Acing an interview is a critical skill that every working person should master. You can have a great education, a great resume, great experience, and great recommendations, but if you can’t ace the interview, forget about it.
Employers are looking for certain skills, yes, but employers want to know what kind of person you are, what kind of employee you are going to be, and if you will fit into their organization. Employers rate the following list of skills and traits as the most important:
•Communication and interpersonal skills
•Honesty and integrity
•Reliable, responsible, and mature
•Strong work ethic
•Motivated and flexible
See where technical skills fall? Near the bottom. Employers are willing to train for those, provided you can prove yourself worthy of their investment. And to do that, you have to impress. So get ready to sell yourself. Whether you are a recent graduate embarking on your professional career or a seasoned pro looking for a new one, the rules are the same:
Before the interview:
1. Research the organization. You need to know the company’s core business, products, services, and markets. What are their key business challenges? What is their culture like? What kind of people do they hire? Familiarize yourself with their history, their structure, management, recent trends, growth areas, stock price, etc.
2. Research the job. Contact the HR department and see if they have a written description or can tell you about it. What are the general duties and responsibilities? What is the reporting structure? Find out as much as you can beforehand so your questions during the interview will be smarter and more targeted.
3. Research the industry. If you are interviewing at Coca-Cola, do some research on the beverage industry. What are the trends? What are the challenges? What are their competitors doing? Being able to intelligently discuss trends and challenges will really set you apart and make you stand out. Remember: you are more than a candidate for a job; you are a potential problem solver and contributor, so the more knowledgeable you are about the company and the industry, the more you’ll impress the interviewer.
4. Research the interviewer. A key element of succeeding in a job interview is building rapport with the interviewer. When you schedule an interview, it is perfectly acceptable to ask who will be conducting the interview. Find out, then find out all you can about that person. Perhaps you have something in common, like an alma mater, a hometown, a hobby, or perhaps he or she did something impressive that you can point to and compliment. You don’t want to appear overly solicitous, but an earnest and informed comment can go a long way to establishing rapport with the person who may hire you.
5. Practice your responses. Thee are basic questions every interviewer will ask. Know them, and practice your responses. No more than one to two minutes. Here is what the interviewer wants to know:
•Do you have what it takes to succeed in the job?
•Will you fit in the organization?
•Do you understand the company and its purpose/goals/challenges?
•How do you compare to your competition?
•Why do you want the job?
•Tell me about yourself.
•What are your strengths and weaknesses?
•Why should I hire you?
•Where do you see yourself in five years?
6. Dress for success. Dressing for the interview is not about standing out—it’s about looking like you belong. Match your dress and image to the profession or business in which you want to succeed. Your image has to inspire trust and confidence. When you make an effort to look the part, you broadcast to the world that you take yourself and the job seriously.
And ladies, remember the cardinal rules of dressing for success:
•Nothing too short.
•Nothing too long.
•Nothing too tight.
•Keep makeup and jewelry to a minimum.
•No heavy perfumes or colognes.
At the interview…
7. Be on time. Being late for an interview is the worst impression you can make. Do reconnaissance if you have to. Practice your route and where you will park. Being late is a pretty big hurdle to overcome, so do everything you can to ensure you arrive on time.
8. Be nice to everyone. And I mean everyone, from the doorman to the receptionists. Smile and say hello to everyone. Many organizations incorporate the impressions of other employees in evaluating a candidate. You want your impression, however brief, to be a positive one.
9. Use appropriate body language. Seventy percent of communication is non-verbal. People form a first impression in three seconds. That means your body language and your initial appearance speak louder than your words, so make sure your body language says I am confident and I’ve got what it takes to work here and do this job. Here are some simple dos and don’ts:
•Have straight posture, both standing and sitting.
•Make eye contact.
•Have a firm handshake.
•Slouch or slump.
•Cross your arms.
•Tap your foot or play with your hair.
•Stuff hands in pockets.
10. Ask where they are in their hiring process. What is their time frame? When do they expect to make a decision? Ask them when and how you should follow-up. Should you call in two weeks? Is an e-mail appropriate? Don’t be afraid to ask. It is a completely legitimate and appropriate question. They will actually appreciate you taking responsibility by asking.
After the interview…
11. Don’t talk. Don’t talk about your interview or the company anywhere near the interview site or the business itself. Wait until you get in your car or get home. You never know who is walking behind you or in the elevator with you or at the lobby coffee shop.
12. Follow up immediately. There is one very simple thing you can do to set yourself apart: send a hand-written thank-you note immediately after the interview. I know, the interviewer said to send an e-mail, but send a hand-written letter, too. Send it to the person with whom you interviewed. Use good quality paper or card stock (no cartoon characters, no notebook paper) and keep it short:
Dear Ms. Jones,
Thank you so much for seeing me last week. I enjoyed our interview and am very excited about the opportunity. I want very much to work for the XYZ Corporation. Thank you again and I look forward to speaking with you soon.
The rest of the follow-up process should be dictated by what they told you in the interview—phone call, e-mail, etc.
Armed with these tips, and with practice and preparation, you can ace the interview. Good luck!