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Your Ultimate Interview Guide

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When you land an interview, you have one chance to make a good impression. It’s a requirement for any job and your opportunity to show them who you really are. No pressure, right?

When you land an interview, you have one chance to make a good impression. It’s a requirement for any job and your opportunity to show them who you really are. No pressure, right?

Nearly all of us (92%) fear something about job interviews (Harris Interactive and Everest College), this includes:

  • General anxiety (17%)
  • Being overqualified (15%)
  • Not knowing the answer to the interviewer’s question (15%)
  • Being late (14%)

And it makes sense, this is a high-risk, high-reward situation. The best thing you can do to combat nerves and increase your odds of landing the job is to prepare.

Nothing can beat stellar experience, passion, great interview skills, and a confident disposition. However, interviewers are more likely to reflect on the entirety of the experience, rather than just those elements. The little things can add up, and the little things can set you apart.

As one of the nation’s leading staffing companies, we conduct hundreds of thousands of interviews each week.

We’ve compiled a guide to help you nail your interview – showing off your authentic self and landing the job.

Here’s your ultimate guide to before, during, and after an interview.

Before

The interview begins waaay before you ever sit in their chair. Take these steps to get prepared.

Clean up your social media

Hiring managers, more likely than not, will check any social media platform they can find. According to CareerBuilder,

  • 60% of recruiters will use social networking sites to research candidates (CareerBuilder)
  • 40% have reconsidered a candidate based on what they found
  • 69% of recruiters say that they have rejected a candidate based on their findings.

What’s on your social media does not define you, but it can influence how hiring managers see you, making it imperative that you keep your social media accounts private or squeaky clean.

Interview scheduling

The time and day at which you schedule your interview may not be entirely within your control. But if you have the opportunity, when you schedule your interview can increase your chances of landing the gig.

According to Glassdoor, Tuesdays between 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM is your best chance. You’re not the first, not the last, but early enough to be favorably compared to others and have your interviewer’s full attention.

This does not dismiss your talents or interviewing skills, but this can give you an advantage.

What do I do if I am interviewing in secret?

You can schedule your interview before or after work. But to get that time advantage, you can simply tell your employer/manager that you have an appointment. Don’t call in sick at the last minute or blatantly lie, just in case you don’t get the job.

Research

Do research until you feel dizzy. You can never know too much about the organization. The internet has changed everything and has allowed for unprecedented access to information. Take advantage of websites like Glassdoor and LinkedIn, even the organization’s website will give you great insight.

Before your interview, research the:

  • Position
    Do some research on LinkedIn and check out who had this position before you. Notice their responsibilities and advancements.
  • Organization
    What are the organization’s roots? Its latest happenings and successes? Its purpose? What do you find interesting about it?
  • Interviewer(s)
    Check out your interviewer’s LinkedIn page, read any articles they’ve written, and better understand their role within the organization. They will be flattered.
  • Culture
    Go to the organization’s LinkedIn and Facebook pages to learn about the personality of the company.
  • Industry
    The interviewer will be impressed with your industry predictions and insight into how it will affect your position currently and in the future.
  • Dress code
    Your interview outfit will be affected by the industry and organization. Check out their Facebook and LinkedIn pages to get a more candid look of how they dress. Always lean towards the more conservative/professional side – we will address this more later.

Interviewers want to gauge your investment in the position, and what to know that you are prepared for the reality of the industry and organization you are entering.

Prepare documents

Print is not dead. You can’t assume your interviewer will have everything in front of them, and scrolling through your phone to demonstrate something is super unprofessional.

Be sure to bring in multiple copies of your resume – you never know who will show up. Five copies should be enough. Also bring any other relevant materials including, but not limited to writing samples, portfolio pieces, case studies, former projects, or anything else that applies to the position.

Always print on resume paper.

Pro-tip: From a psychological perspective, tactile experiences can alter perception. We perceive heavier items as literally more weighty (Psychology Today).

There will come a point in your interview where the interviewer will ask you, “Do you have any questions for me?” Your answer will always be “Yes.” We will discuss these questions more in-depth later in this guide, but it is imperative that you write them down, and have them prepared before your interview.

Appearance

No matter your industry, professionalism extends to your appearance. According to the Undercover Recruiter, 65% of bosses indicate that clothes could be a deciding factor between two almost-identical candidates.

Interview wear will vary according to industry and individual organization, but it is always best to dress more conservatively and professional.

