how to ace your job interview

How to Ace your Job Interview: The Complete Guide

Congratulations on landing an interview! Now you just have to figure out how to ace your job interview and secure a job offer.

If you think about it, there are four main stages to a job interview:

  1. Pre-interview stage
  2. On the day of the Interview
  3. The actual interview
  4. Post-interview stage

Here’s the cincher. Of all these stages, the pre-interview stage is the most important because most of the work required to ace your interview actually happens before you step into the interview room!

With that in mind, let’s dive right in to get you that dream job.

Pre-interview Stage

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe – Abraham Lincoln

Preparation is the key to succeeding in your job interview.

Research everything

Research your potential employer

Find out as much as you can about the company you are interviewing for. Learn about its history, goals, missions and accomplishments. Read more about its key players and what they are saying on social media. Find out what the company’s recent achievements are and if they have been in the news for any reason.

Doing your research will help you frame your interview answers to tie your background and achievements back to the company. It will also help you prepare for common interview questions like ‘What do you know about our company?’ and ‘Why do you want to work here?’

Knowing about the company shows that you are interested in them. Learning about a company’s values and culture would also give you an idea if you would be a good fit for them and vice versa.

You can have all the right skills for the job but if you’re not a good cultural fit, even if you ace the interview, you won’t like the job very much.

Check to see if there are any employee reviews online but take this with a large pinch of salt. Usually only disgruntled ex-employees leave reviews. Even if the reviews were true, the position you are interviewing for might not be subject to the same situation the reviewer experienced.

If you have an inside connection in the company, make full use of this contact to get the inside scoop on the company. Having ‘non-public’ information will give you an advantage over other interviewees.

In some cases, you can try to arrange for a tour of the company beforehand. It’s a good way to show your interest, meet some of your potential colleagues and get an idea of the company culture.

These are some resources you can use to find out more about your potential employer:

  • Company website
  • Company social media accounts – Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter are the best places to start
  • Google
  • Indeed Company Pages
  • Glassdoor
  • Customer forums or review pages
  • Your personal network

Research your interviewers

Some companies tell you who will be interviewing you beforehand. Others are not as forthcoming. It’s worth trying to find out anyway by calling the admin person who arranged the interview with you.

Once you know who your interviewers will be, research them online. Most execs have detailed Linkedin profiles or a bio on the company website.

Knowing more about your interviewers will give you a chance to plan how to link ‘uncommon commonalities’ to build rapport as well as give you an idea of how to approach the interview.

Word of caution: Don’t go overboard and fall into full-on stalking your interviewers. It’s one thing to know they graduated from Harvard, it’s another to ask them if they enjoyed themselves at the barbeque last weekend.

Research yourself online

Most employers do an online and social media check on potential employees before the interview. It would benefit you to do a quick search of yourself online to ‘see what they see’. Just google your name. You might be surprised at what you find.

Reviewing your online presence is a good chance for you to clean up your social media account or set higher privacy settings for information you don’t want your future bosses to see. Also, if you find anything negative about yourself, this gives you the opportunity to have a response ready if it comes up during the interview.

Review the job description

Study the job description so you can contextualize your background and qualifications to fit the job’s roles and responsibilities. Pay attention to the skills and experiences that are important for the job and make sure you mention these in the interview.

One good technique is to picture you in the job. What makes you a great candidate to fill that role? How would you do the job your way?

To really up your game, use the Briefcase Technique. This is an advanced job interview strategy where you go for the interview with a ready-made plan about how you are going to execute your job and what improvements you are going to make. Watch this short video clip by Business Insider and Ramit Sethi, author of ‘I Will Teach You To Be Rich’ to get a rough idea about this awesome way to wow your interviewers.

Give some thought to your salary expectations

Your salary is one of the most important issues discussed during a job interview. To achieve the best possible outcome, you  need to be well-prepared.

Try to avoid giving a definite number if possible as you may shortchange yourself. Try to get them to make the first offer but if pushed, give them your expected salary range. Websites like Salary and Glassdoor can give you an idea of what the position should pay.

Make sure the interviewer knows that you are flexible with negotiating your salary and open to discussing benefits.

Recommended reading: How to negotiate your salary during a job interview (with scripts you can use)

Find out the interview format

While most interviews are run by a small panel of interviewers, there are other interview formats like technical interviews where you are expected to prove you have certain skills, group interviews, phone or video interviews, and even informal out-of-office interviews (read  more about these below).

Some interviews can be conducted in stages where you go for many ‘rounds’ with different interview formats.

Forewarned is forearmed. Knowing what you are in for on the day will help you prepare and stop you from panicking when you rock up for your interview and get an unwanted surprise.

Practice, practice and more practice

Prepare answers to commonly asked questions

While there may be some curve ball questions, most interviews include at least a few standard questions. Review a list of the most common interview questions and think about how you would answer them. Don’t just memorize your resume but tailor your responses based on all the research that you have done on the company and interviewers.

You don’t need to memorize the answers. In fact you shouldn’t because you will then sound robotic and ‘planned’ during the interview. However, you should have a general idea of how you want to answer the questions to showcase your strengths and suitability for the job.

