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How you prepare for a job interview can be the difference between “You’re hired” and a rejection letter. To help you get the job you want, career counselors share these tips successful candidates have used to get hired.
1. Research the company and industry
If you haven’t done your homework on the company, it’s going to show in an interview. Kick off your research with the listing to learn more about the job you’re after. Consider that each element of the job description can be turned into a question in the interview, says James Elkins, a master career counselor and sole proprietor of Career Planning Services in Portland, Maine. For example, if a job description says “Establishing and maintaining effective relationships with clients,” you may be asked about how you’ve handled finding and communicating with clients in the past.
Next, dive into the company’s mission, core values and culture by scrutinizing its website, LinkedIn page and social profiles. This will help you prepare to answer potential questions related to cultural fit. Knowing these details will allow you to demonstrate how you would fit in and add value to the company. You can also find out who the key players are, what products or services they offer and which clients they work with. This information may influence the questions you ask the hiring manager during the interview. For example, you may ask how your role would impact a particular service the company offers.
Finally, seek out conversations happening beyond what the company touts. Try sites like Glassdoor to find reviews from employees and search “news” with the company’s name to see if there are any mentions in industry publications. If you’re not familiar with the industry or the company’s competitors, do some digging there, too. Figuring out how the company fits into the industry landscape can help you answer a tough question like, “Based on what you know about us, what could we be doing differently?”
2. Prepare answers that feature examples
Reflect on your experiences so you can discuss your accomplishments more effectively. Frame your answers around being a problem solver and not a job seeker, suggests Sharon Hanna, director of career development and external relations for the international development community and environment department at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.
“I think a lot of candidates come into the interview thinking it’s important to just talk about themselves and their accomplishments, but they have to strategize how to deliver discussing their accomplishments. It needs to be the story the employer needs to hear,” Hanna says.
To develop talking points, Hanna suggests going through the job description and highlighting areas where you could present a story or example of past success. If you can, support your stories or claims with real numbers, such as how you surpassed a certain goal.
To present your anecdotes most clearly, Andrea Weiss, a master career counselor in Davis, California, suggests using the STAR method, which stands for situation, task, action and result. Start with a situation, then describe the task you were charged with, talk about what action you took and list the results of those actions.
3. Anticipate an employer’s possible doubts
You’ll also want to be able to talk about your weaknesses. Choose something that won’t be a burden to your new role or that demonstrates how you’ve overcome challenges.
“Rather than answering with something trite like, ‘I take my work home with me and think about it all weekend,’ it’s better to point to something in the job description. Say, ‘I notice you’re looking for someone who has a background in this type of software. I don’t have that, but I’m sure I could take a short course to get up to speed on this,’” Elkins says. This type of answer shows awareness of your own shortcomings and a plan to remedy the situation.
Along the same lines, an interviewer may ask you to detail a mistake you made and how you responded to the situation. “With both of those questions, they’re trying to get at are you self-aware and are you willing to admit that you make mistakes and do what needs to be done to move forward,” Weiss says.
4. Decide what questions to ask
When you’re asked if you have any questions, be prepared to say yes, and have at least three questions ready to go. Your questions should reflect your research of the company and suggest how you could contribute to its success. You can ask questions that wouldn’t be addressed in the interview or about something you couldn’t find on the company’s website. But wait until you’re offered a position to ask about salary or benefits.
“You could ask, ‘In my first 60 days on the job, what would be some of the priorities you want me to address?’” Weiss suggests. “It shows you’re eager and ready to get started. Something similar would be, ‘In this position, what would I need to do to achieve an exceeds-expectations evaluation?’ or, ‘What are the skill sets of your top performers?’ It shows you’re focused on results.”
5. Go for a polished look
What you wear has a big impact on the first impression you make. What you decide to wear is going to depend on the company you’re hoping to work for. It’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed, career counseling experts say, even for a company with a casual culture.
If you’re interviewing via video chat, like Skype, have a professional-looking background and dress the part completely, from head to toe. “Not only is it going to look great ‘head and shoulders,’ but it will help you present a more professional image,” Hanna says.
6. Keep your body language confident
Your interviewer won’t know your stomach is rumbling and heart is pounding if you can play it cool with your body language. At the start of the interview, you’ll need to shake hands, smile and make eye contact with the interviewer. Practice your handshake and solicit feedback from people you trust. “Ask them, is it weak? Is it too limp?” Hanna says. “Practice moderating that handshake.”
In the interview, maintain eye contact to ensure a two-way conversation. If you’re in a group interview, look around the room and pay attention to everyone. While seated, leaning forward and having good posture demonstrates engagement. If you’re having trouble deciding what to do with your hands, cross them in your lap or on the table in front of you.
7. Ask about next steps and express your gratitude
At the end of a successful interview, you should know what the next steps are in the process. If not, here’s a good time to ask. After the interview is over, career counseling experts agree it’s important to send a thank-you email. More than a polite gesture, it’s a one-paragraph opportunity to reiterate why you’re interested in the position and what your skills are.