Sharon Hulce is the president and CEO of Employment Resource Group, and has nearly two decades of experience as an executive recruiter. She has been honored with numerous awards, including Women in Management’s Manager of the Year for 2006 and the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce’s Athena Award in 2005.
Dana Manciagli is a nationally-syndicated Business Journal columnist and provides speaking, coaching and expert career advice on a global scale. Leveraging her 30-plus years as a corporate executive and hiring manager, she has been featured in Forbes, The Fiscal Times and on NPR, and is the author of “Cut the Crap, Network for Success!”
Stephanie Kinkaid is a job outlook expert, published career journalist and assistant director of the Wackerle Career and Leadership Program at Monmouth College. She has counseled hundreds of students during her tenure as a career counselor, and has written for a number of career publications including Yahoo! And CareerBuilder.
Job hunting can be a nerve-wracking experience, from painstakingly recording every qualification to drafting the perfect cover letter. But even more challenging is the interview itself. The piercing eyes of a stranger asking questions about salary and past job mistakes is enough to make even the most hardened job-seeker nervous. When armed with the right information, though, interviewees can relax and focus on what’s really important: selling a professional image and highlighting relevant experience. From before to during and after the interview, this guide brings practical tips from human resource managers and recruiters that can give job seekers an edge over the competition.
Hiring managers want to hire employees who are truly interested in their organization and the position. Company knowledge shows a potential employer that you will go the extra mile as an employee and are genuinely interested in working for them.
Read as much information about the organization as you can before the interview. Visit the company’s website and prepare some questions about the organization to ask during the interview. Research competitors, the position and the industry as a whole to show the potential employer you are serious about joining their team.
Professional interviewers admit that they favor the first item in a sequence and are more likely to hire someone they meet early in the day.
Casual attire suggests a casual attitude about the job. Even if the office dress is casual, dress in business attire for an interview.
Wear office-appropriate clothing to an interview. Men should wear a suit or slacks, a dress shirt and a coat or tie. Women should wear a suit or dress slacks or a skirt and a professional blouse. Showing a lot of skin is unprofessional for a woman or man.
When choosing between two candidates with the same qualifications, 65 percent of employers say they may make their decision based on what the interviewees wore.
It sounds simple, but smiling will set the mood for the interview. Smiling increases likability and shows a positive, confident energy. Hiring managers tend to favor candidates that are positive and engaging.
Be friendly and professional. Smile often where appropriate during the interview. Smiling is most important during the initial greeting.
Personal space is important in our culture, and violating it makes an interviewer feel uncomfortable. An interviewer will remember feeling uncomfortable in your presence if their personal space is violated.
Stand at least four to five feet away from the interviewer. Do not get close to the hiring manager’s desk and definitely do not touch anything on it.
Employers decide if they will hire a candidate within the first 90 seconds of the interview.
Arriving early tells the hiring manager you’re serious about your work. If you can’t make it to your interview on time, it shows a potential employer that you are not reliable.
Leave for the interview early and plan for weather and traffic to make absolutely sure you arrive on time.
Mistreatment of the interviewer’s support staff will get back to the hiring manager. Upon arrival at the office, treat everyone present with equal respect.
Be as courteous with support staff as you are with your interviewer.
Twenty-three percent of employers will pass on a candidate they believe will not fit into their company culture.
“There is nothing wrong with having a notebook full of notes; the person interviewing will think you’ve done your homework,” said Sharon Hulce, President and CEO of Employment Resource Group.
Write down answers to some common interview questions, like “what are you good at and passionate about?” and “what are your weaknesses?” Reference these written answers if your mind goes blank during the interview.
Too much makeup, cologne, jewelry or flamboyant colors can turn off an interviewer or be distracting. The goal is to look professional and confident, not over-the-top.
Stick to a neutral color pallet and tone down smells and accessories.
A firm handshake shows the interviewer that you are confident, enthusiastic and positive. A handshake is the beginning of a successful interview since many interviewers decide whether they will hire someone within the first 90 seconds of an interview.
Offer a firm handshake, but avoid aggression. Practice the handshake on a few people before your interview to find the perfect handshake.
