Tips for a Successful Job Interview of any Kind
Whether you’re a teenager looking for your first job, someone reentering the workforce, a person who has been working longer than you care to remember, the job search process is generally not particularly pleasant. It’s not hard to understand why that is! After all, think about it for a second … no matter what the job is, you’re basically trying to convince someone, (usually a stranger), to believe in you and pay you to do something for them. It’s also typically a high-stakes situation because you need that income to provide for yourself and/or your family.
To write this I did a good amount of research on the subject, including discussions with three different hiring managers. Another week, I’ll provide similar information for people who perform freelance work.
First impressions matter
I know it’s not fair to judge a book by the cover, but it’s a fact of life that the impression you make on the interviewer often can end up being of more importance than your actual credentials – or at least of equal importance.
I’m not even referring to your physical appearance, although you certainly should strive to be clean and neat for an interview, no matter what type of personal style you project. I’m referring to your confidence, poise, attitude, good manners or basic social skills, and ability to communicate. These qualities and characteristics are evaluated along with your experience and education.
You and the interviewer must engage in a conversation – a mutual exchange of information and ideas. Only through such a dialogue can you both determine if you, the organization, and the job are well matched. Preparation is the key.
Be on time for your interview
Think about the purpose of an interview – The job applicant (you) and the interviewer have a conversation to exchange information geared towards determining if you, the organization represented by the interviewer, and the job are likely to the well matched.
An interview can be done in person or sometimes via Zoom or a similar means. ‘On Time’ really means you should be 10-15 minutes early. Interviewers often are ready before the appointment. Lateness is a sign of disrespect for the interviewer and for the job opportunity. Some interviewers will cancel the interview if you are more than five or 10 minutes late.
Know the interviewer’s name
By this I mean you should know how to spell it and pronounce it. If you don’t know the name, and it’s a job in an office of some kind, call and ask the person who answers the phone. It’s a good idea to take note of anyone you speak to, n case you have to call back. Remember to treat everyone with kindness and respect because not only is it the right thing to do, but also because other personnel can influence the hiring decisions.
Have some questions of your own prepared in advance
At the end of just about every interview, you’re going to be asked if you have any questions. It’s perfectly fine to have if you’ve written it down on paper or on a personal electronic device that you have with you. Just be sure not to ask a question in your notes that the interviewer already answered for you.
Bring a few copies of your resume
You may have submitted a resume or job application by e-mail, or through a hiring portal or kiosk. Bring copies anyway. If you’re a recent graduate, bring a copy of your transcript in case the interviewer requests it. Carry your papers in an organized manner.
You can put them in a file folder, pocket folder, binder, or whatever works for you. Just don’t put yourself in a situation you need to fumble around to find them, and the papers are a wrinkled, crumpled mess.
Have a reliable pen and a small notepad with you
I encountered some differences of opinion about this, but the prevailing wisdom seems to be that you should not take notes during the interview unless the interview specifically states that you should write some particular information down. Immediately after your interview, write down as much as you can remember. We all like to write everything on our phones these days but what happens if the note is erased, or you have a problem with the device? Write things on paper and photograph them with your phone to cover your bases.
When you are actively seeking a job, you make a line where your specific recollections of each meeting become a little blurred together. It’s not uncommon for that to happen. Writing down impressions of how well you did after each interview can help you keep them straight in your memory.
Greet the interviewer with a handshake and a smile
COVID and other communicable illnesses are still very real things. Make sure you know ahead of time if a mask is required for your interview. Either way, don’t be judgmental. And no matter what you’re told, it’s a good idea to have a mask and a little bottle of hand sanitizer in your belongings.
Unless you’re disabled, don’t shake hands from a seated position. An interview handshake is not a battle for dominance. Remember to maintain eye contact, but that doesn’t mean an unblinking stare down.
Follow the interviewer’s lead
In most cases, an interviewer will spend at least a couple of minutes establishing rapport or making ‘chit-chat’ of some type. The person will have some way to break the ice and try to make the situation a little more comfortable. Take the moment to relax a little, but don’t let it throw you off and lead you to believe that the interview isn’t as serious or important as you thought it was.
For a job applicant, the interview is just as much about how well you listen as it is about how will you answer the questions. Pay close attention and listen carefully. Be sure you understand the questions asked of you. If necessary, ask for clarification. Another way to get clarification is to restate the question in your own words, which gives the interviewer a chance to notice any misunderstanding. Answer questions completely and concisely.
Focus on what value you can bring
It’s perfectly normal to be nervous in an interview. Instead of focusing on that, focus on:
- Your positive qualities
- Your attributes
- Your skills
- How your skills are transferable
- Your work ethic
- Your willingness to learn
Be honest except in these specific cases …
It might be a little tempting when you are feeling the pressure, but don’t lie, embellish, and exaggerate. You never know what will come back to haunt you.
There will be times that an interviewer knows some people or places in common with you. They may be aware of it because of how you got the interview, or because of information on your resume. Never ever speak badly of a school, university, teacher, employer, friend, or family member. Employers value loyalty and if you show you’re s disloyal person, it won’t make a good impression. A job interview is not the place to air grievances about anyone or anything.
Be ready for personal questions
There are laws that govern some of what interviewers can and cannot ask. Although every interviewer should be aware of those laws, invariably some are not. Think about it and try to anticipate how you’ll handle such questions without losing your composure. It’s not really appropriate, but in some cases, those types of questions may be asked to see how you handle the situation.
Wait for the interviewer to mention salary and benefits
Before your interview, take some time to research pay scales. You can find minimum wage information for your state, and many other related facts on state government websites. You can find industry wages, salary surveys, and a lot of relevant information on the Internet.
If the interviewer doesn’t mention salary or hourly wage, the only appropriate way for you to bring up the subject is when you are asked if you have any questions. At that point you want to be tactful and state something like, “Has a pay range been determined for this position?” it gives the interviewer the option to provide a yes or no answer, or specifics, as might be appropriate at that time.
Don’t expect a job offer at the first interview
It’s very common for there to be a second round of interviews before a hiring decision is made. The interview process may even go beyond that. Some jobs require background checks or credit checks. Some employers require drug tests.
Remember that there’s a very good chance a prospective employer will check out your social media presence. If there’s anything out there you’d be embarrassed to have an employer see, take the time to clean it up and or make it private.
End your interview in the best way possible
You want to do your part to close the interview on an appropriately positive and enthusiastic note. Express your interest in the job and ask what the next step will be. Sincerely thank the interviewer for his/her time. If you haven’t done so already, ask the interviewer for a business card. Leave courteously with a handshake and a smile.
Bear in mind that an interview isn’t complete until you follow up with a thank-you note, which can be in the form of an e-mail. Express your appreciation for the interview. If you’re really still interested after the interview, reaffirm that for the interviewer. This is a small but very meaningful step that can make you stand out from the pack.
I hope this is useful for some of you. Do you have anything to add on the subject? Any good interview stories, or horror stories? I’d love to hear them, so reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You just might find yourself mentioned and thanked in a future newsletter!