After impressing employers with your resume and cover letter, and maybe even after a phone interview, select job candidates will secure an in-person interview. This is certainly a big step toward getting hired, but don’t consider the process all downhill from here—acing an interview requires extensive research, practice and consideration to land the position. While your qualifications on paper have impressed the employer, now your personality and enthusiasm need to shine.
NerdScholar asked experts to weigh in with the most important steps for acing an in-person interview. We divided this article into what you should do before the interview, as well as what you should do during, since both stages are crucial to your success. Once you’ve circled your interview date on the calendar, consider the following advice.
[Want more career advice? Check out our Job Search Guide for Gen Y.]
BEFORE THE INTERVIEW:
1. Know before you go.
Your first step should be to do some thorough research. This includes general information about the company, of course, but also about its employees, its competitors and relevant news about the industry. “Do some research to identify most current news articles and press releases about the company,” says Sharon Reid, assistant director of career services at the Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy in New York City. “What does the company tweet about? Where do its leaders stand on certain issues?”
When researching employees, LinkedIn is the most accessible resource, says Eric Melniczek, career counselor at High Point University in High Point, NC, though he recommends also “ask[ing] current employees at the company that you know about the interviewers.” Not only will this give you the inside scoop, it will also provide a better sense about the company culture. Finally, become familiar with the position. Ed Hallenbeck, a career consultant at Union Graduate College in Schenectady, New York, says it is important to be able to answer these questions before the interview: “What specific qualifications do you need to perform [the position’s] duties and responsibilities? Why does this position interest you, and how does it clearly fit with your career goals?”
Finally, candidates should remember that employers do their own research, some of which can be detrimental. “Given the era of social media, I advise [candidates] to remove any and all questionable photos from their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts,” says Chad Lassiter, race relations professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
2. Brainstorm solutions.
The employer is hiring to fill a need—you have to show that you are the best fit. “Every position is centered on a problem,” says Steve Langerud, deputy director of global development at Maharishi University in Fairfield, Iowa. “Your job is to figure out what that problem is for the employer. How does this position for which you will interview help the organization make more money or better serve their customers?” Hallenbeck notes that “it’s all about the value you can bring to them.” Come prepared to the interview to “show what you can do for the organization, rather than explain what they can do for you.”
3. Prepare anecdotes.
People latch onto stories, which is why you should practice framing your accomplishments through anecdotes. Reid suggests using the PAR format—problem, action and result—to demonstrate your experience. She suggests that applicants select 10-15 good anecdotes to have ready for the interview by considering the following questions: “P—What was the project, problem or performance objective that needed to be addressed? What were some challenges you faced in meeting your objectives? A—Describe the specific action you took. It does not matter if you are referencing a team effort or group project; you need to highlight your contributions that lead to a successful end result. R—State the positive end result. Numbers can be impressive, especially if used in comparisons.” Not only will these anecdotes clearly detail your role and accomplishments at your previous organizations, but the format also allows the interviewer to better remember you.
4. Plan an appropriate outfit.
Prepare an outfit the night before so that you’re not rushed for time the day of the interview. As popular belief has it, you should always dress to the nines—but this isn’t necessarily true. “Make sure that your outfit and hair are professional and similar to that of the employees of the organization,” says Stephanie Kinkaid, program coordinator at Monmouth College’s career center in Monmouth, Illinois. Rebecca Stilwell, president of O’More College of Design, says, “If at possible, go to the institution and observe the culture—know how formal or casual the dress code and the general feel of the firm”—though, she adds, “never underdress.” Along with an appropriate outfit, Kinkaid reminds candidates to “leave your phone, perfume and gum in the car.”
