The Ultimate Interview Guide

two women interviewing

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May 21, 2024 at 8:27PM UTC
Let's face it: interviewing for a job is stressful, nerve-wracking, and sometimes pretty discouraging. That's why Fairygodboss has compiled all our best interview advice into a one-stop guide designed to answer every question you might have. 

The collected wisdom encompasses decades of combined career experience across a wide range of women in diverse industries all across the U.S. So, what we're saying is, we've got you covered so you can focus on what should be your No. 1 priority when you're job searching: acing that interview

What to Wear

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Putting together your interview outfit doesn't have to be hard — you just have to do a little research and choose a look. If you're interviewing at a casual startup, that might mean business casual. A more corporate environment might mean a suit or dress.
As long as you look professional, well-groomed and appropriate, you should pass muster. But if you need help picking out what to wear, we have some of the best fashion influencers to follow for work outfit inspiration

What to Bring

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  • Copies of your resume. Even tech companies that seem digitally savvy will ask candidates for a copy, especially if multiple people are interviewing you (and someone walks off with HR's copy). This is an easy way to demonstrate you're prepared and professional. 
  • Pen and paper. This may seem old school to you, but having these tools on hand can help you when it's time to jot down someone's email address (for your follow-up!) and to take down notes in case you need to address any specifics.   
  • Tissues, medications, and miscellaneous personal items. For those interviewing at companies with day-long sessions (looking at you, startup world!), packing the essentials to get you through an entire day will help keep you sane. This could mean eyedrops and a spare pair of contacts or backup glasses, or allergy medication. Anything that will help you feel more prepared should go into your bag, purse, or briefcase. 
For an even more detailed list, a Fairygodboss career coach gives a full rundown of what to bring to an interview.

What Time to Arrive

Aim to arrive about 10 minutes prior to your time slot.
That means planning backward from that time to account for how long it will take to get there (with traffic!), park and find the office building, and any unavoidable delays. While you might think the earlier the better for checking in, you might want to think twice.
According to an expert career coach, "arriving more than 15 minutes early before your interview can make interviewers feel pressure to start the meeting early." If you do end up arriving extremely early, take a walk around the block or take a few minutes to meditate in your car before walking in.
If you're running late, always call or email ahead to explain the delay. And be realistic — if something happens that you know will push you later than, say, 30 minutes, ask to reschedule. This should go without saying, but save rescheduling for emergencies. 

The Night Before Your Interview

The Most Common Interview Questions 

To start, expect the usual "Tell me about yourself," which should prompt you to give a well-rehearsed, short and dynamic elevator pitch. Molly Owens, a career coach and Fairygodboss contributor, shares her tips on how to smartly reply to "tell my about yourself," including: "Start with a description that can apply to both your professional and personal self. For instance, you might say, 'I like to think of myself as a relationship engineer.' Then, go on to talk about your strengths. Share your most recent accomplishments, as long as they align with the job for which you’re interviewing." 
 Next, you'll likely hear:
  1. Why are you interested in the role?
  2. What do you know about this organization?
  3. How did you hear about this position?
  4. Why are you leaving your current job? (click to find the answer from a former Fortune 100 business leader!)
...and a number of other questions, both general and specific to the role itself. Prepare yourself by conducting a practice interview with friends, family, or acquaintances. 
You should also prepare for multiple people asking you the same questions (if you're meeting with multiple people separately in one day, which is common in the startup space), or for a panel interview. In the latter scenario, you'd be in the hot seat as you answer questions from multiple interviewers while all in the same room. 

Questions You Should Ask in an Interview (as the Interviewee)

It doesn't matter what step of the interview process you're at: phone screen, first-round interview, or final round — asking good questions can make or break the hiring decision. Engaging with the hiring manager, recruiter, or interviewer (who is your potential new boss) is how you build rapport. And questions are a key part in the process.
You can't go wrong asking:
  • What excites you about [company name]?
  • What challenges are you facing right now?
  • If I were hired, what projects would I be working on my first three months?

Questions You Should Ask in an Interview (as the Interviewer)

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Beyond the questions interviewees expect (as well as your company specific screening questions), you could try any of these 20 creative questions. Choices include:
  • How many times a day do you type something into Google?
  • If you had all the money in the world to spend, what kind of vacation would you plan?
  • If you were stranded on a desert island, which three items would you bring with you?
  • If there was a disaster and you could either save three strangers or one family member, which would you choose and why?

