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5 steps to nailing your job interview

Photo credit: Raywoo, Shutterstock

Photo credit: Raywoo, Shutterstock

You’ve got an interview—congratulations! Your potential employer has weeded through a stack of resumes and pulled out yours. They’ve already committed time and energy to you and are hoping you’ll make a good fit. In other words, the employer is on your side and wants you to succeed in your interview.

So you’re starting from a good place. Now consider how these five tips can help you make a smashing presentation and bolster your odds of landing the job.

Articulate how you’ll meet the employer’s needs

  • Refresh your research about the organization and review the description of the job you’re interviewing for. Be super clear on what the organization does and how they do it, and exactly what they’re looking for in their new hire. Look at each of the qualifications and duties described, and identify an example from your own experience to address it. Practice relating these anecdotes out loud, either in the mirror or with friends, so you get comfortable with them. But don’t worry about memorizing everything—it’s perfectly okay to hand-write or type up notes and bring them to your interview for reference.
  • Another good way to prepare talking points that will ensure you sound relevant is to ask yourself, “What are the clear connections between this job and my skills?” These are your major selling points. Then ask, “What are the differences between this job’s requirements and my skills?” Very few candidates interview with a hundred percent of the qualifications desired, and that’s okay. Just make sure you’ve thought about the gaps and are prepared to address them.
  • Lastly, think of the interview as an expansion of your cover letter and resume—you’ll have more time and room here to elaborate on the bullet points in those documents, and to show the employer some of your personality traits that may not have translated well to paper. Remember that “fit” is a matter of getting along personally, as well as having the right skills.

Throughout your preparations, your main focus should be on articulating the contributions you could make to this employer. If you can convince them you’ll add value to their organization, you’ll have aced the interview.

Get ready for Q & A

  • In addition to the specific talking points you will have prepared about your suitability for this job, get ready to answer more general getting-to-know-you questions, too. Some common ones:
  • “Tell me about yourself.” This is when you want your elevator pitch (a thirty-second to one-minute summary of your professional background and goals)!
  • “Why are you interested in this organization/position?”
  • “What are your long-term career plans?”
  • “Why did you leave your last job?” / “Why are you leaving your current job?”
  • “What are your strengths?” (Answer as though they asked, “What strengths of yours would most benefit this organization/position?”)
  • “What are your weaknesses?” (Frame this answer in terms of challenges you faced in the past and what you did to overcome them.)
  • Also keep in mind that an interview is a two-way street: it’s your chance to learn more about and evaluate the employer as well as their chance to vet you. Plus, you want to convey your interest and appear proactive. Consider asking questions like the ones below—either when they ask if you have any questions, or interspersed between what they ask you.
  • What are the initial short- and long-term projects for this position?
  • Can you tell me about the history of this position?
  • How is performance measured here?
  • What are the main challenges this organization faces? What are its strongest assets?
  • How would you describe the organizational culture here?
  • What’s the hiring process? / When do you expect to make a decision?

As much as possible, try to tie the answers you get to these questions back to the value you can bring to the employer. For example, if one of the long-term projects they mention is an overhaul of the organization’s website, and you have web design, copywriting, or analytics skills, make a point of describing your experience and how it could help the project.

A note about salary discussions: While we’ve written about how to research and negotiate your salary, this is a tricky topic in the interview process. Ideally, employers list their salary range in the job advertisement, but the topic might also come up in the first interview, or you might even have been asked to include your salary requirement or history in your cover letter. In short, it’s not always easy, possible, or desirable to defer the conversation; sometimes you’ll just have to talk salary early on. Alison Green at Ask a Manager has some great advice on how to handle salary-related questions in the interview process.

Pack your interview “go bag”

  • Tissues
  • Copies of your resume and work samples
  • Breath mints (not gum)
  • Bottle of water
  • Complete directions: street address, parking or public transit information, suite or office number, floor number, and the name and phone number of a contact at the employer
  • Phone (on silent!)
  • Your notes (talking points, anecdotes, questions)
  • Blank paper and pen to take notes

Basic interview dos and don’ts

Do:

  • Arrive just a few minutes early
  • Smile, make eye contact, and be nice to everyone in the office (ie: the security guard in the lobby and receptionist at the front desk, not just the hiring team)
  • Stand up straight and give good handshakes
  • Remember the names of the hiring team; jotting them down during the interview is the safest bet
  • Ask for clarification if you don’t understand a question
  • Ask whether you answered a question sufficiently if you’re unsure
  • Pause if you need time to think
  • Send a thank-you note or email within a day to everyone you interviewed with. Express your appreciation for the interview, remind the employer why you’re a great candidate using specific examples (especially anything new that came up in the interview), reiterate your enthusiasm, and say you’ll look forward to hearing from them.

Don’t:

  • Assume the hiring team remembers your resume
  • Indulge in nervous ticks like pen-clicking or foot-tapping
  • Be insincere—this is your chance to show the employer your most authentic professional self
  • Beg for the job, or give reasons why you “need” it
  • Wear strong scents or loads of jewelry
  • Dress or act too casually
  • Look at your phone, or your watch

Have additional tips to share? Include them in the comments below!

About April Greene

April Greene was an editor at Idealist.org.

4 Comments

  1. Mary Coogan

    Don’t be rude and start asking questions about what the salary is before going through the whole interview process. I couldn’t believe how many people I interviewed (for a tutoring position) jumped right in with how much they would be making before I could even find out if they were qualified.

  2. I agree with Mary Coogan. The compensation is the last thing to be discussed.

    There is a bunch of tricky behavioral questions to navigate first. If you get through those,
    interviewers like to ask you how much you want/ need /expect. Don’t respond to that.

    Instead ask what is the range they are permitted to offer to fill the position. (there is always a range). Naturally, you, then, expect the high end of the range.

    Dave

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