As intimidating as a job interview may be, there are ways to alleviate your anxiety and walk through the door feeling prepared and self-assured. The key is to know your strengths, your professional objectives, and to answer questions concisely and honestly. No interview strategy is fail-safe, but the following tips (along with a little practice) will improve your employment chances and build your confidence.
1. Be attentive, organized and concise
Listen carefully to the questions you're asked and try to achieve a "natural" dialogue that shows you are genuine, engaging and interested. Going into too much detail or wandering from the question are common interview mistakes. Stay focused and try to answer in a straightforward, succinct manner.
2. Restate questions in your own words
By rephrasing the question, you buy a little time, giving yourself the opportunity to organize your ideas and answer thoughtfully. The interviewer is trying to determine if you can do the job by assessing your skills, education and prior accomplishments. Prove you're the right choice by restating the goals of the position and illustrating how your background and skills are a good match.
3. Get the full picture
If it hasn't yet been stated, ask the interviewer what he or she is specifically looking for in a candidate. Ask the interviewer when the hiring decision will be made and who will make it. If the interviewer is not the department manager, ask if you can meet with him or her, as well as any other members of the team you will be working with. This may seem pushy, but it will show you are interested.
4. Ask questions
Show you have done some research and want to find out more about the company, your role, the corporate structure, your employer's management style, etc. by asking questions. This will give you the opportunity to assess if this is the type of position and company you would be comfortable in. It also shows the interviewer you are genuinely interested in the position.
5. Understand what is expected
Know what the objectives of the position are and respond to questions with success stories that demonstrate you can perform to the standards they are seeking. Job objectives are usually based on performing a task or series of tasks within a defined period of time utilizing specific guidelines and resources. You want to know what will be expected of you in the position and how your success will be measured.
6. Match performance objectives to your own experience
Once you understand the performance objectives of the job, make sure you find ways to demonstrate how you can meet those objectives. Offer specific examples of previous successes that you can document in detail, including your role and the final outcome. The interviewer will ask questions related to your past performance to see if you have the capabilities and skills to perform well in the current position. If you are not asked performance-based questions, try relating your answers to similar situations in which you performed successfully.
7. Emphasize the positive
As you answer questions, avoid using negatives. Instead of "problem" for example, use words like "challenge" or "opportunity." Find ways to turn weaknesses or failures into learning experiences that stress growth and development.
8. Be yourself
You could be the most qualified and well-prepared candidate in the world and still not get the offer if the employer and you don't "connect." An interviewer will noticee if you are being genuine in your responses or just giving well-rehearsed and expected answers. The better prepared you are, the more comfortable you feel and be able to interact confidently with the interviewer. Find ways to show some of your other interests and goals in life. An interviewer may be interested in seeing how your personality is a reflection of your career path.
9. Be honest
All of the accomplishments you list will be checked in detail with your past employers. Most interviewers expect applicants to "slant the truth" in their favor by taking a greater portion of the credit for successful projects or by embellishing their resumes and credentials in other small ways. A good interviewer will quickly establish exactly what role you played in your previous positions and will follow up with in-depth reference checks. It's okay to remember past accomplishments and performance through the "rosier" lenses of your memory, but make sure those lenses aren't so out of focus that they distort the real picture.
10. Offer to clarify and amplify
Everyone has moments during an interview when they feel as if they are sinking faster than the Titanic. Sometimes these blunders can't be salvaged, but often it's possible to patch up a hole if you simply refer back to a previous point and clarify what you said. Ask the interviewer if you have sufficiently answered all of his or her questions or if more details or clarification are required.
11. Ask final questions
As an interview draws to a close, most interviewers will ask you if you have any final questions about the job. Many candidates don't realize that "no" is a bad answer, even if all their questions HAVE been answered. If you're worried that you won't be able to think of anything, prepare a list of questions ahead of time. You'll want to avoid questions concerning salary and benefits or any questions that might be awkward or difficult for the interviewer to answer. During the course of the interview certain "issues" might surface; note them down on a piece of paper and use them as the basis for your final questions. In "The Everything Job Interview Book," author Bob Adams suggests your final questions address issues such as the following:
- Could you tell me what a typical work week might be like for someone in my position?
- Why did the last person leave this job?
- In your opinion, what is the best part of this job?
- How does your company measure and reward employee performance?
- What opportunities for advancement exist in this position?
12. Wrap up the interview
At the conclusion of the interview, indicate you are very interested in the position, based on the information you have been given. Always find out if the company will be contacting you directly or whether you should call someone within a certain time frame to check the status of your application. Don't forget to ask the interviewer for a business card. This will give you the opportunity to call later to "clarify" any questions you had regarding the job. Even if you determine from the interview that you are not interested in the position, politely thank the interviewer for his or her time.
13. Follow up
Don't forget to send a follow-up thank you note within 24 hours either through email or regular mail. A handwritten note is an especially nice touch. Either way, the gesture will be greatly appreciated as the manager makes their final decision on who to hire.