Check out their website and social media to see what your potential future coworkers wear on a daily basis. Then, dress one step above.

As you are planning your outfit, make sure it is clean, well-tailored, and free of any holes or loose seams. Choose neutral colors (black, white, gray, navy, beige, etc.), conservative dress, simple accessories, and a neat hairstyle.

If you choose to bring a purse or briefcase, make sure it is professional and tidy – inside and out.

Always try on your full outfit ahead of time and making sure it’s neat and ironed.

Map out the drive

Finding a brand new location can be difficult under stress, and you definitely do not want to be late. Map out your drive and practice it before your interview.

Power Posing

Take a tip from psychologist Dr. Amy Cuddy. In her TEDtalk (and subsequent book), through her research she found that posing like a powerful person before an interview led participants to feel less stressed, more powerful, more authentic, and more likely to land the job.

In the days leading up to your interview, practice power-posing in private. For two minutes at a time, pose like Wonder Woman or make yourself as big as possible. Then, continue to practice good posture – general good posture will produce more of those good hormones that make you feel confident.

On the day of your interview, give yourself an extra boost as you go in. As you ride in the elevator or go to the bathroom quickly, whip out a power pose and stroll in feeling confident and authentic.

Practice, Practice, Practice

The most important thing you can do is practice. Practice everything: your answers, your drive, your elevator pitch, everything. Don’t necessarily memorize your answers, but practicing will help you feel confident and ready.

During

One-third of bosses know within the first 90 seconds of an interview whether they will hire someone (UndercoverRecruiter), while half of hiring decision-makers say they can tell in the first five minutes of an interview whether the candidate is a good fit (CareerBuilder).

Here’s how to make the most of that first 90 seconds, and the rest of your interview.

Arrive early, but not too early

Punctuality is key, but showing up too early can make you seem too eager and your interviewer feel awkwardly rushed. Aim to arrive in the waiting area 5 minutes before your scheduled interview time. This shows appropriate timeliness, while allowing your interviewer to be ready for you.

Reception area etiquette

Your behavior is being observed and taken into consideration from the moment you step on the campus. That means you should conduct a professional demeanor from the moment you step out of your car to the moment you return to it. Practice courteous and polite small talk with all you encounter and treat everyone as if they are the CEO.

Cell phone etiquette

This should go without saying, but there is absolutely no reason your cell phone should be taken out – not to check the time, not to close out of your email, nothing. Not even in the waiting room. Regardless of industry or organization, checking your phone will never be acceptable behavior in the eyes of an interviewer.

Those pesky “silent” vibrations can also disturb your interview. Turn it off or switch it to airplane mode and keep it in your purse or briefcase.

Smile

It’s your simplest secret weapon. Humans are influenced by facial cues, and a smile indicates that you are friendly and approachable. People who smile appear to be more likable, courteous, and even competent (Penn State University). It also helps decrease the amount of stress-induced hormones circulating through your bloodstream, lowers your blood pressure, and makes you feel more relaxed and happy by stimulating the release of feel-good neurotransmitters in your brain (Fortune).

Plus, your interviewer is more likely to smile back, and that will make you feel good!

Handshake

No limp noodles, no strength competitions, no half-grips – more than a quarter of hiring managers say they’ve ruled out potential hires whose grip was either too weak (21%) or too strong (7%) (Fortune).

Deliver a firm and sturdy handshake paired with eye contact and a smile.

Posture/Sitting/Body Language

Your composure can be your biggest weakness in a job interview. The most common reasons otherwise qualified candidates don’t get hired are:

  • failure to make eye contact (67%)
  • not smiling (39%)
  • playing with something on the table (33%)
  • not sitting up straight (30%)
  • fidgeting too much (30%)
  • crossing their arms over their chests (29%)

(CareerBuilder)

Don’t take a seat unless asked to, sit straight, and lean slightly forward to show you’re attentive. If you are a known fidgeter, or simply want to look invested, take notes during your interview. It can be an outlet for your nervous energy and you can reference your notes while making your decision!

“Um…”

It’s an infamous nervous habit. Try replacing your “ums” with pauses instead!

Small Talk

Your interview is likely to start off with a bit of small talk. Sure, you can talk about the weather, but why not start the conversation off with a bang? Take the lead and try a few of these conversation starters:

  • “I see you recently won the X award. Your engagement programs are really leading in the industry.”
  • “I saw in the local business journal that you were ranked as a top-grossing company in the region. What do you think has brought you to this level?”
  • “I read your blog post on X. How do you see that affecting the industry?”