Prepping for your interview is even more important if English isn’t your first language as you might get flustered and start fumbling if you are unsure about a question.

Further reading: Top 10 interview tips for non-native English speakers 

Do a trial interview

Practice makes perfect, or at least improves your chances of succeeding. The more you practice, the more relaxed and confident you will be during the real interview.

You can rope in family members or friends to help you with an interview trial run. Or at least practice saying your answers out loud to yourself. Record or videotape yourself so you can review your answers and body language.

I did multiple recordings of myself before an important interview and realized how often I used filler words. Hearing myself talk helped me stop some of these bad habits and sound more professional.

Dress the part

Good grooming

Don’t underestimate the power of a groomed appearance. First impressions are made within the first 7 seconds and 55% of first impressions are made based on how you look.

So get cleaned up and pay attention to the small details:

  • Get a good haircut and comb your hair. Don’t go to an interview with wet or oily hair.
  • Brush your teeth and floss
  • Have a shower and put a neutral deodorant on
  • Trim your facial hair if you have any
  • Trim your fingernails and make sure they are clean

You might think this is obvious but you would be surprised how many people go into interviews looking like a slob.

Wear appropriate interview attire

Traditionally, acceptable interview attire has been boring black suits. Things have changed significantly since then but you still need to carefully consider what to wear and what image you are trying to portray.

Find out the company’s dress code and what their employees usually wear, even if it means hanging around outside the office at the end of a work day. Use that as a guide and dress just a little bit more professional than the dress code requires.

If you are really at a loss as to what to wear, email or call the person who scheduled the interview and ask about the typical dress code.

In most cases, a business casual outfit will work.

For men, a clean and pressed solid-colored dark suit, a long-sleeved light-colored shirt and a simple solid-colored tie exudes professionalism. Wear leather shoes and make sure they are shined. For a more casual option, you can replace the suit with khakis and a dark blazer.

Recommended reading: Men: What to wear for a job interview

For women, a two-piece suit in a dark or neutral color coupled with a silk blouse underneath is the most professional look. If you are wearing a skirt, it should be no shorter than knee-length. Limit distracting accessories and if you are wearing heels, go for functionality rather than style. And unless you are going for a job as a makeup artiste, go for a natural look with make-up.

Recommended reading: Women: How to dress for a job interview

Whatever it is that you decide to wear, make sure that it is neat and tidy, fits well and you are comfortable wearing it.

Pack what you need to bring the night before

Remember to bring extra copies of your resume, a list of references, or samples of your work if needed. It also goes without saying that you should bring a notepad and pen. I usually have water and a few light snacks in my bag as well.

Make sure you know the way to the interview

If need be, do a trial run to the interview venue ahead of time so you know exactly where you are going, how long it takes to get there and what the transport or parking situation is like.

This might sound like overkill but you will save yourself the stress of being unsure where to go and how to get there on the day.

On the day of the interview

Be early

Be early. But not too early as it might put pressure on your interviewer that you are there waiting for them. Arriving late to an interview is the biggest no-no. You will be flustered and it implies that you have issues with punctuality and will arrive late to work as well.

Aim to be there 15 minutes beforehand. If you arrive at the doorstep earlier, hang out at the nearby café first or better yet, go to a rest room to mentally prepare yourself for the interview.

Positive affirmations

Arrive early and find a quiet place (like a restroom) to compose yourself. Take a few deep breaths and give yourself a pep talk.

Use positive affirmations to put yourself in a winning mindset. Some common positive affirmations to help you boost your confidence are:

  • I am calm and confident and I will ace this interview.
  • I love job interviews! I can show them what I am capable of!
  • I am prepared. I have everything I need to succeed.
  • I am the perfect candidate for the job. This is just a formality.

Don’t go for the interview worrying the interviewer will think you are not good enough. Go for the interview with the mindset of ‘I want to see if we would suit each other’.

Remember, in the worst case scenario, even if you fail the interview, it is not the end of the world.

Power Posing

Amy Cuddy and her team tested power posing before a job interview and found that compared to low-power posers, high-power posers projected more confidence, presented better and had higher performance evaluations. She wrote the book Presence: Bringing your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges about how our body language influences others and presented an excellent TED talk about this same topic. You can watch this video for the condensed version.

Do these high power poses for 2 minutes before you go into your job interview and you are sure to walk in brimming with confidence.

Be nice to everyone

From the moment you walk in the door, be in interview mode. It’s not only the interview panel who is sizing you up but everyone you meet in the company probably knows you are there to try for a job. Some interviewers even ask the receptionist or administration staff how you behaved outside of the interview room to get a better idea of your real personality.

The Actual Interview

Show confidence

Exude confidence from the moment you walk into the interview room. Shake your interviewer’s hand firmly, smile and make good eye contact.

When you are sat down, minimize fidgety movements, lean forward a little and have your hands visible on your lap or clasped together with your elbows on the chair’s arms. Don’t cross your legs but keep both feet flat on the ground.

