Tips for A Great Job Interview
Next to having a baby and dinner at your in-laws, a job interview can be one of the most stressful events in your life. There's a lot at stake; your future, your income, your new boat, etc. But most of the pressure of a job interview is self imposed. After all, from your future employers point of view, they're just having you in to see if you might be a good fit for their team and some work that needs to get done. It's no big deal for them if it doesn't work out. For you, on the other hand, it could be a big deal if it doesn't work out, especially in today's economy. So you want to be your absolute best "you" at the interview. This article will help you prepare and execute a flawless job interview, so you can afford that convertible that you keep drooling over.
Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance
It's a tired old adage, but it's absolutely true. The single best thing you can do to guarantee a great interview process is to prepare in advance. It will make you more relaxed at the interview. It will also make you sound smarter, which is important. And it will give you something to do besides chewing on your fingernails for days before the interview. There are many things that you need to do in order to be properly prepared for your interview. Here are the big ones.
1) Learn about your new employer - When I interview a candidate, nothing is more impressive to me than their knowledge of my industry and my business. There are plenty of sources for good information about companies. Of course, the Internet is a great place to start. Search on the company name, scour their web site, and read articles about them in the press. If you can find out the names of the people you will be interviewing with, read up on them also. Internet stalking has never been easier, with sites liked LinkedIn and Facebook providing a glimpse into the egos, tastes, and hobbies of your potential co-workers. Also, find out about the industry that you want to work in. Learn where it is going, who is driving innovation in the industry, and what the big ideas are for the future.
2) Bone up on your technical knowledge - Whatever line of work you are trying to get into, primarily you are being hired to do a job. Demonstrating that you have the proper knowledge of the job is THE KEY to nailing the interview. Nothing turns me off quicker in an interview than asking a question to a candidate and having them skirt the answer because they don't even know what I asked. Even if you have no direct experience in the line of work you are attempting to break into, knowing the jargon, acronyms, and buzzwords of an industry makes you sound more impressive. So study up; buy books, read articles, go to seminars, buy lunch for someone in the industry and pick their brain. Do whatever it takes to sound intelligent at the interview.
3) Dress the part - Back in the day, it used to be easy to dress for an interview. All you needed to know was "blue suit". Today, it's not quite as clear. With the advent of "ultra-casual" work environments, you need to be smart about how you dress for an interview. Sometimes the recruiter will tell you what to wear. If they don't, and if you are unsure, ask them. The rule of thumb is: Be the best dressed person in the room. That doesn't mean a tuxedo, necessarily. What it means is dress appropriately for the company and job you are interviewing for, but be the best dressed "whatever" that you can be. It's also important not to wear anything distracting. Even though your tongue piercing may fit in perfectly at the dot.com where you are interviewing, it may distract the interviewer from your intimate knowledge of web design. So it's best to leave your more personal "flair" at home for the interview. Think of it as a first date. You want to get a second date, without scaring the parents.
4) Come prepared - The last thing that you need to do is make sure that you have everything with you when you go to the interview. You may need a photo ID to get in the building. You may need pen and paper to take notes (or at least to appear to be taking notes). You will definitely need many extra copies of your resume to hand out during the interviews. You may need a coat to tour an outside facility. The point is to think through the interview process and make sure you are prepared for anything that may happen. A potential boss loves to see a prepared candidate. Also, if the company really likes you, they may start asking questions like, "When can you start?", and, "How much will you need to make?" If you hem and haw and stare off into space when asked these questions, it may seem to your new employer as if you are not prepared to leave your present job, or worse that you are not that interested in their company.
Once you have done all of these things, get a good nights sleep, take a hot shower, put on cologne and get ready to win that job!
Into the Fire
Assuming you have done your preparation, now it's time to nail the interview itself. Interviewing is an art form, and you get better with practice. Many psychologists believe that interviews are won or lost in the first five seconds. Yes, that's right, seconds. I don't personally subscribe to this notion, but I do believe that first impressions are really hard to overcome in an interview. So you want to nail that first look (and listen). Here are some of the most effective things you can do to impress your new employer.
