As a former hiring manager, I get lots of questions from readers asking for all kinds of job interview tips. So I decided to provide a handy-dandy guide to what I actually look for when I sit down and interview candidates for a job.
Obviously each interviewer and industry is different. But I think these tips offer general advice that should work for most people in most cases. With that in mind, this is what I would be looking for if you walked into my office for an interview:
15 job interview tips
Recently I read a post advising job candidates to prepare a slick power presentation of themselves and wow the interviewer with it. MAYBE this could work if you’re interviewing for a high-powered sales job. Or an industry like entertainment. Although even there they want to see who the person really is. And in most cases you’d be leaving the interviewer wondering if you’re all bluster and no substance.
- Now I’m not saying that one of my most-effective interview tips is to be all shy and gawky either (see next section). You want something in the middle. Real and conversational trumps one-dimensional and slick any time.
- Since most places do ask a version of tell me about yourself, it helps to think about your answer ahead of time. And when the time comes, just tell it as naturally, pleasantly, and 3-dimensional as possible.
Be confident in who you are.
Don’t spend time worrying whether I think you’re right for the job. Or what I (the interviewer) am thinking at any given moment. Just know who you are. And help me see that.
- Know that you are a good worker who is reliable and will go the extra mile when called on. Or whatever your strengths actually are. Everybody has their own unique strengths and I’d like to learn what you think yours are.
- Since interview nerves can make talking about yourself more difficult, make sure you prepare ahead of time. Be able to talk about who you are and / or what you have to offer, so YOU believe it as much as you want them to. It shows.
Look me in the eyes.
Not saying stare at me. But when you answer my interview questions, I want you to connect with me. I’d like to see when your eyes show real enthusiasm about something you’ve accomplished. Or sincerity about wanting to do a good job for me.
- Now of course I make room for nervousness. But if I see eyes skittering all about unable to focus on me at all, how can I be sure you’re being real with me?
- And again, eye contact makes for better connection, And connecting one-to-one with the interviewer — real person to real person — is a huge plus!
Tell me a good story.
This is one of the most useful interview tips. When I ask you about things you’ve done that you’re proud of or obstacles you’ve overcome, I want you to have stories to tell me. Stories that of course match the question. And help me see how well you’d fit — what a great resource you might be for us.
- Did you ever take on a tough situation and turn it around?
- Or did you ever come up with a new process that saved the company money?
- Did you ever encounter something you knew nothing about and make a point of becoming an expert?
Sit up straight.
Slouching comes off as lazy or uninterested. You want to use your body language to show me that you’re someone who is fully engaged and can handle any situation. Even one that makes them nervous.
- Job interviews are tough for most people. But you’ll think clearer and come off as a more attractive candidate just by having good posture and looking alive and alert.
I purposely listed this after my posture suggestion, since some people go to extremes and sit like there’s a stick up their backside. When I interview people, I’m looking for someone who I want to work with on a daily basis. Too rigid would be a drag. Real and relaxed opens us up.
- Of course you don’t want to look like you’re ready for a nap either. Practice in front of a mirror to see how it feels when you sit up straight while also letting yourself relax a little.
Practice practice practice.
Spend time before the job interview doing mock interviews with friends or family. You can also record yourself to hear your voice (good for phone interviews too). And if your voice sounds kind of weak, practice speaking with strength and commitment.
- Talk about something you really care about to see how you sound when you are relaxed and fully engaged. If you have access to video equipment, even better.
Know about job and company.
So much information is available on the internet now. Take time to do research beforehand. It will pay off. One sharp reader wrote us that he learned about a recent merger the company was going through and used this information to his advantage.
- One warning from my own interview files: don’t get too personal! Once I went for an interview and, in doing my research, learned they taught at the same university I was consulting for. While I hoped it would break the ice, for some reason they saw it as invasive.
Make sure you know your resume!
Nothing casts more doubt on your application than having to glance through your resume to answer questions. And worse than that is actually giving different information than the resume contains.
- So study your resume carefully BEFORE you go in.
- And always bring a few extra copies with you, just in case.
Show me you understand the job…
And that you have the skills. This sounds so basic. But I’ve interviewed many people not even familiar with the terms in the job description.
- One of the most important interview tips: if there is anything in the job description you don’t know, look it up!
- And if there’s a necessary skill you don’t have, research it. This way you can talk intelligently about it, and help them see (and believe) how quickly you could pick it up.
- Don’t forget transferable skills to help make your case
More than anything I’ve mentioned so far, listening is a skill that can make or break you. Really listen to the questions and whatever the interviewer is saying to you.
- Don’t be thinking ahead or about other things while the interviewer is talking. Again, it really does show.
- Remember that we’re watching everything carefully. So just be present … in the moment.
Answer my questions.
If I ask a question that you aren’t comfortable answering, it’s ok to answer briefly and maybe shift to a short story or related thought that leaves a good impression. But make sure you don’t just jump to something else trying to divert me from what I actually asked.
- It not only makes you look like you’re hiding something, but it leaves the impression that you might be slippery to work with.
- And don’t go on for too long with any one answer. No one wants to work with a wind bag!
Come prepared with good questions.
You’d be surprised how many people don’t have questions. Or ask really lame ones like “how long is our lunch break?” A great question shows you’re thinking about the work process.
- Try to come up with a question an average person wouldn’t ask. Something about interactions with other areas. Or maybe what a typical workday might be like. Or something about the business / industry. Anything that shows you are really thinking about more than just surface details.
- Best of all, I love it when someone asks a question that shows they were listening to me. Helps me see this is a person who can think on his or her feet.
Don’t forget to smile.
I don’t mean to send you in there looking like a dazed idiot who just sits there smiling all the time. But you are selling yourself. And you want the interviewer to know you’d be a good fit. Someone we’d actually enjoy working with.
- Since you have no way of knowing what the place is really like, all you can be is yourself. It really is your best shot at getting to the next round and beyond.
When the job interview is over…
Stand up (if in person). Smile. Thank them. And (when not limited by COVID restrictions) shake hands if it feels appropriate. Then try to walk out without shaking too badly or falling. 🙂
- And if it’s a Zoom interview, you still need to keep your cool until you are sure the screen is no longer live.
- Interview impressions form at any time before, during, during, or after!
One last thought
And while all these interview tips offer useful ideas that might be useful to you, the main thing is to come in knowing who you are. What the job is. And why you would be a great addition to their team.
And really believe it.
[Post updated 2020]
About the author…
Ronnie Ann, founder of Work To the Wise and Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development, as well as her many adventures as a serial job seeker.
More job interview tips