Whether you work to live or live to work, interviewing is an inevitable part of most of our lives and a skill worth mastering. Considering that a good interview is the difference between landing the job of your dreams or remaining unemployed, knowing how to interview well is crucial in furthering yourself professionally and helping to remain financially stable.
The most common mistake people make when interviewing is not doing enough preparation, which stems from a lack of understanding about the job market. For even the most basic job, hiring managers are most likely sorting through anywhere from 100-200 resumes. If you’re lucky enough to be called for an interview or phone screening, be very conscious of the fact that you’re competing with several people whose resumes look just like yours (and probably a fair amount that are better than yours).
Maybe a few years ago you could walk into an interview, answer their questions without much strategy, and get a job offer, but today. The job market is rough right now (yes, even for those with degrees) and employers have the luxury of choosing candidates who are exactly what they’re looking for in every way. Employers want the total package: job skills, industry-related experience, interest in the job, motivation to learn and do well, the ability to bring a new train of thought into the conversation, and lastly, they want someone with the right personality who can fit in seamlessly with the rest of the office. To get a job offer you not only need to have all of those qualifications but you need to demonstrate with confidence that you have those qualities, and doing that takes thought and strategy.
In order to impress an employer enough to obtain a job offer, you need to be exactly what they want. In order to do that you should go over the job description and write down some keys word that stick out. Are independence and an entrepreneurial spirit really important for this role? Or maybe customer service and the ability to stay calm under stressful situations? Write down a list of qualities that the employer is looking for and when you practice your answers to common interview questions (which you should do), make sure to demonstrate those qualities in your answers.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Know your resume. Something I’ve been asked in almost every interview has been to walk the interviewer through my resume, or specifically, tell them what I did while I worked at a certain job. Obviously if you’ve worked somewhere you know what you did and can easily answer that question, but you should practice saying what you did at each job to make sure you emphasize the most important aspects of the job. Emphasize the parts of the job that relate to the job you’re interviewing for and don’t just talk about what you did, but talk about what you learned and how that can be applied to this job. Don’t be afraid to say: “while I worked at [company x] I spent a lot of time doing [job skill], which I think would translate really well to the part of this job that includes doing [job function].” Employers want you to connect the dots for them; your previous experience may be perfect for the job you’re interviewing for but the interviewer may not immediately see that.
The first step in trying to obtain a job offer is realizing that the job market is tough and you need to give everything you’ve got to be seriously considered for a position. Once you start to think of an interview as a challenge that isn’t guaranteed to be won, only then will you start to adequately prep. Below are some quick tips to ace that interview:
1) Show up exactly 10 minutes early.
When you show up to an interview any earlier than 10 minutes you risk imposing yourself on the interviewer, or making them feel rushed to see you. Conversely, if you show up any later you may not have enough time to fill out whatever paperwork they have for you. On more than a few job interviews I was greeted with a packet of paperwork to fill out regarding my experience, and it was expected that I would have completed the paperwork before the scheduled interview time.
2) Be prepared to fill out paperwork beforehand.
It is common for employers to have candidates fill out paperwork before for their records, and the type and length of paperwork can vary. Common questions I’ve seen include questions about previous employers: name of the company, position title, address, phone number, dates of employment, name of supervisor, reason for leaving, and salary. Also be prepared to list out at least 3 references (including title, phone number, and email address) and salary expectations for the position.
3) Strategize a way to make yourself stand out
Unfortunately in this job market being a good candidate with experience, skills, and interest isn’t enough to get you hired. In order to secure a job offer you need to go beyond what the employer is looking and focus on one strength that sets you apart from the other candidates. Have a game plan of how to display your strength to the employer and practice incorporating your strength into answers to questions that are commonly asked in interviews. When you leave the interview, the interviewers should have a lasting impression of you and be able to set you apart from the other candidates.
(Your strength can be anything. My strength in a recent interview was not only that I had the experience they required, but I was passionately interested in the organization’s work. Not only did I get the job, but I was told I was chosen over other candidates who had more experience than me because of my enthusiasm for the job)
4) Stress what you can do for the employer, not only how much you want the job
Enthusiasm for the job may be crucial, along with the willingness to grow professionally, but at the end of the day employers want to know what you can do for them. All of your answers to their questions should include a sentence or two about how the skills you’ve acquired at past jobs can not only help you succeed at this job, but how your success will benefit the office and the company.
5) Prepare, prepare, prepare
Seriously. The best way to prepare for any question is to simply talk through your resume and job experiences and practice sentences that sound thoughtful, professional, and impressive. Go over every possible scenario and be able to talk about specific skills, programs used, projects, work relationships, etc. If you don’t practice your answers, you’re likely to tell the interviewers about your skills, rather than showing them (which is what you should be doing). The more you rehearse your answers, the more thoughtful your answers will sound and the more relaxed you’ll appear because you won’t be struggling to think of what to say. (Side note: Preparing for an interview also means stalking the interviewers’ LinkedIn profiles (to get a sense of their background) and going over the organization’s website).
6) Never ask about salary before you are offered the position.
Your primary job in an interview is to display your enthusiasm for the position and showcase your talents, skills, and experience. Asking about the job hours, salary, benefits or dress code is not relevant at this point in the conversation. Period.
7) Never discuss salary until you receive an offer.
Most job applications and interviews want you to tell the employer how much you should get paid in that position. Don’t do it. With hundreds of applications being submitted for most open positions, hiring managers use salary expectations as a way to cut down the pile. If you price yourself too low, employers won’t think you value your skills or have the appropriate skills and experience for that job, and if you price yourself too high, employers might think you are over-qualified or won’t bother interviewing you because they think you won’t accept their job offer based on salary. When asked about salary expectations before you receive a job offer, the appropriate response is to state you are sure you and the employer can come to an agreeable salary based upon your experience and requirements of the job…once there is an offer on the table.
8) Ask thoughtful questions to everyone you interview with.
Be sure to ask at least 5 good questions to everyone who interviews you. Think of these beforehand and have them memorized for your interview. If you know you’re meeting more than one person and their job titles vary, tailor your questions to match the superiority of the position. For example, if you meet with your direct supervisor and then the director of the department, ask the former specifics about your job responsibilities and ask the latter about growth, goals, and work environment.
9) Look professional.
Regardless of whether they should or not, people will always judge you based on your appearance, and this is no different in job interviews. Look sharp, professional, and if you have to second guess a piece of clothing you probably shouldn’t wear it. Pick out your outfit the night before and tailor your outfit to the industry you’re interviewing in. If you’re interviewing for a financial services company, wear a suit in traditional colors; if you’re interviewing in a less-intense environment, still wear professional attire, but feel free to throw in some color. If you’re going to wear high heels, make sure you can confidently walk in them. If you’re thinking of wearing perfume or cologne, wear less than you normally would in case your interviewer has a sensitive nose. While it’s not a crime to display your personality in your outfit, it’s better to dress a little more conservative than you normally would in order to get a job offer.
10) Rapid fire tips
Bring extra copies of your resume, always ask for business cards at the end of the interview (so you can send a thank you email), bring a small bottle of water, hold your interviews in a professional binder, and be polite to everyone you see or meet once you walk into the building (you never know, you might ride the elevator up to the interview next to someone who works in the office).
Every little detail matters and the only way to thoroughly ace an interview and receive a job offer is by preparing, going in with a strategy, and realizing you need to take your interview very serious. Good luck!