- Show up ten minutes early. No more, no less. If you are earlier, sit in your car in the parking lot and practice your smile and "hello". If you are running late, call immediately and apologize profusely.
- Be enthusiastic. Say hello to everyone you meet as if you had met them before. Smile at everyone. Look them in the eye when they ask you how you are doing and say, "Really well. How are you doing?"
- If someone offers you coffee or water, take it. If they offer you snacks or anything to eat, politely turn it down. You don't want a mouth full of muffin during the interview. The exception to this is the "lunch" interview. This is a tough interview because you have to appear to be eating, while talking effectively about yourself. I recommend the salad. Cut it up into small bites and pick at it while you talk.
- Don't chew gum. Some people are offended by gum as much as they are by cigarettes. Speaking of cigarettes, don't ask to go out and have a smoke. It can be a showstopper. Suck it up, or wear a nicotine patch.
- When you meet your interviewers, look them square in the eye as they approach. Keep your shoulders back and your head up. Don't puff out your chest. You want to look confident, not overbearing. Do not stop looking your interviewer in the eye until they break eye contact. That is unless it becomes uncomfortable. Then you should look away for a moment, and then re-engage.
- Shake hands firmly, but don't crush it. You have to adjust your shake to the person you are shaking hands with. However much pressure they use, you use the same. That is unless they do the "limp" handshake. The limp handshake is a power play. You should respect the power of the person delivering it. Return the limp handshake with a gentle, but firm shake.
- Speak as clearly as you can. Sometimes it's hard not to talk fast during an interview, because you are obviously excited. But if you catch yourself talking excessively loud or fast, slow down and take a deep breath. Your interviewer will understand your excitement, but they will also appreciate your ability to regulate your own behavior.
- Mirror your interviewer. Don't be overt about it, but if your interviewer is leaning forward and engaged with you in conversation, you lean forward a little also. If your interviewer is leaning back in their chair, you wait a minute or two and lean back also. Mirroring is scientifically shown to improve your interviewers impression of you. But don't get caught at it. Smart interveiwers know this trick, and it can cause them to start over analyzing the whole interview process. That will distract them from your message, which we will discuss in the next section.
- Be animated, but not scary. It's okay to talk with your hands, but don't flail around like a fish on the dock. If there is a whiteboard in the room, and you are asked to explain something technical, use the whiteboard. This subconsciously indicates to the interviewer that you are willing to get your hands dirty, and to get to work right away.
- Finally, be friendly without being a shmuck. This is not your poker buddy interviewing you. Off color jokes are off limits. Innuendo is to be avoided. If the interviewer tells a joke, you laugh. But only say something funny yourself if you are sure that it cannot offend anyone in the room. You want to be personable and likeable. You don't want to appear psycho, OCD, or desperate.
Questions And Answers
Having thought about the psychological and social aspects of the interview, keep in mind that the main point of the interview is that your potential employer needs to assess whether you are a) capable of doing the job that they need done, and b) capable of helping with the other people that you will be working with. Usually, an interview is going to go something like this:
The interviewer may break the ice by asking you how your trip was, or something about the weather, or your family. Keep your response friendly, short, and upbeat. Don't go into your terrible experience on the freeway or how your two year old threw up on your interview dress. Ice breakers are sometimes tests of your ability to meet new people. You need to pass this test or the interview is essentially over.
For the first few minutes, the interviewer is going to describe the position to you, and may give you some background on the company and the industry. They may also talk about themselves and what they do for the company. During this time, pay close attention. Nod your head in affirmation. Look at the speaker most of the time, but don't stare like an idiot. You are allowed one or two intelligent comments or questions during this time, but don't interrupt the speaker to make them. This is where it is a good idea to take a few notes, in case you have a question that you want to hold until later. Your interviewer won't mind if you pull out a pad and paper while they are talking. It actually works in your favor because it makes the interviewer think that you find them interesting.
