The job hunt can be a long and arduous process.
Sometimes it takes hundreds of applications before you hear back from any employers. And when you do, your work isn’t over. That was stage one. Now, you have to prepare for the (sometimes) dreaded job interview.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We’re here to help. With the right preparation, you can turn that interview anxiety into excitement.
17 Essential Job Interview Tips
We’ve compiled the top tips from industry experts. We’ll walk you through exactly what to do before, during and after the interview. It doesn’t matter if this is your first job interview or your 40th, following these steps will help you leave a positive impression on your soon-to-be employer.
What to Do Before an Interview
Great, your interview is set for Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. Congratulations!
Use the time before then wisely. Unfortunately, you can’t just cruise in and claim your job. You’ll have to do some legwork to distinguish yourself from other applicants. Here’s what you need to do before your big day.
1. Research the Company
Having a solid understanding of the company is crucial. You don’t want to be caught fumbling basic information during the job interview.
You should spend some time on the company’s website to acquaint yourself with its mission statement, top clients, leadership and history.
Adequate preparation can help you feel better, too, according to Michelle Armer, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder.
“To help curb pre-interview jitters, interviewees should give themselves time in advance to prepare and build their confidence,” she says.
And if you’re still feeling anxious, Armer recommends giving yourself a pep talk, rehearsing your answers and listening to energetic music to keep your spirits high.
2. Reach Out to Alumni
To form a well-rounded opinion about an organization, it’s important to hear what its employees are saying. Yes, the company website is a good start, but that’s only one perspective.
Vipula Gandhi, managing partner at Gallup, says feedback from alumni is crucial to understanding a company’s culture before an interview. (Gandhi says her tips are based on more than a decade of experience interviewing candidates and not on Gallup’s research.)
One way to get unfiltered employee opinion is by checking the company’s Glassdoor reviews. Glassdoor is a job-search engine that aggregates anonymous employee opinions and rates companies from one to five stars based on the employees’ ratings. But don’t stop there.
Gandhi recommended using LinkedIn to get in direct contact with current and former employees. That way, you’ll have a clear understanding of the employee experience.
3. Clean Up Your Social Media
What you put on your LinkedIn profile is obviously fair game for HR.
But what about your Facebook and Instagram? Well, if you didn’t submit the social media accounts voluntarily, that could be a legal gray area. But some employers and recruiting agencies use them anyway to screen applicants.
What does your social media say about you? If someone looked at your profile for 10 seconds, what’s the interpretation? What are the three words they’re gonna say?
Ben Brooks, CEO of Pilot, a career-coaching startup, says to make sure there aren’t any embarrassing photos of you that are publicly searchable.
“What does your social media say about you?” Brooks asks. “If someone looked at your profile for 10 seconds, what’s the interpretation? What are the three words they’re gonna say?”
Hopefully: You are hired.
4. Conduct a Dry Run and Mock Interview
Doing a complete dry run will make everything easier when the day of the interview comes.
And by dry run I mean driving to the site of the interview to figure out logistics like parking and traffic (or testing your webcam if it’s a virtual job interview) and enlisting a friend to do a mock interview with you.
We’ve compiled a list of the 20 most common interview questions, from the infamous “What are your weaknesses?” to softballs like “What are your hobbies?”
Having articulate responses to common questions will allow you to focus on being in the moment instead of feeling put on the spot.
5. Prepare Your Documents
Depending on your industry and the instructions of the application, documents you may need to prepare could include your resume, portfolio samples or any pre-tests the company may have assigned you.
Regardless of industry, you should bring a few extra resumes with you, just in case. You never know if all the people included in the interview had time to review your application thoroughly. Even if they did, having extra resumes on hand helps you look prepared.
It’s best to have these documents printed out and ready to go the night before. If you don’t have a printer or are having technical problems, stores like UPS, Office Depot and FedEx will allow you to print copies cheaply. There’s always your trusty local library, too.
6. Plan What to Wear
How you look in the interview is almost as important as your qualifications. Planning an outfit can be a delicate balancing act and yet another source of stress for some people.
You want to look sharp — but not pretentious or underdressed.
Richard South, corporate partnership program manager at Georgia Tech, coaches thousands of university students on best interview practices. He says to consider industry trends when choosing your outfit.
Ideally, you’ve already reached out to alumni and talked about company culture. Asking them about attire is a great way to ensure your outfit is appropriate.
Interviewing at a business firm?
“Put on a suit,” South advises, noting that suits may be overkill for other industries.
Computer science or advertising fields might be more casual. The important part is not to guess.
Once you’ve decided what to wear, set it out before you go to bed — pressed and wrinkle-free. It will save you the hassle in the morning.
7. Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Research? Check. Documents? Check. Outfit? Check.
Ticking all those boxes the night before will ease your mind and help you sleep. Try to get at least seven to nine hours of shut-eye to be on your A-game the next day.
And make sure that time frame is actual sleep time, not just time you spend lying in bed. It’s likely that you’ll be a little nervous, so give yourself an extra hour to fall asleep.
What to Do During an Interview
Now is the time all that preparation and good sleep pays off. Try to stay mindful and relaxed. Don’t worry about rehearsing your answers. You’ve done that already. Be in the moment and you’ll come across more genuine and likeable.
8. Arrive Early — and Alone
General rule of thumb: 10 minutes early is considered on time, and on time is considered late.
Ten minutes is the sweet spot because you want to be early but not so early that they’re not yet expecting you.
And please, don’t bring your parent.
In a somewhat recent phenomenon, helicopter parents have started intervening in their kids’ job hunt.
