Some people think they can show up to a job interview and just wing it. No thought to preparation or to what interview questions they might be asked.
But in my experience, no matter how good your resume looks or how confident you’re feeling, when it comes to interviewing successfully, a little bit of preparation goes a long way.
Here are 9 things you can do to crush your next interview.
Watch the video below, or continue reading.
1. Understand the Real Purpose of In-Person Interviews
Most of the time, if you’ve made it to the interview stage, they’ve already scoped out your experience and job history. So at that point it’s usually less about whether you’re qualified and more about, well, let’s call them “intangibles:”
- First, are you a good fit personality-wise for the team? (basically, do they like you?)
- Are you articulate, can you communicate well? (you look good on paper, but does it sound like you actually know what you’re talking about?)
- Does it seem like you really want the job? You can have all the right answers, but if you aren’t enthusiastic, why should they get excited about hiring you?
In a nutshell, beyond any other interview preparation you do, don’t forget how hugely important the interpersonal aspect is. Just being present and connecting with the people you talk to.
2. Practice Fielding Common Interview Questions
One of the most fundamental questions you should prepare for is:
Why do you want this job, and why do you want to work here?
This question gives you an opportunity to talk about your career aspirations and why the job is a good fit for your strengths and passions.
Another common question is:
Why do you want to leave your current company?
Even if you’re leaving because you absolutely hate everyone there, it’s much better if you keep the answer on the positive side. Focus on how you’ve gained some great experience and learned a lot, but you’re excited to explore new ways to further grow and challenge yourself.
What makes you the best candidate for this position?
You don’t need to oversell your experience, but it’s an opportunity to highlight some of the things that set you apart—whether that’s your experience or your drive—and to reiterate your excitement about the position.
Beyond these examples, you can always get a book with examples of potential questions. About 10 years ago, I bought a book called The 250 Interview Questions You’ll Most Likely Be Asked. Whether its the best book of its kind, I’m not sure. But what’s great is that it gives you a variety of different questions to practice with. So even if the interviewer doesn’t exactly ask one of these, you’ll have a lot of practice talking about yourself and your experience in different ways.
3. Be Prepared With Specific Examples and Stories
Any good interviewer is going to press you for specifics about your experience. They want proof of past behavior that shows you can do the job.
So it helps to have specific “nuggets” prepared ahead of time that you can mention.
Any big accomplishments that are relevant to the new position. If possible, have some metrics to help quantify what you did.
“I managed a team of 12 salespeople, with a total budget of forty gazillion dollars..” Or “I revamped our company’s manufacturing process so we could make widgets 15% faster.” etc.
They don’t all have to be huge revenue drivers or showstoppers. But If done well, this helps demonstrate that you’ve had some past successes. It also gives the interviewer an idea of whether you can see the big picture of what you contribute to a company—and that you’re not just someone who thinks “I go, punch in, sit at my desk, then I punch out.”
A challenge you faced, and how you overcame it. This is another one of those classic interview questions you might get asked. For the interviewer, it’s helpful because it forces you to get out of “selling yourself’ mode and talk about something that happened in the trenches. But it also gives them a sense of your problem-solving abilities and the way you think.
An interpersonal conflict that you successfully navigated. While this somewhat similar to the previous point, it gives the interviewer a window into how you deal with different personality types, and it gives them a gauge on your own self-awareness.
4. Ask Thoughtful Questions
Probably one of the worst mistakes you can make is to have NO questions of your own.
First, it makes you either look desperate (“any job will do, please hire me!”) or disinterested. And neither of those is an attractive quality in a candidate.
Second, assuming you are actually considering this job, don’t you want to know more about it so you can decide if it’s really a good fit?
Some good questions to ask an interviewer are:
What are the most important traits a candidate needs to possess for this role?
What is the biggest challenge that this role will face?
From here, depending on the job, you could segue into questions about team structure or other specific questions about the business.
These questions are great because they get the interviewer out of “interview” mode and to start talking about the real day to day work. Hopefully, it will give you an idea what to expect if you get the job—and maybe give you a clue on how to be more successful in the role.
You can also use questions to help demonstrate that you’ve done your research about the company.
How have things changed since the new CEO took the reins back in October?
