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How to Ace the Interview
Congratulations—you’ve earned yourself an interview! Now is your chance to prove that you are more than just a name and a few bullet points on a resume… or at the very least, that you’re better than that other candidate.
We know it and you know it, but the hiring committee might not, so this is your opportunity to show that you are unique, intelligent, and have something valuable to offer. Just as you’re unique, so too is the position for which you are interviewing. Make sure you’re adequately prepared to confidently sell both. Regardless of the type of interview you have (e.g. phone interview, in-person interview, or a lunch interview), if you’re armed with the following tips, you’ll be better prepared to ace that interview.
Prepare for the Interview
When I say, “prepare for the interview,” I don’t mean brush your teeth, comb your hair and put on a clean shirt (although good hygiene is strongly recommended). Instead, ask yourself what you know about the company and why that info is important to you. Most future employers will want to know (and will most likely ask) why you chose them. What about this company appealed to you?
Sure, the company café is great and the salary is high, but you might want to keep in mind that the point of the interview is related to the work you’ll be doing, not how much more you’ll be able to spend on a great lunch. Only mentioning the company perks (no matter how sweet they are) might not be the best approach when trying to make a good impression on a future employer. While you’re doing your research, you might want to think about these questions:
1. Why is this company a great place to work?
Consider factors like where they currently are in the marketplace and where they’re headed. For example, are they innovative in their technology? Do they deliver first-class customer service? How well do they treat their employees?
2. Why would this be a great position for me?
Consider the challenge of the work. Does it inspire you? Is it interesting? Will it allow you to excel in your career? Does this position align with your career aspirations?
3. Where does this position allow you to add value as an employee?
Whether you’re a multi-tasking master or a cold-calling machine, what about this position will allow you to do your best? Whatever your talents, how will they shine in this position?
Peruse the company website to learn more about what they do, what their selling points are to their clients, how they define their company values, who their best customers are, and what is unique about their products or services. Also, be sure to Google the company to find out what others have to say about them.
Additionally, it’s always a good idea to do an internet search on “interview questions” or “interview topics” to review some standard questions in preparation of your interview. Regardless of whether you are asked these questions, rehearsing what you might say will help you feel more confident during the interview.
All of your research and practice will immediately demonstrate to the Hiring Manger that you are genuinely interested in the position simply because you took the time to prepare. This alone will set you apart from those candidates who are merely looking for more money or a new place to be miserable.
Dress for Success
Prepping for an interview doesn’t stop after your internet research: you must also prep yourself by dressing for success. Certainly, at some point, you’ve heard that being overdressed is better than being underdressed – this is especially true for interviews! Regardless of whether the company culture is flip-flop and t-shirt casual (and unless clearly instructed otherwise), always plan on arriving at your interview dressed in professional attire.
For example, slacks with a pressed shirt and tie for the gents and a conservative skirt or pant-suit and top for the ladies will always give off a great first impression, even if you would never ever be required to dress like this again. First impressions are everything for an interview – and this is the point at which personal hygiene becomes important! Although this may go without saying, please be sure your suit is clean and pressed, your hair is combed, and your teeth are brushed. You can even pop a breath mint if you’d like (just to be safe). Whatever you do, please please please do not arrive with a melted candy bar on your lapel; if you have a convertible, do not ride with the top down so that you are not windblown and sweaty upon arrival; and ladies, please leave the diva bag and tiara at home. And yes, these are all TRUE stories – and NO, they did not get the job.
You do not want to distract the hiring committee by looking like a slob or, alternatively, by looking like you belong on a reality show (unless you’re applying for a reality show). Keep it conservative and classy so the focus remains on your skills, not your outfit.
What to Bring
Never arrive at an interview empty-handed. Always bring a professional-looking folio with a pen and paper inside so you can take notes, and keep extra copies of your resume. If you will be flying in for your interview, be sure to have a professional-looking set of luggage and be dressed in your professional interview attire when you arrive at the interview site. If you slightly wrinkle during your air travel, most interviewers will cut you some slack, so don’t worry – but the same may not be true for your Hello Kitty tote bag.
As a rule of thumb (and Murphy’s Law), always plan to arrive at your interview at least 20 minutes early. This will ensure that you have a time buffer in the event of any unforeseen delays. When Murphy’s Law mercifully doesn’t apply to you and you do arrive 20 minutes early, take that opportunity to make sure you’re comfortable with your research and attire. Do not – we repeat – do not show up 20 minutes early at the company’s front door. It’s awkward all the way around. A company won’t want to be rude and make you sit there, but your interviewer may have something going on before the interview. Ten minutes on an uncomfortable couch isn’t pleasant. Instead, show up no more than ten but no less than five minutes before the interview. It shows you get it but that you’re not over-eager.
Do You Have Any Questions?
Many candidates make the mistake of taking this portion of the interview lightly – DON’T! At the close of an interview, most Hiring Managers will ask if you have any questions. Your first answer should always be, “YES!” In fact, not only is it good interview etiquette to ask questions, but you should have questions if you are genuinely interested in the job. An interview can’t possibly cover every topic, and so logically, there should be some gaps along the way where you might have been wondering more about the company culture, or the responsibilities you’d have in this position. THIS is the time where you want to ask those questions and tie up any lingering thoughts or concerns.
There is one very important rule you want to follow when asking your questions – make sure your questions are relevant to the job- and not the personal status of the interviewer. And yes, this happens – a candidate once asked me whether I was single or married. He didn’t get the job, either. Don’t discuss personal matters in a job interview that could expose anybody to liability. Topics such as age, marital status, family, or religion are off-limits, and asking a question based on any of the aforementioned topics will certainly jeopardize your interview.
Finally, make sure you actually listen to the answer of the question you asked: there may be an opportunity for you to incorporate some additional information about yourself, and also have an opportunity to ask follow-up questions.
Remember to keep it conversational – this isn’t an interrogation and you’re not on trial. Think of it as an opportunity to share something interesting and valuable about yourself that could benefit the company. If you’ve done your own research on the company, you should find it easy to craft a few questions.
Thank You Notes
During the course of your interview, be sure to get the first and last name of every person you meet. If possible, ask for a business card from every team member with whom you interviewed. After your interview, promptly send out a brief thank you note to each interviewer to thank them for their time. Interviews are an investment on both ends, so be appreciative of the opportunity and let them know how much you enjoyed speaking with them (even if you didn’t).
The interview process can be stressful and nerve-racking, but following these tips will help you to handle this experience with confidence and ease. We can’t guarantee that our tips will land you the job (because our lawyers won’t let us say stuff like that) – that hard work is up to you, my friend. What we can promise is that regardless of your interview outcome, your professionalism and preparedness will definitely make a positive impression on the interview committee…and perhaps they have a better position in mind for you as a result!