How to Make a Good Impression at Your Next Job Interview
If you're looking for a new job, what you say and do in front of your prospective employer during the hiring process is just as important as your work experience, education and skills. Don't blow your chances of landing a dream job by making some of these surprisingly common mistakes during your next job interview.
Be polished and professional, every step of the way.
If you're changing careers, searching for your first job or doing some personal career planning, you should spend time working on your job interview skills. The more confident and prepared you are, the better your chances of landing a dream job.
If you want to find satisfying work with a top-notch employer, here are some things that you should know before you show up for your employment interview:
1.Understand the basics of interview etiquette. Most interview skills training programs will cover basic etiquette and decorum.
- If you want to find a job, you need to dress professionally and practice impeccable grooming, from your teeth, gums and lips to your hands, fingernails and cuticles.
- Arrive on time. If you're late, apologize once for being late, but don’t bother making excuses for why you're late. Very few excuses will make a difference to your prospective employer. Your best bet is to carry on as professionally as you can for the rest of the interview and hope that your qualifications and friendly personality outshine your moment of tardiness.
- Offer a firm handshake, but don’t overdo it. No one wants their hand crushed or their arm yanked out of the socket.
- Don’t chew gum or suck on mints during the interview.
- If you're a smoker, avoid the temptation to have a cigarette outside before your interview. Your clothes, hair and hands will smell. For some people, the smell of smoke can be nauseating. You also don’t want your prospective employer thinking that you'll need an hourly cigarette break if he or she hires you. Find an alternative way to calm your nerves.
2. Bring a positive attitude with you to the interview. Smile. Show that you have a healthy sense of humor . Avoid sarcasm, snarkiness and put-downs at all costs. Practice a funny anecdote to help you answer the question “Can you tell me about a project you were responsible for that failed? How did you handle it?” Showing that you can face difficult situations with a positive attitude and a healthy sense of humor is a soft skill that many employers are looking for.
3. Answer questions as specifically as you can. Open-ended questions are the cornerstone of tough job interviews. They’re designed to show that you can think on your feet, that you’ve done your research and that you can provide compelling proof of your competence. If you're asked the question “Why do you want to work for this company?” don't give a generic answer such as “It’s a great organization!”
Being asked why you want to work for the company is another opportunity to match your values, ethics and skills to the values, ethics and needs of the organization. By giving boring answers to tough job interview questions, you'll fritter away a valuable opportunity to show why you're the one to hire .
4. Be authentic. When answering interview questions, it’s tempting to say the things that you believe your prospective employer wants to hear. But the chances are that the interviewer has already heard those same answers from dozens of other candidates. The only way to stand out from the crowd is to answer questions honestly and sincerely. Don’t try to flatter the interviewer. People-pleasers or people who try to pander to higher authority figures can be disruptive to team dynamics. If your interviewer sees you as someone who will do anything to please the boss, she may wonder how you will fit in with other team members if she hired you.
5. Watch your language. Beyond the obvious advice to not swear or use crude, sexist or racist language in your interview, you need to watch out for passive language that undermines the image of confidence you want to project. Avoid non-committal words and phrases such as “I just want…,” “I tried to…,” “I hope to… .” Instead, speak affirmatively: “I want…,” “I achieved…,” “I will… .”
6. Be curious and engaging. Try to shift the interview away from a robotic Q&A session to a productive dialogue with your prospective employer. Without sounding like you’re trying to ingratiate yourself to the interviewer, ask her what she likes about working for the organization.
7. Talk about your 'benefits' rather than your 'features.' Your features are the things the interviewer has already read on your résumé: your credentials, your training, any specialized skills you have, your work experience. Your list of features (résumé) is what got you the interview. Now you need to show the interviewer how you and all your features will benefit the organization. Will hiring you help them increase sales of a specific product? Will your experience in supply-chain management improve their operating costs? Show, don't tell, your prospective employer why you are the best candidate.
8. Don’t complain about your employers, past or present. Be respectful of your current or former employers no matter how challenging they may have been. If the company you worked for mistreats its employees, chances are your prospective employer has probably heard it before. Savvy managers keep their ear to the ground; they know which organizations have good reputations and which ones have poor reputations. You don’t need to gush about your past employer, especially if doing so would be insincere. Instead, focus on what you learned while working for your past employer. A smart interviewer should pick up on your efforts to be diplomatic and will recognize this as an example of your professionalism.
9. Take responsibility for where you are in your career. Don’t blame other people, external circumstances or unfortunate events in your life. While some of these things may have had an impact on your career (i.e.; a loved one getting sick which required you to take an extended leave), don’t dwell on these things in the interview. Focus on what you were able to do in spite of any difficult circumstances you faced. “While taking time off to care for my mother three years ago, I was able to take a distance education class on XYZ, which means I can now do ABC and help your organization achieve 123.”
Keep in mind that you are not obligated to discuss any personal issues with your prospective employer that would give away your family, marital, religious or health status. If you're asked to explain long gaps between jobs, answer as honestly as you can without disclosing any personal information at this time.
10. Ask smart questions during the interview. When you're given the floor to ask your prospective employer questions, don’t ask about things that you could have answered yourself had you looked at their company website. Ask questions that show you're genuinely interested in working for the organization.
Ask about the company’s work culture and the organization’s values. How do the employees work together as a team? What are the team’s greatest strengths and assets? Hint: If the interviewer can’t answer this question right away with a sincere level of enthusiasm, this could be a red flag that the organization is either experiencing difficult team dynamics or that the company doesn’t value and recognize staff contributions.
Once you have your foot in the door for an interview, the fastest way to get a job is to stand out above all the other candidates being considered. Practice your interview skills, but only to the point where you're able to think on your feet. You want to sound natural and sincere. If you think you need more assistance with your job interview skills, consider hiring a career coach or taking some interviewing workshops at your local job search club or community center.
What is your biggest fear about doing a job interview?
- Always stand up to greet the person who will interview you. Even if you have been shown to the interview room and asked to take a seat at the interview table, always rise when the interviewer walks in.
- If you are driving your car to the interview, make sure it is clean, inside and out, and in good shape. Employers will look at the way you treat your property and possessions as a sign of how you will treat their property and possessions.
- Make sure your purse or handbag is well organized, just in case you need to retrieve something from it. You want to avoid rooting around in your handbag and accidentally pulling out candy wrappers, old envelopes or worse, embarrassing personal items. (For tips on how to organize the inside of your handbag, check out the video below.)
- Before your interview, visit the nearest washroom and double check your appearance. But don't forget, you may bump into your interviewer in there without knowing it, so always be on your best behavior, even when in the washroom.
- If you are led to an interview room by the interviewer, do not sit down until you are invited to do so.
- Avoid wearing strong scents or perfumes to the interview.
- If you have a business card that you want to give to the interviewer before you leave, make sure the card is in pristine condition. Hold the card with pride and reverence as youb hand it to the interviewer. Hold the card in the same orientation as the text is laid out and make sure that the text is facing the receiver when you hand it to him.
© 2012 Sally Hayes