Just about everyone is aware that the interview is the most important part of any job hunt. It does not matter how impressive your resume is or how much experience you have if you blow the interview. On the flip side, someone with a thinner resume and less experience can earn themselves a position that appears on paper to be out of their league if they nail the interview. It seems like a simple equation: viable candidate + good interview = job offer. Unfortunately, managing the second step in that equation is much harder than it sounds.
Interviews have a massive number of moving parts. Your interviewer or interviewers are evaluating you from the moment you schedule the interview to long after you walk out of their office. If you want the job, you need to make sure you excel at every point in order to nail your interview.
Do your research.Your interview really begins long before you set foot in the company’s office. In the days or weeks leading up to your interview, you have homework to do. Research the company you are interviewing with, their industry and the people who will be interviewing you if you know their names. You do not have to become an expert on, for example, the pharmaceutical industry in three days, but you should be able to ask intelligent questions about it and know where the company you are interviewing with stands in their industry.
Role-play the interview.Practice makes perfect in just about everything, and interviews are no exception. If you want to nail your interview, you need to practice how you are going to answer difficult questions and how you are going to present yourself. The best way to do this is with a friend or family member who is willing to do a mock interview with you. They can ask you common interview questions, grill you on places your resume might be thin and try to trip you up. That way, when you actually attend your interview, you will not be blindsided by similar questions or concerns.
There really is no good substitute for having another human being to practice with you. It is easy to imagine answering questions smoothly, but it is far harder to actually sound eloquent in the moment when you have someone glaring at you from across the table. It is far better to work out the worst of your nerves with someone you know than to lose your confidence mid-interview.
Dress appropriately.The day of an interview is not the day to try out experimental fashion ideas or go for the I-just-rolled-out-of-bed look. Your research should include finding out about the company dress code, and you should dress slightly more formally than the average employee. If you are interviewing at a casual workplace, for example, wear a nice button down and either khakis for men or a professional skirt for women. Women should also be more conservative with their makeup, hairstyle and accessories. If you get the job, you may end up wearing jeans and sweatshirts to work, but for the interview, it is better to be overdressed than underdressed.
Arrive early, not on time.Nothing is going to blow your chances at getting that job faster than arriving late to an interview. Aim to arrive 10 to 15 minutes early so that you have a chance to take a deep breath, get a drink of water and use the restroom before your interview begins. Planning on being early also gives you a bit of flexibility in case you run into unexpected traffic or car issues. If you are interviewing in a new city, be sure to plan extra time to get to your destination. Locals might know that there is one stoplight you cannot afford to miss or that driving on Main Street during rush hour is a laughable idea, but you will not. Leaving extra early will give you some cushion in case you get lost or trapped at an obstacle locals would know to avoid.
In the event that you find yourself running late due to an obstacle you had no way of foreseeing, be sure to call the company you are interviewing with immediately and explain the dilemma. There is, for example, no way you could know that the bridge into the city would be closed for two hours due to a car crash. That said, you need to speak to your interviewers immediately. They may decide to reschedule the interview for another time or another day. If that happens, you are the one who needs to be flexible. It is not your fault that the interstate shut down, but the reality is that you need your interviewers more than they need you. Last minute reschedules are wildly inconvenient for everyone involved, but accept in advance that most of the onus will be on you.
Know you are on stage.As soon as you arrive at the office, know that you are on stage. It is not unusual in the slightest for secretaries to report back to hiring managers about your waiting room behavior. So, be sure to put your best foot forward even when you are sitting in the waiting room. Review your resume and the information you have about the company or industry while you wait, or if people are not busy, chat with employees. Whatever you do, be sure to conduct yourself in a mature, professional manner while you wait.
Keep small-talk focused on the company.Hiring managers are people, too. So, if you have a Friday afternoon interview and ask them about their weekend plans while making small-talk, they are going to spend your entire interview thinking longingly about the boating trip they have planned rather than focusing on you. This means they will not remember you as well after the interview, and a forgettable candidate is a doomed candidate.
Keep your small talk focused on the company or industry. Ask about their new building or a recent development in the industry. Not only will it help keep your interviewer focused on the job at hand, it will make it clear that you did your research beforehand.
Have examples ready for any assertion.Anyone can say they are a great communicator, and frankly, most people think they have all the skills in the world. Clearly, you think you can do the job you are interviewing for, or you would not have applied. Managers, however, may think differently. They do not just want to hear that you think of yourself as a hard worker, they want to know it for sure, and the best indicators of future actions are past actions. As such, make sure you have relevant examples to back up any claim you make. If you say you are great at out of the box thinking, have an example ready of how your off the wall idea solved a problem in your past job.
Have a list of questions for your interviewers.An interview is not just a chance for your would-be employer to learn about you, it is also a chance for you to learn about them. Work is, for better or for worse, the place where you will spend the vast majority of your waking hours as an adult. If you are going to take a job, you need to know that you will not be miserable in it.
Almost every interview has time for questions afterword, and be sure to make use of that time. Ask intelligent questions of your interviewers about both the job and the company. These are an opportunity for you to decide if you really want to work there as well as a chance to show off some less easily measured skills such as curiosity and insight. Those intangibles can often play a large part in determining whether you or another candidate gets the offer.
Send a thank you note.If may feel like pointless formality, but be sure to send a thank you note within 48 hours of your interview. Try to reference something specific from the interview in order to show that your note is not simply a form letter. Not every interviewer reads such notes, but even those that ignore them often check to see if you sent one. Thank you notes tell your interviewer that you recognize the time they took out of their busy schedule to meet with you as well as make it clear that you are a professional. Thank you notes can feel meaningless, but they can make or break the outcome of the interview. Besides, it does not take that long to craft a 100 word email.
Interviews are stressful, but there is no reason that you cannot succeed at them and land your dream job. Do your research, prepare beforehand, remain professional and you will be well on your way to nailing your next interview.