If you’re seeking interview advice, then you have already won a small battle. The simple act of landing an interview can be an extremely tough road littered with blanket rejection emails and unanswered job applications. Let me be the first (or at least top 5) person to congratulate you on making it to the interview round! This typically means the hiring manager, HR screener, or business owner likes what you sent in your application. Whether it’s a standard job or a freelance gig, you need to be ready. Now is the time to really shine by knocking it out of the park (whether it’s a face-to-face or phone interview)!
I’ve been on both ends of the interview process. Being an interviewer can be pretty stressful, but that’s not what we are here to discuss today. However, do be aware that interviewers see a lot of candidates and have a lot of standard questions that receive standard answers. Making yourself memorable and have an outstanding interview can be a difficult undertaking. Here are some tips to help you ensure you leave the best possible impression before, during, and after your interview.
- Do Be Prompt – This isn’t novel, but it is critical. Once you get an interview request make sure you get back to them asap and continue to be prompt and responsive throughout the entire process. It’s tough for hiring managers to schedule interviews around their already busy days. Giving them time options and concrete dates that you are available will make their lives easier and give them a good impression of you from the start. In everything you do surrounding the hiring process, you need to be punctual. Now, this isn’t always going to mean that the interviewer will be able to do the same. The untold terrors that happen behind the scenes in the hiring process mean you will likely experience delays. Keep your cool and respond when they get back to you.
- Do Map Your Resume to the Position Description – By far, this is my favorite tip to give to my friends or resume writing clients who are preparing for interviews. There are so many reasons that this is a good idea to do before interviews. First, it keeps you on-target when you’re being asked questions. If you can easily match a skill or experience to what they are looking for, then you will know how to answer a lot of the interview questions without hesitation. I like to print out the desired skills section of a job posting before my interview. I then sit in a coffee shop with a notebook and write down the jobs I’ve had, the training I’ve completed, and the projects I’ve done that incorporated those skills. Instead of saying, “Sure, I can use XX program,” you want to be able to say, “I have a lot of experience using it. For example, a few years ago while I was working on XX project it was our main publishing platform.” This brings everything together for an interviewer. A surprising amount of candidates lie on their resumes, and sometimes if you’re vague in an interview it can make the employer suspicious. Demonstrating that you know both what you’re talking about and can match it to things they’ve seen on your resume will put them at ease.
- Don’t Expect Only Standard Questions – The hiring process is pretty expensive, and so companies need to be sure you’re a good fit for their company or the project. They’re going to try and make sure you’ll be able to complete the work and do it the way they want. So you’re going to need to know who they are and what they do best. Preparing for standard questions will leave you completely unprepared when they ask something that is unique to their business. Before you interview, know who you are seeing and what the company does. There are easy ways to do this, like simply searching for the company online and looking for the interviewer’s business profile on social media. Don’t ask to connect with them, but getting an idea of the content they are sharing and the work they do will help you to understand what they are going to care about during your interview. You can always ask to stay in touch if the interview goes well, but for now, just do your research so that you are ready for any questions that are about their company in particular.
- Do Practice – I know it might seem silly, but having a friend go over questions with you can take a lot of the fear out of interviewing. Give them the job description and have them ask questions. If you’re only practicing in your own head, you’ll probably neglect some important aspects of the position that your friends might pick up on. Also, you’ll be very surprised about the answers you give and the things you remember when you’re put on the spot. We all have a lot more experience than we think, but we tend to stick to the same answers and examples because we are comfortable with them. Involving another person who is asking things you might not expect will help you to get a new perspective and jog your memory about more ways to discuss your experience. Plus, since it’s someone you know they might be able to help you come up with things you wouldn’t have previously included. Your friends probably hear you talk about work enough, let them remind you about that project you did two years ago that nearly killed you, but in the end, you got a bonus for because it turned out so well.
