Secrets to a Successful Job Interview: Interview, End of Interview, & Post-interview
By the time the big day rolls around,
- You’ve done your research on the company,
- Discovered where you fit the job description and can play up your strengths where you don’t, and
- Have rehearsed your answers to frequently asked questions that might be lobbed your way.
Doing these things may not make you less nervous but it has certainly made you more prepared than most of the other candidates.
1. Arrive early.
If you don’t know where you’re going, plan to arrive at the interviewing site 15 to 20 minutes early. I usually walk into the office about 10-15 minutes before my scheduled interview. Avoid arriving late at all costs. If you do happen to run late, immediately apologize to the interviewer, explain that it’s not a frequent occurrence, and emphasize that you are normally a punctual person.
2. Look professional.
For corporate (aka white collar) jobs, attire yourself in a suit. For all other jobs, business casual outfits should work fine.
Before walking into the office, go to the bathroom or find a mirror and make sure all clothing wrinkles, collars, and hair are smoothed out and nothing looks shabby or out of place. If you still have gum or a breath-freshener in your mouth, now is the time to get rid of it.
3. Be confident. If you’re not, fake it.
For many people, interviewing is acting. Unless you’re incredibly confident or conceited, you don’t likely walk around thinking that this company needs you. And in reality, it doesn’t. But you need to make the hiring people think they need you—that’s the difference between hoping for a job offer and knowing one will be extended to you.
Before the interview, take on the role of someone else (your interviewing alter-ego) who happens to have the exact same name as you do, your work history, and the same skill sets. However, your alter-ego isn’t as concerned with all those flaws and weaknesses that you’re typically concerned with. Your alter-ego sees nothing but the best in himself (or herself) and wants everyone else to see how great (s)he is too. Your alter-ego doesn’t think he’s proficient in a programming language; he knows. Is that how you normally are? No. But that’s why you have your alter-ego. He or she will shine where you normally don’t.
It’s been said that the first 90 seconds in which an interviewer meets you will determine what they think of you. But within the first 30 seconds, you need to:
- Smile. Trite to say but a pleasant look will put the interviewer at ease. Avoid frowning it all costs even when you’re dismayed by something you hear. Instead, try to look surprised or confused. Those expressions aren’t perceived as negatively as a frown is.
- Make direct eye contact. Direct eye contact upon meeting a person for the first time is something that is valued in Western business culture. It begins to establish you as a trustworthy person. Make sure your genuine smile sends warmth to your eyes. (Think of something that is normally pleasant to you if you have to.) Hiring managers can spot imposters quite easily. These people know fake smiles and cold stares when they see it.
- Provide a firm handshake. Don’t squeeze the person’s hand too hard but don’t wimp out either. Guys, lighten up the tension in your grip if you’re shaking a woman’s hand; ladies, tighten your grip if you’re shaking a guy’s hand.
- Stand up tall in your best posture. Don’t slouch—it sends a nonverbal signal that you seem defeated. Throw your shoulders back and walk with your head up, chin out. Good posture sends a nonverbal signal that you are confident, professional, and willing to put your best foot forward.
- Rest your hands on a table or on your lap when sitting. Keep your hands where the interviewer can see them at all times. Resist fidgeting if you can.
If walking to another room or taking an elevator that could lead to awkward silence, feel free to engage in easy and polite conversation on the weather. You won’t be able to fill all of the silence but neutral conversation is a good way to break the ice. Avoid potentially unpleasant or controversial topics like current events, politics, or celebrity news.
4. Keep your answers short and sweet.
Say what you need to say and say what they want to hear but don’t say too much. If you talk too much, your interviewer will begin to tune you out or turn against you. Unless your interviewer specifically asks to hear a situation you’ve encountered or to provide an example of a time when you’ve done something in particular, don’t provide that kind of information for any other question. For example, if you hear:
“What are your greatest strengths?”
The best answer would be something along the lines of: “I’m a hard worker, a multi-tasker, but also detail-oriented. I like to stay busy and am always looking for something to do in the event I encounter downtime. I like to be efficient during the workday.” Don’t provide any examples unless specifically asked.
5. Don’t use slang.
Unless you’re interviewing with a hip-hop mogul, I don’t recommend using slang. Act as though you are speaking to a president you highly admire: use your best vocabulary and speak to impress. The interviewer is not your friend or your “homie”—don’t speak to him or her in the same way.
6. Don’t ever acknowledge your actual weaknesses; emphasize your strengths.
Are you frequently tardy? Don’t say so. Do you lack regular consistency in dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s? Don’t bring that up. A good answer to the common question, “What is your greatest weakness?” would be along the lines of:
“I’m a bit of a perfectionist so I’ve spent too much time trying to make my work the best it can be but I’ve since learned to balance accuracy with timeliness.”
