Interviews can be nerve-wracking experiences. You are meeting with someone from the company who can make the decision to hire you or to continue looking elsewhere. There is a lot riding on how this one interaction with a complete stranger goes.
Many times it is so much for even the most professional of applicants and they crash and burn in this critical step to securing employment.
There are several factors that culminate into a near-perfect interview, and they are all surprisingly easy to carry out. All it takes is some easy preparation and when you get into that seat, not being a cardboard cutout.
I have been on several interviews in my time in the workforce, but more importantly, I have been on the other side of the desk as a hiring manager for several big companies. I have the benefit in knowing what can set you apart from other applicants vying for the position.
Research the Organization You are applying for a career opportunity, the most important thing you can do to wow the interviewer is actually know something about the company. Know what year it was founded and by whom. Know what products and services the company offers. Know the C-level employees. Go so far as to familiarizing yourself with their mission statement if they have one, or if they have core values (all of this should be on their website), feel free to incorporate some of those values into your responses.
For example: If the core values mention "world-class customer service", be sure to use that phrase in your response and talk to how important that is the customers get taken care of, or some other company will.
Show Up Prepared You would be shocked to know just how many applicants show up ill-prepared for the interview. This includes but is not limited to having copies of their resume. Yes, the interviewer should have a copy already, but sometimes it may be horribly formatted because it was pulled from a site like Monster or Indeed, or it was generated from an applicant tracking system. If you have a beautifully formatted resume ready for the interviewer, that shows that you are prepared and put thought into the interview. You should have several copies ready to hand out should it be an unexpected panel interview with more than just one person asking questions of you.
Additionally, have several pens on you int he event that the interviewer(s) need to take notes. This will save them from having to excuse themselves, it will keep the interview flowing smoothly, and your preparedness and graciousness will make you memorable.
Have your answers to the common stock interview questions already prepared. Know how you will pan to answer questions such as "Tell me about yourself", "What are your weaknesses", "Why do you want to work here" and "Where do you see yourself in 5 years"
Here is a great article on answering 31 common interview questions: https://www.themuse.com/advice/how-to-answer-the-31-most-common-interview-questions
Be On Time This is self-explanatory. It is just common courtesy to be on time for your appointment. This is all on you. Make sure that you know how long it is expected to take to get to your interview destination, then leave in plenty of time to account for any accidents or other traffic delays. In the days leading up to the interview, make a practice drive to the location so that you know where the building is, have an idea of how to get there, and can map out alternate routes should an unexpected delay present itself. Or, you know, use Waze.
Hygiene Is Your Friend You would think this would be a given, but you would be surprised at the amount of people who walk in for an interview looking and smelling like they just rolled in from the club. From inappropriate attire to smelling like an ashtray and body odor, nothing will shut an interview down faster than you being stank-nasty.
Interview rooms are often small, enclosed spaces. Body odor and hot breath can fill that place up fast.
A quick blast of breath spray before walking in can leave your breath minty fresh. If the interviewer offers you some water, take them up on it. You will be doing a lot of talking and your mouth and throat will dry out, and with that comes odor.
Shower before you leave home, and for the love of all that is good, wash everything with soapy water. Make sure you are wearing clean clothes. That includes freshly laundered under garments like t-shirts, underwear, and socks.
Turn Off That Cell Phone In this day and age of "Always On", it is common for us to have our phones with us all the time. Prior to your interview, shut it off. You do not want the embarrassment of your phone ringing mid interview. It is disruptive, inconsiderate, and can bring a great interview to a screeching halt. If you forget and it does ring, don't ignore it and let it continue to ring. Simply dismiss the call, power off your phone, and apologize once. Then move on and don't dwell on it.
Be Yourself This is one of the more important aspects of an interview that many people overlook. The point of the interview is for the company to get to know you. We want to see the REAL you, your real personality. We don't want to hire someone and have a completely different person show up for work. It is fine to dress to the nines, but don't become a drone who spouts off corporate catchphrases and disingenuous stock answers.
Smile, be outgoing but not overbearing, and if you have a sense of humor, let it shine. Don't tell jokes, but if you can make the interviewer laugh naturally in the course of the interview, you will definitely stand out from the rest.
There is no need to be nervous during an interview. The person asking you the questions wasn't born into the job; they too have been on interviews (even having interviewed for the position they are in now), they have the same problems and joys as any other human being.
You should be friendly, personable, and relaxed. Your posture should be comfortable; don't be a stiff. I am a hand talker by nature. If words are coming out of my mouth, my hands are a-movin'! In the past I would keep my hands locked together and planted firmly in my lap or on the table in front of me. I found that I would struggle this way as it was against my nature to be so rigid and confined. I decided to just be myself and let the hands fly.
When you show comfort in an interview, the interviewer will become more relaxed and a true conversation will occur.
When you are answering your questions, give real answers that sound conversational. Provide a full answer to the questions so that the interviewer doesn't have to drag information out of you. Your answer should have a beginning, middle, and end that answers the question completely. Some folks use the STAR method when answering.
ST=Situation or Task. Describe a situation or task you encountered as it pertains to the question A=Action. Describe the action you took as it pertained to the situation or task R=Result. What was the result of the action you took.
Ask Questions The interview goes both ways. As much as it is about you presenting yourself to a potential employer, the potential employer is also presenting themselves to you. Ask questions about what it is like to work there. Ask them what a typical day is like, what challenges they face, and what they excel at. Ask about the culture and ask the interviewer what they like about working for the company. Asking questions shows that you have a genuine interest in the company. It demonstrates that you are inquisitive and see this as an opportunity to become a part of the family, not just getting a paycheck.
Follow Up Before you leave, ask the interviewer if they have a business card. Take one if offered. Email them after the interview and thank them for your time and consideration. Keep it short and simple, but it should sound genuine.
Dear (Insert interviewer name) I wanted to take a quick moment to thank you for the time you took from your day to meet with me regarding the position of (insert position here) open on your team. I enjoyed learning more about the company, your products and services, and the passion that drives success. I can definitely see myself as part of such an amazing company and team. I know you have other applicants to interview, so I will await your decision. In the meantime, if you have any further questions or need clarification on any answer I provided, please feel free to contact me. Thank you once again, and I look forward to hearing from you.
One to two follow up letters over the course of two to three weeks (if an answer takes that long) is sufficient. If you blow up the interviewers inbox, you will wear out your welcome.
Interviews take some practice and knowing how to read a room greatly helps. The more interviews you go on, the better you get at them. Practice interviews with friends and family, ask them for real and constructive feedback. Figure out how to best answer questions quickly and completely.
Best of luck! Now get out there and interview like a pro!