You have reviewed your resume and are ready to enumerate your strengths and weaknesses. Your shoes are polished and your alarm is set for 6:00 AM. But what else can you do to make sure your upcoming job interview goes smoothly? Below are some tips to help you leave a lasting impression that will increase your chances of getting that call.
Whether you’re interviewing for an internship or your first full-time job out of college, you must make sure that you have a competitive advantage over other interviewees. While there’s not much you can do about your past work experiences or your competition’s brand name college, there are certain things you can control to make sure you stand out positively.
1. Research the company
I know it sounds so obvious, but you’d be surprised by how often people go to interviews without a hint of what the position they’re applying for entails or what their potential employer is all about. There is nothing attractive about looking like you just sent out a bunch of applications to a million random companies to see which ones will call you back. Now, I know that that’s usually the case; there’s nothing wrong with maximizing your chances. The problem occurs when your interviewer asks “What do you know about this position/company?” and you can’t utter a word. Finding out everything you can about the position and the company itself can help you sell yourself better to your interviewer.
Employee 1: I am aware that your company is planning to have a branch in Spain by the end of 2015. I studied in Barcelona for a year, and my familiarity with the language and the culture would be a tremendous help to your expansion.
Employee 2: I am motivated, a self-starter, and have a strong work ethic.
Which one do you think the interviewer will remember?
2. Stay up to date with current events
The need for this varies greatly depending on which industry or job you’re interviewing for, but being aware of what’s happening in the world could never hurt you. No, this doesn’t mean knowing which dress Kim Kardashian wore to a charity event, but rather important news concerning the economy, politics, and the likes. In finance, for example, it is not uncommon to be asked things like “So how is event X in Greece going to affect interest rates in America?” or “Is there a recent event you know about that made the Dow Jones go down a hundred points?”
In fashion, being unaware can cost tons of money and time. Sending out your materials to China for a rush manufacturing order only to find out that the factories are closed for Chinese New Year and no one’s working can create a problem that has a ripple effect on the upcoming fashion show, the new collection release, the times when the models are booked, and so on. Knowing these things ahead of time would allow the company to plan accordingly and make sure everything is done before then, as opposed to getting an ugly surprise. In your interview, make sure that you don’t look like the guy/girl who’s not in the know.
3. Visit the interview location beforehand
I learned this one from my dad. Whenever he has a big appointment or meeting coming up at a place he’s never been to, he makes an effort to visit it a few days in advance. You want to be 100% ready on the day of your interview, and the last thing you want is to be panicking over which train or bus to take, or where the nearest parking spot is. Visiting the place in advance allows you to do a mock commute which familiarizes you with what your actual travel to your interview will be like. Maybe there’s a huge construction going on that requires a detour, or your train is cutting its stops short and you must transfer afterwards. Point is, you don’t want any surprises on your big day.
4. Prove that you’re paying attention
It’s very easy to look like you’re paying attention; nodding and saying “uh huh…right” while your interviewer is talking sure gives off that impression. But how do you prove you’re actually listening?
When I was interviewing for the company I work for now, we were sitting in a conference room in the McGraw Hill building in midtown Manhattan. I sat on one side; on the other sat the two heads of the US operations along with the director of the UK headquarters. As they started their presentation about the company and the position, I pulled out my portfolio and began taking notes. I saw in the corner of my eye that one of them took notice, looked at the others, and nodded in approval.
Be Mindful of the Details
If you’ve ever described yourself as (the cliched…) “detail-oriented,” at least prove that you really are. We often do (or don’t do) little things during an interview that leave a lasting impression with our interviewer. Again, this varies depending on who you’re interviewing for and where you’re interviewing. These are more likely to be useful in corporate settings where companies care a great deal about how they’re represented by their employees, especially when dealing with clients or partners. Here are some examples:
5. If you’re wearing a suit (see how to button your suit properly HERE), make sure to unbutton it before sitting down. When you stand up, button it back up.
Your interviewer may not be aware of this “rule,” but if he or she IS aware, then you just earned some cookie points in the attention-to-detail department.
6. Although extremely unlikely to be greeted this way in the U.S., if someone says “How do you do,” you simply say “How do you do” in return.
