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Your resume and cover letter have wowed the hiring panel, and you've landed an interview for your dream job. What you do next can make or break your chances of landing what you hope will be the next step in your career. Just showing up and winging it probably won't win you the job. Careful preparation is crucial.
Reviewing hiring websites, blogs and even job interview tips podcasts can help you get an overview of how to make the best of the time you have with those who will decide if they want to hire you. Here are 10 job interview tips and tricks that will help make you stand head and shoulders above the competition.
1. Investigate the Company
This is one of the most obvious job preparation tips, but hiring managers are often surprised to find interviewees know next to nothing about the organization they hope to work for.
A wealth of information is available online. Your first stop is to check out the company’s website. But go beyond that to look at industry trends and competition. Look at online reviews of the company itself and ones by current and former employees.
This background information will arm you to not just understand the company itself but the context in which it does its work. If there are customers with a common complaint, you can shape your answers to address how your skills can help solve problems in that area, for example.
2. Sleuth Out the Hiring Panel
This step is admittedly a little trickier, but preparing for whom you will be speaking with can make you look like you’ve done your homework. It can also help by allowing you to research a bit more about individual employees and prepare potential responses based on their roles.
You likely already have the name of human resources or the talent management director if one contacted you. It can’t hurt to do an online search to see a little about their background, such as how long they’ve been with the company.
The trickier part is finding out who else will be on the hiring panel. The human resources director may share this with you. If not, take a look through the company directory on its website and see who has supervisory roles on your potential team or division. If, say, the position you are hiring for is marketing manager, look for the senior marketing manager and the director of marketing.
Once you’ve obtained names, take a look for them on LinkedIn and other sites, such as Facebook. Check out how long they’ve been at the company and if their titles and roles have changed over time. Where did they go to school? Are you linked with anyone in common? If you find commonalities, you can drop them into the interview, perhaps making yourself stand out if you, say, went to the same college.
3. Understand the Job Description
Another job interview tip is to know what they're looking for. First, take a look at the job title. Is it similar to what you already do? Does it suggest a stretch in responsibility from what you already do? This is the first step in being able to relate your current work and experience to the job for which you’re interviewing.
Then review the job responsibilities. Think about how many you have already done in your current or previous jobs. Then you can begin to build a narrative about how your experience dovetails with the duties of the job you hope to get.
Then check to see if there are elements of the job description that you haven’t done previously. Is it that you have the skills but just haven’t had a job that requires those responsibilities? Or are there pieces of the job that might be beyond your skill set? If an interviewer asks if you know a particular computer program listed in the job description, for instance, and it’s not something with which you’re familiar, be honest. But be proactive and say that you would welcome the chance to add expertise in that area.
4. Ace the Easy Questions
Most interviews are going to have some fairly easy, predictable questions. One of the most common isn't even a question, per se, just “Tell us about yourself.” Now’s the time to highlight your career accomplishments, education and skills. It’s not the time to talk about your hobbies, your family or your pets, no matter how lovable, however.
It might be helpful to practice your answer in front of a mirror or take a video of yourself to get an idea of how you’re coming across. You could ask a friend to help do a mock interview to get in some practice so you don't trip over the answers you want to give.
Another question is, “Why do you want to work here?” Here’s where your preparation comes in. You’ve researched the company and reviewed the job description. Talk about what appeals to you about the organization. Maybe it raises funds to help kids with cancer. Maybe it does cutting-edge app development. Be enthusiastic about why the company is meaningful to you and how your experience can help drive the company’s mission forward.
Also be prepared to answer such questions as:
- Why should we hire you?
- Why did you choose the major you had in college?
- What are your strengths?
- What are your weaknesses?
5. Prepare for Curveballs
Then there are the questions that might make you freeze up, stutter a half-baked answer and shatter your confidence during the rest of the interview.
One common difficult question is, “Why do you have gaps in your resume?” Maybe you had to take an extended leave to deal with an illness or you took time out of the workforce to raise your kids. You might have been laid off. Focus on what you learned during your time away from work. Are there positives?
