I always tell people that a face-to-face (or digital) interview is the one part of the job search process that you have the highest level of control over. So prepare, prepare some more, and over-prepare. Having hustled my way through seven job offers in the last five years, four of which I received in the last two years, I have learned a thing or two about how to ace interviews.
I’m breaking the entire interviewing process into before, during and after, and I have laid out step by step the work you need to put into each phase. Plus, I have consulted with the CEO of Career Contessa, Lauren McGoodwin, about the most crucial parts of the interview process and how to ace your interview!
Before the Interview
This is the part of the preparation that will directly determine the outcome of your interview — unless this is some sort of pre-arrangement and you have an “in” with someone higher-up in the company, if you miss the preparation ahead of time or don’t prepare enough, it will be difficult to succeed.
1. Research the company
Anywhere you can learn more about the company: their leadership, their business challenge, their customer reviews and their products. Lauren McGoodwin, the CEO of Career Contessa, says, “Do your homework and research the company and the person or team you are interviewing with.” (If it's a panel interview, research each person on the panel.) If the company has a website, that’s a good place to start. But there are other sources where you can to learn more about a particular company:
- The company’s social media accounts
- The company’s latest financial reports
- Anything about their CEO/board members
- Industry news that involves the company
- Glassdoor and Indeed reviews
Use a website like Jobscan.com to find out what the percent overlap in terms of keywords there is between your resume and the company’s job description. These are your key strengths and experiences or skills that you should highlight. Prepare to give one example of each experience.
3. Come up with 10 to 20 questions you think you will get asked. If you don’t know how to start, here are 31 common interview questions you can expect. When preparing your questions, type or write down your answers, and review them again and again. I call this my interview study sheet. I typically will bring this study sheet with me wherever I go. I will take it out and study it when I have downtime. This forces myself to constantly think about these talking points so that when I actually have to mention them in interviews, it’s second nature to me.
4. Do a mock interview with someone who’s an authority figure. If you have a mentor, ask him or her to do a mock interview with you. Supply them ahead of time with the job description, the company & industry, and ask them to interview you like they would interview their own job candidate. If you don’t have a mentor, search for career coaches on LinkedIn. You’d be surprised how many are actually going to be willing to do a 30-minute mock interview session with you for free.
5. Prepare a list of three to five questions for the interviewer. “Always come prepared with questions for your interviewer that shows you are serious about the job and that you have spent time researching the company,” McGoodwin says. One of the most common mistakes job applicants make is to overly focus highlighting their skills and accomplishments, and forgetting that making your interviewer understand that you researched, studied and understood them is just as important.
During the Interview
1. Don’t overdo your perfume, makeup or nail colors. If you have the habit of wearing perfume or cologne, make sure there’s at least a 40- to 60-minute time lapse between actual application and when you have to meet someone. As for makeup and nail colors, just imagine if you were hiring a nanny for your young children. How would you want that person to dress and look to seem trustworthy, reliable and pleasant? That’s how you should think about makeup and nail colors for interviews.
2. Always have three to five copies of your resume ready. This is a self-explanatory point. No exception — you should always be prepared to extend a copy of your resume for whoever you are speaking with during an interview. If you are expecting five people as part of your interview, bring eight copies. Always be ready and have extra.
3. Arrive five to 10 minutes early to your interview, but not earlier than that. Get to the place early, look around, familiarize yourself a little bit to calm your nerves. Don’t show up too early though, otherwise, you risk giving the perception that you think you are entitled to the employers' time just because you showed up early.
4. When you finally meet your interviewer or greeter, make eye contact, shake people’s hands like you mean it (I'm talking a firm handshake), and smile. When you are asked a question, be concise and to the point with your answers. Let your interviewer finish their sentence and don’t interrupt. The point here is — use common sense and be a good conversationalist.
After the Interview
1. Don't forget the thank-you email. Send in your thank you email(s) within the first 24 to 48 hours. This is an increasingly overlooked point in the job search process, especially by millennials. The thank-you email is your chance to solidify the good impression you have made, and show that you are truly interested and excited about the position.
2. Take a break from the job search process for a little. But resume your normal tactics within a day or two because you are still only a job candidate, which means that you should still also be a job seeker. Just because you’ve aced an interview, doesn’t mean you can rest now. You did your part and the rest of this process is not in your control anymore. So, keep searching, submitting resumes and applying for jobs. You can stop when you received and accepted an offer. But not until then.
3. Depending on what the end result is, you would either start the offer negotiation process and start preparing for the new job. If the interview didn’t result in a job offer, don’t despair. Try these sources of inspiration to keep your motivation up.
And that right there is how you prepare to ace an interview.
Jessica is a writer, a digital marketer, social media aficionado and a lifestyle blogger at Cubicle Chic. Through her writing, Jessica aims to connect with fellow corporate 9-5ers who may be bound by an office physically but crave for much more in life. She writes blog posts about inter-office politics, how to climb the corporate ladder, resolve interpersonal conflicts, and how to do it all in the best outfits possible. Jessica lives in sunny San Diego with her husband and two cats, Lulu and Miles.