Top 10 Tips for Acing your Job interview

A job interview is not a situation where you can “wing it”. Research, planning, and practice are all necessary for giving the best possible interview and wowing potential employers. With these top ten tips you will be well on your way to mastering the art of the interview.

For many job seekers, the most nerve-wracking part of the job search is the interview. While perusing job boards for your dream role and crafting the perfect resume can both be frustrating, neither activity subjects candidates to the paralyzing social pressure of a face-to-face interview.

With hard work and preparation, however, you can be ready for even the most judgemental interviewer. When you arrive at your interview with a confident posture, a sound understanding of the company and role, and compelling answers for every question you might be asked, you will impress employers with ease.

With these ten tips for acing your job interview, you will be on your way to landing your dream job in no time.

Research the role and the company

Never go to a job interview without having researched the company first. Before walking in the door you should know what services or products the company offers, how they are distinct from the competition, and who the CEO is. When worked into your interview, this kind of knowledge will stand out and show the interviewer that you are well-prepared and enthusiastic about this opportunity.

Your answers to interview questions will inevitably be better when you understand the position you are applying to. Just as customizing your resume to suit each role is an important part of a successful job search, tailoring your responses and talking points will improve your interview performance. With adequate research you will be able to use your answers to show how the experience you have is relevant to the position and demonstrate that you understand the problems the employer wants you to solve.

Beyond improving your interview, research will also help you to discern whether or not this company is a place you actually want to work. By researching the company’s values, reputation, and social media usage, you will begin to get a sense of their corporate culture. As Alison Doyle at The Balance asks, “Do you want to work at a place where people are “driven to excellence,” or does that make you feel tired? Do you like the idea of working with people who consider their coworkers family, or do you need more distance between your job and your personal life?” You can use this information to formulate questions for your interviewer. Biron Clark at Career Sidekick gives this example: “I saw on Facebook you recently had a company event. Can you tell me about what else the company does to facilitate team-building?”

In addition to your knowledge of the specific company, an ongoing interest in the industry as a whole can be a powerful asset. A candidate who can maintain an interesting conversation about industry trends and other business news will likely endear themselves to an interviewer. Employers are enthusiastic about their chosen work, and they want to hire people who are similarly enthusiastic. By keeping up-to-date with trends and thought-leaders in your field you can show that you would be an eager and diligent employee.

For some tips on researching the company, check out VisualCV’s blog post 5 Tools to Research Your Prospective Employer in Under 30 Minutes.

Prepare answers to common job interview questions

Once you have researched the role and feel confident in your knowledge of the company and industry, you should begin preparing answers to all likely interview questions. While you can’t know exactly what you are going to be asked in an interview, there are many common questions that you must be ready for.

Questions you will probably encounter in your job search include:

  • Tell me about yourself
  • What are your greatest strengths?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • Describe a time you dealt with a challenging situation
  • Why do you want this job?

There are many lists of common interview questions available online, including these lists from Forbes, Inc, and VisualCV.

Go through these lists and prepare answers to each question. Your answers should be concise and relevant. Tailor each response to the position you are interviewing for; the specific skills and experience that you highlight will depend on the job. If you are asked to describe a time you overcame a challenge, for example, it will help if you can think of a challenge that showcases industry-specific skills.

An effective strategy for answering questions successfully is the STAR method. The STAR method provides a way to structure your answers as engaging and succinct stories. If, in addition to proving that you are a strong candidate, your answer shows that you are an interesting person who can tell a good story, your interviewer will be all the more impressed. You don’t just want potential employers to think you are skilled, you want them to like you, too!

Using the STAR method, you form your answers using four parts: Situation, Task, Action, and Result:

  • Situation: Describe the problem or challenge
  • Task: Describe what needed to happen to overcome the challenge
  • Action: Describe the steps you took to complete the task
  • Result: Describe how the situation resolved

By framing your answers this way you can clearly describe your experiences, previous roles and responsibilities, and your skills in dealing with unexpected problems.

Ask the right questions during the interview

Job interviews aren’t solely for interviewers to get to know candidates, they are also for candidates to get to know interviewers. Use your job interview to ask any questions you have about the position. Your interviewer may well become your employer, and this is your opportunity to make sure that this organization is right for you. Your questions can be about specific job duties, company culture, company values, and more. A job interview is ultimately a conversation, and a genuine dialogue will create a warmer, more memorable interaction than rote, unidirectional questions and answers.

Until you actually begin working, the interview is your best opportunity to assess whether or not this job is right for you. David G. Jensen at Science magazine recommends asking detailed questions that will give you insight into the role you are applying for. He offers questions like “I would imagine it’s very important for the person in this role to work closely with other teams. Can you please share with me what internal teams I’d be interfacing with on a regular basis, and perhaps what their expectations are for this role?” The answer to this question will give you an idea of how this workplace approaches collaboration and communication. Alyse Kalish at The Muse recommends asking questions like “How Would You Describe Your Ideal Employee?” and “How Would Your Direct Reports Describe Your Management Style?” as a way of learning about this potential employer’s values and leadership philosophy. Make sure your questions are positive, intelligent, and will give you a better sense of what working there will be like.

