn’t completely sure how to behave in the interview. I have a good sense of humor and I like to make people laugh, so my strategy in some of my first interviews was to try and make the interviewer laugh as much as possible. More than once, I rated my interviews based on the amount of laughs that I got. While I’m sure they thought I was funny (or perhaps they were just humoring me), they didn’t think I was the best for the job. Solely focusing on making people laugh is not one of the greatest interview tips in the world.
Interviewers want to see your personality; they want to know what type of person they will be bringing into the office. So you need to be able to show a glimpse into yourself while still maintaining professionalism for the majority of the interview. It’s not an easy art to master, and it takes practice. In my case, I learned how to tone the humor down and act much more professional while sprinkling in jokes every now and again so they could see a little of my personality. Once I did this, I began having a much greater deal of success.
Of course, it also matters on who is conducting the interview. If they seem like a stern person with no sense of humor, then you probably don’t want to tell any jokes. If they are easy-going, then you can mirror that to a degree. Basically, you should tailor your personality to the interviewer’s personality. I’m not saying you should act like a completely different person, but just try and use appropriate behavior.
Don’t divulge too much during an interview
In other words, don’t be over-honest. Along with using too much humor in my earlier interviews, I also had a tendency to be over-honest. By this I mean that I was divulging facts about myself that, in retrospect, I should not have brought up to someone interviewing me.
Here is a perfect example: my very first job out of college was as a delivery driver for a printing company. I had basically taken the very first job I could get – and I literally got hired and fired within the same day. During the interview, I had been very clear that I did not have any experience driving a big box truck, but they liked me enough to take me on anyway. So, during my first run which happened to be with the owner, I scraped the side of the box truck against a fence, and later on backed up into a pole. Needless to say, I wasn’t the right fit for them.
A few months later I had an interview with a bank, for a job which also involved driving in the job description. Now, I’m actually a very good driver, but I do have trouble driving those big vehicles. During this interview (which was going very well), I somehow managed to voluntarily bring up the prior incident. I figured that it was a good anecdote, and since the only driving that had to be done for this job was a small minivan, that it wouldn’t matter. The person interviewing me commended my honesty but the owner of the company, who was in the room at the time, started to feel unsure about me, and was looking at me like I was an idiot for telling them that, and looking at me like I was not a person that was ever going to drive any of their vehicles. Needless to say, I ended up not getting this job, which would have been a great entry-level position -all because I divulged too much information about myself, and information that they really didn’t need to know.
Talk yourself up during an interview
I also had a problem with “talking myself up” early on. You may be faced with questions during the interview such as “talk about a situation in a prior job where you used your leadership skills”. Because I was still focused on providing a lot of honesty during an interview, I had trouble sincerely answering these types of questions because, for me, it often required stretching the truth to a degree or making a past experience seem a lot better than it really was. Because of my reservations about stretching the truth, this question would invariably be received with a blank stare from me while I searched for a true answer that wasn’t exaggerated.
This was a mental roadblock that I wish I had overcome earlier on. Look, you may have to stretch the truth a little bit, exaggerate some, and talk yourself up more than you are comfortable with. Don’t lie, but also don’t be afraid to find a minor detail in your past and imply it was a bigger part of your experience than it really was.
For instance, think of the leadership question I used as an example. You probably don’t have experience leading a team of employees. But you may have had experience leading a group project in school – even if it was for just on small project. Or maybe you helped out a customer in a retail job you had, or helped to train a new employee.
The point is, you can use those experiences as your baseline while crafting your answer around them. Even if you have just one example that you can honestly use, the interviewer won’t know that your experience is limited. Try to figure out a way to answer that question and talk your experience up while making it seem a little more significant than it really was. From there, you can branch out into talking about other strengths that you want to highlight, even if they aren’t directly related to the question that you were asked.
For example, I was once asked what I liked most about an internship I had just completed. In truth, I absolutely hated this internship and it really wasn’t much of a positive experience. So I quickly scanned my brain for a nugget of truth that I could expand on. During this internship, I worked on one client’s website once for no more than a few hours. This was a very minor part of what I did, but I talked it up like it was a giant springboard for me and credited it for getting me interested in online marketing and web design (which was partly true). I went on to say that this led to me creating my own website. Focusing on this aspect of my internship worked really well, and I actually got this job, which was in the same general field as the job I was interviewing for.
Interview tips summary
If you follow these basic concepts and rules, than you will be ahead of the curve – especially if you are applying for positions that generate interest from other entry- level candidates without a lot of experience. It took me dozens of interviews and conversations with career counselors and other knowledgeable folks to figure all of this out. Now I’m at the point where, if I can get an interview, I honestly feel like I will get the job. When I first started out, I had nowhere near that level of confidence and usually assumed that I wasn’t going to get offered the job. So, the best interview tips are:
- Do your research. Learn as much about the company and industry as you can before you walk in the door.
- Get a proper wardrobe and groom yourself. You don’t have to dress to the nines, but you want to look professional and clean-cut.
- Ask a lot of questions. And then ask some more. This shows that you are curious, intelligent, enthusiastic and interested in the job.
- Control the interview. Become the interviewer.
- Maintain eye contact and use good body language. Make sure that you are using non-verbal methods to convey confidence and not just your words.
- Control your personality and match it to the interviewer. Don’t act like a robot, but don’t seem completely relaxed either. Find that perfect middle ground, and adjust it depending on the personality of the interviewer and to the culture of the company (if that is something you can determine).
- Tell the truth, but not the whole truth. Keep things to yourself that they don’t need to know.
- Talk your experience up!