Being good at interviews is a skill very few of us naturally possess. Most people spend several years at a company before looking for a new gig, and by the time they hit the job seeking circuit, they're out of practice.
Unfortunately, you're not given a do-over if you flub your first (or second, or third) in-person screen - and the pressure to perform well under stress can easily undermine your confidence.
What's an unemployed (or, unhappily employed) person to do?
I've been both an interviewee and interviewer this year. Three months ago, I interviewed with several companies before landing my new job as Director of Marketing at ReferralMob. Shortly thereafter, I recruited and hired two direct reports.
If there's one thing I've learned, it's that candidates who can turn an awkward, first date-esque scenario into an enjoyable experience will have the upper hand.
Here's my advice on how to ace your next interview, based on my experience sitting in the hot seat -- as well as on the other side of the table.
Do your homework.
I can't emphasize this enough. Check out your employer-to-be's website, social media accounts, and blog. If you can install their app or download an eBook for free, do it. Your goal is to understand as much as you can about the company's ecosystem and where it fits so you can explain why you want to work there and what excites you about their mission.
As David Vencis, Associate Director of Startup Institute points out, doing your homework lets you flip the power dynamic during an interview and take an informed position right from the start. His suggestion? "Show you've thought about the challenges the company faces, and what keeps their prospects up at night."
If you have time, take the research one step further and scope out the staff's LinkedIn profiles, user activity, and social media posts.
All this legwork should arm you with talking points, relevant questions for your interviewer(s), and reasons why you want to work for this company -- not just a company. Specifics will always win the day.
Make sure you're able to handle any behavioral questions that pop up during the interview by preparing a set of stories that cover a number of scenarios. For example:
- A time you successfully recovered from a failure at work
- A time when you were especially proud of a project you completed
- A time when you were juggling multiple deadlines and had to prioritize your work
Aside from engaging your interviewer with anecdotes rather than simple talking points, you'll be able to counter the dreaded "So, tell me about yourself" with information that couldn't be found on your resume or LinkedIn profile.
Show up no more than 10 minutes early.
If you show up earlier than that, hang out in a nearby coffee shop. It's likely your interviewer needs time to prep themselves or their team before you arrive, and you don't want to throw them off their schedule unnecessarily.
Use any extra time to play some psych-out music, take deep breaths, or watch a video to get loose - anything you need to do to relax before heading to your destination.
Own the room.
Once you've arrived for your interview, smile warmly, make eye contact, and shake hands with your future teammates. Body language is a huge part of projecting confidence - and even if you don't feel it, others will.
Ease into the conversation.
Remember: You need to be the person your interviewer can envision spending days and weeks sitting next to. Make small talk! Ask them about themselves.
This approach will help you steer clear of any interrogation vibes and turn the interview into more of a discussion among peers.
Show genuine interest.
- Ask questions about the product, the people who use it, and the company's long-term goals. What would make you -- and the company -- successful?
- Get a sense of how the company positions itself against competitors
- Find out who had the position before you, and any lessons learned
- Inquire how this role would complement the roles of other team members
Remember to take note of any answers that you may want to follow up on later, and ask for each interviewer's business card so you can thank them for this opportunity later on.
*Pro Tip: Ask to go to the bathroom*
This may sound silly, but if you're meeting with multiple people over several hours (very common in the startup industry), excuse yourself halfway through and take a quick break. You can use the time to gather your thoughts and prepare for the next few rounds.
Display your expertise.
Some employers care more about the way you think than how much experience you have with a given task or tool. Each question your interviewer asks is a chance to explain how you tackle workplace challenges, and therefore help them predict how you will approach different facets of the job.
It's also a chance to:
- Offer any ideas you may have for how the company can improve its services
- Share any observations on past projects in terms of what worked, what didn't work, and lessons you learned - and how you can apply these lessons to your future job
- Cite data on how your past work led to measurable, positive results
Does this sound familiar?
Smile warmly, make eye contact, and shake hands with your future teammates.
As soon as you get home, follow up with a thank you note containing details on what you enjoyed learning about the company, and confirming your continued interest in the role. You can either send a group thank you note, or individual emails.
That's it from me. If you'd like more career advice, check out my previous article, 6 Proven Paths to Getting Hired. And if you have any questions, feel free to post them in the comments!
Juliana is the Director of Marketing at ReferralMob, where she's on a mission to matchmake job seekers with great local companies who are hiring. She's been a member of Wonder Women since 2012, and keeps coming back for the knowledge sharing and fantastic networking opportunities.