In a job market where LinkedIn listings display a disheartening amount of applicants and the competition is more cutthroat than ever, crushing your next interview and standing out is crucial.
But don’t fret—with the right preparation, you’ll be a clear-pick candidate, be it a Zoom or in-person interview. See our guide below for how to nail your next interview, with tips for every step of the way–before, during, and after the process.
Before the interview
Do your research
If this is a role you’re really excited about, it’s paramount to do a deep dive into the company’s mission, products, and culture. That way, you’ll be prepared to answer questions like, “What can you specifically bring to the table to support our company goals?” Pointing out tidbits or anecdotes from a company’s website or marketing materials that really resonated with you show that you did more than just skim.
Know your resume inside and out
Haven’t thought about a freelance project you took on five years ago or those glowing percentages outlined in your highlights section? Now’s the time to dig deep and consider the skills you’ve gleaned from all your past work endeavors. Be prepared to explain any gaps, and come up with a short-but-sweet rundown of your career path so far—aim for anywhere between two-to-three minutes. Think we’re joking? We’re not. Bust out the stop watch and time yourself.
Rehearse your answers
Once you’ve found that narrative thread, it’s important to practice your delivery. You’ll feel a little awkward, but saying it aloud in front of the mirror is a good way to do it. With repetition, you’ll appear more poised and confident, avoiding a rambling answer. And when you feel like you have it down, practice responses to other common interview questions. (Check out this list of 10 common interview questions from Harvard Business Review for a little inspiration.)
Plan your route
If you’ll be heading to the interview in person, make sure you know the best route to take to avoid traffic and have a plan for parking—especially important if it’s in the middle of a large city. You could even take a dry run spin around the area to get the lay of the land the day before. (The person who wrote this may or may not have once showed up to an interview late, having accidentally parked blocks from the office, having to shimmy out of the car door due to having to fit in a too-tight parking space. Don’t be like her!)
Clear away the clutter
For an interview that will be conducted virtually, check that the area within view of your camera is clear and free of clutter. This is also easily mitigated by using a blurred-effect background or subbing it out altogether for a pre-set background. If your computer is older, though, ensure you do a test run to see if the background works—some don’t have that capability. (And don’t forget to make sure your internet connection, microphone, and camera are all in working order, too.)
During the interview
Dress for the part
If you’ll be interviewing in person, it’s always better to be a little overdressed than underdressed. A step above business casual is always a safe bet. And even if you’ll be making a first impression via webcam, opt for a button-down and tie or a blouse and blazer. (You can still wear something comfy on the bottom—they’ll never see.)
Indulge in the small talk
Don’t be afraid to chat! Avoid feeling like you must spend the interview at the peak of professionalism and indulge your interviewer in a little banter, if it happens. If you’re interested in the role, you and the interviewer will likely have some common interests—even just chatting about a recent event or the weather can help build rapport and show a less stilted part of your personality.
Use the STAR method
Once the interview really begins, employ this tried-and-true response technique for longer answers. According to Indeed, the STAR method is the best way to prepare for situational interview questions. They typically start something like, “Tell me about a time when…” This method will help you create a clearer narrative and demonstrate critical thinking. (As well as an ability to get to the point.)
Share the context around a specific situation or challenge you faced, with two or three important details to set the stage. You should spend the least amount of time on this part of your answer—interviewers will be more concerned with what you did to resolve the situation.
Describe your responsibility in the situation or challenge, offering one or two main goals you were trying to achieve. This should also be a shorter part of your story.
Explain specifically how you took charge to overcome the challenge. It’s particularly important to focus on just yourself throughout this explanation, avoiding “we”. Instead, use “I” statements—though that may sound a little self-indulgent, the point is to demonstrate how YOU bring value to a challenging situation, even if the solution was reached as part of a team. This section should be the most in-depth part of your answer.
Share the outcome that was achieved through your actions. Focus on two or three main results, mentioning what you learned, how it helped you professionally, and why you’re a better employee because of it. Concrete examples are best!
Mind your body language
Your confidence—or lack thereof—will clearly show in your body language. Whether you’ll be interviewing virtually or in person, be sure to make eye contact, speak confidently and annunciate, and avoid fidgeting—sometimes we don’t even notice how often we’re twirling our hair or fiddling with our cuticles. Your mirror practice sessions should have helped with this, too!
Remember that it’s a two-way street
When the pressure’s on, try to just take a deep breath and remind yourself: As much as the interviewer is trying to determine if you’ll be a good fit for the role, this is also a time for you to get a feel for the company culture and decide if it would be a good fit for you, too.
After the interview
Send a note
One of the best ways to show enthusiasm and appreciation for a hiring manager’s time is to send them a quick “thank you” email within 24 hours of the interview. Directly after you’ve spoken, jot down a few key takeaways or anecdotes you enjoyed from the conversation and mention them in your note, along with an invitation for them to reach out with any questions they may have. It’s also a great way to express your enthusiasm for the role—it’s a small gesture, but could set you apart from those who don’t take the time.
Continue the search and keep your chin up
As exciting as the interview process may be, remember that there’s no guarantee until an offer letter is signed. Stay positive and keep the job hunt alive! Interviews elsewhere allow more chances to hone your interviewing skills while you wait for the perfect role.
written by Cortni Dietz