Contrary to popular belief, your resume doesn't get you a job offer. Your resume is the sales brochure that gets you a job interview. Your job interview is usually a key determinant in whether or not you will get a job offer, assuming you have good references, pass any tests, and show that you would be a great employee/co-worker.
Many employers view a job interview as something akin to an audition. This opportunity calls for your "A Game" and nothing less! So, dazzle them! Here's how:
1. Know the job requirements and the situation.
If you don't have a copy of the job description, ask for it when the interview is scheduled. Then, read it very carefully! Sentence by sentence. Any questions or concerns raised for you in what you have read? Make notes so you can get clarifications or answers in the interview. Or, do your own independent research to see what you can discover.
Also ask for the names of the people who will be interviewing you. Ask how many other people will be interviewed and if they will be interviewed the same day you will be interviewed or over several days or weeks. If everyone will be interviewed on the same day, know that you will need to stand out to be remembered in the crowd of interviewees.
2. Prepare and practice your answers to the standard interview questions.
In addition to the usual greatest strength, greatest weakness, and "where-do-you-see-yourself-in-five-years" questions, prepare for the other typical interview questions, like:
- So what do you know about us?
- Why are you interested in working here?
- Why should we hire you?
- Why did you leave your last job? (Or, why are you planning to leave?)
- Tell us about yourself.
- Give us an example of where you have succeeded at...
- Give us an example of where you have failed at ...
In particular, know what you will say when asked about anything that looks a little weak on your resume -- perhaps a gap in employment, the reason you left your last job (if you are currently unemployed), or any other career setback you might have experienced.
Few people are perfect, and if you have good answers prepared, you can usually give your answer and move on. Don't dwell on long explanations. Move on.
Often it helps to write, and re-write, the answers to these questions, particularly the ones that are most uncomfortable for you, and then read them out loud a few times. You don't want to memorize your answers, but you want to feel comfortable answering difficult questions.
3. Have your own questions ready.
Don't be so focused on impressing them that you forget the interview is a two-way conversation, and you need information to decide if you want to work there. Maybe it's not the right place or the right job for you. Observe the environment and the other workers there. Does it look -- to you -- like a good place to work.
Ask questions like:
- Is this a new job or a replacement for someone who has left? If it's a replacement, where is that previous employee? (Hopefully, they've been promoted!)
- What is a typical day, week, year in the organization? Crazy-busy times?
- What is a typical career path for the person in this job?
- How does the person in this job fit into the organization? Reporting to whom? Responsible for what and whom?
- How does this team work? Who are the members? How is success determined or measured?
- What is necessary for the person in this job to be successful? How will you determine if the person is successful?
- Who writes the performance review for this job? Who provides input? How often are reviews made?
Don't be afraid to ask for clarifications if an answer isn't clear.
But, do NOT ask about vacation time, salary, drug tests, or benefits in the first interview! Those questions are best asked later in the process, when you are negotiating the job offer.
For more ideas, read "How to Ask the Right Questions in Job Interviews."
4. Build your confidence with your "power pose" before the interview.
Yes. Seriously. "Power poses" are scientifically proven to help raise your level of confidence by changing the levels of specific hormones in your bloodstream.
You do your power poses in private before the interview.
The research was done by Harvard Business School Professor Dr. Amy J.C. Cuddy and her colleagues. Power poses do sound somewhat wacky, but you don't get much more pragmatic (or knowledgeable about power) than Harvard Business School.
5. Walk in on time, bright-eyed and alert, well-prepared, dressed appropriately, and focused on the interview.
Be sure to bring:
- Several copies of your resume, hopefully customized for this opportunity.
- Several copies of your list of references with their contact information.
If you have enough notice for the interview, be very well-prepared. Don't stop with checking the employer's website, also scan the LinkedIn Company Profile. If you know a current or former employee and you have some time, contact them to see what you can learn about the organization, the hiring process, and the people interviewing you.
Google the organization's name, including a search of Google News (news.google.com) and Google Scholar (scholar.google.com). Hopefully you know the names of the people who will be interviewing you, so scan their LinkedIn Profiles, the groups they belong to, where they went to school and worked before this employer. Perhaps you have something in common with them, and can mention it in the interview.