Of course, a job interview is not a complete free-for-all. You should ask questions, but they should be useful questions that you prepared ahead of time. Obvious questions about what the company does or questions about the role that are answered by the job posting will show that you “haven’t done your homework, and the interviewer will likely have questions about your level of initiative and interest”, says Harvey Deutschendorf at Fast Company. He also recommends avoiding questions about compensation, background checks, and time off, as these topics might indicate to an employer that you aren’t taking the role seriously, or are getting too far ahead of yourself.

Practice confident body language

In a job interview, the way you present yourself is almost as important as the answers you give. It is not enough to have strong responses to the interviewer’s questions; you should also appear keen, calm, and prepared. Slouching, fidgeting, and showing visible signs of discomfort will undermine what you say. Employers are interested in hiring competent and confident people, and your body language should exemplify these qualities. You will not seem professional or engaged if you slump, touch your face, lean back in your chair, or cross your arms in front of you.

This does not mean that you should sit stiffly in your chair like a statue. You should be engaging with your interviewer and reacting to the questions they ask you. Nod, smile, and even laugh if the context calls for it. Show that you are actively listening and are interested in the conversation. Make sure your hands aren’t in your pockets or behind your back—according to Shana Lebowitz at Business Insider, it is appropriate to keep your hands visible by showing your palms, steepling your fingers, and gesturing. Sit up straight, maintain appropriate eye contact, and ensure that you have a firm, confident handshake.

Of course, you won’t become a confident person overnight. Job interviews can be stressful, and it is all too easy to let your anxiety overcome you and fall back into your slouching, squirming habits. This is why practice is important (as we will discuss later in this post). Taking as many interviews as possible is the best way to gain experience and improve your interview skills, but practicing at home can be valuable as well. Rehearse your introduction and prepared answers in front of a mirror until you appear confident, or practice in front of a camera and review the recording afterwards. This way, you can see how you look when you speak and make adjustments accordingly. In time, you will be able to identify any fidgety habits and replace them with confidence and composure.

Tell the truth

Elsewhere on VisualCV, we have discussed why you should never lie on your resume. The same holds true for job interviews.

The most obvious consequence of lying in an interview is, of course, getting caught. You might not expect an interviewer to follow up any of your claims, but there are many simple ways a potential employer can discover your lie. As Megan Elliott describes in an article for Glassdoor, employers can easily compare your interview answers to your resume, look you up online, and read your body language throughout the interview. If you seem unreliable, your years of experience don’t add up, or if you simply seem like you are lying, the interviewer won’t want to hire you.

Most lies can be revealed with no more than a phone call. A conversation with your references, school, or previous employers takes no more than a few minutes and will quickly clarify whether you really did graduate with that degree, whether you really led that project, and if your salary really was that high. Even relatively minor lies, like giving the wrong employment dates, are enough reason for an employer to reject your application. If you would lie in an interview, the employer simply can’t trust you.

If you do manage to get through the first interview, many jobs will require second and third interviews, each with new interviewers and different skill-testing components. Your lie will quickly be revealed when you can’t pass a technical test in the field you claimed to excel in. And if, against all odds, you don’t get caught during the interview process, you now have a job that you lied to obtain. As Alison Greene notes in US News, “That means you don’t have the qualifications the employer was seeking, so you might land in a job you can’t do well. You might struggle to excel and might even get fired.” Deceiving your way into a job you can’t do is setting yourself up for failure.

Impress everyone, not just the boss

Interviewers aren’t the only ones you need to impress. When arriving at a job interview, you need to leave a good impression with every person you meet. As Christy Rakoczy at Mic notes, “As soon as you walk in the door, your behavior is being judged.“ Be polite and friendly to the security guard, the receptionist, and the intern who offers you coffee. Even someone you pass in the parking lot could be a future coworker. Treat everyone with respect.

Not only is this politeness an important part of making a good impression, it could be the decisive factor in whether or not you get hired. According to Liz Torres at Monster, “It is likely that after the interview, the boss will ask the secretary or receptionist for his or her first impressions of you.” If the interviewer asks anyone for their opinion of you, the response should be a positive one. A pleasant exchange with the receptionist could be the detail that gives you an edge over other candidates.

Dress appropriately

How you present yourself is integral to the impression you make on the people you meet. In a job interview you must look professional, presentable, and well-kept. Even if you are a promising applicant with all the right skills for the job, the wrong wardrobe choice can be enough to end your candidacy.

There was a time when this meant that you had to wear a tailored suit to all job interviews, but this is no longer the case. Many modern offices allow informal attire. Dress codes will generally fall under three categories: business, business casual, and casual.

In formal workplace environments, you will be expected to dress in business attire. According to Indeed’s interview dress guide, “For women this can be a tailored dress with matching jacket or suit pants or skirt with matching jacket. For men, this means suit pants and jacket with a button down shirt and tie.”

In business casual workplaces you can leave the jacket at home. According to Careerbuilder, “Men might opt to wear dress slacks or chinos, a button down or polo shirt, a belt and dress shoes. Women might consider wearing a conservative dress, or a blouse (or sweater) with a skirt or dress pants and dress shoes or boots.”

