How to Knock Their Socks Off in a Job Interview

WorkCoachCafeI’m doing research for a book I’m writing, and as part of my research, I  have been interviewing recruiters, both internal recruiters and external recruiters.  It has been very interesting and informative, and I greatly appreciate that they take time out of their busy schedules to answer a questionnaire and to speak with me.

In a discussion last week with the head of recruiting for a technology company (we’ll call him “Joe” in this post), Joe emphasized that the biggest problem he sees for job seekers is in the interview process.

Unfortunately, Joe frequently sees job seekers who have done all the right things to get to the interview, but then they blow it in their interviews.  They get up to bat (the interview), but they strike out rather than hitting a home run.

Be Well-Prepared

The problem Joe has seen most often is job seekers who seem to assume that getting an invitation to an interview was the hardest part of the process (and it’s not easy, to be sure).

Unfortunately, an invitation to interview is not a guarantee of a job offer. It is an invitation to demonstrate what a great employee you would be. Think of it as an audition for the job.

Know the employer.

Do your pre-interview research. Know as much as you can about the employer and the people interviewing you. Use LinkedIn and Google to learn who they are, what they do, and, as much as possible, whether or not you’d like to work there.

Remember, you should be determining if you want the job, as well as impressing the employer with your answers to their questions.

Prepare questions for the interview.

As one recruiter – not Joe – wrote, “Don’t ask a question in the interview that you could have answered earlier with Google.”

Hopefully, some questions will develop as a result of the research into the company and the people, above.  Also have some other questions ready to ask. For example:

  • What’s the best part about working here?
  • If you could change one thing about this company, what would you change?
  • Where do you see this company in 5 years?
  • What is a typical day, week, month, or year for the person in this job?
  • What would be the typical next job for the person who has this job?  Is there a “career path” for people in this job?
  • (My personal favorite) Where did the last person in this job go – promotion, lateral, or out of the company?

It’s important for job seekers to remember to ask about things that are relevant to their job satisfaction.  Speaking from personal experience, it’s very painful to go to a job for an employer where you discover you are unhappy working – the culture, the people, the ethics, or the location are just wrong for you.  The job interview is a good place to discover how the employer measures up to the job seeker’s requirements.

Be an interested, engaged, focused, and active participant in the interview.

Joe mentioned several times that a job seeker who shows up for an interview without a notebook or some way to take notes makes a very bad impression.  Joe and the people in his company expect job seekers to have a list of questions in their notebook (or iPad), and they expect job seekers to take notes, since the interview process often takes 2 to 4 hours, including discussions with different interviewers.

Prepare for the standard interview questions:

And, of course, the usual advice: turn off your cell phone – or put it on “silent” – before the interview starts, don’t trash a former employer, don’t use bad language, and do demonstrate what an excellent, focused, smart, hard-working employee you would be.

2.  “Close the sale” (or at least ask if there are any questions or concerns)  at the end of the interview.

Joe felt that closing the sale (asking for the job) at the end of the interview was expected of someone seeking a job in sales.  But, he seemed to hope that other job seekers would be similarly interested in getting a job offer at the end of the interview with the hiring manager or at least finding out how well the interview went.

For Joe, closing the sale translates into saying, as the job seeker is preparing to shake hands and leave, something like this “Based on my research and what I’ve learned here today, I am very interested in this job, working for you.  What do you think of me?  Am I your top prospect?”

If you are not comfortable closing the sale or the response is not as positive as hoped for, ask what the concerns are (or might be) to see if you can clear up any confusion or miscommunication that may have occurred.  And, make note of any concerns so the concerns can be addressed in the follow-up thank you messages.

3. Ask the “housekeeping questions.”

Ask about the next steps in the process – when they expect to make a decision, and how many other applicants are being – or have been – interviewed.  Then, clarify who is the best person to stay in touch with and what is the preferred method and timing for staying in touch, getting the appropriate email address and phone number.

Job seekers who comment here on Work Coach Cafe about post-interview problems often reference not having the appropriate contact information when they get home, complicating the follow-up thank you notes process.  So, to  avoid that problem, collect a business card from each person – or take the time to make a note of email addresses and phone numbers to use during the follow up process.

Read 5 Absolute MUST-ASK Questions in Your Next Job Interview for more details.

Your Mileage May Vary

Not every recruiter is Joe and not every organization expects what Joe and his company wants from job seekers.  What is clear from Joe and all the other recruiters I’m interviewing is that you need to have a very scarce and very highly-sought-after set of skills and experiences to walk into an interview unprepared, and expect to impress anyone or get a job offer.

Smart job seekers bring their “A-game” to their job search, and, particularly, to an interview.

Bottom line: be prepared – to impress!

More about succeeding in job interviews:

How to Answer Why You Left Your Last Job When You Actually Quit

Help! I Get Nervous When I Interview for a Job

18 Practical Tips to Help You Ace that Interview

The Single Most Important Thing in Any Job Interview

15 Things I Look for When I Interview People

10 Reasons You Didn’t Get the Job

How Do I Ace My Phone Interview?

How Do You Interview If Interviewer Doesn’t Know as Much as You Do?


About the author…

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been  observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 2011, NETability purchased, which Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then.  Susan also edits and publishes  Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on .


  1. As a workforce development professional, I agree with all of the above, especially about the research. What I find stunning is when you get called for an interview on a day’s notice, such as what happened to me recently, it’s a challenge bringing your A-game to the interview. All I could do was make the effort.

  2. What is your read on this? I interviewed with a major Technology firm and made it through all the interviews but when it was time for the last interview of the day, the most important with the hiring manager, V.P., was cancelled since he had a pressing corporate matter to handle. I was told my interview with the VP would not be rescheduled but rather the VP (hiring manager) would be relying on the feedback of his staff regarding my interviews that day. I took this as “I totally bombed” the interview for some reason and that was the end of it. Thank you! Ann

    • chandlee says:


      Hard to say as I am not internal to the company: some organizations really do trust the recommendations of their staff; others do decide to kill a final interview if others feel it’s not a fit. (That’s the honest truth without sugar coating. Many times the decision not to pursue a candidate has nothing to do with the candidate but with changing needs and interests of the staff in terms of a desired skill set.)

      Don’t second guess it too much, but as always — I recommend that you apply for everything that feels like a fit UNTIL you have a solid offer. Always good to have multiple opportunities.

      All the Best,

  3. I am a hs math teacher facing a tight market, believe it or not.

    I have an interview tomorrow at a school district I really like. I applied yesterday and within two hours was called for the interview!!

    The person who set up the interview asked me about my last job. I taught in a school district that required me to drive 100 miles a day RT. The principal wasn’t supportive. Example: I had trouble with the electronic grade book. It wasn’t a commercial one; rather they hired a woman to create one for the school. When I asked for help the principal replied, “I hired you, what more do you want?” From there it went to having surprise reviews, and simply no support.

    I have read through your advice to others about how to talk about leaving your last job, but I’m not sure that all of that fits since it’s a school and not a company, per se. I think mentioning the lack of support sounds too negative. How do I keep the reason short and positive?

    Any advice?? I would appreciate it!

    • Kenneth,

      If the school district is an easier commute from you, simply say that the commute made it not a great fit — and reassure them that this won’t be an issue if you are hired with the new one. Skirt the issue as much as you can.

      Good luck and keep us posted.


      • Thanks, Chandlee. This commute is only 15 minutes shorter. I will keep you posted!


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