By Reesa Staten, Robert Half International
For most people, job interviews rank near the top of the list of life events that cause anxiety, and with good reason. The stakes are high in these situations, particularly if you really want — or need — the job you’re going for.
As with most things, preparation will increase your odds of making a good first impression. I’m sure we all can remember at least one occasion when an interview did not go well, and if we’re honest, it was probably because we walked into the meeting unprepared.
What follow are eight tips for acing the job interview. Some of these lessons I (and others) learned the hard way. I share them with you now so you have the inside track on a successful first meeting with a prospective employer.
1. Research the company and the opportunity. You should go into the interview with a beyond-the-basics knowledge of the firm. Read the company’s website, marketing materials and relevant news stories to learn its mission, history, reputation and corporate culture. A simple Google search can uncover a wide range of information. The more you know, the better able you will be to convince the hiring manager that you are an excellent match for the company and the job.
2. Practice. Enlist the help of a friend or family member and practice responses to common questions such as “Tell me about yourself,” “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and “Why do you want to work here?” And be ready for the curveballs like “Who is your favorite fictional character and why?” There are no right or wrong answers to these types of questions. The employer is looking for clues as to how you think and some insight into your personality.
3. Arrive on time. Being late is a deal breaker for most employers. One way to ensure you’re not late is to plan to arrive half an hour early. You’ll give yourself some leeway in case traffic is worse than expected or you get lost. If you find you have time to spare, use it to review your resume or check your appearance in the restroom. Arrive at reception five to 10 minutes before the interview is scheduled to start, but no earlier.
4. Be honest. Interviewers often ask you to describe your weaknesses. While you don’t want to launch into a list of reasons they should not hire you, try to provide a little color on your work style. Saying that your greatest weakness is that you “work too hard” or “can’t help but be a perfectionist” are clichés and will make you seem insincere. Instead mention an area where you could improve and describe the steps you’ve taken to do so. Just don’t tell them you have no weaknesses. Nobody is perfect, and the employer knows this (see tip #5).
5. Be humble. Never underestimate the power of humility. Employers like to see that you are self-assured and assertive, but being overly confident or cocky will leave a bad impression. Show employers that you can take direction and that you understand the company’s business objectives. Demonstrate a willingness to learn and an openness to new ways of doing things. These are all signs you will contribute to the company in a positive way.
6. Don’t disparage past bosses. You may be asked by an interviewer why you left a particular job. Regardless of how unhappy you were in that position, avoid sounding bitter or resentful or badmouthing a former supervisor. This will prompt the hiring manager to wonder if you will be equally critical in your new job. Companies want to hire people with a history of loyalty, successful collaboration and a good attitude.
7. Dress to impress. If you are reading this blog, you know how important it is to “Dress for Success.” First impressions count, and professional attire tells the hiring manager you take the job opportunity seriously. Make the best impression by wearing a clean, well-fitted suit, dress or similar outfit. Go easy on the accessories and the fragrance, and when in doubt, err on the side of dressing a little more conservatively.
8. Save the demands. The interview is like a first date. You are getting to know the employer, and he or she is getting to know you. Avoid giving a list of demands like salary requirements, benefits and vacation days. This tells a prospective employer you’re more concerned about the perks than the job itself. Focus your efforts instead on what you can offer the company by asking what expectations the employer has of someone in the role.
The best advice for a successful interview? Just be yourself, show the employer you are qualified for the job, and make a persuasive case for why he or she should hire you over everyone else who interviews. And don’t be bashful about asking for the job — you just might surprise the hiring manager into saying yes!
Reesa Staten is senior vice president of Corporate Communications and director of workplace research for Robert Half International, the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm. Staten has been writing job search advice for more than 15 years and oversees Robert Half’s extensive workplace research program. Write to her at [email protected].