How to Nail Your Next Interview

In last week’s blog, I wrote about the elevator pitch. Nowadays, it’s not too common to spontaneously deliver this pitch in an elevator. That’s especially true for those of us working remotely. You’ll more likely find yourself talking about your professional self in the context of an interview. “Tell me about yourself” is often the first question you’ll hear. Read on for tips and tricks to continue the interview successfully, right down to the last question.

Know What to Expect

The best way to prepare for an interview is to know what you’ll be up against. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. Fortunately, you can easily find commonly-asked interview questions. For instance, this Forbes article and this HBR article add up to a pretty extensive list. After the classic opener, which typically asks you to talk about yourself generally, the interviewer will go deeper.

Questions about your career will look for information beyond what’s on your resume. For instance, you might be asked to explain gaps in your work history. Here’s a helpful video on explaining gaps if you find yourself in that situation. You’ll also be asked about your interpersonal skills. These questions might sound like “Tell me about a time you handled a conflict at work.” The interviewer may also ask you to reflect on your professional strengths and weaknesses. Consider how you’d answer these questions now so they don’t catch you off guard later. For instance, let’s say you’re asked about how you handle stress. You might talk about some wellness practices you use to fend off burnout. Alternatively, you could highlight your productivity by mentioning your to-do list and calendar hacks. In the end, you just need to show that you can meet deadlines under pressure.

In addition, you’ll likely field some questions about the role and organization you’re applying for. The interviewer might ask why this job or organization interests you. Be prepared to talk about why they align with your career goals. This is why you have to do your research! Know the organization and the role well. Don’t give generic answers at every interview. This is especially key when you hit the last question, but hang on. We’ll get there at the end of this post.

Interview Best Practices

Whatever question you’re answering, there are some right ways to present yourself. Your goal is to highlight the value you can add to the organization and show genuine interest in the role. Let’s start from how the interviewer perceives you. You want to make a good impression right away. Remember, this person’s feedback will help decide whether you’ll be the right candidate for the job. Throughout the interview, address your interviewer by name. It also helps if you take the time to research them in advance. If you can refer to something you have in common, it will help break the ice. For instance, you might be from the same city or have a common alma mater. When the interviewer is speaking to you, practice active listening. All these will sway the interviewer to want to work with you.

At the same time, this interview is not all about you. As this article advises, show interest in the role and organization. You can start by being appreciative of the opportunity. Gratitude can go a long way. Thank the interviewer for the opportunity right away, and follow up to thank them again after your interview. In addition, when you talk about the role, personalize it. Say things like “How soon would I meet my future coworkers?” This kind of phrasing shows that you’re excited to envision yourself in this role. Hopefully, that enthusiasm will be contagious.

virtual interviewOne more note for those virtual interviews: be prepared. This HBR article has some great tricks based on this research on virtual interview impressions. Basically, your background and the way you dress matter. Plan those out the same way you’d plan your route to arrive on time to an in-person interview. For more tips, check out my earlier blog post about virtual meeting etiquette

Avoid These Common Mistakes

Along with the dos come the don’ts. This video from Indeed cautions against some major mistakes interviewees tend to make. For instance, the way you describe yourself and your career is important. Don’t talk badly about any previous employer, manager, or coworker. At best, it makes you look whiny. Worse, it could lead the interviewer to think you’re a critical person. That won’t make them want to work with you. You also don’t want to get too personal. Talking about relationships, politics, and religion will quickly become unprofessional. Ditto for overly casual clothing or a slouching posture. Remember to show respect for this opportunity. At the same time, highlight your unique strengths. Avoid cliches. Rather than claim to “think outside the box,” describe your approach to problem solving with an illustrative story. 

Speaking of stories, try not to only prepare answers based on situations that happened years ago. If you keep referring to “your first job,” the interviewer might get suspicious. What are you hiding about your career since then? Have you learned anything in the roles you’ve held after that one? Instead, prepare anecdotes from recent and relevant experience.

Finally, don’t act entitled. You need to show up with humility and gratitude. If you seem to only pay attention to discussion of compensation and benefits, you’ll make the wrong impression. You don’t want the interviewer to think you don’t care about succeeding in the job itself. As mentioned above, showing interest is key to doing well in your interview.

Answering the Final Question

So you’ve made it through your interview successfully. You answered the questions well, staying humble and authentic. You haven’t made any classic blunders. You’re almost to the finish line when your interviewer asks, “Do you have any questions for me?” Don’t take this question lightly! Like any other part of the interview, it’s an opportunity to demonstrate that you’re the best candidate for the role. The questions in this article will help you learn what you need to know while continuing to convey interest.

You can ask questions about your specific role or the team you’ll be working with. Consider asking what you’d be expected to accomplish in the first 90 days. This shows that you’re seriously interested in taking this job. You can also ask about what projects you might start working on. Remember, you can also base your questions on company values. For instance, if the organization prides itself on data-driven assessment, ask what metrics you’d be evaluated by.

You can also ask questions about the organization as a whole and its culture. Consider asking about the organization’s plans for growth and development. You can also ask what kind of professional development you’d get access to. Another question that will yield valuable insight and show interest could focus on the onboarding process. Again, you can learn a lot by continuing to demonstrate genuine interest.

Additional Resources for Interview Preparation

Whether you’re actively interviewing or not, I hope you find these tips helpful. Career changes are common, so it never hurts to be prepared. If you are in the thick of applying to jobs, you’ll probably want more than one blog post to prepare. Besides all the other links I’ve included in this post, I recommend checking out Big Interview. This tool has helped me succeed in many interviews in the past. And in case you find yourself on the other side of the interview more often, don’t worry! My next post will be for you.