If you’re like most people, you walk into an interview situation feeling slightly nervous but in an overall, hopeful mood. After all, you’ve made it past the initial resume screen and know you’ve written an effective cover letter.
At this point, you probably realize that you meet the basic requirements to get the job. But now what? How do you make sure you’re at your best during an interview?
While you should be true to yourself, here are 17 pointers to help you distinguish yourself from other prospective candidates during an interview:
1. Dress to blend in.
This is one case where the advice “Dress to impress” may be overly simplistic. If you’re interviewing to work in a very traditional, conservative office environment, this is not the time to flaunt a flamboyant cocktail dress.
Of course you have every right to where what makes you feel comfortable. However, one of the purposes of an interview is to establish culture fit -- and culture goes both ways. Your hiring manager and interviewer is trying to figure out whether you will fit in, and you are trying to convince them that you do. Looking the part is a powerful signalling device that you belong. This applies to your outfit as well as your grooming.
In other words, if you dyed your hair purple for the summer but plan on going in for a serious, corporate job, you may want to consider dying it back.
2. Be punctual, if not a bit early.
Being on time is always a good thing, but it is particularly important to be on time for an interview. It’s ok to be early; that shows that you are responsible and eager to meet your interviewer. Interview day should not be the day you experiment with a new commute, or transportation method. Be sure that you build in a cushion for inevitable mishaps like traffic jams or finding the right building and checking in at what might be a large office complex.
3. Have a strong handshake.
First impressions can be hard to shake (pun intended). That’s why your outfit, but also your posture and the strength of your handshake makes a big difference. Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy, goes as far to say that it’s important to assume a “power pose” (even if you don’t feel particularly powerful or confident). Her advice is that you should “fake it until you make it” when it comes to your body language.
4. Make eye contact.
Eye contact is something you can’t take for granted these days. Even if your interviewer keeps fiddling with their phone or looks around the room while you talk, you should not follow suit.
There is a lot of advice about the right kind of eye contact for different situations (e.g. eye contact while you are listening may be different than when you are the speaker). It can be too awkward and stressful to overthink eye contact, but simply be aware of your gaze. Looking at your shoes or the wall momentarily is fine, but no matter how badly you think it’s going, try to generally keep your eyes focused on the person you’re speaking to
5. Make body language work for you.
It’s not just your mouth talking when it comes to an interview.
Body language is a powerful tool for communication and tells the interviewer a lot (whether you’re conscious of it or not). Avoid closed body positions such as crossed arms, try to mimic the interviewer’s body language and try to adopt open body positions that convey trust, such as leaning towards the person you’re speaking to (rather than away from them).
6. Convey actual enthusiasm for the role.
This is not the time to be smug, no matter how qualified you are.
Being excited about a job goes a lot further than you may think. If you wer the hiring manager, between two equally qualified candidates, who would you want to hire? The fact that one person seems to want a job more than someone else matters.
Unless you are genuinely not sure whether you want the job, or taking a purposefully cool stance for negotiation purposes, there’s generally no downside to being very enthusiastic about the job and the company where you’re trying to get a job.
7. Answer the questions you’re asked.
Have you ever watched speeches or interviews on TV where the person being interviewed doesn't answer the question asked but instead talks about whatever he or she wants? As tempting as it may be to highlight the points you would like the interviewer to remember about you, you still need to try to answer the question. Of course there's nothing wrong with answering in a way that addresses other things you want to cover, but don't forget that there was a genuine question they were interested in.
8. Give specific examples whenever possible.
It is far more impressive and important for you to say that you exceeded your sales target by 50% last year than to simply state, “I’m quite good at delivering sales results.”
Being factual and detail oriented shows that you know how to make a case rather than just recite facts. This is something you should have done on your resume as well, but remember that your interviewer may not have even read your resume because sometimes the person screening isn’t the same person who you are sitting down in an interview with.
9. Be positive.
People like to be around positive people.
This is not to say that you have to be deceptive about the fact that you’re not always feeling like Little Miss Sunshine. However, an interview is not the place to focus on negative things such as past managers, or your career mistakes. There’s a positive way to frame most things -- even really difficult career experiences such as being laid off. If you’re asked about something that feels very negative, remember to stay positive and reframe your view of events.
10. Be confident.
If you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else?
Sometimes it’s difficult for introverts or naturally shy people to project confidence. However, confidence is not necessarily about how much you smile or how loudly you speak. It is perfectly possible to convey confidence in your words and demeanor. What you think of yourself does rub off on other people, so your self-confidence matters a great deal.
11. Engage in some chit-chat.
We are all human beings and sometimes it’s wise to try to break the ice with some casual conversation. You can talk about whether or local sports or recent events. However, don’t go overboard. Your goal is establish some sort of genuine human connection and if you can find something you have in common, that’s a great way to warm up and establish a friendly tone for the interview. Just be sure to bring it back to the job and the company.
12. Try to establish a genuine connection.
One of the easiest ways to try to establish a genuine connection is to ask questions of your interviewer. How long has he or she worked there? What do they like about the company? Perhaps you can even discuss where they are from. Anything that you share in common will help you establish a genuine connection with that person. That will help make the interview feel less formal and more like a natural dialogue.
13. Don’t force yourself into an unnatural position.
If you really hate what your hiring manager is saying about the role, or believe you will never get along with him / her, you shouldn’t prolong the interview or try to make it work out. You don’t have to walk out on the spot, but sometimes you have to know when it’s time to cut your losses and move on...in a polite and respectful way, of course.
14. Ask thoughtful questions.
There are certain canned questions anyone can ask during an interview but a thoughtful question stands out because it demonstrates a genuine interest. A thoughtful question could be about how certain business trends have impacted a particular line of business, or they can be more personal and subjective. Really trying to understand the company and role in advance of the interview will make thoughtful questions come more naturally when you're on the spot.
15. Listen to the answers you receive.
We’ve talked before about the importance of communication in an interview. Therefore, when you ask a question, be sure to really listen to the answer. Don’t just ask a question and then zone out. Use answers to formulate your next thoughtful question, if appropriate.
16. Give compliments whenever possible.
Everyone wants to feel loved. You can compliment the company for it’s growth, ihe quality of its products and services, or its culture. Regardless of what you choose to focus on, dropping compliments in through the interview or at the beginning of a conversation sets a tone for the entire interview. Compliments make the other party feel good about themselves and also gives a foundation to your enthusiasm.
17. Follow up with a thank you.
Even if you thanked your interviewer for their time in person (which you should do!), you should always follow up with a thank you note.
Try to write the note within 24 hours of your interview while the memory of your meeting is still fresh in your mind. Even if you get no response, it is all part of continuing to convey enthusiasm for a role. It also shows you are organized and conscientious and still interested in the job (which you can also reiterate in this thank you note).
To some extent, whether you get a job is out of your control. You don’t know who else is interviewing and whether you will get unlucky and have bad chemistry with your interviewer. However, if you incorporate some of these tips into your interview, you’ll be off to a running start.
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