Tips for a successful interview
After facing more rejection than you can possibly bear, a time will come where you finally land an interview. When I started my job search after college, the interview process was new to me. Up until that point, interviewing for a job was nothing more than sitting with the potential employer and answering their questions. Apparently, adult jobs require more effort. Commonly, the interview process will start with one or two phone interviews that weed out candidates who are not fit for the job. These are often short, and focus on what skills and experience you have. It’s like vocalizing your résumé and cover letter.
If you are fortunate enough to get past that phase, you will land an in-person interview with the employer. You will likely be asked all the same questions asked in the phone interview in slightly greater detail. To give you the best chance at dominating your interviews, here are the tips I have to offer.
Take a moment to freak out, but make sure there are no witnesses.
Scream. Jump up and down. Go absolutely bonkers. You’ve earned it. After hours spent applying for more jobs than you can count, you have finally got a foot in the door. Let all the tension in your body go. Just make sure you’ve hung up the phone so the employer doesn’t hear.
Study the company.
When I first graduated college, I applied for 10+ jobs per day. After applying to a single job, some sites will list similar positions and allow you to apply with the click of a button. Add in those applications and I completely lose count of how many jobs I’ve applied for.
This is a great way to put yourself out there, but it also means you probably know very little about the company you’ve applied to. Find their website and look into everything. Absorb all that information and merge it into you interview. Companies want to feel like they are the one and only job you could ever want. Having knowledge about their business helps build that impression.
Google “Common Interview Questions”
I could list them here, but the truth is, these questions can change. It’s all based on opinion. The most common questions are good to practice on, but they are the least important. The questions that will make or break you are ones specific to that job. Developing good answers to common questions can help you answer the others. For example, being able to articulate your greatest weaknesses and greatest strength will help you understand your potential reaction to certain situations. If you are asked in an interview, “this event sometimes happens on the job and causes this problem. How would you solve it?” You can respond with a solid answer.
Have a story for each point on your résumé
I don’t mean bullet points. Your résumé has a list of topics, including your education, extra curricular experiences and previous employment. For each educational institution, each extra curricular experience and each job, you should have a short story that shows off your skill set. Think of the middle paragraph of your cover letter. That is the story you want. Define and issue. State what you did. Present the outcome of your actions. The potential employer may ask about any one of the things you listed. Don’t skip any.
There are two things you need to keep in mind here. First, DO NOT present any more information about each subject. What was the issue? What did you do? What was the result. I used to go into detail, but then I participated in a mock interview at college. They were practice, but the interviewers were top personnel from companies partnered with the college. This is exactly what they told me. Only answer those three questions when asked about an experience on your résumé. If the employer wants more information, they will ask. If you finish your story and the employer has no questions for you, that is a bad sign.
Second, have a story for the smallest thing. I listed my participation in my university’s fencing club on my résumé. In every single in-person interview I had after college, they mentioned that point. I can’t tell you how or why, but that point made me stand out. They wanted to know more about the type of person who would participate in the sport of fencing.
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
The employer knows you are nervous. Sometimes you will stubble over answers. If you are anything like me, you will walk out of every interview wanting to focus on the small mistakes. Do what you can to avoid this thought process. The interview is over. There is nothing left to do.
That’s a lie, one more thing:
Contact the employer a week after the interview
The only exception is if they gave you a time-table. If they tell you they will contact you in two weeks, wait two and a half weeks to contact them (or respond when they contact you). If no time of future contact is given, as happens often in phone interviews, call or email the employer after a week. Let them know you are still interested. It will make a world of difference.
Send a thank you note. I admit, I’ve never done this for any interview I’ve ever had. That said, I have heard many employers say they are impressed when they do get a thank you note. Its rarity makes it stand out. A thank you email would be good enough, but a physical, mailed letter will stand out the most.
The Almighty List of Don’ts
- Don’t say anything bad about any previous jobs even if it was the worst job on the face of the planet. As far as your employer is concerned, every job you had filled you with joy. Smile and suck it up.
- Don’t have your résumé in front of you. I was once told this was a good thing to do, then I went to that mock interview. It makes you look like you don’t know your stuff. Don’t do it.
- Don’t say a word about money or salary unless the employer brings it up.
- Don’t come without questions for the employers. Always ask something at the end. Good standbys are “What is the average day like here?” and “what is the biggest challenge employees face here?”
- Don’t say you have no weaknesses. Put a positive spin on them. You are not obsessive. You stay focused on a project and are happy to work extra hours to get tasks done. I don’t care how cliché that is.
Disclaimer: I am not a job or career expert. Most of the above is based off of my own experience and the advice I've given to friends and family. I write these posts because I noticed my advice made a difference for those that took it and I hope that you can too. If possible, I highly recommend taking some for of career preparation class. A lot of this information is based on what I learned through the Career Leadership Academy at the University of Iowa and it was a huge benefit to my job search after graduation.