What you think about your interview chances can significantly influence your chances of doing well in the interview. If you feel defeated by the job hunt process, it will decrease your chances of doing well in an interview.
Visualize acing the interview and imagine that you landed the position. This will make you feel more positive about the interview and those feelings will show during your conversation.
“Tell me about yourself” is the most common question asked during job interviews.
You want to sell yourself during the job interview, but you do not want to come across as arrogant. Employers want employees who are confident in their abilities, but not someone who is arrogant and refuses to learn.
Discuss why you would make a great employee, but do not brag or blame others. Temper confidence with humility.
“You are not trying to make a best friend, nor share how much you know about a news-related topic,” said Dana Manciagli, author of Cut the Crap, Get a Job. “You are there to share how you are the best fit for the position they have described to you in the form of a job description or prior meeting. Do not let your guard down, even if they are friendly and casual in nature.”
Do not discuss your personal life. Avoid talking about hot-button topics like religion and politics.
For every job opening, there are an average of 118 applicants. Only 20 percent of them are called for an interview.
The way you carry yourself is just as important as what you say during an interview. Hiring managers pay close attention to nonverbal communication. In fact, 33 percent of employers have passed over on a candidate because of bad eye contact and 22 percent made their decision based on bad posture.
Be as engaged as possible during the interview. Sit up straight and do not fidget. Look your interviewer in the eye, but don’t engage in staring contests, which could be seen as a challenge to authority.
Nerves are common in interviews, but fidgeting can significantly hurt your chances of getting a job. Twenty six percent of hiring managers report they will pass on someone who fidgets during their interview.
Channel nervous energy into an engaging and enthusiastic persona by moving in purposeful ways. Rather than fidgeting, focus on illustrating interview points with hand gestures and positive facial expressions.
Lying about your education or job history may seem like a good way to impress an interviewer, but if you get hired based on those lies, it will ruin your reputation and may even cost you your job. It is too easy for companies to verify information to risk lying before or during an interview.
Accentuate strengths, but do not make things up.
“It is human nature to begin formulating an answer even before the speaker has finished. Avoid this temptation,” said Stephanie Kinkaid, Assistant Director of the Wackerle Career and Leadership Program at Monmouth College. “Actively listen to the interviewer so you can answer completely. If you do not know the answer, be honest. Interviewers would rather have an honest answer than have one that is fabricated.”
Think about how you will answer common interview questions before the interview, including background information and verbal tests about potential situations that may arise on the job (e.g., “tell me about a time you disagreed with your supervisor” or “what would you do if a team member was not pulling their weight?”). This will make it easier to provide thoughtful answers to interview questions that showcase your talents.
The average job interview lasts 40 minutes.
Remain pleasant and positive during an interview. Saying negative things about former employers will make you look bad and do not result in a pleasant interview. A job interview is not the time to air past grievances.
If you are asked about why you left your last job, put a positive spin on it and say as little as possible. Try to highlight what you learned from the experience and how you will do things differently in your next job.
Although it is illegal to ask questions about marital status, religion, disabilities, children and ethnicity during a job interview, 20 percent of hiring managers admit to posing these questions because they didn’t realize it was against the law.
“Highlighting what you have done in the past will prove you will be an asset and are successful. Apply past successes to the criteria listed about the job,” said Tony Beshara, Creator of The Job Search Solution and president of placement and recruitment firm Babich & Associates.
Collect some anecdotes of past workplace accomplishments and think about how they relate to the new position. Incorporate past successes into your interview answers provide potential employers with concrete examples of your success.
“As a person in charge of hiring, it gets old hearing that you are a perfectionist or that you volunteer for too many opportunities,” said Jesse Wright, Vice President of Recruiting and Delivery at Adecco Engineering and Technology. “Those qualities are actually strengths and do not fool the interviewer.”
“Instead, admit a technical weakness or true personal weakness that you are working to improve that is not critical to the job description,” Wright added. “It is a bonus if you can also show a way in which you’ve already grown or steps you’ve already taken to begin overcoming this weakness. For example ‘I have basic Adobe InDesign skills, but I am working to advance those skills by taking training classes.'”
In most interviews, the interviewer wants to see excitement about the position. If you do not speak with enthusiasm about the potential job, the employer may think you don’t care about the position and give the job to someone else.
