From Elizabeth: Congratulations! You applied for the job of your dreams, your resume got the thumbs-up and you’ve been called in for a job interview.
Interviewing for a job that we really want can be one of the most anxiety-ridden events of our careers. The good news, however, is that with the right preparation, it doesn’t have to be.
In my work coaching high-powered executives through job transitions, I’m often asked for my best practices to nail a job interview. Here they are.
Do your research
Researching your prospective employer and those with whom you’ll be interviewing is the most important step to succeeding at an interview. Make sure you know the latest news on the company’s endeavors, and particularly the context of the role for which you’re being vetted, so that you can give knowledgeable, careful answers to any questions.
Also, don’t hesitate to ask your recruiter or human resources for a list of those you’ll be meeting with a few days in advance of the interview. Be sure to check out their LinkedIn profiles, along with their job histories, current responsibilities and any news they’ve recently reported.
Make a list of questions you expect to be asked, and write up your best answers
Once you’ve done your research, the next step is to anticipate how the interview might go, and especially any tricky questions you could be asked.
For instance, if you’ve been out of work for a few months, you’ll almost certainly be asked about that gap. How will you respond in order to shine the best possible light on your employment history?
Are you changing industries? If so, why? What transferable skills do you bring to this position that you might want to highlight in your answer?
Write up your answers to any challenging questions in detail, and practice saying them out loud or even to a friend. This allows you to put your best foot forward and to reply with confidence in the interview itself.
Make a list of questions to ask to show enthusiasm and to vet the employer
In today’s job market, it’s easy to forget that it’s just as important for you to interview your prospective employer as it is for them to interview you.
Why? For two reasons: first, you want to make sure that the job truly is a good fit for your goals and your career; and second, asking informed questions about the job is a perfect way to show your interest and share your knowledge.
Use the research you conducted to craft a list of questions for each person who will be interviewing you. Be sure to use any positive, newsworthy items you uncovered in your research as jumping off points for your questions, as a way of showing your interest in and enthusiasm for the job.
If you have any concerns about the corporate culture or whether the job is a good fit, make sure to include a few positive, open-ended questions designed to explore the opportunity and the work environment. For instance, you might want to ask the interviewer what he or she likes most about their position, or what he or she views as the strengths and weaknesses of the work environment.
In the best case scenario, your interviewer will have nothing but great feedback about your future employer, and you’ll have confirmed that the job is a good fit.
(A word of caution, however: don’t inquire about perks or relocation expenses in an interview. Save that step for after you’ve been offered the job—otherwise you might appear presumptuous.)
Pay attention to body language
Body language is an often overlooked but vitally important aspect of the interview process—both from your perspective and from that of the interviewer.
It goes without saying that a weak handshake, crossing your arms, being unable to make eye contact, or biting your nails in an interview are immediate strikes against you. If you have any of these challenging habits, be especially mindful to keep them in check.
Instead, make sure that you are conveying open, honest enthusiasm through your body language. Sit comfortably, with your arms relaxed at your side or on the arms of a chair, and lean in when you want to make a point. Smiling also never hurts.
And it’s equally important to pay attention to the body language of your interviewer. Is your interviewer continuously checking the clock, for instance? If so, you might want to pass on asking questions—a gesture your interviewer will surely appreciate if he or she is under a work deadline.
Dress the part
As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. This is particularly true in a job interview. Make sure you are dressed appropriately for your industry, that you are well-rested and well-groomed on the day of the interview, and that you show up on time—if not five minutes early!
Is your prospective job at an investment bank? Pull out that power suit and heels, and make sure your makeup and hair are Wall Street flawless.
Interviewing for a job at a funky web design firm? Convey your personality and style through your choice of dress, while still looking professional.
If you’re uncertain about how to dress for an interview, poll people in your network or ask a recruiter—and if all else fails, keep in mind that no one can fault you for wearing a beautifully tailored suit.
Remember: even if your interview is virtual instead of live—a growing practice for first round interviews—you still need to dress the part from head to toe. You don’t want to lose a job by not feeling or looking professional, regardless of whether you’re meeting face to face or on video.
Follow up, with gratitude
Once you’ve done your level best in any job interview, you’re still not quite done with making a great impression. As a final gesture, be sure to send a polite and professional thank you note by email to each and every person who interviewed you within 24 hours of the interview.
Also, it never hurts to ask the hiring manager or human resources for an estimated timetable for a decision. Follow up by phone within a week of that deadline if you haven’t heard a response.