Thoughtful preparation for an interview can set you apart as the "candidate of choice" for a potential employer. As you will likely be competing with several candidates for a single position, take a look at the following tools that will help set you apart during an interview as the ideal candidate for a position.
Preparing for an interview can require a good deal of work, as this is your opportunity to portray to a potential employer that you have the skills and experience necessary to succeed in the available position. In general, you want the interviewer to answer “yes” to the following questions:
- Does the applicant have the skills and abilities needed to perform well in the available position?
- Does the applicant have the attitude and work ethic needed to make valuable contributions to the company in the available position?
- Will the applicant be a team player and fit into the organization?
As you might imagine, most of the work you need to perform to impress a potential employer during an interview happens before the interview. Here are some suggestions to help you prepare for an interview:
- Research the company online, so you can provide well-informed answers to interview questions. Be prepared to ask questions about the company to demonstrate that you’re well-versed in the company’s business.
- Know the job description. Be prepared to describe how your skills and experience will enable you to successfully perform the primary tasks and fulfill the key responsibilities of the position.
- Be prepared to answer commonly asked interview questions. Practice your answers to these questions (without trying to memorize the answers) by conducting a mock interview with a relative or friend, or in the mirror.
- Learn all you can about the interviewer. If you know who the interviewer will be, check to see if he or she has a website or LinkedIn profile. What is the company’s mission and/or vision? What are the company’s products and services? Who are the company’s customers and/or clients? Who are the company’s major competitors?
- Bring a pen, paper, work tools, and work clothing. During an interview, you might need to take notes and/or perform a work task. Be prepared.
- Familiarize yourself with the location of the interview. If feasible, make a practice run to the interview location at the same time of day of the interview; determine traffic flow and where you’ll park or which bus or transit stops you’ll utilize.
- Confirm the time and place of the interview. A day or two before the scheduled interview, send an email or make a call to the interviewer to confirm that the interview is still scheduled.
- Get your interview clothes ready.
- Get a good night’s sleep the night before the interview. Being well-rested the day of the interview is important.
- Prepare copies of your resume, cover letter, and references. Bring along several copies of each document to the interview. Consider printing these documents on resume paper, which is available at most office supply stores. Bring the documents in an envelope that keeps them from getting wrinkled and does not require them to be folded.
- Present your best self the minute you reach the interview location. The interview begins when you arrive at the organization. Individuals you encounter on the sidewalk, in the elevator, in the hallway, and especially in the reception area might be asked later about their impressions of you or be involved in the selection process.
- Arrive 10-15 minutes before the scheduled interview time. Plan to arrive at the location of the interview 10 to 15 minutes before the actual time of your interview. Never be late, or the job could be lost before your interview begins.
Much can happen during an interview and here's what to expect:
- Anticipate some small talk. The interview will probably begin with a few minutes of small talk as the interviewer attempts to break the ice.
- You will likely be asked variations of some of the following commonly asked interview questions.
- Tell me about yourself.
- What do you know about our company?
- Why are you interested in this position?
- Tell me about your key skills.
- Tell me about a problem you faced and how you solved it.
- What motivates you to do a good job?
- Tell me about your proudest accomplishment.
- What will you bring to this job?
- Why do you believe you are qualified for this position?
- Why should I hire you instead of someone more qualified?
- Do you have any questions for me?
- Describe a time when you went beyond the call of duty to get a job done.
- Tell me about a time when you had to deal with an upset customer.
- Talk about a time you overcame a difficult problem / showed initiative.
- Give an example of a time when you had to work with a difficult co-worker.
- Describe a time when you had to handle a lot of tasks at the same time.
- Tell me about a time you had a deadline to meet that seemed nearly impossible.
- Talk about how you set and achieve goals.
Your behavior during an interview will help an employer determine how you will act toward clients, customers, and colleagues. Here are some tips for making a good impression during an interview:
- Smile often. You want to present yourself as friendly and excited to be there.
- Do not sit until the interviewer does or until he or she asks you to be seated. This is a good way to show respect to your potential employer.
