As we travel down our career path, we learn that the road to professional success requires a wide spectrum of skills and experience far beyond those that we carried when we first entered the field. That’s even more true today. The world has changed, and as we adjust to the new normal, we must focus our efforts and adapt to a new way of doing things.
In a competitive job market if we want to move forward and secure the best jobs that fit our skills and abilities, we must effectively communicate our talents to the decision-makers who can propel our careers to the next level. This is an essential skill set that commands our understanding and attention, regardless of whether we are exploring options within our own company or seeking opportunities beyond our current employer.
A job interview provides an opportunity to open a window into who we are—as a professional, as a leader, as a partner, and as a person. We are given precious minutes to summarize our value and our character; and make a positive and lasting impression on those having offered us that opportunity. This is a platform, and not a guarantee that others will see us for who we are. It is up to us to open the window and share the picture.
But an interview is also something more. It is a search for a match, and a chance to take our skills and abilities to another level. It is a means to build upon our career, and find a home that not only meets our needs, but helps reveal our future. Unfortunately, it is also a skill that many take for granted. It’s simply not enough to be good at what we do. We also have to be able to share that perspective with others, and offer the best possible picture of who we are as part of the job interview.
Following are some fundamental job interview tips to help you put your best foot forward in the process. Whether the information serves as a reminder or a revelation, the most important objective should be to make a strong and lasting impression when exploring new career opportunities.
15 Job Interview Tips
1. Approach the interview with the right attitude. The right attitude is critical in the interview process, and enthusiasm is key. Many factors go into determining who will be the best candidate to fill a particular position, and many of those go well beyond the details listed on a resume. By the time the hiring process gets to the interviewing stage, most, if not all, of the candidates that are involved in the process have represented the skill sets necessary to be considered a viable candidate for the job. At this juncture, interviewers are typically looking at capabilities as well as qualifications. They’re looking for a fit. They want to see passion, drive, and enthusiasm. They want to see the qualities of a leader. They don’t necessarily want to see cartwheels, but they want to see energy. Enthusiasm is contagious – let them feel it!
2. Don’t allow your ego to drive the conversation. Approach the conversation with the mindset that “This is the job that I want” “This is where I want to go” “This is what I want to do…” and then take it from there. What’s the worst thing that can happen? We get into the conversation, realize it might not be the right opportunity, they make us an offer, and we turn it down. Most of us can live with that. The other side of that coin is what leads to far too many frustrating results. Too many take the “Let’s just see how this goes” or the “What’s in this for me?” approach to the interview. Many then get in the middle of the conversation and realize that it’s exactly the type of opportunity that they’ve been looking for—and by then it may be too late. These are the types of ego-driven mistakes that often haunt us later.
3. Set yourself apart from other candidates. Make others see that you are the right choice. There are three primary areas where we can prepare for this:
- Perception – Having a good feel for the company and what they’re looking for in a candidate. Do the homework. Whenever possible, speak to peers and others familiar with the company. Visit the company’s corporate website. Learn the company’s mission and vision. Learn their history. Get a feel for the company culture, and how they approach their business. Learn as much as you can about the program, and how they approach the job. Speak with mentors and others that can help you better understand the position that you are looking at. Explore the match. Understand the opportunities and challenges. Learn the possibilities, and how they might help you grow as a professional. All of this helps set the tone for the interview.
- Perspective – Put yourself in the shoes of the interviewer: “If I were the interviewer, what kind of questions would I be asking me?” Ask yourself tough questions that go beyond the routine: Why should I pick you over someone else? What value can you bring to the position and to the organization? Look at what you’ve learned through your research, play the role of the decision maker, and force yourself to step up.
- Attention to Details – The little things can make a difference. Interviewers will pay attention to the way you approach the details, and translate that information into the way that you approach the job. For example, there are various websites available that can provide detailed financial information on the organization (if publicly traded), review recent company-related headlines and news, offer detailed company profiles, and present a host of other relevant business information. Use that information wisely, and make an impression.
