Do the right things in your interview … and avoid the wrong.
There is no part of looking for a job that's easy. You fret over every line on your resume, triple-check your cover letter, and cross your fingers that your application makes it through the applicant tracking system to land on the hiring manager's desk. All of that is stressful, but the long-awaited interview may be the hardest part. Everyone wants to make the right first impression and appear professional, likable, qualified, and approachable — all at once. The pressure is enough to make even the best professionals sweat!
As you turn to the internet for guidance on pre-interview prep, you might be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of advice; there are a thousand ways to get an interview right, but trying to memorize them all is counter-productive. Let us simplify the interview-advice process; here are the five most critical things to do in an interview, and the three things you should avoid at all costs.
Do your research
Everyone knows that it's a good idea to look up the website of the company they are interviewing at. However, a cursory scroll isn't enough — mostly because your competitors for the position are probably doing the same thing. If you want to stand out during the interview, you must begin by doing an outstanding job on your research.
What might that look like? Here are some options to consider. Follow the company (and its key executives) on Twitter to see what hot topics are being shared on their business social profiles. Run a LinkedIn search for the professionals that you will be interviewing with to better understand their professional paths and possibly find informal connection points (such as having attended the same school or loving the same sports team). A search for company news and press releases can turn up good material for questions to ask during the interview. Take good notes on everything that you find to make the most out of this information.
Be mindful of your appearance
The workplace seems to get more relaxed every year, but you should not use that trend as permission to slack on your interview attire. Of course, you should take into consideration the company culture to determine what level of formality will be most appropriate. No matter what that is though, make sure that all your clothing fits you well and makes you feel confident. It's a good idea to try your interview outfit on a few days ahead of time so that you can replace a shift that's itchy or a tie that doesn't look right on the day of.
Although accessories and hairstyle may seem like small details, pay attention to your choices there. Your goal is to project an image of a highly qualified professional. The hiring manager shouldn't hesitate to put you in front of his or her boss or a client. So, aim to minimize distractions. A clean and crisp look is likely to serve you best.
Anticipate the tough questions
An interview is an opportunity to highlight your strengths and emphasize your fit for the position. However, you shouldn't expect that the hiring manager will only ask easy questions about your past wins and proud moments. Come prepared to answer the tougher questions, like ones about your regrets, mistakes, and weaknesses.
The best way to be prepared is to spend some time reflecting on your career path. Growth rarely happens in a space of perfect comfort. Think about your personal growth opportunities that came wrapped in an unappealing package. Have you faced a difficult boss, a challenging business environment, a tough client, or a direct report that you couldn't manage well? If you have solid personal clarity about the lessons you've learned, and you are able to articulate that, you are that much more valuable as a candidate.
Do prepare for tough questions, such as the "What is your greatest weakness" interview question, but once you are in the interview, stay present to the conversation as it unfolds. Don't limit yourself by listening for keywords and waiting for a chance to launch into a rehearsed speech! Trust that the prep work you've done is available for you to draw upon when needed.
Sell your candidacy
An interview isn't the right time to downplay your strengths. Since bragging about ourselves is often uncomfortable, many professionals find this difficult. In order to not let modesty compromise your chances, you must be clear on what makes you a perfect person to step into the open position.
How might you get there if you are naturally humble? Make a list of your qualifications and how they align with the requirements of the job. Think of examples that demonstrate your proven ability to handle similar challenges successfully. Take credit for your wins, accomplishments, process improvements, and positive outcomes — without qualifying every one of them as “not that big a deal” or “a team effort.” Selling your candidacy is a natural part of the interview process, and the quicker you come to peace with it, the better.
Bring thoughtful questions
One of the best ways to demonstrate a genuine interest in the position is by asking thoughtful questions of your hiring manager. After all, no professional role can ever be completely covered within the confines of the job description! So, be curious. Use the interview as your opportunity to learn more about the company and the team you will be working with.
Are there any questions that are off-limits? Certainly. Stay away from anything that could be answered by a quick internet search. Keep your curiosity strictly professional: An interview is not the time to ask the hiring manager about their family vacation. Finally, don't bring up salary during the first interview — it can make you appear greedy.
What NOT to Do in Your Next Job Interview
Now that we are clear on what successful candidates do to set themselves apart, it's time to go over a few mistakes that are certain to disqualify you in the eyes of the hiring manager.
Whether outright fibbing about a fake degree or past employment or inflating a job title and responsibilities, lies have a way of surfacing sooner or later. Most likely, careful background and reference checks will often uncover the truth before a candidate is ever hired. Those who manage to get past the initial screening will have the questionable pleasure of living on pins and needles as they wait for the shoe to drop. If a lie is uncovered well after the candidate has been hired, it's sure to erase any good that they have done while employed. This is a risk not worth taking.
What should you do instead? Tell the truth. Be honest about your experience, qualifications, and certificates. If you are aware of missing a few prerequisites for the job, outline a clear plan for getting them met. For example, you might apply for a job that lists “Certified Financial Planner” or having a CFP certification as one of the requirements. If you are in the process of studying for your CFP marks, it is entirely within the guardrails to share your progress and target completion date with the hiring manager. Lying about having already obtained the marks would be unacceptable.
“Why are you leaving your current job?” Believe it or not, some candidates view this question as the perfect opportunity to tell their side of the story. From lazy co-workers to a tyrant boss, terrible office coffee, low pay, or lack of access to exciting projects, they launch into an itemized list of offenses in their current (or past) work situation.
Don't fall into this trap. Since you are in active job-search mode, you are obviously looking for a better opportunity. There is no need to call that out by bad mouthing others. Think about a tactful way to convey that you are ready for more responsibility or want to pursue a different path of professional development. Bring specific examples that back up all the positive things you have done to move in the direction of what you want.
Don't let your nerves get the better of you
Virtually everyone gets nervous in an interview setting. A touch of the jitters can even be a good thing if it forces you to prepare, be awake, and pay attention. However, if the nerves are turning you into a bumbling mess and ruining your chances of presenting your candidacy in a favorable light, you may need to do things differently.
Begin by reflecting on why you are anxious. Being nervous isn't a required component of demonstrating your level of interest in the job! If you feel that you are underqualified, review the list of skills and achievements that aligns your professional history with the job requirements. If you are afraid of rejection, consider doing an exercise similar to the “Fear Setting” drill from Tim Ferriss. As you define your fears and play them out to their natural conclusions in “what-if” scenarios, you might just realize that few mistakes are permanent or life destroying. Try meditation, exercise, breathing, or any of the long list of tools to help you manage your mental state.
Success tips for your next interview
Your path to impressing the hiring manager begins with preparation. Do excellent research before the interview and be mindful of your appearance. Anticipate tough questions and show your interest in the job by asking your own questions. Don't lie on your resume or in the interview, be cautious about how you answer tricky questions about your current work situation, and do your best to manage your nerves.
Finally, remember that the interview is rarely 100 percent focused on “hard,” or technical, skills. Demonstrate your soft skills by following the hiring manager's lead in regards to formality (such as transitioning to first names, sharing a few appropriate personal details, etc.) Always ask about next steps in the interview process and be sure to send a thank-you note. By following these best practices, you will be stepping into the next perfect opportunity in no time!
A professional interview coach can guide you while you work to adopt these interview techniques. Click here to learn more about TopInterview's coaching services.