Interview Dos and Don'ts

Feb 16, 2011

Calling all job seekers: Got a big interview coming up? This is your chance to shine! Here are some must-dos (and don'ts!) to help you prepare for the interview and follow up after.

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Great news! Your resume and cover letter were compelling enough to get you an interview. This is your opportunity to show a potential employer all those things you can't convey on paper. Make the most of it by following these tips.

Do...Practice ahead of time.

Take the time to practice answering interview questions with a friend or coach (or, at the very least, in front of the mirror). This can help you identify and eliminate any nervous gestures, and you'll build confidence for the big day. Although you can't predict exactly what the interviewer will ask, you can put yourself in the employer's shoes: Based on the position and company, what will they want to know about you?

Do…Be a STAR.

The STAR method is an effective way to answer interview questions. It allows you to tell a story (which people love) and talk about an accomplishment. You can use this approach when the interviewer asks for an example, or you can use it as part of a general question (like 'What is your greatest strength?'). STAR stories consist of the following parts:

Situation: Give some background on the circumstances surrounding your accomplishment (who, what, when, where, and why).

Task: Describe the problem or challenge you faced, or the job you were given.

Action: Describe specifically how you addressed the problem or challenge. Talk about the knowledge, skills, and abilities you used.

Result: Describe exactly what impact your actions had. If you can put the results into percentages or numbers, do so. If you can't, vividly describe the changes you observed.

Think of 8 to 10 STAR stories before your interview (if you don't have a lot of work experience, you can use examples from your studies, part-time jobs, or volunteer experience). Write them down. Practice telling them until they come naturally.

Do...Come prepared.

Thoroughly research the company and come armed with as much knowledge as possible about the position. Take a couple of extra copies of your resume with you in case there are multiple interviewers. Also, take a list of references in case the employer asks for it.

Do...Be polite and well-mannered.

Start making a good impression as soon as you walk in the building. Be polite and courteous to everyone from the receptionist to the CEO, and be friendly with any other candidates in the waiting room. Turn off your cell phone before you enter the building, or leave it in the car. Avoid controversial or heated topics (unless it's appropriate in your industry). Avoid jokes and slang, and keep your language clean.

Do...Build rapport.

Believe it or not, some interviewers are just as nervous as you are. You can build a friendly connection by smiling and making eye contact. Initiate small talk as you walk to the interview room to lighten things up. Notice your surroundings and see if there's anything you can comment on (like a decoration or poster). Keep it light and not too personal.

Do...Promote yourself.

Your resume and cover letter got you in the door, but you're not done selling yourself. Clearly demonstrate what you can do for the company. Answer questions as though the interviewer hasn't read your resume. Most of the time, employers only scan through them quickly. Besides, a resume is just a piece of paper - they want to hear about you straight from the source.

Do...Ask questions.

A good way to show how much research you've done is to ask meaningful questions about the industry, company, and job. Your questions can also help you decide whether the job is the right fit for you. Usually, toward the end of the meeting, the interviewer will ask if you have any questions. Prepare 5-10 questions and take them with you. Choose the 2-3 questions that are most relevant, or ask any new ones that come up.

Do…Clearly state you want the job.

At the end of your interview, ask about the timeline for the hiring process. Then say something like 'I'm very interested in this job. I think I'd be a great match, and I have a lot to contribute.'

Do…Follow up.

Get business cards from everyone who interviews you, and send them all a thank you note by the next day. If this isn't possible or appropriate in your industry, at least send a thank you note to the recruiter or person who arranged the interview. It's OK to send the note via e-mail unless your potential employer is very old-fashioned.

After an appropriate interval, send a follow-up message reiterating your interest in the job. You want to show enthusiasm, but not desperation, and you don't want to seem like you're rushing the decision. The appropriate interval is determined by how long an interviewer estimated it should take for you to hear back.

interview tips

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Don't...Be late.

This is incredibly important. Being late to an interview is disrespectful and tells people you're unreliable. If you're late, you'll likely be screened out before the interview even starts. Aim to arrive at the building 30 minutes early. However, you should wait until about 10 minutes early to walk in the door so you don't inconvenience anyone. But what if there's a terrible, unpredictable traffic jam? Always have the company's phone number on hand so you can call if you're running late.

Don't...Underdress or overdress.

Match your dress to the company. A lot of businesses are more casual these days, so you don't necessarily have to wear a suit and tie. A good rule of thumb is to find out how employees in your would-be position dress, and dress slightly more formal than they do for the interview.

Don't...Neglect your image.

Regardless of your clothing, come clean and well-groomed. Taking time with your personal appearance shows that you pay attention to detail and are invested in this job opportunity. If you have tattoos or piercings other than earrings, you'll need to make the call about whether to show them. In some industries and companies, they're the norm. In others, they're way out of place. The same goes for unusual make-up or hair. Just remember to think about the match between you and the company.

Don't...Overuse filler words.

Try to avoid using filler words, such as 'um,' 'uh,' or 'you know.' While these are a natural part of speech, excessive use of them can make you look less credible. If you're a big filler-word user, build awareness of your patterns and practice avoiding them.

Caught off guard by a difficult question? Rather than jumping straight to filler words, pause for a few moments or say 'Let me think about that.' It's also OK to ask the interviewer to repeat the question for you.

Don't...Hesitate.

Even if you're not certain you want the job, it's a good idea to act like you're determined to get it. You don't want to close off an opportunity prematurely, and you need to have all the information in place before you make a decision. Employers can detect a lack of enthusiasm, which is a major turn-off for them. Better to refuse a job offer than not get one at all.

Don't...Let your nervousness get the best of you.

It's natural to get a little stressed out before an interview. Here are some ways to manage your stress:

  • Overprepare. Practice those questions and STAR stories. If possible, find the building and the exact entrance a day or so before the interview. Decide what you're going to wear the day before. Get everything laid out ahead of time. Go to bed early the night before and get a good night's sleep.
  • Think of your interviewer as a friend, not an enemy. An interview isn't an interrogation. It's a two-way conversation between you and your potential employer. You're there to share your qualifications and find out if you're a good fit.
  • Remember to breathe. A simple stress management technique is to breathe slowly and deeply into your belly. It's effective at calming your nervous system and putting you back 'in the zone.'
  • Reframe your nervousness as excitement. Your interview is a meeting that could lead to a huge, positive change in your life. Think of those sweaty palms and butterflies in your stomach as excitement about your future.

You can also check out these 10 easy ways to relax without even walking away from your computer.

Don't…Forget to evaluate your interview.

As soon as possible after your interview, do a little 'post-game analysis.' What went well? What could you have done better? What questions did they ask you? Write this info down. Just in case you don't end up with this particular job, you'll be even better prepared for your next interview.

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