As the conversation continues, emphasize commonalities and shared experiences with your interviewer – we like people who are like us! Also, work their name into the conversation (without overdoing it). Hearing our own name elicits a unique effect in the brain, makes us feel good, and can help you make sure you never forget their name.

“So, tell me about yourself.”

You will hear this question. This may seem like standard small talk, but make no mistake: this is the time to sell yourself. This is your time to deliver your elevator pitch.

An elevator pitch is a succinct and concise introduction, intended to capture your audience in the time it takes to ride in an elevator. You have less than 30 seconds to introduce yourself and establish your value, making your audience want to continue the conversation – or in this case, the interview.

Again, start your interview with a POW! For tips on how to formulate your elevator pitch, check out our infographic here.

Prepare for questions like these

Most of the time, your interviewer isn’t looking for a right or specific answer for their questions. They want to see your reasoning and values and if those match with the position and organization.

Practice your answers so you can avoid getting stumped and show off your true self.

Here are a few questions you should prepare for:

  • Why do you want to leave your current job?
  • Tell me more about your education.
  • What kind of work environment do you like best?
  • What motivates you?
  • What do you consider to be your biggest professional achievement?
  • Tell me about the last time a coworker or customer got angry with you. What happened?
  • Out of all the other candidates, why should we hire you?
  • Why do you want this job?
  • What do you know about our organization/industry?
  • What would you look to accomplish in the first 30 days/60 days/90 days on the job?

Avoid words like “team player,” “hard worker,” or any other zombie corporate babble – anything that’s not really quantifiable. The best thing you can do is provide examples or stories, providing evidence to who you are and how you work. And most importantly, DON’T LIE.

What is your biggest weakness?

Holy moly, DO NOT say you are a perfectionist. This answer is so common that it has become meaningless and lazy. Instead, try emphasizing on a problem you have fixed, focusing on your methods of fixing it.

This is also an opportunity to address things like a gap in your resume or lack of industry experience. A certain amount of self-awareness combined with how you plan to combat that can really put you in a good light.

The big question

“Do you have any questions for me?” your interviewer will ask. You must respond, “Yes.”

This is can be a make or break moment. They are gauging your investment and critical thinking skills. Here are a few questions you can ask:

  • Is there anything about my application/resume that concerns you?
  • Can you tell me about the best person you ever had in this position?
  • If I do everything perfectly, what will you notice most?
  • What drives you crazy about new hires?
  • Can you tell me more about your journey within the organization?
  • What do you think makes this company the best place to work?
  • What are the biggest challenges facing the company/department right now?
  • What do you expect the interview timeline to look like?
  • Any other questions relevant to the organization, benefits, or industry

Anything that shows you’re invested and did your homework on the organization

After

The interview is not over yet. Nearly half (48%) of recruiters said they usually conduct three interviews per candidate (MRI Network). No matter what stage you are at, finish the game strong with these steps after each interview:

Thank you card

Always, every time, no matter what, send a thank you card. You want to show your graciousness and stay at the top of their minds. Opt for the personal touch of a physical letter or card over email.

Here’s a template you can work with:

Hello [interviewer],Thank you for taking time to meet with me today. It was such a pleasure to learn more about the team and position. Our conversation confirmed my interest in becoming part of [the organization]. I am excited by the [organization’s program/practice] and the opportunity to [goal/contribution].

I look forward to hearing from you about the next steps in the hiring process. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can provide additional information.

Sincerely,

Super Ambassador

Send this as quickly as possible.

Follow Up

It takes on average three interviews and three to six weeks to get an offer( MRINetwork). Stay in front of your interviewer with regular phone calls and emails, without being overwhelming.

Most likely, your interviewer will give you a timeline. If you do not hear from by those mile markers. Call or email promptly.

Prepare for the next round

Remember, you can expect around 3 rounds of interviews. Prepare for your next round while you wait for a decision. That way, you’re ready no matter what.

Considering an offer

There are several factors to consider when you get a job offer. We will explore this in our next blog post!

You will have to interview for any job you want. It’s a shared reality for all jobseekers. Interviewing is nerve-wracking! View it as an opportunity to change your life, rather than an intimidating procedure. As you move forward, practice the mantra: “I’m not nervous – I’m excited.”