Preparation is critical to the interview process. It helps us get the information right, but it also does much more than that. Preparation builds confidence, and that confidence can be felt throughout the interview. It comes through in the tone of our voice. It helps us to relax. It helps the conversation to flow better and more freely.
4. Dress appropriately. Dress conservatively. Clean suit/dress, pressed clothes, polished shoes, long sleeved shirt/blouse. Minimal or no cologne/perfume. Check your appearance right before you walk in to the interview. Look sharp, well groomed, and fit in. Keep in mind that occasionally interviews may not call for a suit or a dress, and the interviewer may share that information prior to the interview. However, that doesn’t imply that we shouldn’t dress well, look professional, and look crisp. Dress for success.
5. Shake hands, look them in the eye, and smile. No gum. No food. No smoking.
6. Be genuine. Show energy and enthusiasm, but be sincere. The job search is about finding a match, and finding a home. Don’t give answers simply because you think it’s the response that they want to hear. Don’t attempt to be someone or something that you’re not.
7. Focus on your accomplishments. When asked about your experience, don’t simply reiterate your job descriptions. Did you lead? Create? Develop programs? Develop subordinates? Manage through change? Show flexibility? Enhance results? Build business partnerships? Show the value that you can bring.
8. On the topic of strengths and weaknesses – always have both, and always attempt to turn the weakness into a positive. There is a reason that this is a popular question during the interview process; while the answers are important, our response can reach well beyond what those specific strengths and weaknesses might be. Decision-makers want to know if you can be self-reflective. Can you look yourself in the mirror and ask, “Where can I get better?” If this question is posed, the next question that typically follows is, “What are you doing about it?” Answer the second question before it is asked. Show the maturity to recognize your developmental needs, and the initiative to try to make personal improvement.
9. Know where you’re going and give yourself plenty of time to get there. Don’t be late!
10. A well-written, well-constructed resume can be a critical aspect of the interview process. It is not only a summary of your professional experience and abilities. It is also a point of reference that the decision-maker will use as they prepare for your interview. Make sure that your resume accurately describes who you are, that it’s easy to read, and easy to follow.
11. Bring extra copies of your resume. Bring at least three—a copy for the interviewer, a copy for yourself, and a copy in case they ask you to meet with someone else. If you know that you’re going to meet with additional people, bring additional copies. Bring high-quality resumes on a nice grade of paper. Have something to write with/take notes.
12. Ask good questions. Ask questions that allow the interviewer to see you in the job. This is also a good opportunity to bring up the research that you’ve done on the company (Ex: “My research has taught me that the company is looking to grow significantly in the next 2 years. From an operations/human resources/corporate/global perspective, how would you like to see our department contribute to that growth?” This would also open the door for you to add how you feel that the department could/should contribute).
13. Try to learn a little about the person that you’re interviewing with, especially if it’s someone that you’ll be working directly for. Why did they join the company? What do they think about the direction of the organization? Once again, a job search is about finding a match. Candidly, you want to learn if this is a company, a program, and a team that you can work with as well.
14. Don’t ask about money unless the interviewer brings it up first. That would include talk regarding benefits, or any other discussions regarding money. Your primary objective in the first interview is to be seen as someone that they want to hire; someone they need to hire. Be seen as an outstanding candidate. You do not simply want to be seen as a dollar sign. Focus your interests on the opportunity, not just the money. Naturally, our goal here is to do the best we can, but we also must show maturity and common sense. As a rule of thumb, salary increases are typically based on:
- What you’re currently making
- Industry standards for the position
- The financial parameters of the company you’re interviewing with
- The experience level that you bring to the position
- How well you interview.
Remember, unrealistic salary requests simply make us look unreasonable and can undo all of the hard work that got us to that point. If pressed, be smart and flexible with your response. The “money question” is one of the most important for both parties. There is a time and a place for those discussions, and a way to approach the negotiation—especially if you hope to get the answers that you want to hear.
15. Be confident—but not cocky. Show the ability and potential (“Yes, I’m good at what I do…”), but coupled with the humility and maturity of a leader (“…But there are always things I can learn.”). Make a strong, positive and lasting impression.
This post was originally published in 2015 and was updated in July of 2020.