How to Nail Your Next Interview

Dos, Don’ts and Expert Advice to Help You Land the Job

Meet the Experts

Sharon Hulce

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

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

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.

Getting Started

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.

Before the Interview

Do your
homework

Why

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.

How

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.

fact

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.

Don’t
dress casually

Why

Casual attire suggests a casual attitude about the job. Even if the office dress is casual, dress in business attire for an interview.

How

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.

fact

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.

Do smile

Why

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.

How

Be friendly and professional. Smile often where appropriate during the interview. Smiling is most important during the initial greeting.

Don’t violate the interviewer’s personal space

Why

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.

How

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.

fact

Employers decide if they will hire a candidate within the first 90 seconds of the interview.

Do arrive to the interview early

Why

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.

How

Leave for the interview early and plan for weather and traffic to make absolutely sure you arrive on time.

Don’t mistreat the support staff

Why

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.

How

Be as courteous with support staff as you are with your interviewer.

fact

Twenty-three percent of employers will pass on a candidate they believe will not fit into their company culture.

Do bring notes along to calm nerves

Why

“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.

How

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.

Don’t stand out for the wrong reasons

Why

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.

How

Stick to a neutral color pallet and tone down smells and accessories.

Do offer a firm handshake

Why

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.

How

Offer a firm handshake, but avoid aggression. Practice the handshake on a few people before your interview to find the perfect handshake.

Do visualize a successful interview

Why

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.

How

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.

Additional Resources
  • 10 Dos and Don’ts for Dressing for a Job Interview Get the scoop on making the right impression from Marla Tomazin, a New York City image consultant. Clothes should not be a distraction during a job interview, she says, but you don’t have to wear black. Learn how to dress for your job level.
  • Dressing Appropriately for Interviews. Writers at Monster say you cannot fail by overdressing for the interview – within limits, of course. Learn the company culture before showing up in a disqualifying costume. This article contains advice on apparel for women, exactly what employers mean by “business casual” dress, and how to dress on a budget.
  • Grooming Tips for Everyone. Student employment advisers at VA Tech bring sage advice on dressing, from accessories, skirt lengths and conservative colors to how to dress for employers with a more casual dress environment.
  • How to Dress for an Interview for Teens. Teens often make the mistake in thinking that the working world dresses much the same as does the school or social worlds in which they live. Employers – even casual work environments where teens typically find summer jobs – expect candidates to show up well groomed. Doing an interview on Skype? The Chronicle has it covered.
  • How to Dress for Your Next Job Interview. Forbes brings a slideshow presentation chock full of good advice for those looking to prepare their interview attire. From head to heels, find tips and tricks on looking your best at your interview.
  • How to Tie a Tie. An invaluable resource for all the men out there (and for women who dress like Annie Hall). Sad to say, a poorly done tie can tell the employer all they need to know about the candidate. About.com recommends The Pratt Knot, an easy standard, and offers directions on tying it correctly.
  • Internal Job Candidates. Even if the company culture where people work is casual, candidates for internal job transfers or advancement opportunities still need to dress for the interview. HR Nasty recommends stepping up one level in formality from the current dress code. Dressing nicely shows the hiring manager a sign of respect for the company and the personnel process.
  • Interview Outfit Advice from Fashion Bosses. Heavy-hitters in the fashion industry, who are also in charge of hiring for their companies, give their advice on putting together a chic interview ensemble for women.
  • Men’s Style Advice for Job Interviews. From suit choice to accessories to personal grooming, learn to dress for success with these top styling tips for men’s interview-wear.
  • Suiting Up for Success: Job Interview Attire for Men. Etiquette expert Diane Gottsman shares tips on creating a powerful first impression and tells men that cutting corners on interview attire is a serious mistake. Above all, she advises, leave the dock shoes, strong cologne, sports watch, bow tie and suspenders at home. Take the sunglasses off your head and cover those tattoos!
  • Summer Interview Outfits. Abundant and detailed photos show women job candidates how to dress for summer weather without compromising on professional appearance. Find a breakdown on the best women’s attire for the type of job you’re seeking.
  • What to Wear to a Job Interview. For men, colors, accessories and a haircut say a lot to interviewers. Blue is the color of choice in interview suit, while a dash of red somewhere in your dress combination suggests power, according to the magazine.
  • What to Wear to a Job Interview. Vogue has workplace fashion figured out. Teens seeking work will find advice on everything from styles and colors to accessories, along with an informative slide show from Vogue’s fashion bloggers.

