After countless hours of scouring through job listings, filling out application forms, and mailing out cover letters and resumes, you finally get the call: You have a job interview. The hard part is over, right? Not quite.
Have you ever felt that you had a great interview but still didn’t get the job? Just because you hit it off with the interviewer doesn’t mean you convinced him or her that you’re the best candidate. Having a charismatic attitude and engaging in polite conversation is a great start, but there are a number of skills and techniques that you must employ to make a truly great impression.
By adding a few key skills to your repertoire, you’ll be more likely to ace interview questions and secure a great compensation package for the job you want.
How to Have a Successful Job Interview
1. Do Your Homework
Before the interview, make sure you know everything you can about the job, the company, and the people for whom you’ll potentially be working. Go to the company’s website and check out the “about” page and any other area of the site that talks about the company, its mission statement, current projects, and the leaders. Call the human resources department to learn more about the job and the people for whom you would be working. However, be prepared to encounter a dead-end in this regard, as some human resource departments won’t take inquiry calls.
During the interview, most interviewers will invite you to ask questions. Be sure to have at least one intelligent question that shows you know what the company does and how this job fits into the grand scheme of the company’s current projects and future plans. For example, you could ask for more clarification on a job requirement mentioned in the job listing or discussed earlier in the interview. Just avoid asking about salary and benefits – it’s too early in the game for that discussion.
2. Dress the Part
Everything about your appearance should send the message that you will fit right in with the company. Call someone in human resources or check out the company website to learn what you can about the culture and dress code. You’ll want to dress just a bit more businesslike for the interview. Experts suggest that a man always wear a suit and tie, while women should wear a dress, skirt, and blouse, or a tasteful pantsuit. It should go without saying that your clothes must be clean, pressed, and free from stains, rips, and tears.
3. Stock Up
Before you leave for your interview, make sure that you have everything you’ll need to help ensure a successful meeting. Things to take along include:
- A map or directions to the interview location
- Phone number for the interview location
- A full gas tank or enough money to take public transit
- The name of the company and person you’ll interview with
- A pen and paper for taking notes during the interview
- Copies of your resume enclosed in a folder for protection
- A list of questions to ask the interviewer
- Samples of your work
- A copy of the job description to remind you of the key points
4. Be Prepared for Job-Specific Questions
To a large extent, interview questions are predictable. However, you should not take anything for granted – it pays to do your research and prepare yourself. Use the Internet to learn what interview questions typically are asked, and then prepare your own answers that are tailored for the particular job and company that you’re interviewing with. No one likes a “canned” response.
Your answers should be job-related, not personal. So when the interviewer says, “Tell me about yourself,” he doesn’t want your life story. He wants to know how your job experience, extracurricular activities, and education make you an ideal candidate.
Another question often asked is one along the lines of, “Where do you want to be five years from now?” Make sure that your answer relates directly with the job you’re interviewing for. For example, if you’re interviewing for a job as a stock analyst and you say that in five years you want to have published your first novel, then that says you’re not really jazzed about the job.
Practice interviewing with a friend at home, focusing on being relaxed and making eye contact. Use a mirror or camera so that you can see how you look under pressure. Body language is important, so avoid fidgeting, twirling your hair, and other nervous habits.
5. Get Your Timing Right
Try to schedule your interview for mid-morning or mid-afternoon on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Look for that sweet spot that avoids the early morning rush, the late afternoon drag, and the pre- and post-lunch slots that can conflict with other plans.
6. Be Early
Plan to arrive about 30 minutes prior to your interview appointment. This will give you time to deal with possible traffic hassles and any other roadblocks. When you arrive at the interview location, don’t go inside right away. Instead, use the time to check your hair, makeup, and wardrobe, pop a breath mint, and give yourself a pep talk. Report for your interview 5 to 10 minutes early – any earlier than that and you could look desperate.
7. Make Your Case
Be sure to use the interview as your chance to explain why you want this job at this company, and the job skills you possess that makes you the ideal choice. You have to convince the interviewer that you are genuinely excited about what this job can do for you, and what you can do for the company.
8. Be Decisive
When recruiters are ready to hire a candidate, they need someone to start right away. The difference between the candidate who gets hired and the one who remains unemployed often comes down to who acts quickest in accepting the job offer. Be sure to return all phone calls and emails the same day so that the hiring process can move ahead as quickly as possible.
9. Close the Deal
Maintain your enthusiasm throughout the interview. At the end, ask if there are any other questions that you can answer, and be sure to ask about the next step in the hiring process. Thank the interviewer and give a warm, firm handshake. To ensure that you’ll be remembered, follow up with a handwritten thank you note. Make sure that you get the business card of the interviewer so you’ll know where to send the note.
There are many factors that affect the choice of a new hire, and even a stellar interview won’t guarantee you the job. Getting your foot in the door for a job interview is just the beginning. Planning, preparation, practice, and attention to detail will pay off for you by ensuring that you leave a positive and lasting impression.
What have your job interview experiences been like? Do you have any other strategies that have been particularly successful for you?