Congratulations — you managed to get an interview for a position at your dream company. But don’t start celebrating just yet.
It’s not enough to get your foot in the door; you also have to make the right impression when you interview. From wearing the right clothes to making eye contact with the hiring manager, small gestures can have a big effect on your career prospects.
Click through to put together a six-month plan to getting a better job.
Last Updated Oct 16, 2018
1. Dress the Part
An impeccable appearance will improve your confidence, according to Wendy Green, author of “50 Things You Can Do Today to Boost Your Confidence.” Prepare your interview attire days in advance.
Also, make sure your outfit is dry cleaned and ready to wear. Dress in a manner that is appropriate for the role for which you are interviewing, ensure that your hair is tidy and clean your fingernails. Keep jewelry, visible tattoos and piercings to a minimum.
2. Research the Company and Role
What type of person is the company seeking? What skills should that person have? Assess existing staff and the corporate culture by doing your research about the company and the role you’re seeking before the interview. Doing this will help you come up with questions to ask during the job interview. Lots of free job-hunting apps have great background information for you to use.
3. Prepare Insightful Interview Questions
To show your interest and knowledge in the job and company, prepare questions to ask your interviewer. But “you should also not ask questions that can be easily researched,” said Dr. Heather Rothbauer-Wanish, owner of Feather Communications, which provides professional writing services and training to businesses and individuals. “For example, asking about the organizational mission statement is not a good idea if that information is clearly posted on the company website.”
Instead, show interest in the interviewer by asking questions such as, “What is your favorite part about working here?” and “What does the typical day-to-day look like for someone in this role?”
4. Show Up on Time
Although arriving late is largely avoidable, it’s still a common complaint among interviewers. Gary McKraken, the author of “Successful Interview Tips, Techniques and Methods for Job Seekers and Career Changers,” suggests, “Do a spot of reconnaissance first so you know where [the company] is, how to get there, where to park or what the public transport links are.”
If you are delayed for some reason and will be at least seven minutes late, show respect by calling the company and asking whether you should attend or reschedule.
5. Know Your Interviewers
Find out the names of your interviewers ahead of time and research their areas of expertise. To really knock an interviewer’s socks off, when responding to one participant, refer to another by name. For example, “To follow up on my response to Carol …” is a good way to work that in. Remembering names can be a difficult job skill to master but one that leaves a lasting impression.
6. Smile and Be Courteous
Hiring managers say failing to make eye contact is a mistake made by 68 percent of job candidates, according to a survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder. Not making eye contact during an interview could imply that you’re not paying attention. Additionally, nearly 40 percent of candidates fail to smile.
Nonverbal behavior can be more important than what you say, according to Psychology Today, and smiling opens doors. To be approachable and engaging during your job interview, practice shaking hands, smiling, making eye contact and making small talk.
7. Be Careful of What You Say and Do While Waiting
If you find yourself waiting in the lobby before an interview, it can be tempting to channel your nervous energy into fiddling on your phone or thumbing through magazines. However, you never know who at the company is watching to see what you do. Innocently scrolling through your iPhone to kill time might actually convey to a potential employer that you’re bored, not serious about the position or you’re overly confident.
The Reserve Network, a company that specializes in staffing solutions, advises job candidates instead to, “Think about the important skills you want to convey, and rehearse a few anecdotes that demonstrate your professional aptitude. You should already have a lot of this prepared before you go into the interview, but there is nothing wrong with rehearsing it so it is fresh in your mind.”
Remember to also be kind to the receptionist and anyone else you meet while waiting — poor networking skills could cost you the job.
8. Ask for the Job
Laurie Berenson, master resume writer of Sterling Career Concepts, said, “Don’t be afraid to ask for the job … Tell the interviewer that you’re interested in the role, that you feel you are a strong fit and would love to continue with the process.”
Being direct can give you a leg up on other candidates, according to Berenson.
“You won’t leave them guessing as to your interest level, and you might just come out on top of another equally qualified candidate who rushed out without reiterating enthusiasm for the role,” she said.
9. Prepare for the 'Weakness' Question
In deciding how to prepare for an interview and predicting the questions that might arise, try to determine what the questions are really asking. So when you’re asked to describe your greatest weakness, remember that the interviewer wants to see if you can demonstrate a commitment to personal growth.
“The secret to acing this trick interview question is to give an honest answer and then explain what you’re doing to overcome that weakness,” according to Dorie Clark, marketing strategy consultant and professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.
10. Talk About the Value You'll Add to the Company
Here’s a not-so-secret tip for job seekers: Most employers want to hear that you will assimilate quickly and effectively contribute to the company’s future. Address these issues, and you might just get your dream job.
Tip the scale in your favor, too. Apply to industries that need more workers and are hungry to hire.
11. Stay Focused
During an interview, it’s important to stay focused on the questions the interviewer asks. In other words, don’t ramble. When asked a question, take a moment to think about the question and how you plan to answer. Keep your response short and to-the-point, and don’t let your example or anecdote go on too long. By staying on topic, you prove to the interviewer that you can remain focused, calm and articulate in a high-pressure situation.