You just have to be careful to not seem like you’re trying to stump your interviewer or ask questions that are beyond the pay grade of the position.
“So, JANICE….what I want to know is THIS: how do you see the company’s customer acquisition strategy evolving over the next 5 years given all the recent competitive entrants?”
5. Show You Want the Position They’re Hiring For
As an employer, one of the most annoying things is when someone interviews for a job and then tries to weasel their way into getting a higher position or a totally different role.
Even if you see this job as just a measly little stepping stone in your master plan to world domination, you can’t act like it’s beneath you.
If it’s a job sweeping floors, show that you’re going to be the best damn floor sweeper ever.
If it’s a job cold-calling strangers, talk about how you’re going to keep a positive attitude even when people slam the phone down in your ear.
Do an amazing job at the job they’re offering, and they’ll see your potential and eventually reward you.
6. Don’t BS Your Weaknesses
It’s funny how many people think they can somehow judo their way out of answering the question about their weaknesses. You know, where they try to say that their weakness is actually a strength?
“One of my weaknesses is that I’m TOO detail oriented.”
I’m not saying you need to rip yourself to shreds and highlight every shortcoming you have. But you should be able to identify some legitimate areas where you know you need some work.
The best way to phrase it is something like “I feel like I need to work on X” or “I know I’d like to continue to grow in X area.”
Employers don’t expect you to be perfect. And having an honest assessment of where you still have work to do can actually be very helpful for them.
7. Take Notes, Look Alive!
This might sound like an oddly specific suggestion. But one of the ways to show that you mean “business” during the interview is to actively listen and take notes throughout the conversation.
When I got my first job in advertising, I took copious notes during the interview. Maybe I did it because I was compensating; I had never had an office job before. But also, it just helped me listen and process everything.
Years later, my boss mentioned how he still remember how impressed he was that I took notes throughout our interview. Somehow, to him, it was a sign that I was not only fully engaged, but that I was a go-getter, and it was likely I was already part of the team.
8. Bring the Best Version of Yourself
You already know how important it is to make a good first impression with a potential employer.
They’re trying to evaluate you on whatever information you present to them—and part of that is your physical appearance. So bring your “A game.”
Dress your best—when in doubt, even if it’s a casual work environment, dress a little nicer than you think (better to be overdressed in an interview than underdressed).
Rock that suit, make sure those shoes are shined.
Make sure you’re well-groomed overall. Hair combed, grimy nails cleaned and trimmed.
And if possible, make sure you’ve gotten a full night’s sleep and had enough water, so you look well-rested.
If you want to find out more, I have a whole separate post on How to Make a Great First Impression.
9. The Interview Starts the Moment You Apply
Some people focus only on acing the in-person interview. What they forget is that a company’s perception of you begins way before you step through their doors…and it continues beyond the first in-person encounter.
Be mindful of your digital footprint. Google yourself and see what comes up. Check the privacy settings on your social media accounts. Is there anything out there you might need to take down…or at least have an explanation prepared for?
Because companies check that stuff out.
“In my defense, no one in my fraternity knew that goats were so limber.”
Treat your phone interview like a real interview. Prepare like you would for a real interview
Find a quiet place free of distraction and background noise.
Dress up, take notes. That “put-togetherness” is going to come across.
Once you arrive for the in-person interview, remember that even if you aren’t talking to your potential boss yet, you are already being evaluated. Just because the receptionist isn’t the hiring manager doesn’t mean she can’t torpedo your chances of getting hired because you acted like a jackass in the waiting room.
Finally, after the interview, send thank you notes or emails to everyone who interviewed you (it helps to request cards from each person you meet). It’s just one last way to remind them that you’re buttoned up and that you want that job.
Conclusion: Interviewing is a Skill That Takes Practice
Ironically, the people who interview best aren’t necessarily the best at their jobs, and sometimes people who interview badly end up being great at their jobs.
Interviewing is a separate skill that takes practice. And much like the learning how to talk to women, it’s helpful to get comfortable practicing without being attached to the outcome.
Practice by interviewing for jobs you don’t even want. That way, when something comes along that you do want, you’ll be able to ace the interview without breaking a sweat.
What other interview tips do you find helpful? Let me know in the comments below.