[Yes, put your cell phone on silent, or turn it off when you enter the interview area. Do NOT answer your cell -- or text anyone -- during an interview!]
6. Hand over your business card, and collect a business card from each person who interviews you.
Have your own business cards with your personal (or job search only) email address, non-work phone number (hopefully with good voicemail), and target location (city/state or regional name, like East Bay or Brooklyn). You don't need to have a job title on the card, but it should clearly indicate your name and basic contact information. Including your home address is not required. A generic title like "Sales Professional" or "Administrative Assistant" (or whatever is appropriate for you) can suffice.
Writing the interview date and the title of the job you are interviewing for on the back of your card, before you go into the interview, will help people remember when and why they met you. It also shows how professional and prepared you are.
Collecting business cards from the people interviewing you will make it much easier to send those post-interview thank you notes, and also to contact them later. In addition, it will also help you to address people appropriately during the interview.
7. Take notes.
Don't expect to remember everything that is said. Some recruiters I've spoken with are offended if job seekers don't come with questions or take notes. It is polite to ask first, before you start writing down what is said -- a simple, "Do you mind if I take notes" should suffice. Unless you are in a vault, discussing highly classified subjects in the interview, note-taking should be fine. If it is not OK, I would ask why.
8. Answer the questions you are asked.
You have prepared answers to many of the standard job interview questions. Right?
But, listen carefully to the questions you are asked. Answer those questions.
Answers should be on topic, clear and brief. Don't tell your life story or ramble endlessly, and, of course, do NOT trash a former boss, a former employer or co-worker, or anyone else.
9. Ask for "the sale."
At the end of each interview, ask if they have any questions or concerns about your ability to do the job and to fit into the organization.
If it's a sales job, they may expect you to be more aggressive, in "sales mode." If you are feeling bold, you could ask, "When do you want me to start?" In some cases, that will work very well. In other cases, it may be too bold and be off-putting.
For a sales job, you might be more successful with a slightly less aggressive question like this, "Based on my research and what I've learned here today, I am very interested in this job, working for you. What do you think of me? Am I your top prospect?"
Your mileage may vary! It depends on you and your level of comfort with asking. It also depends on the interviewer(s), and on the organization. Follow your own best judgement.
10. Ask what the next steps are in the process, when the decision will be made, and who will be your contact person.
Assuming the answer was positive when you asked for the sale, ask them how their hiring process works, and what the next steps in their process are. Find out when you should expect to hear from their contact person. Don't leave without the contact information for your contact person.
Then, ask for permission to contact them if you haven't been contacted by the decision date or the date of the next step in the process (another round of interviews, perhaps).
After the Interview: Follow Up!
Be sure to follow up Immediately with a "thank you" unique to each person who interviewed you. Using email is apparently OK with the vast majority of people, according to a recent survey, but if you feel that someone you interviewed with is more formal or traditional, send a hand-written note.
If you haven't heard from them by the decision date/deadline they gave you, wait a couple of days, and call your contact (see number 10). Ask if a decision has been made yet.
Do NOT assume that you didn't get the job! When you call, be polite, gently remind them of your name, the job you interviewed for, the date you interviewed, and the people who interviewed you. Ask if a decision has been made. If it hasn't been made, ask them when you should be back in touch with them.
For more on successful job interviews:
- How to Knock Their Socks Off in a Job Interview
- 3 Bad Job Interview Assumptions
- What 80% of Employers Do Before Inviting You in for an Interview
- Pre-Interview Research You Can't Afford to Ignore
- Beware! A Majority of Job References Don't Say Good Things!
- Job Interviews: Are You Listening?
- How to Ask the Right Questions
- How to Answer the Top 10 Job Interview Questions
- Guide to Successful Job Interviewing
Susan P. Joyce is president of NETability, Inc. and the editor and chief technology writer for Job-Hunt.org and WorkCoachCafe.com. This article was first published on WorkCoachCafe.