I get lots of questions from readers asking for all kinds of job interview tips, and so thought it might be helpful to provide a handy-dandy guide to what I actually look for when I sit down and interview candidates for a job. Obviously each interviewer and industry is different, but I think these tips offer general interview advice that should work for most people.
So with that in mind, this is what I would be looking for if you walked into my office for an interview:
- Be yourself! I can’t say this often enough. I just read a popular work advice blog (to remain nameless) and I saw one of the first bits of advice for job interviews was to prepare a slick presentation of yourself and wow them with it. Ouch! While this might perhaps be useful if you are interviewing for a high-powered sales job or maybe an industry like entertainment or advertising (although even there they want to see who they’re really hiring), for most of you doing that will simply trigger a red flag, leaving the interviewer wondering if you’re all bluster and no substance. Now I’m not saying to be all shy and gawky either (see next section), but real and conversational trumps one-dimensional & slick any time. (Since most places do ask a version of tell me about yourself, it helps to think about your answer ahead of time. But when the time comes just tell it as naturally and 3-dimensional as possible.)
- Be confident in who you are and what you have to offer. Don’t spend time worrying if I think you’re right for the job and what I (the interviewer) am thinking at any given moment. Just know who you are and help me see that. Know that you are a good worker who is reliable and will go the extra mile when called on – or whatever your own strengths are. Everybody has their own unique strengths. I want to know what they are. So make sure you prepare yourself ahead of time to be able to talk about who you are and/or what you have to offer so that YOU believe it as much as you want them to. It shows.
- Look me in the eyes. Not saying stare at me…but when you answer my interview questions, I want to see you connect with me. I’d like to see when your eyes show real enthusiasm about something you’ve accomplished or sincerity about wanting to do a good job for me. Now of course I make room for nervousness, but if I see eyes skittering all about unable to focus on me, how can I be sure you’re being real with me?
- Tell me a good story. When I ask you about things you’ve done that you are proud of or obstacles you’ve overcome, I want you to have some stories to tell me. Did you ever take on a tough situation and turn it around? Did you ever come up with a new process that saved the company money? Did you ever encounter something you knew nothing about and make a point of becoming an expert? Like I said…tell me a good story. And make it real!
- Sit up straight. Slouching comes off as lazy or uninterested. You want to use your body language to show me you’re someone who is fully engaged and can handle any situation – even one that makes them nervous. Job interviews are tough for most people, but you’ll think clearer and come off as a more attractive candidate just by having good posture and looking alive and alert.
- Relax. I purposely listed this after my posture suggestion since some people go to extremes and sit like there’s a stick up their backside. When I interview people, I’m looking for someone who I want to work with on a daily basis. Too rigid would be a drag. Of course you don;t want to look like you’re ready for a nap either. Practice in front of a mirror to see how it feels when you sit up straight while also letting yourself relax a little.
- Practice practice practice. Spend time before the job interview doing mock interviews with friends or family. You can also record yourself to hear your voice (good for phone interviews too) and if your voice sounds kind of weak, practice speaking with strength and commitment. Talk about something you really care about to see how you sound when you are relaxed and fully engaged. If you have access to video equipment, even better.
- Know about the job and the company. So much is out there on the internet now, take time to do research beforehand – it will pay off. One sharp Work Coach Cafe reader wrote us that he learned about a recent merger the company was going through and used this information to his advantage. One warning from my own interview files: don’t get too personal! I went for an interview once and, in doing my research, learned the man taught at the same university I was consulting for. I thought it would break the ice to mention it, but he was NOT amused.
- Make sure you know your own resume! Nothing casts more doubt on your veracity than having to glance through your resume to answer questions. And worse than that is actually giving different information than the resume contains. So study it carefully well before you go in. And always remember to bring a clean extra copy with you.
- Show me you understand the job you’re interviewing for and have the skills. This sounds so basic, but I’ve had many people not even familiar with the terms in the job description. If there is anything you don’t know, look it up! And if there’s a skill you don’t have, research it a little so you can show how quickly you could pick it up.
- Listen! More than anything I’ve mentioned so far, listening is a skill that can make or break you. Really listen to the questions and whatever the interviewer is saying to you. Don’t be thinking ahead or about other things while the interviewer is talking. It really does show. Just be in the moment.
- Answer my questions. If I ask a question that you aren’t comfortable answering, it’s ok to answer briefly and maybe shift to a short story or related thought that leaves a good impression. But make sure you don’t just jump to something else trying to divert me from what I actually asked. It not only makes you look like you’re hiding something, but it leaves the impression that you might be slippery to work with. And don’t go on for too long with any one answer. No one wants to work with a wind bag!
- Come prepared with a few really good questions of your own to ask the interviewer. This is interviewing 101, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t have questions – or ask really lame ones like “”what’s the salary?” – especially when the salary was listed in the ad. (Not that it can’t be negotiated later on in the process.) It’s best to save questions like salary talk for the last interview (unless you only get one of course.) A great question shows you’re thinking about the work process or some of the interactions with other areas or what your typical day might be or something about the business/industry or anything that shows you are really thinking about more than just surface details. Try to come up with a question an average person wouldn’t ask. Best of all, I love it when someone asks a question that shows they were listening to me. Helps me see this is a person who can think on his or her feet.
- Don’t forget to smile. I don’t mean to send you out looking like dazed idiots who just sit there smiling. But you are selling yourself and want the interviewer to know you’d be a pleasant person to work with. Many times I call people in who all could do the job. I’m looking to see if there’s a good fit and if we’d actually enjoy working with the person. Since you have no way of knowing what the place is really like, all you can be is yourself. It really is your best shot at getting to the next round and beyond.
- When the job interview is over…stand up, smile, thank them, and shake hands if it feels appropriate. Then try to walk out without shaking too badly or falling. You made it!
Hope that helps even a little. Good luck! Oh…and feel free to share your interview stories and questions with us here at the cafe.