- Note the names and job titles of everyone in the room. This will help you with thank you notes/emails after the interview.
- Avoid saying anything negative about former employers, supervisors, or co-workers. Employers want employees with solutions to problems, not employees who dwell on bad past experiences. Further, employers are always looking to see how you will represent their company in public if hired, and complaints about former employers or colleagues might raise concerns.
- Ask informed questions. Throughout the interview process, the interviewer is trying to gauge how committed you are and how capable you will be in helping the company succeed. At the end of an interview, the interviewer may ask if you have questions. You’ll typically have time to ask two or three. The following questions will demonstrate your commitment to the employer’s success while providing you with information you'll need to decide if the job is a good fit for you:
- What will be the most important part of my job, in terms of ensuring that you and our team will be successful?
- What will be the most valuable skills to develop if I am to add more value to our department? Does your company offer continued learning?
- How far along are you in the selection process? What are your next steps? How soon do you plan to fill this position?
- Thank the interviewer for his/her time and consideration. At the end of the interview, thank the interviewer(s) for the opportunity to meet, ask for business cards, restate your interest in the job, and express confidence in your ability to contribute to the organization's success.
- Wait for a job offer before asking about salary and benefits. Do not ask about salary, vacation or paid time off, retirement plans, or other benefits until you've received a job offer. Refraining from asking about these things will demonstrate that you are most interested in performing well in the available position.
What you do after an interview can significantly impact your chances of obtaining a job. Here are some tips that can increase your chances of obtaining employment after an interview:
- Make notes of what you learned during the interview. Recording what you learned during an interview can be helpful, especially when sending thank you notes/emails to potential employers. Take time shortly after the interview to write down what was discussed.
- Contact your references. You should let your references know that they may be contacted by the employer. Your references will appreciate this notice and have an opportunity to prepare.
- Send a thank-you note (emails are acceptable). Within a day after your interview, you should send a thank you note or email to each of the individuals who interviewed you. Thank you notes/emails give the employer a chance to ask for additional information from you and keep you on the employer’s mind as a viable candidate for the available position. Thank you notes/emails should be brief, to the point, and error-free. Think of this correspondence as an opportunity to mention something you forgot or wish you had said in the interview. You might also restate your interest in the position and your confidence in your ability to do the job.
- Follow up with the lead interviewer. Within a week or so following the interview, it is appropriate to follow-up with interviewers to inquire about the position and to restate your interest in the position.
Employers can be busy people, and they are always looking for employees whom can express themselves in clear and concise ways. What if you could convey your professional background and aspirations to an employer in 30 seconds? Make every second during an interview count with a 30-second elevator pitch.
By developing a 30-second elevator pitch, you will be able to communicate your professional background and goals in a quick and effective manner when you meet someone who might help you obtain employment. Here are four points to cover in your elevator pitch:
Point 1: Set the stage: you're looking for a job
Examples of how you might do this include:
- I've decided I'd like to explore a different line of work . . .
- I took a break to take care of some personal matters, and now I’m ready to get to work . . .
- I recently moved to the area . . .
- I recently finished a training program/school . . .
- My company recently downsized . . .
- I've been out of work for a while, but now I'm looking for employment opportunities . . .
Point 2: Your "no brag" disclaimer
Share your experience, without taking all the credit for your skill set.
Examples of how you might do this include:
- In my previous position . . .
- I had to become really good at . . .
- I was fortunate to have had opportunities to acquire several skills, including . . .
- I had several remarkable supervisors who taught me the importance of . . .
- I’ve faced several challenging experiences, so I have had to learn to . . .
Point 3: What you offer an employer
Highlight several of your signature strengths that are relevant to the person you are talking to, including:
- Traits, like reliability, adaptability, or willingness to exercise initiative
- Universal or transferable skills, including safe working habits, leadership abilities, or talent for problem-solving
- Key occupations or technical skills
- Your job search goal
Point 4: Share what you’re trying to accomplish with your job search.
