When it comes to getting a job, a lot of candidates blow their chances by messing up the interview.
It's not possible to know exactly what to expect in every interview situation, but you can do a lot to make sure you put your best self forward. That means knowing what to do beforehand, what to during the actual meeting, and, of course, what not to do.
An interview is a chance to show your personality and explain any holes in your resume. It's also an opportunity to provide more details about why you would be a good hire. We can't guarantee you'll get the job -- but if you follow the tips below, you'll have a much better chance of ultimately landing a position.
While the interview will mostly be about you, it's also important for you to be prepared to talk about the company. For example, if the interviewer asks "why do you want to work here?" he or she won't want to hear that you need a job, or even something generic about the company that can be found on their website's homepage.
Before the interview, study in depth the company, your potential boss, who your interviewers are, and anything else that might come up. You should also go over your own resume in order to be prepared to answer any questions that may come up.
2. Be ready to answer trick questions
Perhaps the most traditional trick question is asking a candidate what their biggest weakness is. That puts the interviewee in a tough situation where it's important to name a weakness, but you don't want to reveal anything too bad about yourself.
In most cases, you'll want to answer this question by admitting a reasonable fault, while also explaining how you deal with it. "I tend to have trouble delegating, but have made specific efforts to track projects and make sure I assign work out where appropriate" would be a reasonable response.
3. Dress the part
Unless you are specifically told otherwise, it's necessary for a man to wear a business suit and a woman to wear the equivalent to an interview. Even if the job does not require business dress, the interview does.
4. Arrive early
Longtime football coach Tom Coughlin always operated by the standard that five minutes early is on time and on time is late. You should follow that logic with interviews.
If the location is not familiar to you, scout it out before the scheduled day. In general, you should plan to arrive at a nearby location well before your interview time and check in for the interview at least five minutes before the planned time.
5. Have your materials
Even though your resume and cover letter were part of your application, don't assume the person or people interviewing you will have copies. Bring a few copies of your resume and cover letter, and have references ready in case you are asked for them.
6. Be confident
In an interview, you have to sell yourself. Be confident that you can do the job and that you are a good fit.
Don't be arrogant. Think "I may never have done that specific task before, but am confident I can learn it," not "I'm good at everything anyone has asked me to do."
7. Have real numbers
If you plan to talk about how you improved things in your current or previous jobs, be prepared with numbers. "I increased sales by 10% by making more in-person sales calls" sounds better than "sales were up under me." Be ready with hard numbers and be able to explain how you got them. If you can put a dollar figure on your impact, that will go a long way towards convincing your interviewer that you'll add value to their team.
8. Answer the negatives
An interview is a chance to address any shortcomings you have. If the job calls for a skill you lack, take the opportunity to explain how you will get it or why some other experience applies.
For example, I once interviewed to edit a business journal before I had any business writing or editing experience. I explained that I had traditional news experience, and unlike most editors, I had actually run retail stores and a factory where I bought commodities.
I didn't get that job, but my answer kept me in the running over other more directly experienced candidates.
9. Know how to answer the salary question
In many interviews, you will be asked your salary expectations. This can be a trap -- if you name a number that's lower than what the company would be willing to pay, you may cost yourself money.
Technically, you don't have to answer this question. In reality, you should do as much research as possible into what the company pays and what the job should pay. If pressed to name a number, be realistic, but also don't say a figure below what would make you happy.
10. Follow up
After you leave the interview -- preferably the same day -- send a thank you note. Ideally, this will be handwritten and mailed, but if you have been communicating electronically, email is OK.
Thank the interviewer for his or her time, reiterate strong points, and if necessary acknowledge where you may have been weak during the interview. Make sure to have someone check your spelling and grammar as you would on any materials being sent to a potential employer.