Nailing That Interview

Nailing That Interview

There’s only one chance to make a good first impression!

Interview Tips

Be fully present.  Always remember that no matter what the job is, any interview should have your complete attention.  The worst thing you could possibly do is consider any interview or job “beneath you” or unworthy of your time.

Remember: Cool, calm, and confident.  You’ve got this!  Don’t appear “desperate.”

Always be polite to everyone you meet.  No exceptions.  You never know if the security guard will be asked what their opinion of you was.

Make sure you are dressed appropriately and look professional.  Make sure your clothes are clean and fit well.  Wear your suit and iron your shirt. (Better overdressed than underdressed!)  Keep accessories and jewelry to a minimum.  Be showered and shaved with clean trimmed fingernails.  Brush your teeth, use mouthwash, and put on deodorant.

Arrive on time.  When it’s an internal position, follow corporate culture for how early you are (usually only 5 minutes).  If it’s another company, plan to be 15 minutes early to ensure you know where to go and can complete any paperwork.  Express when you arrive that you are early and anticipate waiting until your scheduled time and that there’s no rush.  Use the time to…

Get comfortable and relax.  Your interviewer wants to have a conversation.  My mentor shared that the first thing he always asks a candidate is “do you want to take your jacket off?”  The ones who take their jacket off have gotten comfortable, and the conversation is often more relaxed.

Use good body language.  Smile, make eye contact, carry a good posture, nod and listen actively.  You won’t win anyone over if you seem distracted or are talking too much.

Always be positive.  No matter what you’ve been through, the other party doesn’t want to hire someone who speaks negatively of others.  If you go in trashing your old boss, the hiring manager will be left wondering what you’ll say about them when you move on.  Regardless of what you were going through in your prior position, you could simply say something like “I am ready for new challenges and excited for the opportunity this new position provides.”

Always be honest and authentic.  No one will hire someone who is inconsistent or insincere.  Worse, some omissions can get you fired later, even if you land the job.  It’s OK to make mistakes as long as you’ve learned from them.

Remember that it’s not about you.  A company is looking for someone who will be a benefit for them and a good fit within the current job, department, and organization.  Always keep the focus on what you can do for them and how you fit.  Show that you understand their problems, and talk about the skills or ideas you have that might help solve them.  Your goal is to figure out what they’re looking for, and then show them why it’s YOU.

Interview Prep

Study up on the company you’re interviewing at.  Use google, Facebook, Twitter, or any other media.  Read any recent news articles about the company.  Know the company’s locations, mission, products/services (consider testing them), competitors, charity, and top executives.  You want to be able to talk about what the company is going through or what interests you about working there, at least in broad terms.  It will help you make sure you’re a good fit and provide good talking points.

If you know who the hiring manager is, consider researching them online.  I like to look over their LinkedIn profiles to have an understanding of their background and to see if we have any common interests.  It can help make the conversation easier.

Figure out the going market rate for the position.  Use google or any other salary sites to find comparable salaries for the position both in your area and nationally.  This is important information for negotiations.  Generally they won’t offer a number up until after the interview, but you want to be prepared just in case.

Practice answering interview questions concisely.  You can enlist a friend to direct a mock interview.  The best way I’ve found to mentally prepare for an interview is to go through interview questions a couple days before the interview by myself.  I like to think through my answers and note my ideas in a fresh new word document.  I make notes for each question based on the current position/company I’m applying for.  If I have any answers that I feel unsure about, I ask friends to assist me in crafting a response that reflects me well.  The morning of the interview, I read over the questions to make sure they are fresh in my mind.  I don’t memorize anything.  Instead, I find that this technique helps me prepare for whatever questions they may ask because I have topics and bullet points I’m ready to discuss.  The important thing is that it’s got me in the right mindset.

Interview Practice Questions

  • Tell me about yourself. (Careful! A good approach is to discuss only your interests related to the position.  They may be screening for something illegal to ask.)
  • What are your interests/hobbies outside of work? Last books you read?
  • Be ready to discuss any points on your resume (bring a printed copy with!), your background, your education, and about yourself in general.
  • What are your salary requirements? (Never, never, NEVER be the first to bring up a number!  Companies have teams of people who research the market and know EXACTLY what a fair rate is to offer you.)
  • Why do you want to leave your current position/company?
  • Why should we hire you? Why are you a good fit for the position?
  • Why do you want to work here?
  • What would you hope to accomplish?
  • What are your strengths? Weaknesses?  What do you need to improve on?  (Only discuss weaknesses you’ve overcome, like “I used to always be late, but now I use a planner diligently.”)
  • What motivates you? What stresses you?  How do you handle stressful situations?
  • What’s a time you made a mistake? What was your biggest failure? (Make sure you are ready to elaborate on how you fixed it and what you learned!)
  • How have you handled a difficult situation? How would you handle an angry/difficult customer?
  • What have you done in the past when you’ve disagreed with a boss?
  • What would your friends/coworkers/direct reports/previous boss say about you?
  • What are you most proud of? What is your biggest accomplishment?
  • What was a time you acted as a leader? Your leadership style?  Your management style?
  • What are you career goals? Where do you see yourself in 5 years?  10 years?  Your dream job? (They want to know if this position aligns with your career goals or if you’re likely to move on.)
  • Are you willing to travel? Relocate?  Work on holidays/weekends?

You can google “Common Interview Questions” if you want to practice more.

What to Do for Illegal/Uncomfortably Personal Questions

State and federal laws in the US ban questions about age, race, national origin, citizenship, gender, religion, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities, arrest or conviction records, military discharge status, and pregnancy status strictly off-limits to prevent discrimination.  It’s OK to politely decline to answer for any of these or other questions that make you uncomfortable!  You can simply ask, “Could you explain how this question relates to the position?”  If it doesn’t, they shouldn’t press for an answer and should move on.  Otherwise, you could determine why they are asking the question and spin it back to the position gracefully.  If you’re being asked about planning a family (which could “jeopardize your commitment to the company”), you could say “I haven’t really thought about that.   I’m more focused on my career right now.  Could you tell me more about the career paths here?”

Ask Your Interviewer Questions!

When you ask questions, it shows you are interested in the position.  Even if the hiring manager has been thorough, try to ask a question or two.  Avoid anything obvious, readily available, or related to salary/benefits.

  • How would you describe the company’s values? The corporate culture?
  • What is the greatest opportunity for the organization? The biggest threat?
  • What is a typical day in this position like? What are the day-to-day responsibilities?
  • What would success in this position look like?
  • What do you think will be my biggest struggle?
  • How is performance measured?
  • At the end of the interview, ask when you should expect to hear back. Make a note of what they say.  Do not reach out for a status until after their timeline.  After the time has passed, you are welcome to send ONE email to follow up.

You can bring a list of questions if it makes it easier.  Then if they do answer all your questions, it’s ok to look over the list and then say that they actually answered all of your questions and thank them for being so thorough.

After Your Interview

Send along a hand-written thank you note.  Otherwise, you could email the hiring manager.  No one seems to do it anymore, but it will leave a great impression.  The note can be as simple as “I enjoyed meeting with you, and look forward to hearing from you.  Thank you for the opportunity.”  Whether or not they hire you for the specific position, it shows you valued their time and they may have other opportunities in the future.


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