During the Interview

fact

“Tell me about yourself” is the most common question asked during job interviews.

Do be confident, but not cocky

Why

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.

How

Discuss why you would make a great employee, but do not brag or blame others. Temper confidence with humility.

Don’t get personal

Why

“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.”

How

Do not discuss your personal life. Avoid talking about hot-button topics like religion and politics.

fact

For every job opening, there are an average of 118 applicants. Only 20 percent of them are called for an interview.

Do be mindful of your nonverbal signals

Why

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.

How

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.

Don’t fidget

Why

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.

How

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.

Don’t lie

Why

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.

How

Accentuate strengths, but do not make things up.

Do take your time answering questions

Why

“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.”

How

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.

fact

The average job interview lasts 40 minutes.

Don’t badmouth a former employer

Why

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.

How

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.

fact

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.

Do highlight your successes

Why

“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.

How

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.

Don’t make up phony weaknesses

Why

“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.”

How

“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.'”

Do speak with enthusiasm

Why

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.

How

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.

Don’t add filler phrases

Why

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.

How

Slow down and watch your words. If you need to collect your thoughts, take a silent pause or even repeat the interviewer’s question.

fact

The words “always” and “never” should be avoided during job interviews because hiring managers associate them with low-performing employees.

Do take notes

Why

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.

How

Bring several pens with you to the interview in case the original pen runs out of ink.

Don’t focus solely on you

Why

“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.”

How

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.

Don’t leave your phone on

Why

A ringing phone, or worse, an interviewee who answers their phone during an interview, is the last thing a potential employer wants to see.

How

Turn off all mobile devices before an interview.

Additional Resources
  • 10 Body language Interview Mistakes. Read this Forbes slideshow to learn – and avoid – top interview mistakes when it comes to your body language.
  • 13 Things Not to Do Before and During a Job Interview. Be rude to the receptionist, put your phone on vibrate, or complain about your ex: one misstep and job candidates find themselves on the fast track to the parking lot. Find out what NOT to do during an interview.
  • 4 Tips to Ace Your Next Phone Interview. A phone interview may seem both personal and casual – but it’s not. Discover ways to remain professional while simultaneously handling possible distractions, poor reception, or moments of silence.
  • 8 Subtle Ways to Ace the Interview. Hiring managers just don’t listen to a candidate’s answers; they listen to their questions, too. U.S. News Money recommends that candidates “be nice to everyone” they meet in the process, to make small talk, and that “there’s no excuse” for not asking at least one pertinent question.
  • 9 Simple Body Language Tips for Your Next Interview. Hang gestures, posture and how you enter a room all send silent signals to interviewers before you’ve even said a word. Make sure you’re sending the right signal with these tips.
  • 9 Tips to Manage your Body Language at Interviews. How long should a job candidate hold eye contact with other interview participants? PayScale encourages candidates to make contact but never stare. The solution is to employ “non-creepy” eye contact along with a smile. Learn more tips at the site.
  • Ace the Interview. Monster devotes an entire section of its web presence to helping applicants tackle the toughest and most critical points in interviewing, from preparation beforehand to handling the hard questions and interview dress. A wide range of articles discuss questions to ask the employer, as well as provide advice on the interview questions common to each major career field.
  • Birchbox co-CEO: How to nail a job interview. Co-CEO Katia Beauchamp prefers job candidates “who are positive, have a clear vision, and can handle themselves well in challenging situations.” Read how C-level managers look at job applicants.
  • Body Language Speaks Volumes on a Job Interview. Detailed, close-up photographs on this professional search and recruitment site were posed by actors to illustrate body language and tics that shout “no way” to interviewers. Learn the most-useful techniques for establishing body distance, the use of props, positioning the legs and feet, and what to do with your hands.
  • Body Language That Gets the Job. This expert video not only tells but shows the type of body language to emulate, and what should be avoided, to ensure a successful interview.
  • Expert Advice: 9 Tips to Nail an In-Person Interview. Job candidates shouldn’t panic during uncomfortable silences during a job interview. Instead, Nerdwallet says, turn nervous energy into a powerful asset. Learn how, plus tips on when to speak up, and when to shut up.
  • Interview Body Language Gaffes That Can Cost You the Job. Forbes author Jacquelyn Smith offers tips on using positive body language; from the strength of the initial handshake to positioning yourself with the right symmetry to avoid looking like a “crooked” applicant.
  • List of Weaknesses. All candidates have weaknesses. Employers expect applicants to discuss them during an interview to learn more about the candidate’s self-appraisal and attitude toward improvement. Weaknesses have names and this list provides examples to look for in responding to interview questions.