DURING THE INTERVIEW:
1. Engage with your interviewers.
You will undoubtedly be nervous on the day, but Reid recommends remembering that “the interview is a conversation and not an interrogation.” Your potential employer wants to get a sense of not only your capabilities but also your personality. Reid suggests using your interviewer’s name when speaking to them, which will “further engage them in your dialogue and [make them] feel more connected to you.” Kinkaid also recommends using small talk to bond with the interviewer. “For example, if you are both Cubs fans, you can capitalize on this commonality,” she says. In addition, remembering these quirks will give you something to reference in your follow-up message. However, don’t get too comfortable—Hallenbeck advises against “telling jokes, using poor language or slang, speaking negatively about a present or former employer and talking about personal issues.”
2. Be more interested than interesting.
Candidates often forget, Hallenbeck says, that most interviews are “50% talking, 50% listening.” Know when to brag about your accomplishments and when to be an active listener. Langerud explains that, “as humans, we love to talk about ourselves and our work. And interviewers are abundantly human! So let them talk. We always like people who like us.” Hand-in-hand with being a good listener is asking good questions, which is a vital part of the interview process. Hallenbeck suggests asking questions that “are curious in nature, questions that will provide relevant information and insight,” and not those that can be “easily found on the website or through some other common form of research. This will show a lack of preparation on your part.” Overall, candidates should be inquisitive and engaged with the conversation—showing genuine interest can go a long way.
3. Don’t be afraid of silence.
When you’re a nervous, a minute of silence can feel like an hour. But don’t stress. Moments of pause are normal, and can show thoughtfulness. “Don’t rush to answer a question that requires some thought and reflection on your part,” Hallenbeck says. After you’ve responded, allow the interviewer time to process your answer and jot down notes—“don’t feel the need to fill silence with extended responses or nervous chatter,” he says. If, at some point, the silence does seem to have gone on too long, you may ask the interviewer if she needs any further information or if you have addressed the question sufficiently. In general, however, remain calm and don’t let silence rattle your confidence.
4. Be conscious of nonverbal cues.
Nonverbal communication will add weight to or detract from what you’re saying, so be conscious of how you’re physically interacting with the interviewer. “Body language and general behavior…go a long way in establishing rapport during the interviewing process,” says Lassiter. Stilwell recommends that candidates not “slouch, lean back or cross your arms—all are signs of defeat, disinterest, defensiveness and cockiness.” Hallenbeck further suggests that candidates should practice “sitting up straight in your chair, maintaining good eye contact with the interviewer, leaning forward when the interviewer is talking to show your interest and avoiding fidgeting and nervous habits.” Your body language should convey confidence and professionalism. Be aware of any physical tics that could be sending the wrong message.
5. Show your enthusiasm.
Throughout the interview, but especially at its close, you should express your enthusiasm for the company and the specific position. Our experts agreed that candidates should remember to smile and maintain a positive attitude. “At the end of an interview, I like to hear a person tell me that they would love the job, that they enjoyed the process and being here at the company,” Stilwell says. Kinkaid echoes this advice, saying, “Don’t be afraid to tell the interviewer how much you want the job. An employer would much rather hire someone with passion for the position.” Reiterating your enthusiasm for the position will be the cherry on top of a successful interview and allow you to seamlessly ask about next steps for the interview process.
[Read: When and how to follow up after an interview.]
Sharon Reid currently serves as the assistant director of career services at the Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy through The New School in New York City.
Stephanie Kinkaid is the program coordinator for Career Services at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois. She serves as a career counselor and facilitates all career programming on campus.
Chad Dion Lassiter is a professor of Race Relations at the University of Pennsylvania and West Chester University. He is on the Board of Trustees of the Community College of Philadelphia.
Steve Langerud is the deputy director of global development at Maharishi University in Fairfield, Iowa. He is also a workplace consultant and executive coach through Steve Langerud & Associates.
Ed Hallenbeck is a Career Consultant at Union Graduate College in Schenectady, New York.
Eric Melniczek is a career counselor in the office of career and internship services at High Point University and author of “Transition to the Real World.”
Rebecca Stilwell is the president of O’More College of Design in Franklin, Tenn. She is the former managing director at Morgan Stanley, where she spent nearly three decades with the company.
Image of interview courtesy of Shutterstock.