Some job search “experts” will look you in the eye and tell you there are guaranteed ways to ace your job interview. How? By giving the “right answer” to every job interview question. Or so they assure you.
Well, please know this: There are no absolutely guaranteed right answers for every situation. The interview selection process is far more complicated than that. And it’s much more about the whole than the parts. Luckily, there are some practical job interview tips that can help.
NOTE: I’m using the phrase “ace your interview” because it’s a familiar phrase to many job seekers. But I think keeping the thought bring your best self to the interview is also a good way to think about it. Hopefully these tips will help.
Job interview tips before interview:
1. Take time to prepare
Find out all you can about the company. You aren’t expected to know everything, but if it’s a public company there is no excuse for at least not knowing their business line(s) and a little about their products.
2. Read the job description CAREFULLY
It will help you aim your answers toward things they are actually looking for. Not that you should simply give them back what they asked for, but you can use the description to help guide you.
3. Know your resume very well
This may sound obvious, but I’ve interviewed people who can’t quickly remember a job I referred to that was on their own resume. Review the order of your jobs, the tasks at each job, and the reason(s) you left.
Also look through the resume to remind yourself of some stories where you found a problem and solved it, came up with a ways to save the company money, etc. A good story that rings true can make a big difference.
Tips to help you interview DURING
4. First and foremost, walk into the room with good energy and pleasant smile.
Make good eye contact with the interviewer(s) as you shake their hand firmly. But not painfully! (NOTE: In COVID times, even in person, a nod would be fine.)
5. Be yourself.
Even if “yourself” is shy or a little awkward when you speak, don’t worry. Interviewers make room for that and want to see the real person. They understand that you’re probably nervous. But it will help you be less nervous to know that it’s ok to just show them the person that you are.
6. Interviewers are looking for the right fit.
So even if you are great in every way, you might not get the job. But you have to trust them to know their own needs. And, of course, help them see how well you match what they’re looking for.(HINT: Study the job description and research the company.)
Trying to present the person you think they want, rather than who you are won’t help anyone. Again, just be yourself. Emphasize those aspects of you that they are looking for. But don’t lay on the BS. It can work against you.
7. Stay alert and interested all the way through.
Don’t let your mind get lost in what you just said or what they might ask next. As they say in Zen … be in the moment.
8. Keep eye contact with the person asking the question…
…while they are asking it. If there are other people in the room, as you answer, look at the questioner more often. But be sure to catch everyone else’s eyes too.
9. Look for chances to use personal stories you prepared…
…that show why you’d be a real asset to the company. Remember that your story needs to also answer what they ask, but can take a turn to show how you overcame work obstacles or found resourceful solutions.
10. Don’t go on too long.
As interesting as you may think you are, respect that your interviewers are taking time from their busy schedules. But also, don’t just give a one or two-word answer. They want to see who you are. Give them a chance to hear your voice, see how you think, and hopefully get to know you a bit.
11. Interviewers are looking to see whether you’d be pleasant to work with and how you handle situations.
They want to know you are a hard worker who sees problems as challenges and finds a way to solve them. And they also want to know that, in a crunch, you roll up your sleeves and pitch in. (Prepare stories about things you’ve done that show that.)
12. Interviewers want to know you’ll be a good team player … but also able to think for yourself.
So you want to make sure you show them both parts of you.
13. Most of all, they want to know if you can handle the job.
But since only they know exactly what they’re looking for and why, let them guide you in the interview. Don’t try to lead them. Listen. Ask questions if you don’t understand. And show them you’re able to respond to what they asked — and not what you wish they asked.
14. One contradiction to my last point:
If they ask you an interview question that you only have a weak or unflattering answer for, try to find a strong story that kinda fits. But only if you can find a NATURAL way to throw it into the conversation. Just don’t take them on a long, winding trip to nowhere.
15. If it looks like you don’t have the required skills after all, try to find transferable skills.
Think about related or easily adaptable skills you do have, and then stress these. Make sure you let them know you are a quick learner and would be excited to add new skills. (Give an example if you have one.)
Work needs often change. As do countless other factors. And many employers know that a flexible person, who can easily and willingly change with the times, is a real asset.
16. If you don’t have the skills & would need them on day one, there’s not much you can do to ace your interview.
Still, you’re not only interviewing for this job, but for the possibility of a job they don’t even have yet. Or know they need. So continue to show them what you do have to offer — and what makes you a person they would like to have on their team one day.
I recently interviewed someone who didn’t have the skills needed. But we liked her so much that the boss is thinking about a way to create a position for her. Always give it your best and don’t assume. You never know. So try to leave the best impression you can anyway!
17. Stay focused and energized right to the end.
Even if you think it’s not going well, show them you can hang in and do your best no matter what. It’s true that interviewers get an impression within the first few minutes (which is why it’s so important to start with good energy). But you never know when you can recover a fumble.
18. Leave with the same positive energy you started the job interview with.
And remember after an interview to follow-up with thank you letters or emails. Job interview thank-you letters can’t hurt, and they may very well help. But try to keep them short and pleasant. And please check the grammar and spelling!
Perfect answers to ace interview?
No one can give you exact words that provide absolutely perfect job interview answers. (There’s no such thing.) But I can tell you that a positive attitude, careful listening, resourcefulness, flexibility, willingness to learn, and good positive energy will get you far.
Just give the job interview questions and answers your best shot. No one can ask more of you than that. And though not every job is a fit — yes, even if you ace your interview questions — at the very least, each job interview is terrific practice for eventually nailing the right job.
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.
[Post updated in 2020]
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