After the speaker is tired of talking, they will probably either pull out your resume and ask you to go through it, or they will ask you to tell them about your work experience. Either way, it's a good idea for you to pull out your resume at this point. If they don't have a copy of it, give them one from your collection. If you have extensive experience in the field you are working in, talk about your experiences in reverse chronological order, or from newest to oldest. Concentrate on talking about your "relevant experiences", that is things that you have done that will directly benefit your new employer. Talk about one experience at a time, and provide time in between experiences for your interviewer to ask questions. Remember that even this part of the conversation should be balanced. Don't hog the air time. Let your interviewer ask questions. And if you sense that you are losing their attention, stop talking and ask if they have any questions.
If you don't have relevant work experiences to talk about, then talk about how effective you have been at other jobs or tasks that you have performed. If this is your first job, talk about your school experiences, your volunteer activities, and your community service. Let your new employer know that life has been preparing you for this job. The main point is to impress the interviewer with your willingness and ability to learn quickly, and your enthusiasm for hard work.
If the interview is a "technical interview", then the interviewer will probably start asking you technical questions straight away. Answer their questions to the best of your ability. If you don't know the answer to a question, don't BS. Simply say that you don't know the answer. Then briefly explain why you don't know. For instance, you might say something like, "I haven't worked directly with the CS-8 freezer unit, but I have experience with the Sperry HL-232 unit, which is similar." Also, you might briefly explain how you would find out the answer to their question, as in "I haven't used a Decorator pattern in C-Sharp, but I know it's theory is covered in the Gang of Four book." If the questions require visual explanation, use a whiteboard or a pad of paper. If you are asked to actually use a piece of equipment, don't do it unless you actually know how to use it. Nothing will end an interview more quickly than you breaking a piece of machinary.
Some interviews may require you to actually demonstrate knowledge through solving a problem. Make sure that you understand the problem thoroughly before you start solving it. Ask clarifying questions. Don't assume that you know the correct answer. The interviewer doesn't care that you know the correct answer as much as they care about your ability to listen, clarify, and respond to them as a customer. So interact with them heavily while you are solving the problem. Even if you don't get the right answer, your interactions may convince the interviewer that you know how to solve problems.
When the Q&A period is over, the interviewer may enter into the "small talk" phase of the interview. This is a good sign. If they start asking you about where you live, who you know, etc. it means two things: 1) they are satisfied with your knowledge and experience, and 2) they think that you are a good fit for the job. If they quickly end the interview at this point and usher you out the door, that may either be a sign that you didn't do so well, or it may be that they just have a tight appointment schedule. Either way, be sure to look them in the eye, shake their hand, and remind them once more that you are ready and willing to start the job at their convenience.
After the Storm
When you get back to the parking lot, take stock of the interview. If you think that you blew the interview, you probably did. If you think that they really liked you, they might have. Either way, you learned something. Try to write down anything that you did wrong, or would improve in the next interview.
Whether your interview went well or not, follow up. Most larger employers these days have a fairly well oiled recruiting machine, so chances are they will contact you. However, If you don't hear from the potential employer or recruiter within two business days (unless they explicitly told you longer), call them. Be casual when you call. Don't demand any information or a decision, just indicate that you wanted to see if they needed any more information from you to help them with their decision. You can also send a courtesy e-mail to any one of your interviewers who gave you a business card. Just remind them of your interview, thank them for their time, and tell them where to contact you if they need anything further.
Finally, remember that the battle is NEVER over for a job. if you don't get the job at first, don't bad mouth the company where you interviewed. Chances are that somebody knows somebody at that company, and your bitter words will get back to them, and that will completely demolish any chance you have of being reconsidered for the job should their first choice not work out. I once got a job six months after I interviewed because the first person that accepted the job was an out of town transfer, and he never showed up for his first day of work. So keep your chin up, keep interviewing, and you will get that dream job eventually.