Preparing for a job interview requires more than just rehearsing your answers to some of the most common interview questions and answers. (And preparing to answer some of the most often-asked behavioral interview questions.) If you want to get hired -- either for a side gig, or for a full-time job while you're waiting to start your own business -- there's a lot more involved.
But since it's been almost 20 years since I last interviewed for a job, I decided to ask an expert for up-to-date job interview tips. Sarah Johnston is a former corporate recruiter and the founder of the Briefcase Coach. (She also regularly provides interview and job search tips on LinkedIn.)
If you want to improve your job interview skills and get the job you want, consider the following tips.
1. Do more than just basic research.
Don't just research the company. Research its people -- especially the people you may possibly meet when you interview. It's standard practice to visit the LinkedIn page of the hiring manager. (Jeff: I know hiring managers who expect that candidates will visit their LinkedIn pages; if a candidate doesn't, they see that as a red flag.)
Then keep going. Find out what's new; most companies have a page on their website dedicated to press releases and events. Then do a Google search to find any recent news.
And be sure to pay close attention to the company's culture, mission, and values. Many companies are looking for candidates who fit their culture, which means they expect you to be able to talk about how you will fit well within the culture.
2. Use your research to prepare your sound bites.
Most hiring managers ask at least a few behavioral interview questions. (Jeff: Here are some of the most common behavioral interview questions.)
Identify 10 to 15 examples of how you solved problems or demonstrated key behaviors that your research has indicated your target employer seeks. Try to list recent examples whenever possible.
Then flesh out each example, giving each one a title and putting it into story format. One might be "Handle Change." Another might be "Difficult Communication Situation."
Although you don't want to memorize your stories, writing them down will definitely help you organize your thoughts. (And keep you from later thinking, "Oh shoot. Why didn't I talk about the time I...")
Then practice answering behavioral interview questions with a friend or a job search coach prior to the real interview. At a minimum, make sure you have great answers for:
- "Describe a situation where you had to convey an organizational decision that was controversial to your management team, your staff, or to employees throughout the organization."
- "Tell us about a situation where you developed trust with other leaders in your organization."
- "Tell us about a goal you failed to achieve."
3. Prepare to answer behavioral questions using the SAR format.
Answers to behavioral-based interview questions should be structured Situation, Action, Result: What was happening, what you did in response, and how things turned out.
Not only is that a clean way to answer questions; it also allows you to highlight your accomplishments -- and since you're telling a story, to do so in a memorable way. And even if you stray from the SAR format, make sure your stories have a clear beginning, middle, and end, with the result serving as the climax of the story.
Make sure you rehearse, though. The goal is to deliver a story in 90 seconds or less. Go longer and you're likely to lose your audience, which could mean losing your shot at the job.
4. Prepare for common interview questions.
While some job interviewers will ask at least one unusual question, most will ask at least a few of the following:
- "Tell me about yourself."
- "Why do you want to work for (this company)?"
- "What is your greatest strength?"
- "What is your biggest weakness?"
- "Why are you leaving your job?"
- "Where do you see yourself in five years?"
- "Are you interviewing with any other companies?"
- "Describe what diversity and inclusion means to you, and why it is important in this position."
- "What makes you more likely to succeed in this role than other applicants?"
- "What are you most proud of in your career?"
- "What do you know about our company culture?"
5. Make sure you make a great first impression.
Research by Monster.co.uk shows that employers are highly influenced by their first impressions of candidates. (Which comes as no surprise, since most of us are highly influenced by the first impression made by people we meet. So here's what a Harvard psychologist says makes a great first impression.)
The Monster report found that job applicants have on average just 6 minutes 25 seconds during the first meeting to impress interviewers. This means that your personal presentation, the small talk you make, and your response to the typical first interview question, "Tell me about yourself," really matters.
So make sure you're ready. And definitely do this.
6. Establish rapport with the interviewer.
Expressing interest in the company, the job, and even the interviewer will definitely boost your likability.
To find ways to establish rapport with the interviewer, do some social media research, and then go old school: Check with friends or professional colleagues to see if they know the interviewer and can give you background information.
Knowing things like "He is very serious and numbers focused" or "She is a die-hard Cardinals fan" can help you connect. And it can help you raise topics of mutual interest.
That way you can answer questions like "Tell me about yourself" with responses slightly tailored to the individual. For example, "I have worked in finance for the past 10 years. I got my start at Ernst & Young as an analyst. I was interested to see that you started there as well."
7. Ask for the job.
When I was a recruiter, hiring managers often passed on candidates simply because they felt like the job-seeker didn't really want the job.
At the end of the interview, close by saying something along the lines of, "Thank you for taking the time to meet with me today. I enjoyed learning more about (something specific). I am interested in the direction of (a particular) project. I look forward to continuing this conversation."
And if you know you want the job, say so. Don't leave any ambiguity. If you're excited about the opportunity and want to move forward with the company, say it.
People want to hire people that really want the job. Sometimes you really do only get what you ask for.
8. Keep your expectations reasonable.
Many job-seekers tell me that they were underwhelmed when they met with a recruiter or hiring manager.
Keep in mind that recruiter or hiring manager could be new in their role. They may lack company knowledge. They may be poor interviewers. Or they may just be having a bad day.
When you encounter a recruiter who isn't as competent or who asks silly or too broad of questions, try to give them the benefit of the doubt. Smile. Be genuine with your responses. Treat the person with respect.
If you feel like you didn't have the opportunity to show your value because the questions were not as expected, send a thoughtful and genuine thank-you note highlighting a few areas that you did not get to cover during the interview.
While that won't ensure you get the job, it will ensure you did everything you possibly could.