Congratulations! You’ve landed the interview. Now it’s time to prepare.
Interviews come with their own unique etiquette and norms, so knowing what’s expected of you before, during and after the interview is important.
Here’s everything you need to know to have a successful interview.
In this article:
- Before the interview
- During the interview
- Questions not to ask
- Common interview mistakes
- After the job interview
Before the job interview
Before you arrive at the interview, you should be well versed in everything the company does and stands for.
“Know the company you’re interviewing for,” said Margaret Freel, marketing specialist at Keystone Solutions. “Make sure you know the company’s mission statement and values.”
Freel suggests researching the company. Investigate if the company has been in the news recently, released new products or won any recent awards. If you have the opportunity to try the company’s product or service, do it so you have firsthand experience with what the business offers.
Candidates should also “research the company through blogs, publications, studies and speaking with industry leaders,” said Taylor Dumouchel, a compensation liaison and program officer at Employment and Social Development Canada. “Use this information to demonstrate your knowledge of the company’s current market position and where they are headed in the future.”
Many companies want to learn how you plan to make an impact in the role you are interviewing for, so a strong base knowledge of how the company works and exactly where you can be effective works in your favor.
Besides, it’s detrimental if you’re unprepared should the interviewer ask you a company-specific question. “These are things a candidate should know and be prepared to talk about during the interview,” Freel said. “Doing your research is a signal to the interviewer that you’re not just looking for a job, but this job.”
These are some key things to research:
- What the company does
- The company’s mission and vision
- Company culture
- Company size
- Job description of the role you are applying for
- News and recent events
- Social media presence
Reviewing your resume
Your resume is likely the reason the hiring manager called you. Although you may have already submitted a digital copy with your application, bring multiple printed copies of your resume to the interview. Also, print your resume on quality resume paper instead of standard printer paper.
“Don’t assume your interviewer has seen your resume, let alone has an available copy for your interview,” said Amanda Augustine, career expert and spokesperson for TopResume. She recommended bringing at least three copies of your resume to the interview.
“Additional employees may be pulled into the interview process at the last minute,” she said. “Be prepared to hand them a copy of your resume, walk them through your career story, and tie your qualifications back to the position at hand.”
Augustine advised rereading the job description before your interview and reviewing your resume to develop a narrative that explains how your previous experiences have shaped you into a great candidate for the role at this company.
“Always think about your experience in the context of this particular job and its requirements,” she said. “You don’t need to rehash every role that’s listed on your resume, but you should call attention to the parts of your experience that are most relevant for this job opportunity.”
If there are gaps between jobs on your resume, you may be asked what happened. The good news is that you can easily rehearse and prepare responses to questions about short stays or work gaps, said Erica Zahka, account executive at Brainshark.
“Always be honest, concise, and never point fingers at previous employers,” she said. “For short stays, make sure it is clear that the reason you left company X after such a short period of time is not a reason that applies to this role.”
Remember, you control how you discuss your experience; keep the focus on the positives.
“Explain the gap honestly and with confidence, and then shift the conversation back toward your future goals as they relate to the position,” said Dana Leavy-Detrick, founder and chief resume writer at Brooklyn Resume Studio. “If you’re returning to the workforce from an extended leave, talk about what inspired you to make a transition and how you plan to leverage your strengths.”
During the job interview
You’ve done your research, you brought copies of your resume, and you’ve prepared responses for questions that might arise based on your resume. Now the time for the interview has come, and with that comes the oft-dreaded part of interviewing: the questions.
“Candidates get nervous about job interviews because there’s the potential they’ll be asked an open-ended question that will give the interviewer a secret view into who the candidate really is,” said Rich Milgram, founder and CEO of career network Nexxt. “But the real secret is that a lot of the time the interviewer doesn’t know what the right answer is either, or they’ll admit that there is no right answer, so just relax.”
Glassdoor recently compiled a list of the most asked questions to expect in an interview:
- What are your strengths?
- What are your weaknesses?
- Why are you interested in working for [company name]?
- Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years?
- Are you willing to relocate?
- Are you willing to travel?
- Tell me about an accomplishment you are most proud of.
- Tell me about a time you made a mistake.
- What is your dream job?
- How did you hear about this position?
- Discuss your resume.
- Discuss your educational background.
- Describe yourself.
- Tell me how you handled a difficult situation.
- Why should we hire you?