after the Interview

fact

The average response time after the conclusion of a job interview is 24 hours to two weeks.

Do ask questions about the position

Why

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.

How

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.

Don’t forget to follow up

Why

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.

How

Email a note to the interviewer expressing appreciation for the meeting. Mention continued interest in the job. A handwritten note is even more effective.

Additional Resources
  • 10 Things to Do After a Job Interview. A bulletproof way to fail is to stalk people after the interview. Author Shailynn Krow offers tips on how to retain focus, communicate desire and demonstrate professionalism (and patience) while playing the waiting game.
  • 4 Non-Annoying Ways to Follow Up After an Interview. Master the art of professionally – and briefly – following up with a potential employer to ensure you stay in their minds, for the right reasons.
  • 5 Expert Tips for Following Up After a Job Interview. The post-interview silence can be deafening. HR professionals don’t enjoy being bombarded with responses, but there are business-appropriate ways for an applicant to determine if they remain in the running.
  • 5 things you MUST do after a job interview. CIO writer Sara K. White advises job seekers to keep looking for work while awaiting company communications after the interview, and on thank-you note process. It’s time to alert references to possible calls and perform a thorough post-mortem on the recent interview.
  • 8 tips for giving thanks after an interview. Professional responses to HR personnel, hiring managers and staff can be personalized to create a tailored pitch, but still should be penned in a business tone. The Ladders outlines the key variables such as post-interview timing, company culture and reiterating interest in the opening.
  • After the Interview: 4 Ways to Follow Up. Pulling the plug on contact with the recruiting team after the interview indicates that you’re not interested in other positions or future openings either there, or with companies doing business with them. Monster shows the right way to rebound from the sting of rejection while maintaining good rapport with those who might help in the short- or long term.
  • How Not to Follow Up After a Job Interview. Avoid these common missteps and make sure you continue to make the right impression post-interview.
  • How to Follow Up After a Job Interview. Forbes recommends that post-interview candidates maintain appropriate contact and professional relationships with everyone, from the phone screener to the division head. Handwritten replies on tasteful blank cards can work well if each person in the process receives a unique message, and that same applies to email responses.
  • How to Follow Up After an Interview. Recruitment entrepreneur and Hamilton Bradshaw CEO James Caan breaks apart a strategic thank you note, paragraph-by-paragraph, explaining the purpose of “going the extra mile every single time” to follow up, and follow through.
  • Job Interview Thank You Letter Examples. About.com has compiled examples across the spectrum, listing note examples by type best suited to company culture, job title, employee title, and more. The list also contains examples for writing thank you notes despite rejection, requests for a second interview and other circumstances.
  • The Right Way to Say Thanks After An Interview. Those who fail to follow up after an interview have just cut down the pack of potential candidates. So says Fast Company and its guide to post-interview follow ups.
  • Writing a Great Post-Interview Thank You Note. Just because your interview has concluded doesn’t mean that your job as a potential employee is over. Sending a quick and professional “thank you” after the fact is an important step. Find out how.

Practice Makes Perfect

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.

10 Critical Interview Questions

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.

10 Practice Tips and Activities to Improve Your Interview Skills.

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.

10 Tough Interview Questions and 10 Great Answers.

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.

100 Potential Interview Questions.

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.

50 Most Common Interview Questions.

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.

Games & Activities to Help Prepare for an Interview

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.

How to Ace the 50 Most Common Interview 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.

Interview Practice Makes Perfect.

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.

Job Interview Practice: How to Rehearse for an Interview.

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.

Walk Out of Your Job Interview in a Blaze of Glory.

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.