It’s not a literal question; it’s almost the equivalent of saying “Hello.”
7. Know your interviewers’ names, if this information has been provided to you.
I personally find it very helpful Googling their names and seeing their LinkedIn profiles beforehand. That way, I know once I walk in to the room who’s who (but still wait to be introduced). It’s always good to have the upper hand.
8. Don’t say “I assumed…”
This one is good for any situation, not just for interviews. If you’re ever put in a position where you’re explaining yourself for any reason, never say “I assumed…” Instead, say “My understanding was…”
Assuming is like that taboo that everyone does but no one ever wants to talk about; you don’t want to put yourself in a negative light. The latter makes you look like someone who was genuinely under the impression that what you were doing was right, instead of someone who was just assuming. This would lift some pressure off your shoulders and completely change how your employer reacts to the situation.
9. Backpacks are not a good look in interviews.
Invest in a decent looking portfolio, briefcase, or a classic handbag to put your stuff in. Avoid flashy/logo bags.
10. Be professional with everyone, not just your interviewer(s).
Treating everyone with respect–from the receptionist to your fellow interviewees–would go a long way. Your interview doesn’t only occur in the room, and it’s not just the hiring manager you’re trying to impress. One rude remark to the receptionist WILL lead to your resume being shredded.
11. When someone is introduced to you, repeat their name in your response.
For example: “Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Smith.” You’re less likely to forget their name that way.
12. Avoid wearing cologne/perfume.
It’s a job interview, not a first date.
The Important Cliches
You’ve heard these points multiple times, but that is because they’re important. Don’t underestimate the power of these:
13. Make sure your handshakes are firm. Not limp, not bone-crushing. Just ones that say “I am a confident professional”
14. Send a follow-up e-mail within 24 hours after your interview
Mention specific points and topics that were discussed during the interview, and reiterate why you’re a good fit for the position. The key is to do this without seeming pushy or desperate. It’s almost like the professional version of telling your date you had a great time.
Remember that the employer likely interviewed a dozen other hopefuls that day; make sure you stay fresh in their memories.
15. Have extra copies of your resume.
Chances are your interviewer(s) will already have a copy, but the last thing you want is them going “Do you have a copy of your resume?” and you not having any because you assumed they already had one.
16. Be ready for curveballs.
Companies–both big and startup–like to throw curveballs at you. “How many golfballs can you fit in this room?” Obviously, they don’t expect you to know just exactly how many, because there is no real right answer to questions such as this one. Potential employers ask these questions only to see how you’d handle being under pressure when faced by a challenging task. They want to see your thought process and your reasoning skills.
I remember reading about a hopeful interviewing with two hiring managers at a Wall Street firm. Out of nowhere, one of them allegedly yelled “Are you fucking messing with me?!” The interviewee was at a loss for words and started apologizing. The other interviewer later asked, “Why didn’t you just say ‘no?'” These may seem unnecessary, but a thick skin is a must for high-pressure industries such as finance on Wall Street. Familiarize yourself with the industry you’re trying to break into so that you can adjust and prepare accordingly.
I believe that most curveball questions happen in finance and technology, although I have had a real estate firm ask me “What if I asked you to go out and find out how many manholes there are in this city?” I replied with “I’d just Google it.” I received an invitation for a second interview (that I ultimately didn’t accept).
17. “Tell Me About Yourself”
This is a favorite question among employers. When asked this question, do NOT start talking about your pet cat or your vacation in Hawaii, unless of course it’s related to the job you’re applying for. This is an opportunity for you to give your sales pitch, and talk about your past experiences, skills, and knowledge that make you THE right fit for the position. If you wouldn’t put it on your cover letter, don’t mention it.
An upcoming job interview can be overwhelming; it’s normal to get nervous especially if you’re interviewing for a job that you really want or need. However, preparation is key. You want to minimize the things that can go wrong, and be ready for whatever situations you may potentially find yourself in. It’s just like studying for a test: The more preparations you make, the more confident you will be on the big day. It’s always better to be over-prepared than under. Even if the interview lasts only ten minutes and you find that 80% of what you prepared were not even needed, at least you’re walking out of that room knowing that you owned the interview, and that you did your best.
Do you have your own interview tips? Let me know!