Show your enthusiasm during the interview and speak with confidence about your past experiences that qualify you for the new position. Do your best to keep your energy high.
Many interviewees use verbal pauses, such as “ums” and “ahs” while thinking. This can give a bad impression, as it imparts that you may not know what you’re talking about.
Slow down and watch your words. If you need to collect your thoughts, take a silent pause or even repeat the interviewer’s question.
The words “always” and “never” should be avoided during job interviews because hiring managers associate them with low-performing employees.
Bring notes about the company and position to an interview. During the interview, actively take notes. This will show that you are interested in the job and help you remember important questions to ask during any subsequent interviews you may have.
Bring several pens with you to the interview in case the original pen runs out of ink.
“An interview is your opportunity to make an impression and ultimately sell yourself,” said John Fleischauer, Senior Talent Attraction Manager at Halogen Software. “Focus on the value you can bring to the organization – not how much vacation time you get.”
When you ask questions, focus on the company and the position, not on benefits. If the interviewer brings up salary or benefits, you can discuss them, but do not bring up the topic.
A ringing phone, or worse, an interviewee who answers their phone during an interview, is the last thing a potential employer wants to see.
Turn off all mobile devices before an interview.
The average response time after the conclusion of a job interview is 24 hours to two weeks.
Asking questions not only shows the hiring manager that you are interesting in the position, but it also helps clarify whether a job is right for you.
Think about what you want in a job and where you want your career to go. Ask questions to clarify how the job will help you reach your future career goals.
Thank you notes are considered a common courtesy, and following up after an interview reiterates your interest in the job. Following up may set you apart from other candidates.
Email a note to the interviewer expressing appreciation for the meeting. Mention continued interest in the job. A handwritten note is even more effective.
Resources for Practice Questions
Much like studying for a big test, practicing prior to a big interview can mean the difference between success and failure. This comprehensive list of mock interviews, practice questions and best answers to tough questions (like the dreaded “what is your biggest weakness?”) can help you head into each interview ready to hit it out of the ballpark.
It’s not surprising to find common questions among articles on prepping for an interview. They include requests to discuss strengths, weaknesses, why the applicant wants the job and why they want to work that that company in particular. Learn how to answer these gracefully.
Olympic gold medalist Nikki Stone recommends job seekers practice interviews to get comfortable no matter the number of questions or duration of the interview. She includes practice suggestions for role playing, impromptu responses and delivery.
Newly-minted college graduates may face different questions at an interview for an entry-level job than do experienced professionals in the same field. Get ready to handle questions about applying college learning in the real-world workplace.
Job candidates can expect interviewers to serve up questions covering basic background and job interests, questions that assess the candidate’s career development, behavioral and social patterns in the workplace and a few unexpected brainteasers. Monster writer Thad Peterson poses 100 questions and strategies for answering them without raising red flags.
Glassdoor rounded up the most common questions by reviewing thousands of past interview. Common questions revolve around a candidate’s motivation, career objectives, educational background, how they handle disagreements and their greatest successes – and failures. There’s a section on “oddball” questions employers have asked, including asking interviewees to name their favorite Disney princess.
Job applicants can take the fear out of interview practice by making it a game among friends. Learn how to lighten up the experience while mastering the best possible answers to tough questions.
Applicants should expect to be asked about their skill knowledge, how their experience is a good fit for the job opening and their accomplishments. Before the interview, job aspirants would do well to reflect on previous interview performance and practice responding the more-commonly asked questions posed here.
Job seekers should participate in a mock interview and videotape their responses, body language and overall presentation. Campus career centers are a good place for upcoming grads to suit up and practice. It’s a solid way to detect false-sounding responses or poorly thought out examples.
Career consultants offer one avenue to taping mock interviews. Even family members and friends can ask questions and aspirants can work off flash cards to review their responses as they try out their interview apparel and newly learned body language techniques.
Employers expect to field questions, too. Ladders writer Scott Ginsberg shows applicants how to ask questions about the role and organization that stump interviewers. Questions about company culture, why the opening has occurred, or about any possible shortcomings in their skill sets that might stand in the way of the job are all fair game.