12. Sound Confident
Preparation is the key to confidence. Boost your confidence level by arming yourself with the best ammunition — robust, rehearsed and relevant responses. Understand your prospective role and provide concise examples that support your suitability. Using quantitative measures in your responses can help you sound confident, as well. For example, you can say something like, “My latest marketing campaign increased sales by 36 percent.”
13. Don’t Fidget or Bite Your Nails
Nervous, distracting movements don’t convey confidence. “I once had an interviewee who swept his hand back and forth across the table for the entire interview,” said Katharine Hansen of Quintessential Careers, a career development site. “Another sniffed loudly and nervously throughout the session. Both were unaware of what they were doing. Some typical inappropriate behaviors are tapping, drumming, leg shaking, fidgeting and twirling in a swivel chair.”
If you tend to display nervous habits during job interviews, a mock interview with an associate, college professor or even a friend can help you recognize those habits and eliminate them.
14. Pay Attention to Your Voice and Tone
Use a strong voice if you tend to speak quietly. Hansen’s recommendation is to avoid “pause words and phrases, such as ‘uh,’ ‘ah,’ ‘um,’ ‘like,’ ‘you know.'” Instead, be definitive in your answers and avoid “raising your voice in a questioning manner or speaking in a sing-song rhythm,” Hansen said.
15. Explain Why You’re Switching Jobs in a Positive Manner
You will most likely be asked, “Why are you looking to leave your current company?” So, it’s important that you prepare a positive response to this question — even if you hate your current job. In a piece written for The Muse, a career development site, Counselor Caris Thetford advises interviewees not to get personal, “Whatever your motivation, leave any associated baggage at home. … Avoid blabbing about how lame the industry is, how horrible your boss is, how bleak the future looks. Keep it simple, positive and future-oriented.”
But what if the real reason you’re switching jobs is that you want a higher salary? A potential employer wants to know that you’re interested in a position for reasons other than the pay. A good strategy is to say that your last job didn’t offer an opportunity for further growth. This sends a message to the interviewer that you’re ready to take on a new challenge — and the pay that comes with it.
Whatever you do, don’t complain about your employer, colleagues or assignments.
16. Prove That You Fit the Company Culture
“Employers simply can’t take a chance on someone who won’t mesh well with the existing team, doesn’t share common goals with their colleagues and are not aligned with the mission of the company,” said Mark Babbitt, founder and CEO of YouTern, in an interview with Business News Daily.
During the interview process, ask insightful questions to determine if you are a good fit with the company’s culture. If you believe you do fit the culture, make sure the interviewer knows this by showing enthusiasm and interest.
17. Connect With the Interviewer
It’s a known fact that we relate to others who remind us of ourselves. So, establish a connection with your interviewer to increase your chances of being selected. Research your interviewer on LinkedIn and Google to find a common factor that you can mention early in the interview. For example, perhaps you share an alma mater, have an interest in a particular sport or have lived in the same area. When appropriate, mention one of these similarities during the job interview.
18. Be Interested in the Interviewer
Charm can work wonders in an interview. Try to ask insightful questions not only about the position but the interviewer themselves. By asking about the person’s career trajectory, how long they’ve been at the company and what they enjoy most about it, you can gain insight about the company and make a valuable contact — whether or not you land the job.
“During my job search, I connected with a recruiter who initially was not able to recommend me as a candidate to her clients, as I lacked job experience,” said networking expert and author of “Build Your Dream Network: Forging Powerful Relationships In A Hyper-Connected World,” Kelly Hoey. “We kept in touch with an annual lunch each January and in the months between, she’d pass along industry updates ranging from job openings to departmental budgets, as well as salaries at competitor firms.”
19. Thank Your Interviewers
Thank every interviewer with a smile and a strong handshake. After the interview, send a follow-up thank-you note to each interviewer individually by email or mail, depending on the culture of the firm.
Remember that you can say more in a thank-you note after the interview. If you had a statement prepared but no opportunity to interject, write it in the note and send it as soon as you can after the interview.
20. Follow Up
You have some control over the hiring decision post-interview. If a few days have passed since a promised response, contact the company and ask where they are in the process. If you don’t get a reply in a few days, you must try again, according to an interview guide from Monster, a job-search site. “Yes, you might occasionally annoy a frazzled hiring manager,” wrote Margaret Steen. “But as long as your messages are polite and brief, most interviewers are more likely to be impressed by your perseverance, communication skills, and interest in the job.”
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Erica Corbin contributed to the reporting for this article.
About the Author
Caroline Banton is a finance writer with nearly 20 years of experience in business, payments marketing, organizational behavior, and human resources. Her articles have appeared in the Huffington Post, MSN, and CBS News, and she also writes for PYMNTS.com. She has an MBA in marketing from Johns Hopkins and a BS in business from Washington Adventist University.