10 Secrets to Acing a Job Interview

Keep these tips in mind to nail your next interview.

By + More

TH_OV_LindsayOlson.gif
Lindsay Olson
If you've made it to the interview process, then your qualifications have proven an interesting match for the position (or at least they have on paper). The interview is when the chemistry with team members and your soft skills are evaluated. So here are 10 tips to help you do your best.

[See our list of the Best Careers.]

1. Look the part. If you want to be taken seriously, dress the part of the role you want—or even dress a level up.

Invest in a good suit or skirt and a button-down shirt set. While you may balk at spending extra money on clothes, you need and should have interview attire. Don't forget the details: they matter. Make sure your shoes are clean, polished, and professional-looking. Keep the fragrance, makeup, and jewelry on the conservative side.

Consider how the colors you wear are perceived, and choose tones that are memorable yet professional.

2. Do your homework. You'll likely be asked difficult questions during the interview. Preparing the list of likely questions in advance will help you easily transition from question to question.

Spend time researching the company. Look at its site to understand its mission statement, product offerings, and management team. "A few hours spent researching before your interview can impress the hiring manager greatly," says Lauren Milligan, founder and CEO of the job-search and career-coaching site ResuMAYDAY. "Read the company's annual report (often posted on the site), review the employee's LinkedIn profiles, and search the company on Google News, to see if they've been mentioned in the media lately. The more you know about a company, the more you'll know how you'll fit in to it."

3. Don't be bullied. Hiring managers know you'll probably be nervous in an interview, and they may even try to trip you up with their questions to see how you handle it. Stay calm and take your time and think about what you'll say. Always prepare for the dreaded salary question. You don't have to give in on the first try or answer it immediately.

[See When to Talk About Salary.]

4. Arrive on time. Make sure you leave early to allow time to find the location, check in, and reach the department where you're interviewing. And add in an extra five minutes so you can check your appearance in the restroom mirror.

Keep in mind that while arriving a bit early is a good idea, arriving too early can cause issues. Joe O'Connell, who works at Arizona State University, suggests: "Don't be too early, [and] don't be even a second late. Plan to arrive 15 minutes early to account for unforeseen delays and actually walk into the office five minutes early. Listen to the radio in your car if you get there too early. Arriving too early puts pressure on the interviewer; something you don't want."

5. Make it about how you can help the company. The job interview isn't the time to tell your life story; you're there to show that you can contribute value to the organization.

"Remember that the interview is really not about you—it is about the organization and how you are going to solve [a hiring manager's] problem of filling the position with a qualified person—quickly—so be sure to talk about how you can apply what you know to their organization," says Kelley Rexroad, founder of the firm krexconsulting.

6. Treat a phone interview the same as an in-person try-out. Sometimes your first interview will take place over the phone, and then the interviewer will decide whether to bring you in for a second in-person interview. Be as professional on the phone as you would be in the office.

"Prepare, prepare, prepare," says Paul Bailo, CEO and Founder of Phone Interview Pro and author of The Essential Phone Interview Handbook. "Phone interviews are like open-book tests—you can have all the information right in front of you."

Bailo also suggests taking a few seconds to understand the questions you're asked, rather than jump on answering them before you're ready.

[See How to Stand Out in a Phone Interview.]

7. Follow up and send a thank-you note. Following up after an interview can help you make a lasting impression and set you apart from the crowd.

Philip Farina, CPP, a security career expert at Manta Security Management Recruiters, says: "Send both an email as well as a hard-copy thank-you note, expressing excitement, qualifications and further interest in the position. Invite the hiring manager to contact you for additional information. This is also an excellent time to send a strategic follow-up letter of interest."

8. Be yourself. While it is important to make a good impression on the hiring manager, you should also let your personality show. If you try to be what you think an employer wants and get the position under false pretenses, you'll both be disappointed. It's better to be yourself and be honest in the interview.

9. Ask questions. Interviews are a two-way street; you're trying to determine if it's the right place for you to work, so ask the interviewer questions when invited.

Dr. Robyn Odegaard, president of Champion Performance Development, suggests that you ask these questions:

  • What do you like most about working here?
  • What is your biggest frustration with working here?
  • How does this team deal with differences of opinion?
  • What are the most important skills for being successful in this position?  
  • Always prepare a few questions for the interviewer. Hiring managers will many times take it as a sign of disinterest if you don't. If you've had the chance to ask most of your questions, then you can always close the interview with asking about next steps and timing to fill the position.

    10. Ask for the job. It may seem forward to ask for the job at the end of the interview, but what have you got to lose? "If you feel you've nailed the interview and you have good chemistry with the hiring manager, take the initiative and ask for the job," says Suki Shah, chief executive officer at GetHired.com.

    Lindsay Olson is a founding partner and public relations recruiter with Paradigm Staffing and Hoojobs, a niche job board for public relations, communications, and social media jobs. She blogs at LindsayOlson.com, where she discusses recruiting and job search issues.

    Twitter: @PRJobs

    Corrected on 3/6/2012:  An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed quotes. Paul Bailo provides advice on preparing for a phone interview, and Suki Shah suggests you take initiative and ask for the job.