Examples of how you might do this include:
- I'm searching for an opportunity to utilize the skills and knowledge I've acquired.
- I'd like to connect with a business that could benefit from the capabilities I offer.
- I think I could make a significant contribution as a _____ (describe the specific occupation or job position you have in mind).
- I'd like to learn more about ____ (describe a career field, industry, or specific company that interests you).
- I'm looking for a position with a local business where I can make a contribution using my _______ skills.
- Use crisp, clear language – don't ramble.
- Describe the position you want.
- Talk about your abilities and experience.
- Use proper posture - don't slouch.
- Make a good first impression.
Hi, I’m Brenda Thomas, and I recently completed a vocational training program in business administration at Jamesdale Community College. In this program, I had several remarkable professors who taught me the importance of customer service as a means to realizing a business’s vision and mission. In particular, the coursework made me comfortable with project management and staff management, and I became proficient in the Microsoft Office suite. I’m searching for an opportunity to utilize the skills and knowledge I’ve acquired to help a local business provide high quality service to its customer base.
Appropriate interview attire varies. Someone who is interviewing for a position as a gardener, for instance, will dress differently than one who is interviewing for a position as an attorney. Nevertheless, there are a few factors everyone should consider when deciding how to dress for an interview.
If there is a possibility you will be required to perform a task during the interview, make sure you are prepared with appropriate work clothing and supplies. For instance, if you are applying for a job as a welder, you should have your work clothes and tools available to demonstrate your skills. If you’re applying for a position as a business assistant, make sure you have a pen and pad on hand to take notes.
Regardless of what you decide to wear, have a backup outfit ready in case of a last-minute mishap. Make sure the clothing you choose is free of holes or stains, fits properly, and is clean and wrinkle-free.
Before the interview:
- Avoid smoking
- Brush your teeth, use mouthwash, or use a breath mint
- Turn off your cell phone. If there is a compelling reason to leave it on (there’s a possibility that a family member may be going into labor, for example), set the phone to silent ring or vibrate, and let the interviewer know at the onset that you may need to take an emergency call
During the interview:
- Greet the interviewer with a sincere smile
- Call him or her by his or her title (Ms., Mr., Dr.) and last name
- Wait until you are offered a chair before sitting
- Avoid chewing gum
Throughout the interview, maintain:
- Eye contact with the interviewer(s)
- An alert and interested expression
- An upright posture, with no fidgeting or slouching
Practice makes perfect. This is true especially when it comes to interviewing. Practice your interview techniques with a mock interview and learn how to strengthen your interviewing skills to impress a potential employer.
- Research the company/industry of interest.
- Investigate and identify the most common industry traits sought in that company/industry (analytical skills, communication skills, business knowledge, and problem-solving skills).
- Script responses to potential questions regarding your experience.
- Dress in appropriate attire as though you are actually interviewing with a company.
- Greet the interviewer with an enthusiastic handshake and smile.
- Listen to the questions asked.
- Ask for clarification if the question is not clear.
- Keep your answers concise and to the point.
- Make sure you are selling yourself to the interviewer; highlight your good qualities.
- Have questions prepared to ask the interviewer, such as "What do you expect from an employee?" and "Are there any company procedures I should be aware of?"
- Listen to your responses to questions with an open mind.
- Did you come across the way you expected?
- Is there anything you didn't say that could have made your interview more memorable to the interviewer?
- How do you think you may have been perceived by the interviewer?
Often a brief personal note or email of thanks sent the day after your interview can enhance your chances of landing a new job. This personal touch not only helps keep you on the interviewer’s mind, it also demonstrates your appreciation that the interviewer took time to meet with you and confirms your interest in the job. It may turn out that you are the only candidate to send a thank you, which may place you above your competition when the employer is deciding whom to hire.
A personal handwritten note on your own stationery or a typed letter is recommended; sending an email is also acceptable. It is not recommended that you use pre-printed thank you notes. You may want to mention something that interested you during the interview or highlight how you have the skills needed for the job. If you had interviews with multiple people, send individually-addressed notes of appreciation to each person.