The STAR method
For any questions on your skills or experience, Augustine recommends using the STAR method to demonstrate how you possess a particular skill that’s required for the role:
- Identify a situation or task where you demonstrated that skill.
- Describe the actions you took to resolve the matter.
- Discuss the results of your actions. For instance, were you able to defuse a tense situation with a disgruntled customer? Did you help your team complete a project on time or under budget? Did you cut costs or generate revenue?
Leavy-Detrick recommends practicing your answers to common questions about your strengths and your long- and short-term career goals, and reviewing them with a friend or colleague.
“They’ll be able to immediately identify shifts in your tone and mannerisms that might impact your presentation and confidence,” she said.
Preparing your own questions
You should also prepare a few questions of your own to ask during the interview. Not only does it give you the opportunity to gain deeper insights into the company, role, and culture, but it shows the hiring manager that you’re truly interested in the organization.
“During the interview, you should take the time to assess whether the employer is the right fit for you, not just try to prove to the employer that you’re right for the job,” Zahka said.
While the standard “What’s a typical day like here?” and “How would you describe your company culture?” are fine to ask, you can stand out from other job seekers by asking unique, insightful questions that ultimately reinforce why you’re an ideal fit for the role.
Travis Furlow, vice president of enterprise accounts at TrueBlue Inc., shared seven questions to ask during your next interview.
- What qualities are the most important to succeed in this role? This question demonstrates that you are interested in performing at a high level for the company, and you’re willing to go above and beyond to get there.
- How would my job affect the business in the short and long term? This question shows you want to contribute to the future of the company and help it achieve its goals.
- What challenges should I expect in the role? Knowledge of the position’s complexities should give you an idea of what you can work on to succeed, and asking conveys confidence in your ability to overcome obstacles and handle greater responsibility.
- What do you love most about your job? This serves the same purpose as the “company culture” question, but poses it in such a way that you can connect with the interviewer on a personal level.
- How would employees describe your leadership style? Again, this question gives you an inside look at the company culture, but it also shows that you’re interested in getting to know the interviewer as a person.
- In the time that you’ve been with the organization, how has your career progressed? One of the top factors job seekers consider when choosing a position is whether there are sufficient growth opportunities at the company. Asking the interviewer how they have advanced there should give you an idea of how important training, mentorship and career development are to the employer.
- What is the one piece of advice you would offer to me if I earn the opportunity to join this organization? Whether you get the job or not, this question is beneficial to you. If you’re hired, you already have a tip to help you hit the ground running on day one. If you aren’t, you have something to take with you to your next new job.
How to handle inappropriate questions
Under regulations from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employers are barred from asking certain questions that can be considered discriminatory. These questions involve ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, family arrangements or other personal identity factors. This Business News Daily article outlines other illegal job interview questions that employers shouldn’t ask.
If you feel uncomfortable with a question or believe it’s discriminatory, you have several options for how to respond:
- Politely ask the interviewer what relevance the question has to the position or why the question is being asked.
- Redirect the conversation toward a discussion of your skills and abilities as they relate to the position.
- Answer the question.
- Refuse to answer the question.
- End the interview.
- If an employer asks something truly offensive or discriminatory, you can file a complaint with the EEOC.
Questions not to ask
While questions are often encouraged during a job interview, there are limits to what you can and should ask as a job candidate. Here are some examples of questions you should not ask and why the question may not be appropriate.
- How long will it take me to get promoted? Why you shouldn’t ask it: While eagerness to advance is an admirable quality, asking this question can give the impression that you won’t be focused on the job you’re interviewing for, said Adam Robinson, co-founder and CEO of hiring software company Hireology. Instead, ask what a typical path of advancement might look like for someone in this role, but don’t press the question too much.
- What does your company do? Why you shouldn’t ask it: This question shows the interviewer that you didn’t take the time to properly research the company. You should come into the interview with a basic understanding of what the company does and why.
- Why should I work for your company? Why you shouldn’t ask it: While an interview is your opportunity to see if a company is the right fit for you, it’s important to approach it with humility, said Alexis Joseph, director of people at Slack. You should not expect the interviewer to sell you on the company.
- What is the compensation/benefits package/flexibility like? Why you shouldn’t ask it: It’s not a good idea for a job candidate to ask about salary, benefits, hours or flexibility during the first interview, Robinson said. Particulars such as these are discussed in a later interview or as part of the job offer.