Try to find something that is already a positive and spin it so that the extreme could be seen as a negative. Employers usually don’t mind too much of a good thing.
7. Provide accurate descriptions of situational examples when asked.
Situational examples tend to begin with “Tell me of a time when…” The hiring person wants to hear of a specific instance of your experience related to the question. Depending on what kind of job you are going for, this question could vary:
- Tell me of a time when you had to oversee a group of people and someone posed a problem. How did you resolve the conflict? (managerial/supervisory)
- Tell me of a time when a customer proved to be troublesome. How did you handle it? (customer service)
- Tell me of a time when you had several pressing issues that all needed to be resolved by the end of the day. What did you do? (assistant)
If you’ve encountered these situations, draw on experience that would be most related to answering the question. It doesn’t matter if the experience is recent or related to the job on your resume. If your best example comes from 10 years ago, feel free to reference that by prefacing what kind of work you were in (ie, retail, food service) and launching into your answer.
8. Handling questions from left field.
Even though you’ve done your prep work, sometimes interviewers come up with a question you didn’t see coming. This is the “left field” question because it’s taken you by surprise. As a result, you’re allowed the opportunity for a thoughtful pause. (A good way of stalling is repeating the question to make sure you’ve heard it correctly.) In my experience, two things have happened:
- You don’t have an answer at all because it’s never happened to you.
- You’ve got an answer but are fuzzy on details.
In the first scenario, the most appropriate way to tackle that would be to say, “I haven’t encountered that before but if I did, this is how I would handle it” and launch into a thorough answer providing a mock situational example if it is warranted.
A good way to navigate the second scenario would be to say “I’ve only encountered that problem once because I’ve had the privilege of working with great co-workers (or good clients). But I understand it can be a frequent problem. If, for instance, [insert mock situational example] occurred, here’s how I would handle it.”
The first and second scenarios are similar in that you are providing a fake example then explaining how you would handle it. Scenario 1 acknowledges you’ve never encountered the situation at all, but through your example and resolution, you can demonstrate that you command knowledge of such a situation occurring and that you could be adept in bringing about an agreeable conclusion. Scenario 2 acknowledges limited experience with the situation (which, for some interviewers, is better than nothing) and also acknowledges that it’s a valid issue that may appear more frequently elsewhere. (Remember, most of these interviewers aren’t throwing these questions out there just to watch you squirm. They need to know you can appropriately respond to real-life problems.)
9. “Is there anything more that I should know about you?”
Again, leave the hobbies and family info alone. This question signals that the interview is coming to an end and it’s your last shot to reemphasize how interested you are in the position and how you think you’d be a great fit for the company based on the skills you already possess. (List three specific skills to reiterate your valuableness.) For example, a good answer would be along the lines of:
“I just want to reiterate how much I’d love to work as a barista for this coffee company as someone who is already a coffee aficionado. Since my strengths lie in multi-tasking, juggling competing priorities, and working in a fast-paced in environment, I know XYZ Coffee Company would be a good fit for me.”
10. “Do you have any questions for me?”
Pitch your questions to the interviewer now. If, by chance, the interviewer happened to answer any questions you had by giving you an overview or information beforehand, a safe question to ask would be how long it will take for the company to make a determination. DO NOT ASK about salary, benefits, vacation, or anything along those lines. That comes after an offer has been made. To ask those things now would seem presumptuous.
End of the interview
Remember all those nonverbal cues I wanted you to give to the interviewer upon first meeting him or her? Time to cue it all up again:
- Make direct eye contact.
- Provide a firm handshake.
- Stand up straight.
Surely at some point during the interview, you lost your pleasant expression as your thoughts became serious, your eyes wandered off to the ceiling in thought, and you began slouching in your seat as you relaxed. But at the end of the interview, you want to leave your interviewer with that strong, confident, professional image when you first arrived. Say your good-bye with an expressed hope that you’ll hear from the company soon. (Resist the urge to add “with a job offer”—that sounds much too cocky.)
Unless the interviewer has mentioned several rounds of interviews or you anticipate another round of interviews, send a hand-addressed “Thank You” card to everyone you’ve interviewed within 3 days. (If your writing is chicken scratch, type the letter in a readable 12-point serif font and sign it.) The gesture is personal and so few interviewees do it that it gives you a slight edge as someone who is thorough and follows up with others. Just make sure you get the spelling of the person’s (or people’s) name(s) right.
For additional Secrets to a Successful Job Interview, read this helpful piece from Psychology Today.
Any questions or comments on this series of tips? Add them below.