What About Phone Interviews?

As the interviewee

Get prepped and ready to ace a phone interview with 15 of the most common interview questions (and how to answer them!). Take question No. 7, for example: "What did you enjoy the least in your previous positions?" If you don't have an articulate response at-the-ready for that one, add that to your list!
"Watch your energy," and more top-tier advice from 15 phone interview tips by Fairygodboss's CEO, Georgene Huang. Another nugget from our CEO: "Studies suggest that you make a first impression on your interviewer in less time than you might think...on the phone, you make your first impression by the sound and tone of your voice. Just as someone meeting you for a face-to-face interview first registers a lot of visual information, during a telephone call, your voice — its cadence, rhythm, timbre, and volume — serves as that first impression. Our advice? Don’t do a phone interview first thing in the morning when you’ve yet to fully wake up or warm up your vocal chords much."

As the interviewer

As the interviewer, you can start by saying, "Tell me what you like most about this role and our company?" (Here are four more of the best questions to ask when conducting an interview.)

Best Ways to Stand Out in an Interview

A recruiting veteran of 15 years, Michele Mavi, writes, "Don't make the interviewer dig for answers." She continues, "Solid candidates recognize what the interviewer is trying to uncover based on the line of questioning and respond accordingly. This means they don’t just say, 'Oh, I have great organizational skills,' but they actually offer unprompted examples of how they organize their priorities and how their organizational skills positively impacted the outcome of a certain project."
Impress hiring managers by engaging in chit-chat. Fairygodboss's editors write, "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 to 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."

Thank You Notes and Emails

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Take it from the top: Romy Newman, co-founder of Fairygodboss, writes, "I simply will not hire anyone who doesn't send a timely thank you note following the job interview." Newman recommends sending an email within 24 hours of the interview. That way, you're still at the top of the interviewer's mind, and you demonstrate good manners and interest right off the bat. 

What do I say?

Here are three things you'll want to include in your thank you:
  • Your interest in the company. This is especially important if you aren't naturally bubbly or enthusiastic. This is your chance to let the company know that YES, you want this job.
  • An added value demonstration. This could be an article or idea that related to something your interviewer mentioned; or, it could be an example of a project or accomplishment that matched what your interviewer expressed as the company's next task. Don't overthink this — you're just trying to demonstrate that you listened and want to help.
  • The actual 'thank you for your time' portion!
Whether you send an email and a hand-written card is your choice, but you have to send one. Even if you don't think the job is quite right for you, you're thanking the company for its time and interest in you. And, the world is often smaller than you realize. Hiring managers often know one another. Leaving a good impression (even if you think it's overly polite!) is key. 
If you're still not sure you're hitting the mark, check your note against our roundup of 11 mistakes to avoid in your thank you note

Following Up After the Interview

Let's say you've followed Newman's advice and sent a thank you note or email within 24 hours of your interview. Now, you're in the hot seat waiting to hear back from the hiring manager to see if you made it to the next step in the hiring process.
When should you ping them? How often can you follow up before becoming a nuisance? Fairygodboss contributor Samantha Shankman writes, "If you don’t hear back within 4-5 business days, send a second brief follow-up letting the company know that you are still excited about the opportunity and offer to send a brief sample of the work that you would be doing for the company." That's assuming the hiring manager didn't respond to your thank you note with, "we'll be in touch when something changes." As a candidate, it can be easy to think you're out of the running if you don't hear anything in a week or two. However, hiring decisions take time. In some cases, you may be waiting a month or more while the company interviews other candidates, before you hear any word back.
If you decide the job is not for you in this time, send an appreciate quick note thanking the interviewer for her time. Let her know you will not be taking the role and wish her the best of luck in her search. 

What to Do if You Want to Cancel an Interview or Reschedule

Sometimes when it rains, it pours. You're on the last dollars of your emergency fund, you're running late to an interview for the job you desperately need, and the unthinkable happens — you get into a car accident. Things like that happen, and interviewers understand. In that case, you are more than excused for asking to reschedule your interview (check our phone script templates and email templates to make it even easier!).
But in some cases, it may not be so cut in dry. That's why we get into the weeds about when it's best to cancel vs. when you should reschedule. 

Everything Else You Might Want to Know 

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