Common interview mistakes
Poor etiquette in a job interview can ruin your chances of landing a position, even if you’re highly qualified. It is important to find the right balance between coming across as a confident professional while remaining humble and polite. Avoid these common interview etiquette mistakes:
Showing up at the wrong time
When it comes to arriving at the right time, most interview candidates are worried about being late. But Rudeth Shaughnessy, a former HR director and current senior editor for Copy My Resume, said that arriving too early is poor etiquette, too. Aim to arrive no more than 10 minutes early – if you need to hang out in the lobby for a few minutes, that’s OK. Use the time to brush up on your notes or practice your introductory speech.
Talking only to one person
Many interviews have two or more interviewers in the room, and ignoring certain people in the interview committee can ruin your chance of landing the job. Be sure to address every person conducting the interview, making eye contact and speaking directly to them in turn. Many job candidates tend to only address the highest-ranking person in the room, which comes across as rude.
Dressing inappropriately sends several messages. You appear sloppy, inconsiderate, disrespectful, and unprofessional, in addition to signaling that you don’t take the opportunity seriously.
Most interviewers would rather see a job candidate overdressed than underdressed, but keep in mind that overdressing to the extreme also generates a poor impression. Research the company to get an idea of the dress code. For example, you should not show up in a full suit if you’re interviewing for a journalist position, but it may be appropriate for a role in banking.
Treating phone or video interviews casually
Many initial interviews are conducted by phone or video, but you shouldn’t treat them any less seriously. Formal interview etiquette still applies.
Test your microphone or camera before the interview. Choose a quiet place to set up, and don’t interrupt the interview to take calls, answer the door or talk to anyone else. If you live with family or roommates, let them know you are interviewing and should not be disturbed during that time.
It’s also OK to have your notes and resume in front of you to reference during the interview.
Poor communication and body language
However valuable or insightful your answers are during an interview, poor communication or body language can discredit you.
Focus on being a polite and clear communicator during your interview. Don’t interrupt, no matter how eager you may be to answer the question. If you accidentally talk before the interviewer has finished, apologize quickly and let them continue speaking.
Speak clearly when it is your turn; mumbling comes across as inconsiderate, and it diminishes your confidence.
Be aware of your body language. Nervous behaviors like fidgeting or tapping your knee are common in stressful situations, but in an interview setting, you run the risk of appearing rude or impatient. Sit up straight and avoid fidgeting as much as possible, and maintain appropriate eye contact.
The goal is to be engaged and interactive. Looking someone in the eye when they speak to you and while you’re responding indicates respect for the person and that you are present in the moment. Frequently looking away or over your shoulder while talking to them conveys disinterest.
Acting overconfident or entitled
Valerie Streif, marketing manager at GetMyBoat, warns job candidates to pay attention to their tone.
“Something that hurts a lot of job seekers is being overconfident and unaware of how they sound in an interview,” she said.
While being confident of your skills and excited about the value you can add to a company will benefit you, there is a fine line between poised and arrogant. Acting as if you are entitled to a position will instantly seem rude, no matter how qualified you are. Remember that you were invited to interview, and stay quietly confident and humble.
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Body Language Mistakes to Avoid in Job Interviews
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After the job interview
One of the trickiest parts of interviewing is determining how long after the interview you should wait to follow up. If the hiring manager doesn’t indicate the company’s timeline by the end of the interview, be sure to politely ask (before you leave) when you might expect to hear from them if they decide to move forward.
“Honor the timeframe that they present before following up about their decision,” Zahka said.
Regardless of the company’s timeframe, experts advise emailing a thank-you note to each individual you met with during the interview within 24 hours. If you wish to send an additional handwritten note, S. Chris Edmonds, an author and the founder and CEO of The Purposeful Culture Group, advised mailing it the same day you send your email.
“That way, it’ll arrive a day or two following your email note, adding gravitas to your thoughtfulness,” said Edmonds.
Your follow-up should include three main things:
- A gracious thank-you to the interviewer for taking the time to speak with you
- A mention of something unique you discussed during your conversation
- A restatement of your interest in the position and why you think you’ll be successful in the role
For examples of follow-up letters, read this Business News Daily article.
It is vital not to overcommunicate or badger the interviewer. Send one follow-up 24 hours after the interview, and you may consider sending one more if you do not hear from them after more than a week, unless they specifically told you to expect a longer timeline.