A recent survey from Robert Half showed that 69% of hiring managers either would not recommend or are annoyed at parental involvement during job interviews — from explicative phone calls that urge companies to hire their kid, to baked goods used to coax hiring managers.
9. Treat All Staff Respectfully
It doesn’t matter if you took the wrong exit off the interstate and then spilled coffee on your freshly pressed oxford that morning.
Do not get snarky or rude with anyone in or around the company — whether that’s the security guard in the lobby or someone you passed in the street.
For all you know, that could be Jen in accounting.
She doesn’t realize your stomach has possible second-degree burns; she just knows that you bumped into her and scoffed on your way into the office.
And guess who she’s going to tell after you leave? Your hiring manager.
10. Turn Your Job Experience into a Story
When the interviewer asks something along the lines of “So, tell me about yourself,” that’s your time to shine.
Nailing an interview isn’t about regurgitating your resume.
“It’s all about the stories and narrative you have,” Brooks says.
This is also a good opportunity to incorporate experience that wasn’t directly relevant to the job application but could pertain to your soft skills or personality.
Maybe you did an au pair program or studied abroad during college. If so, talk about your international experience.
Dr. Christine Farrugia was the deputy head of research for the Institute of International Education, where she led a study that examined the employability of alumni who studied abroad. She’s now the director of research initiatives at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies.
According to Farrugia, the key is having an anecdote ready.
“The person interviewing you may not ask about it directly,” she says.
11. Ask the Right Questions
Interviews are two-way conversations, says Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at Spins, a retail-industry consulting firm.
“You also want to learn from the company if it will be a good fit for you,” she says. “Come prepared with questions that help you determine if you will get all that you need to be successful, not just a paycheck.”
This guide walks you through exactly what questions to ask during a job interview and why they’re useful.
Ask, “Beyond the core job duties, what are the things you really want to accomplish and achieve with this role?”
Make a good impression by staying positive with your questions — avoid criticism of the business model, strategy, brand or product.
Questions like that will not only impress the hiring manager, but will also give you a better understanding of how you’ll have an impact at the company.
There are plenty of areas to avoid asking about, too — like vacation time or basic information about the company.
“How smart your question is would define how the interviewer sees you,” Gandhi says.
12. Mind Your Body Language
Hiring managers pay keen attention to body language.
According to research from Robert Half, unspoken signals, such as eye contact, facial expressions, posture, handshake and fidgeting play an extremely important role into how you’re perceived during an interview.
Many of these cues aren’t intentional. They’re physical responses to how you’re feeling. So internally obsessing about your posture and facial expressions isn’t going to help much, either.
The point is, you should feel confident and relaxed — and those things stem from adequate preparation.
13. Vet Your Potential Manager
When you go into your interview, treat it like a date.
See if you are clicking with your manager. Think to yourself, “If I get this job, I’m going to spend much of my waking life with this person.”
Are they funny? Laid back? Knowledgeable? It’s crucial to understand what makes a good manager because a bad one can ruin a great job, and vice versa.
So don’t let the deciding factor be the salary or the prestige of the company.
“It’s all about the manager,” Gandhi says.
14. Don’t Speak Negatively About Past Employers
Inevitably, you will get a question along the lines of, “Why did you leave your past job?”
Your mind might flash back to all the times you were wronged, and you might be tempted to air some of those grievances. Just don’t.
It comes across as unprofessional. And the new company might think that if they hire you, it will someday be in one of your negative stories.
Instead, focus on talking about the challenges and opportunities of a new job — not the time your old boss took credit for the data you pulled at 2 a.m. to make deadline.
What to Do After an Interview
Before you bust out of the office to celebrate for a job well done, there are a few other things you should do to increase your chances of getting hired.
15. Ask to Tour the Office
Touring the office works in your favor for a couple of reasons.
First, it increases face time with your hiring manager and allows for some less formal banter as you make your rounds and introduce yourself to potential colleagues.
Beyond that, it allows you to see what’s really happening on the ground floor. As you walk through different pods or workspaces, take note of the office morale. Does everyone look stressed or excited?
If it’s around lunchtime, see if a lot of employees are eating at their desks. That could be a sign of being overworked.
If they say no to the tour, it’s not a deal-breaker. It’s possible that there isn’t enough time built into the interview to accommodate an office tour, but it never hurts to ask.
16. Establish Next Steps
Before you say your goodbyes, make sure to have a clear time frame of when you will hear back.
“Nothing can be more frustrating than completing an interview and then feeling everything goes silent,” Haefner says. “Ask the company where they are in the recruiting process… and who is best for you to follow up with for status updates.”
Asking about this outright saves you some guesswork, and you won’t be left pacing back and forth in your living room thinking, “It’s been one day. Why haven’t I heard anything? Shouldn’t they have sent an email? I’m going to call them. They probably hired someone else!”
When in reality, they likely have internal processes that you’re unaware of.
17. Send a Thank-You Note
Thank-you notes are a surefire way to distinguish yourself from other candidates. Hiring managers love them, and applicants often forget to send them.
In our Jobs Hunting 101 ecourse, we recommend sending them regardless of how the interview goes.
An email should suffice. Try to send it out within 24 hours of your interview, and make sure to separately thank everyone who interviewed you.
In your messages you should include:
A recap of the value you bring to the role.
Any small clarifications or points you didn’t mention during the interview.
Sincere gratitude and enthusiasm.
Avoid the temptation to copy and paste the same scripted message to everyone. That could backfire. Where possible, personalize it as best you can. Give it a little flair.
And if you really want brownie points, don’t send an email. Send a handwritten thank-you note.
Adam Hardy is a staff writer on the Make Money team at Codetic. He lives off a diet of stale puns and iced coffee. Read his full bio here, or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.