With experience as both a hiring manager and recruiting manager, I’ve conducted hundreds (maybe more?) of job interviews throughout my career. I’ve been the interviewee a few times as well. And I’m still surprised by some of the things I’ve seen.
Like the guy who showed up in a Superman t-shirt. Tongue-in-cheek? Perhaps. Did he get the job? No.
Or the woman who showed up 25 minutes late, complaining that she had no transportation and the neighbor who had offered to drive her to the interview had bailed at the last minute.
One of my personal favorites is the gentleman who arrived with a page of typed quotes. He handed it to me and when he sensed my confusion explained that these were verbal accolades he had been given throughout his career. The list was littered with things like, “Thanks, Mike!” and “Appreciate you backing me in that meeting!”
But I’ve also had the opportunity to interview some extremely prepared candidates. The ones who make you go WOW as they check off every box on your mental list. The applicants who you know you’re going to hire within the first 15 minutes of the interview.
Successful interviewing is a learned skill, like anything else. It takes time and practice to perfect. And throughout my years as both an interviewer and interviewee, I’ve learned some tips to help nail that first impression.
Research the company
This doesn’t mean just pulling up their website and giving it a once-over. It means really understanding the organization, what its core goals are, what it stands for, and how they hope to expand. It means thinking through how your potential role can help them achieve their objectives, and then coming up with a way to articulate how you plan to do that.
Check out their product reviews. Look at employee comments on sites like Glassdoor. Consider how the company fits into the overall industry and where that industry is going. As you go through this activity, come up with 2-3 well thought out questions to ask the interviewer – questions about the company or its plan for growth or upcoming strategies.
Dress in suitable attire
You’d think this would go without saying, but you’d be surprised. You should wear business attire to all interviews – even within organizations that allow casual or business casual attire. Men should wear dress shirt, tie (something subdued – now is not the time to break out your Spiderman tie), pressed slacks, and polished shoes. Perhaps a suit depending on the role. Women should wear a blouse and slacks/skirt with pumps. No large or distracting jewelry or over-the-top hairdos. Keep the cologne understated and groom any facial hair. Pay attention to the basics – it counts.
Bring resume copies, business cards, paper, and pen
I know – the interviewer already has your resume. Bring it again. Often times the format is not aesthetically pleasing when a resume has been submitted online, so a clean professional-looking version is always appreciated. Bring 2-3 copies for others who may be in the interview as well. Bring your business cards and attach one to each resume. Take notes on a pad of paper with points or questions that resonate with you throughout the interview.
Arrive 10 minutes early
To the actual interview room, not just the parking lot. This will help you be more relaxed (no harried rushing in) and give you a bit of time to mentally prepare. It also looks good to the interviewer.
With everyone. From the parking attendant to the assistant to the interviewer herself. Everybody is forming a first impression. Ask people how they are and make a little small talk. Be friendly. Don’t forget to smile. We’re all human, and it’s much easier to hire someone who seems friendly and relatable than someone who is ALL business ALL the time.
Identify and be able to describe your value add
Spoiler alert: your experience does not equal your value add. Every candidate who secures an interview will have the prerequisite education and experience necessary for the role. So why should the company hire you? What makes you unique? Assume that everyone else is at least as qualified as you, and then come up with a pitch to explain why they should hire you over the others.
Perhaps you’ve accomplished something you’re proud of – and have done it faster, more economically, or better than the rest. Or maybe you have a unique skill or personality trait that is a better fit – your tenacity or ability to motivate teams, as evidenced by your successes. Whatever it is, be ready to articulate it during the interview.
Quantify all performance claims
Everyone comes in claiming that they are the best or the brightest or the most successful. Interviewers hear it so often, it doesn’t even phase them. Understand that the burden of proof is on you to explain WHY you are the best. Use tangibles, preferably statistics that are S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Trackable).
Instead of saying, “I implemented this project, and it was a great success,” say, “I implemented this project on time and 20% under budget, and it yielded a 35% increase in profitability within three months.” If you don’t have tangibles, figure out how you can come up with them. Not every project will yield a profitability increase or cost decrease, but almost all projects impact the bottom line somehow – perhaps in terms of efficiency gains, streamlined processes, improved accuracy, reduced risk, etc. Figure out how to quantify your performance and then share that information with the interviewer.Follow these 15 tips to NAIL your next #Job #Interview! #Employment #Career #Business #Recruiting Click To Tweet
Understand that past performance is the best predictor of future performance
This is the tenet that all hiring managers live by. What you’ve actually done is a thousand times more important than what you say you can do. That doesn’t mean you need to have completed all the same projects that will be in your new role, but it does mean that you have to show a history of strong performance. Have your performance ratings been consistently strong? Say that, and perhaps bring copies of your reviews to substantiate. Have you been consistently promoted? Been given additional responsibility? Taken initiative to solve problems without being directed? What about failures or opportunities? Can you explain why those occurred and what you learned from them to correct your performance going forward?