If you took time to care for your children, you might say that not only was having time with them invaluable, but they also helped teach you new ways to look at time management and creative problem-solving. If you were laid off, let the hiring committee know what productive ways you used your time, such as learning a new skill or picking up a freelance client.
Here are some other difficult questions you might get asked:
- What do you dislike most about your current job?
- What would your boss say is your biggest flaw?
- What is your biggest regret and why?
- What are you currently reading?
- If you could choose one superhero power, what would it be and why?
6. Have an Arsenal of Questions to Ask
While a bulk of an interview is spent asking candidates questions, toward the end most interviewers will ask you if you have any questions. Your worst answer here is “no.” Even if the hiring panel or HR has given you an exhaustive view of the company and the job, having a few questions prepared will help let them know you’ve done your homework and you have a sense of curiosity. If the company has had a particularly good year, you can ask what factors led to its success. You can ask what success looks like in the position you’re interviewing for and how they measure it.
Now’s the time to get a little more info on what working there is like. Ask what a typical day might be like in the position you’re applying for. But remember you want to leave a positive impression, so now isn’t the time to press too much on how much overtime might be required, how soon you can take a vacation, etc. Save those questions for after you get an offer so you can evaluate to make sure the job is the right fit for you.
7. Bring Samples of Your Work
You already sent a resume, but it’s always good to bring extra copies, especially if the one you sent was optimized for machine scanning and has little formatting. If you also have another version that’s a little more visually appealing, print a few of those.
If the job will involve much writing, bring a few printouts of articles, whitepapers or blog posts you’ve written. Did you shepherd the process for a new logo or website design? Bring samples of those, and don’t assume members of the hiring committee have clicked on links you included in your application.
8. Dress for Success
While business casual is the norm for many office places, it’s still best to dress a bit more formally. In most instances, a suit or at least a suit jacket with unmatched pants or a skirt are appropriate. Take a look at staff photos on the company's website to see how they are dressed. Even if everyone wears jeans, it's important to take your interview attire up a notch.
And don’t wait until the last minute to figure out what you’ll be wearing. Inevitably, that means there will be a forgotten spot on the lapel or an unraveling hem that you don’t have time to fix as you’re rushing to the interview.
9. Map Out the Commute
One of the worst things that could happen after all your preparation is transportation plans that go awry. First, make sure you know exactly where you’re going. If you have time, drive or walk by. Check it out on Google Street View. Does the business have more than one office?
Is there parking, or will you take public transportation? What if the subway has a substantial delay? Take a look at the weather forecast for the day of your interview. Is there a chance of snow or rain? If so, definitely build in extra time for the commute. Plan several ways to get to the interview in case your best-laid plans go awry.
Scope out nearby coffee shops or other places you can wait if you arrive early. You can use the bathroom there to comb your hair and make any last-minute appearance adjustments.
10. Arrive Early, But Not Too Early
Once you’ve dodged traffic and raindrops and made it to the interview location, check the time. Ideally, arrive about 10 to 15 minutes ahead of the appointed time. If you get there any earlier, you may look like you’re a poor planner or be an annoyance because staff may not know what to do with you until your scheduled interview time. Use the few minutes you have to spare to be polite to the staff member who greets you, sit back, take a few deep breaths and mentally practice a few of the most important points you want to make during the interview to ensure you shine.
- Jobscan: Top 10 Podcasts for Job Seekers to Listen to in 2019
- The Muse:The Ultimate Interview Guide: 30 Prep Tips for Job Interview Success
- Careerbuilder: What to wear for different job interviews based on the company
- Monster: 100 top job interview questions—be prepared for the interview
- The Ladders: 9 of the most difficult interview questions – and how to answer them
Barbara Ruben has written about careers for WorkingMother.com and chorn.com, as well as job and career articles for the Beacon Newspapers, a group of four newspapers for older adults.