When interviewing in a casually dressed workplace, you should be careful when choosing what to wear. It is better to dress up than to dress down. As TopResume notes, “you can never be overdressed but you can certainly be underdressed.” Even if an office permits its employees to wear tee-shirts and jeans every day, this is rarely appropriate for an interview. Even if you have been in the office before and seen that everyone was wearing flip flops, you may want to dress at least business-casual for your interview. If you show up in your best suit and your interviewers are wearing oversized hoodies you might feel a bit silly, but this is far better than the reverse. If you dress better than your interviewer expected they will think you are keen, whereas if you show up in a v-neck when your interviewer was expecting a collar they will think you don’t care.

Lastly, remember to wear something you like. Your outfit should reflect the company’s values, but it should reflect your own values too. If you dress like someone you are not, you may be setting yourself up for unhappiness when your employer treats you like the person you dressed as instead of the person you are.

Be early (but not too early)

Most experts recommend arriving at your interview ten to fifteen minutes before it is scheduled to begin. Arriving a few minutes early allows for enough time to check in with the receptionist, get a sense of the office, and settle in. Planning to arrive early also makes it much less likely that you will show up late.

Arriving late creates a terrible first impression. The sort of person who comes late to an interview is very likely to show up late for work. Employers are looking for punctual, competent people, and if you can’t get to the interview on time you won’t appear to be taking the job opportunity seriously.

While it is important to be early, you shouldn’t be too early. Many offices don’t have much extra space, and if you are too early for an interview you may find yourself looming in a small office with nowhere to sit for several minutes. Hovering over busy workers or obligating the receptionist to make small talk will begin the interview process on an awkward note. It could even create logistical problems for the company, as they are likely interviewing multiple candidates and don’t want the interviews to overlap.

To ensure punctuality, plan your route before the day of the interview and aim to arrive well before the arranged time. If you reach the establishment thirty or forty minutes before the interview, don’t go inside. Instead, do as Adrian Granzella Larssen at The Muse recommends and wait in your car or in a coffee shop until the interview is soon enough that you can wait in the office without bothering anyone. This ensures that you don’t interfere with the company’s workday, but still gives you enough of a buffer to ensure that you won’t be late.

Practice

Developing great interview skills takes lots of practice.

This doesn’t just mean learning to effectively sell your experience and abilities. It also means learning your interview weaknesses and developing ways to accommodate them.

As Melissa Dennihy at Inside Higher Ed recommends, “If you know that your hands shake when you are nervous, keep them tucked in your lap rather than on the table.” If you sometimes find yourself flustered and unable to speak, have answers prepared so you don’t have to improvise. If you have trouble making eye contact when you are under pressure, practice beforehand and maintain awareness of it throughout the interview.

You can practice in front of a mirror, record yourself on your computer, or do mock interviews with trusted friends. If you can afford it, professional career coaches and counselors also offer mock interviews.

According to Alison Doyle at The Balance Careers, a mock interview will help you “learn how to answer difficult questions, develop interview strategies, improve your communication skills and reduce your stress before an actual job interview.” This is where you can put your prepared answers to the test. Did you anticipate the right questions? How well do your responses land? Do you seem nervous or confident? A mock interview will help you develop strategies for giving the best possible interview.

Every real job interview is also important practice. Take note of how interviewers react to what you say and how you present yourself. Their verbal and nonverbal feedback can help you plan for the next interview. With enough preparation, practice interviews, and real interviews, you will soon be able to hide your nerves, sell yourself, and talk about your skills in a way that is natural and convincing.

Follow up.

Your interview doesn’t end when you leave the building. Whether it went terribly or you aced every question, you still have an opportunity to make a lasting impression after the formal interview has ended. You can demonstrate that you are enthusiastic and polite (and keep yourself at the top of the interviewer’s mind) by sending a follow-up note.

A quick thank-you note sent shortly after the interview is a great way to show your appreciation for the opportunity and to remind the interviewer that you exist. As Nicole Cavazos at Ziprecruiter recommends, “You should always send a note to every person you interviewed with; no later than 24 hours after the interview.” While a handwritten note would likely be appreciated (everyone loves receiving a real letter), an email will suffice. If there were multiple interviewers, each one deserves a thank-you note.

If you don’t hear back from the company soon, you may want to send them another note to check in. A second message requesting updates shows that you are still interested in the position. While the initial thank-you note should be sent within a day of the interview, it is customary to wait about two weeks before checking in a second time. The hiring process is time-consuming, and it is normal not to hear back from employers for several weeks.

Your second message, like the first, should be brief and professional. “Keep it to one paragraph indicating that you are still interested in the job and looking for an update”, says Indeed’s Career Guide. This message is simply to check in, learn what you can about the hiring process, and remind the hiring manager that you are still interested in the job. The company may well have made a decision by now, but if not, your note reminding them of your enthusiasm may be just what they need to make their decision.

Make your next career move with confidence.

Join more than 3.1 million members managing their professional profile with VisualCV.

Get my VisualCV