Describe the innate behavioral traits that make you a fit
A savvy interviewer knows that you can teach anybody anything, but you can’t teach core traits like self-motivation, initiative, tenacity, etc. I have often hired applicants who were less qualified on paper but had a better personality fit or were hungrier for the role. Make it easy for the interviewer by explaining the traits that make you unique.
Describe the innovations you came up with and implemented, or how you went above and beyond. Illustrate your appetite to continuously learn and grow. Maybe you work full time yet also attend MBA classes at night – say that! Express your genuine interest in the job and why you’re interested. Set the interviewer at ease by letting them know that you will hit the ground running, and that all they will need to do is teach you the details because all the big behavioral characteristics you already possess.
Be prepared with strong responses to typical behavioral questions
More and more, interviewers are figuring out that behavioral questions are better at weeding out candidates than questions asking just about experience. Be prepared!
First, come up with your response to the typical first question: “Tell me about yourself.” Don’t simply run through your resume – use this as an opportunity to describe your value add. Prepare a 2-3 minute pitch selling yourself. Explain briefly what you’ve done, what you’ve learned, why you’re interested in the position, and most importantly, why you think you would be the best candidate for this position.
Next come up with your top 3-5 professional qualities, and be ready to substantiate them. If you plan to say that you’re responsible, self-motivated, or take initiative, for example, come up with a real-life example illustrating why.
After that, come up with 3-5 “opportunities,” or scenarios that you’ve failed in. Don’t tell an interviewer that you “can’t think of any.” That’s BS and everyone knows it. So is saying things like “I work too hard.” It’s much better to talk about real-life project failures or personality opportunities and then explain WHY the failure occurred and WHAT you learned from it or are doing about it. This shows your ability to accept criticism, reflect on it, and learn to improve for going forward.
Other popular behavioral questions include the following – be prepared with answers, just in case:
- Influence: how do you successfully influence people who don’t report to you (e.g. how do you get people on board with a new idea you’ve come up with?)
- Conflict Management: how do you resolve disagreements with colleagues or customers? How do you handle it if you feel a colleague is not carrying his or her weight?
- Leadership: how do you go about leading a project/meeting/presentation – what steps do you follow?
- Innovation: when have you come up with new ideas on your own, and what have you done to ensure they are implemented?
- Communications: what types of written and verbal communications are you comfortable with? Explain using examples.
- Tenacity: think through times when you’ve had to work under extreme stress or pressure and how you handled it.
- Prioritization: how do you prioritize competing tasks and deadlines?
- Achievements: what achievements are you most proud of and why?
- Other: think through other qualities that would be helpful for the role you’re applying for, and come up with real-life scenarios you can share that demonstrate your competencies.
Don’t bring up money
It’s premature at this point, and also not in your best interest. Wait until you receive a job offer before beginning negotiations. Same goes for benefits. Right now you’re just trying to determine if there is a functional fit. If the interviewer asks what you are making or what you expect in terms of compensation, answer generally indicating that you’re sure you can mutually come up with a fair package. Try to stay away from providing figures at this point.
Be conscious of your body language
It matters. We form opinions of others through their body language, even more so than what they say. Start with a firm (but not too firm) handshake and sit up straight. Lean slightly forward in your chair and place your hands in front of you or at your sides – do not cross them. Maintain good eye contact (but don’t stare the interviewer down) and nod and smile as appropriate. Avoid excessive twitching or nervous habits like hair twirling, foot jiggling (I’m guilty of this), and finger tapping. Remain calm and relaxed, receptive to what the interviewer is saying.
Keep your answers succinct
My biggest pet peeve in interviews is ramblers. You know, the ones who go on and on and ON. Time is money, People! I immediately begin to envision never-ending meetings or 1:1s, and it steers me away from that candidate. I understand that much of this may be attributed to nerves, but this is why it’s important to anticipate and practice answers to popular interview questions before the big day. Keep your answers short and to the point – a few sentences is fine to remain descriptive, but please no more than a couple of minutes per interview question.
Thank the interviewer and conclude with a summary of your pitch
As the interview is wrapping up, thank the interviewer for his or her time and again express your interest in the role. Explain briefly again why you think you would be a great fit, incorporating any new points that have come up during the interview itself. Don’t forget to shake the interviewer’s hand.
Follow up within 24 hours
Send an email to each interviewer thanking them for the opportunity to meet with them, and reiterating your interest in the position. Include a few brief points about what you would bring to the table and why you would be a great fit for the role, using pertinent information and S.M.A.R.T. statistics highlighting your past experience. Invite them to follow up with any further questions and provide your contact information. Resist the temptation to follow up again until at least a week or two has passed.
Then – the waiting game begins! Good luck and never put all your eggs in one basket – keep looking and pursuing other opportunities while waiting to hear back on any potential offers. Hopefully you will receive a call soon with good news and a second interview – or an offer!
What additional interview tips and best practices do you use?