- Don’t Be Inflexible – You might have a skill you really want to push, but the interviewer just isn’t bringing it up naturally. You’ve got to roll with things, and show that you can adapt easily to whatever angle they are taking. You just never know the reason. Perhaps that morning their boss said that they needed to increase their efficiency on the team, and so suddenly most of the questions you are being asked are about how quickly you can deliver. It might not be your most impressive skill, but they have your resume and they’ve likely seen the bulk of your skillset. If they want to focus on a particular facet, you need to let them. When I’m giving an interview and the potential employee tries to dominate the questions and steer the discussion toward their safe topics it makes me worry about their ability to adapt in general.
- Do Take Your Time – Breathe. I know it seems tough when you’re sitting there trying to prove to a person or a panel of people that their organization needs to hire you. This situation is inherently stressful and then on top of it all, you need to miraculously form articulate and impactful answers to difficult questions at the drop of a hat. If you get a question that is really hard, it is ok to take your time. Instead of just blurting out the first thing that comes to mind, I typically say, “That’s an excellent question, let me think about it for a second.” You’re allowed to think and your interviewer should understand completely. In the interviews that I conduct, I appreciate when people do this because it shows me they know when they need to take a minute. That can indicate that they will be more thoughtful and less reactionary in their daily work.
- Don’t Lie About Your Goals – No matter what, this will come back to haunt you if you get the job. If you’re trying to sell yourself too hard, you might be tempted to overemphasize your desire to do a part of the job you might not actually like. Interviewers worth their salt are taking notes, and they will remember. So if you don’t actually intend to completely reorganize their blog posting database, just don’t say it. It might sound good, but failing to meet the goals that you mention in your interview can make the employer wonder what else you weren’t fully honest about when they hired you.
- Know What You Don’t Know – Interviewing can scare people into being much too eager to please. If you don’t have a skill or qualification it really won’t help you to lie about it. Saying you’re a PR guru might sound simple, but you’ll be left embarrassed when you can’t provide any examples of your relevant work. Instead, your best bet is to map it to something similar. I have interviewed for positions that required me to be proficient in a very specific type of software. While I’d never used it before, I had absolutely learned something similar. My answer to these questions is, “No, I haven’t been able to use that yet. However, when I was managing XX project, I taught myself how to use YY, which is very similar.” You can tell them how you learned, and if you took related classes independently, outside of work. Letting them know that you’re willing to learn will make you seem proactive and remind them that every candidate can’t come preloaded with 100% of the skills they want.
- Don’t Skip the Opportunity to Ask Questions – The interview is about whether or not you’re a good candidate for the role. The operative word there is you. You are the one applying and you have every right to ask questions and explore the position more. I’ve gotten to the interview stage of several jobs and projects only to find they were totally different than the position description made them seem. Asking questions during an interview will allow you to get a better sense of what you will be doing and whether it is what you expected. If it doesn’t seem like something you want to do, it is better to know now rather than later! Also, at the end of almost every interview, you will be asked if you have any questions. Having a few things prepared and jotted down in a notebook can be very helpful. At the end of some interviews, you might be so exhausted that you forget to ask things you wanted to know. Having a few notes will help you wrap up the interview nicely with a few pertinent questions even if your brain feels like a wrung out sponge.
- Do Send a Follow Up Message – This can be a handwritten note or a short email. I tend to send it the evening after my interview. Sending it just after you step out of the interview door can appear insincere and like you are simply trying to push the process along. A good follow up can help you to stand out in the interviewer’s mind after a long day of seeing candidates. The note doesn’t have to be extensive, just a quick thank you for their time. Also, if there was anything that you promised to get back to them about while you were chatting, do it now. I’ve promised to send writing samples and links to my publications during interviews. If you say you’ll send something then do it, and following the advice from Tip #1, make sure you’re prompt in sending it!
There will always be surprises in interviews, so be ready to be a little unprepared. I’ve never left an interview thinking I answered everything perfectly, and I know a lot of people tend to feel the same way. Doing your best and taking it seriously is all you really can do in an interview. Even if you don’t get the job, every interview you complete will give you more practice and help you get stronger for the next one. I know that sounds a bit like someone saying it’s an honor just to be nominated for an award when they don’t win, but it’s true. Getting your interview game on-point can only serve you well in the future.
How do you typically prepare for interviews? Do you have any secrets or tips that have helped you to nail the interview? Let us know the good and the bad you’ve experience when interviewing for jobs in the comments below!