From classroom to career: How to make a great impression in an interview

You got their interest – now it’s your chance to get the job

These days, internet job postings and applications mean every available role likely receives applications from hundreds of candidates. If you’ve been contacted for an interview, you managed to stand out from the crowd! This is a huge step – but there’s still work left to do.

Being contacted for an interview means the hiring manager thinks, on paper, you’re a viable candidate for their job. The interview is where they determine if you can actually do the things you described on your resume, whether your personality and skillset would be a good fit for the company and team, and – last but not least – whether you’d work well together.

Remember that an interview isn’t just the company’s chance to evaluate you – it’s your chance to evaluate the company, too. Is this somewhere you’d really want to work? Do the corporate mission and values align with your goals? It’s okay to relax and be yourself while figuring that out, but it’s also important to put your best foot forward during the limited amount of time you have to make a first impression.

Here are some tips, tricks and things to keep in mind before, during and after your interview:

Getting ready

  • Research the heck out of the company before your interview. Scour their website, check out their social media channels, and Google them to make sure you’re aware of any recent news, announcements or major changes.
  • Make a cheat sheet. Write down notes about the company (these could be things like what exactly they do, the name of their CEO or other leader, how long they’ve been in operation, annual revenue and recent announcements), your five stories (more about this below), and the questions you’ll want to ask them. Read over it until you know it backwards and forwards.
  • Know how you’ll get there. If possible, drive to the interview site the day before, so you know exactly how long it takes you to get there, where you’ll park, and if there are any (literal or figurative) transportation roadblocks you didn’t know about.
  • Get some sleep! Experts advise concentrating on getting enough sleep two nights before a big event (like your interview), because your nerves might keep you awake during the night before.
  • Have your outfit ready. In most instances, experts advise wearing a suit to an interview, but this is largely dependent on the company, position and industry. Regardless, make sure your clothing is clean, fits well, and isn’t offensive. Make sure your hair and nails are clean and trimmed, and don’t spray too much perfume or cologne. It’s fine to show some personality through your clothing, but stay away from accessories that you might be tempted to fidget with.
  • Come prepared. Even if you sent in your resume online, it’s a good idea to print out a few copies and take them with you in a folder. Bring some paper and a pen so you can jot down notes if you need to. Keep a few emergency supplies, like bandages, an umbrella, breath mints, a stain stick and a safety pin in your bag or your car.

Showing up

  • It’s a good rule of thumb to arrive to your interview 10-15 minutes early. Anything more may feel awkward for you or the interviewer, and anything less could make you look disorganized or cause you to run late.
  • Pretend someone is always watching. Chances are, it’s the truth. Don’t save your good behavior, posture and attitude for the hiring manager. Be poised and respectful from the time you arrive at your interview – how you treat the parking attendant, the security guard and the receptionist matters.
  • Practice your handshake. A good handshake is not too firm or too limp, lasts about two seconds (think ‘down, up, down, release’) and is accompanied by eye contact. If you’re nervous that your hand will be sweaty, give it a quick wipe on your pants first. If you’re carrying something while waiting for your interviewer, shift it to your left arm so you’re prepared to accept a handshake.
  • Express enthusiasm. You’re excited to be there, right? Act like it! Tell the interviewer
  • Your body language is important. Don’t slouch, sit with your arms crossed, or play on your phone at any point during the interview. Keep good posture, maintain eye contact, nod your head as the interviewer is talking, and smile!
  • Be yourself. It’s okay to ask for a restroom break or a drink of water, laugh during the interview, and show some personality.

Answering questions

  • That sounds obvious, but it’s easy to get distracted when you’re nervous, or to get caught up in what you want to say next.
  • Know how to “tell me about yourself.” This is the first thing you’ll be asked in most interviews, so have your answer ready. Plan to spend about two minutes talking about your education, relevant experience, and how you’ve ended up in the market for a job like this one. There’s no need to tell your life story or get too personal, but if you have any background or experiences that led to transferable skills, feel free to include them.
  • Take your time. It’s okay not to know the answer to a question right away. To avoid stuttering or rambling, let yourself take a deep breath and gather your thoughts before answering. It might help to have a go-to phrase ready that will buy you a bit of time. Try something like “That’s a good question. The first thing that comes to mind is …” You can also try reframing the question as a statement as you begin your answer.
  • Prepare five “stories” to tell about your career. Often, you’ll be asked by the interviewer to “tell me about a time when …” When it comes down to it, these situational example questions are ultimately looking for five different things:
    1. How well you work with a team
    2. How you approach problem-solving
    3. If you’re able to lead and take initiative
    4. Whether you have good interpersonal and communication skills
    5. How you handle stress and pressure

Come up with an example to illustrate each of those five things (teamwork, problem-solving, initiative, communication, stress response) and you’ll be able to answer almost any behavioral question thrown at you. Then, tell your story in a STAR format: what was the situation, what was your individual task, what was the action you took, and what was the result?

  • Come up with a weakness you’re working on. Everyone has weaknesses – you don’t need to try to disguise a strength as a weakness or pretend you don’t have any. Instead, think of something you’ve struggled with and tell the interviewer specific steps you’ve taken or are taking to improve it.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk numbers. You shouldn’t be the one to bring up salary in an initial interview, but if someone else does, it’s okay to answer honestly. Research the average salary for similar roles in your location before the interview, and come up with your ideal salary based on that and your level of experience. If you’re asked how you came up with that number, you’ll have research to back you up.

Asking questions

  • The questions you ask during an interview can be just as important as the answers you give. Prepare some thoughtful questions to ask about the company based on the research you did before the interview. Don’t ask questions you could have easily answered yourself during that research.
  • Ask questions about the specific role and how a successful candidate would operate in the role. Try:
    • How does this position contribute to overall company goals?
    • What would success look like in the first 6 months for this role?
    • What are some of the challenges you’d anticipate in this role?
    • How did this position become available?
    • Do you have any questions or concerns about my qualifications?
  • Ask about the next steps in the hiring process, and when you should expect to hear from the company again. This will give you a good idea of when you will have an answer on whether you’ll be offered the job, if they’re still interviewing other candidates, and if you might be asked to come back for another round of interviews.
  • Don’t ask about working hours, time off or other lifestyle perks at this stage. These are important things to know and discuss before taking a job, but not in the first interview. Bringing them up now could give the impression that you’re looking for a job where you work as little as possible.

After the interview

  • Send a thank you note. These days, it’s okay to send thank-you’s over email. It’s best to send yours within 24 hours, to every person who interviewed you individually. Thank the interviewer for their time and interest, reiterate your excitement about joining the team, and mention something specific you talked about – especially if you have more detail to add.
  • Don’t be afraid to follow up. Wait until after the date when you expected to hear something and send over an email asking about the status of the hiring process. But don’t bother the interviewers too quickly or too often, and don’t be surprised if the process takes longer than expected.
  • Keep applying. No matter how well you think your interview went, don’t stop applying for other jobs. You never know how a hiring manager will make a final decision for a role, or even if the company will decide not to hire for the position right now.
  • Don’t get discouraged. You probably won’t get every job you apply for, and that’s okay – few people do. Consider every interview a learning experience and a chance to get closer to the job that’s a perfect fit for you.

Then when you do get offered one of the jobs you interviewed for? Say thank you, celebrate your success … and ask for a little while to think the offer over. We’ll talk about things to consider when you get a job offer in the next edition of Career College Central.

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