Tips for a Successful Interview

Interviews can be tricky and intimidating, but with the right tools and resources at your disposal, you can become a master at interviews!  Whether you are looking for your first summer job or switching careers, there are a few foundational tips that everyone should know when going into an interview to be successful.  These tips will walk you through initial job scouting through closing out the interview conversation.

Research the Position and Company

One of the most important parts of the interview process is understanding the position and the company as a whole.  Be sure to fully understand the skill requirements before even applying to the job – you don’t want to be caught in a situation where you embellished your skills on a resume.  Once you are confident that you are a fit for the position, it is always a good idea to research the company and its history.  This will make you more competent and stand out above those who did not research the company as thoroughly or at all.  If possible, you may want to try to do research on the person interviewing you in order to create a connection with that person.  Knowledge is power, and having as much knowledge as you can about the job and company will only help you when going into an interview.

Practice

Many people do not practice for an interview because they feel silly or awkward, but practice can help hone-in on potentially weak answers and interviewing skills and fix them before the interview.  Understanding the position and the company can help you uncover what the interview may be like and the questions that may be asked.  It is also helpful to ask the hiring manager or your point of contact what to expect at the interview, to determine whether it will be a panel interview, a one-on-one interview, or a working interview.

Next, research common interview questions and responses.  Many employers will ask behavioral-based questions that require very detailed responses.  An example of a behavioral-based question might be, “Tell me about a time when you handled a difficult interaction with a coworker.  What was the outcome?”  It’s important to be as detailed and thorough when answering interview questions, and there is a specific format that can help ensure a thorough and successful answer.

The STAR format is a commonly used answer format that has proven successful for many potential employees.  The format is simple to understand but is more successful when you practice the format with as many potential questions as possible.  Here is a breakdown of the format:

S stands for Situation – the first part of the response is the situation that you were in.  The beginning of your answer should thoroughly describe and set the foundation for the story that you are telling with your answer.

T stands for Task – this part of the answer details what your goal was.  If you were answering the question about a difficult interaction with a coworker, the goal may have been to come up with a solution that both parties agreed on, or work out your differences amicably.

A stands for Action – here is where you describe your specific actions and what you did in the situation you are being asked about.  Be specific and clear about what you did, this is where you can showcase your skills and attributes that an employer is looking for.

R stands for Resolution – this is where you tie everything together and show that you handled the situation successfully, whatever the situation may be.  Be specific with your resolution.  Give them information about how it ended successfully, and how it benefitted you, those involved, and the company as a whole.

Dress Appropriately

This simple step can actually make a very big impact on the outcome of the interview.  If you are underdressed, the employer can view you as not serious or committed to the job.  It is always better to be overdressed, so be sure to wear your best outfit for the day.  Other dressing tips include avoiding smoking before the interview, keep cologne and perfume to a minimum, and iron your clothes before the interview.

First Impressions Count

A first impression can make or break an interview.  If you create a great first impression you are already off to a good start, whereas a poor first impression can derail an interview entirely.  The easiest way to create a good first impression is to be on time.  Being late to an interview is a sure way to not get the job.  It is usually recommended to arrive at an interview at least 15 minutes before the interview is scheduled to start, that way if there is any additional paperwork that you need to fill out, you can complete it beforehand.

Bring multiple copies of your resume, CV, and any other materials you may need such as a portfolio or references.  Interviews are typically one-on-one but there are plenty of times where you find yourself in a panel interview, so having enough copies of the material for everyone to review is essential and makes you appear more prepared.  It is always recommended to bring a pen and paper to take notes.  You will also want to turn off your cell phone before the interview to avoid any unexpected interruptions.

Be positive and kind to everyone you interact with, even if they are not part of your interview.  When you get to the building, office, or location where the interview is being held, it is extremely important to be polite to everyone.  Not only could these be your future colleagues, many employers may be observing your behaviors beforehand, and being rude creates a bad first impression.

The Interview

The kindness and energy that you had going into the building should absolutely carry through the actual interview process.  Try to remain calm and confident, and make a lasting impression as soon as you enter the room.  Confidently introduce yourself, keep eye contact, and use a firm, professional handshake when greeting someone.

During the interview itself, remember the STAR format you practiced.  The key is to be thorough yet concise.  You need to find the balance between efficiency and quality of your answers.  You don’t want the answer to be too short and fall flat, but you don’t want to spend the entire allotted interview time answering a single question.  Being able to effectively showcase your skills and attributes in a limited amount of time is a hard skill to master, but will come with practice.  Speak loudly enough for everyone in the room to hear you and be sure to speak concisely – if you mumble when you are nervous or speak quickly, be sure to practice beforehand to help with interview nerves.  Not only will mumbling and speed-talking come off as unprofessional, the interviewers may also simply miss important information that you are trying to tell them.

Body language is just as important as your verbal communication in an interview, so being in control of body language is very important.  Actively listening, having good posture, and keeping good eye contact are all great forms of positive body language that you should employ on all of your interviews. Avoid slouching, fidgeting, chewing gum, and other negative behaviors.  Staring off into space and not paying attention to the interviewer while speaking can come across as very rude.  Always remember that you are being observed, and it is much more than what you say when answering a question.  Confidence is key – even if you are unsure of an answer or did not prepare for a specific question, be as confident as you can with your answer.  Confidence creates a positive appearance, gives the interviewers a good impression, and can even build the interviewer’s confidence in you!

Closing Out the Interview

After successfully answering all of the interview questions, the interviewer may ask if you have any additional comments about your candidacy.  This is where you can showcase anything that you may have missed that is relevant to the position.  If the questions are very specific and did not leave room to elaborate on other accomplishments and achievements, you can bring those up here.  Be sure to ask about the timeline going forward and about the next steps of the process.  A suggested tip is to write a thank you email shortly after the interview, thanking the interviewer for taking the time to talk to you about the position.

There is a lot that goes into a successful interview, and a lot of it is not even during the interview itself.  Interviews can be stressful if you are not prepared.  However, these simple tips can help you overcome your fears of interviewing and land your dream job!

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