Whether you're applying for your first office job or climbing the corporate ladder to an executive position, being adequately prepared for the interview process is essential. From your wardrobe to your interpersonal skills, you need to set yourself apart from the rest of the candidates you are up against.
We're taking a look at some of the key components of acing a job interview. These can be applied to virtually any position, from entry level to executive leadership.
Know the company
Do you know the company's mission statement? Who is their target market? How would you describe their culture?
It's imperative to do some research beforehand. With the world wide web at your fingertips, there's no excuse for walking into an interview blind. Some helpful resources include:
- Friends or contacts who know the company
- News releases
- The company's blog and social media outlets
Know who you're meeting with
If possible, get a list of the people who will be interviewing you and do a little internet sleuthing. LinkedIn will be your best friend here. Look them up and get an idea of their background. See if you have any commonalities and make a mental note of them. This will give you conversation points and show that you've done your homework.
Prepare a list of questions
Inevitably near the end of the interview, you will be asked if you have any questions. Always come prepared with a list of questions. The best questions show your long term interest in the company and plant the seed for your potential employer to see you there in the future. Most importantly, they put the employer first; you want to see how you can best benefit them. For example:
- For me to be considered successful in my first year on the job, what would would I have accomplished?
- What's the most important thing I should accomplish in the first ninety days?
- What type of background do you feel would be best suited for success in this position?
What to wear
Whether we like it or not, first impressions are largely based on physical presentation. Start your interview off on the right foot by being clean, polished and professional.
You've probably heard the saying: "Dress for the job you want." It pays to have an understanding of the culture and dress code at the company you are applying for. Showing up to a corporate office in casual wear is going to signal that you don't take the interview seriously. On the other hand showing up to a casual environment in a tailored suit might give employees the impression that you won't fit in to their culture.
If you can, get an idea of the typical employee dress before your interview. This will give you an idea of where to start when picking your outfit.
Plan out and try on your outfit well before the interview. Make sure you are comfortable and feel confident; it will show if you're not.
The day before the interview, make sure your clothes are clean and well-pressed.
For women, keep accessories and jewelry simple. The phrase "less is more" applies here. Opt for a simple necklace and earrings. For men, a classic watch is a nice finishing touch.
Shoes should be comfortable and cohesive with your outfit. Shine them beforehand.
Make sure your hair looks neat and clean. If you need a haircut, try to schedule it for about a week before the interview rather than the day before.
For women, make sure nails are clean and manicured. If you want to wear polish, leave the neon colors at home; choose a neutral polish for the first interview.
For men, facial hair should look clean and well-kept.
Answering the tough questions
Prepare yourself so that no question is a curveball. Practice your response to tough questions beforehand. We'll go over a few common questions and the best ways to answer them.
What is your greatest weakness?
This is arguably one of the most dreaded interview questions. No matter how you answer, the most important thing is to frame your chosen weakness into a positive point. Don't even think about saying you don't have one - that just shows that you're either arrogant or lack the ability to self-correct.
Instead, think about an area where you have struggled in the past. How have you turned it around and made it a positive? For example:
"In the past I had trouble staying organized because I handled so many projects at once. To help me manage my role, I developed a time management system and it has improved my organizational skills greatly."
The thing to remember about this question is that your interviewer isn't as concerned with your answer as they are with how you handle yourself while answering it.
What would you bring to the company?
This is where your research comes in. By now, you're familiar with the company's goals and culture. Frame your answer around what you've learned. This is all about what you can bring to them, not the other way around. For example:
"I know that it is important for your employees to provide an exceptional customer experience, no matter how difficult the customer. My background in customer service has prepared me to deal with people in tough situations, and my natural people skills allow me to empathize with customers to make sure they have a positive experience."
The way you answer a salary question will depend partially on when it is asked during the interview. Ideally, the employer will wait until near the end of the interview, after you have already had a chance to show off your skills and sell yourself as the perfect candidate.
However, if they ask you at the beginning of the interview, you're left in a tricky situation. You don't want to sell yourself short, but you also don't want to put yourself out of their range before you've even had a chance to tell them why you're worth it. In this case, it's best to deflect the question in a tactful way. Try to keep your answer vague and refocus the conversation.
What are you making currently?
"Since this role is not exactly the same as my current job, I'd like to get a detailed understanding of my responsibilities in this position. I know that we will be able to agree on a fair salary for this position once we reach that stage."
What are your salary expectations?
"I’d like to spend some time learning about the job responsibilities and requirements and how well I meet those needs before discussing salary."
Once you've had a chance to answer the rest of their questions and proven yourself as a desirable candidate, the question becomes less tricky. Be prepared to offer a salary range that is in line with the industry standard (yes, this means more research!) There are a number of websites online that will allow you to get an idea of the average salary in your field, including:
Now that you're armed with facts, you can provide a clear answer.
"Based on my research, similar positions in this location currently pay between $x and $y. Is this in line with what you have budgeted for this position?"
Mirror your interviewer
This is perhaps one of the oldest tricks in the book: mirroring the body language of your interviewer. It is a known psychological phenomenon that we tend to like people who exhibit body language similar to ours.
This often comes to us naturally as we try to appeal to somebody, but there are ways to consciously mirror someone's expressions of nonverbal communication. Pay attention to your interviewer's tone of voice, posture and gestures.
Be subtle about it, though. You don't want to repeatedly fold and unfold your hands at the same time as your interviewer; chances are, they will notice.
When you first meet your interviewer, maintain eye contact as you give them a firm handshake. This shows confidence and establishes your competency. Ensure that you are maintaining eye contact throughout the interview, and check your posture to be sure you aren't slouching.
Some hand gestures are fine, but don't overdo it or they can become distracting. On the other hand, you don't want to conceal your hands as it can look like you have something to hide.
Relate to your interviewer
Research has shown that we tend to like people who we feel we can relate to.
Remember when you looked up your interviewer on LinkedIn? Use what you found to form a common interest. For example, if you graduated from the same university as your interviewer, find a way to work it into the conversation.
Following up after your interview is a great way to reiterate your interest and keep yourself fresh in the interviewer's mind.
To set yourself up for a strong follow-up, end your interview by asking about the next steps in the process. They'll give you a timeline for when to expect a call back, and you can use this as a guide for when it's appropriate to follow up.
Send a thank you note
Immediately after your interview, send a quick thank-you to let the interviewer know you appreciate their time and consideration. Also use this opportunity to highlight the specific reasons you would be a great fit for the company. End the note by saying you look forward to the next steps in the process.
If your interviewer told you that they would be in touch by Monday, don't contact them until then (with the exception of your thank-you note; that should be sent no matter what).
But if Wednesday rolls around and you haven't heard anything, feel free to give them a quick call or email.
I hope your week is going well. When we met, you mentioned that your team would be moving forward on the Operations Coordinator position this week. I'm eager to hear when you have an update. Please let me know if I can provide any more information for you at this time. Thank you!"
Keep the message brief and polite. If you don't hear back in a few days, try again. But if it's been several weeks and they've gone radio silent, it's safe to assume there will be no offer and it is safe to stop communication.