You might think these are small things but they all count towards making a good first impression. How you present yourself at the beginning of the interview could make or break the rest of the interview.

Recommended reading: How to shake hands professionally: A step-by-step guide

Answer all questions clearly

Listen to questions carefully and ask for clarification if you’re not sure what’s been asked.

It’s fine if you need to take a few seconds to frame your response. You don’t have to answer the question immediately.

Many interviewers work on a pre-planned script focusing on the details of your resume so when you give your answers, one way to garner more attention is to tell them information that is not on your resume.

One interview technique that is becoming more popular is behavior-based interviewing. It involves asking you questions about how you have handled past situations at work. The STAR method is one of the most straightforward techniques to use for these types of questions.

  • S – Explain the situation
  • T – Explain your task or role in the situation
  • A – Discuss the actions you took to handle the situation
  • R – Reflect on your actions and the results of your initiative.

It’s hard to remember events when you’re put on the spot so it’s always good to have a few challenging situations that you have managed well up your sleeve for questions like these. For example, you could talk about the time when you productively dealt with a difficult coworker.

What should you do if you really have no idea how to answer a question? Don’t panic. Take a deep breath and ask confidently if you can get back to the question later. It will give you some time to think about it and your interviewer might even forget to ask it again!

Word of caution: You should only ask to skip questions as a last resort. Doing it too often in the interview shows that you are incompetent.

Use expressive speech

It’s normal to speed up when you are nervous but remember not to talk too fast. Don’t talk too slow either. You must be thinking WTF?! This article gives you an idea of how fast or slow you should speak to get your message across.

Pay attention to your tone of voice. When they are stressed or uncomfortable, people tend to speak in a monotone. If you had practiced with a video recording prior to the interview, you would have noticed the tone of voice you used was probably very different from your usual and taken pains to correct it.

Speaking in expressive speech with more variation in tone, volume and speed gives the impression that you are more passionate and intelligent.

Listen carefully

Most people are good at talking but not at listening. You might have done your practice and have all your answers down pat but if you don’t listen during the interview, you will still fail at securing a job offer.

Don’t let yourself zone out. Getting distracted or missing a question looks very bad.

Important tip: You might have prepped your answers to the most common interview questions but during the interview, listen carefully to what the interviewer is really asking you. Don’t assume you know what the question will be.

Ask good questions

Most interviewers expect interviewees to show their interest in the job and company by asking informed questions.

You really need to prepare some good questions in advance as the disapproving silence and pursed lips that follow when you answer ‘no’ to the question ‘do you have any questions for us?’ is embarrassing.

Asking questions is genuinely a good opportunity for you to find out more. You’re not just trying to get any job; you want to know if the company and position would be a good fit for you too.

Make a good impression

If you have been called into an interview, the company already thinks you are good enough to hire. What differentiates you from the other interviewees is the impression you make during the interview.

So make a good impression and show them you are the best person for the job.

According to the ‘similarity-attraction hypothesis’ we tend to like people who share similarities with us. If you’ve done your research, you might know little details about your interviewer’s history or interests that you have in common. Try to work it into your conversation.

In Crazy Good Interviewing: How Acting a Little Crazy can get you the Job, John Molidor explains how crazy-good behavior can make an applicant stand out in a sea of mediocrity and land you the job you want.

Another way to make a good impression is to praise the company and indicate your enthusiasm to work there without being self-promotional. Everyone likes compliments but if you are going to do this, make sure your praise and enthusiasm is real because it is very easy to see through fake compliments.

You don’t have to be a positive possum all the time. But maintaining positivity, especially when discussing tough challenges, for example, being laid off or describing a difficult ex-boss, is essential. Show your interviewers that you are resilient and that you can maintain a positive solution-seeking attitude, even in a difficult situation.

Further reading: 7 Key Interpersonal Communication Skills (with practical tips for improvement)

Be authentic

It’s really tough to do but being yourself during the interview is essential. Interviewers can see right through you when you’re putting on a persona purely to impress.

Also, interview honestly. If you’re dishonest, you either won’t get the job or end up in a job that is a poor fit for you.

It’s fine to reveal your weaknesses rather than deny you have any (which is always not true) or ‘humble brag’. However, put a positive spin on your weaknesses so it’s not seen as a liability but rather as a ‘work in progress’.

End the interview graciously

No matter how badly you thought the interview went, always end the interview graciously. Thank the interviewers and reiterate your interest in the position.

Special interview situations

Phone interviews

Make sure you have a quiet place to interview where you won’t be interrupted. This is especially important if you have kids. Also make sure you have the technology necessary for the interview to proceed smoothly. This means a good phone with a good connection. Use a landline when at all possible.

Even though it’s a phone interview, you still need to get dressed for your own sake. You will not being able to think professionally while slouching on the couch in your PJs.

Taking away the visual element makes it harder to convey enthusiasm and energy but you absolutely need to make sure your positive attitude comes through in your voice.

Since the interviewer can’t see you, take full advantage by having your notes in front of you. Jot down key points that you can refer to as a reminder.

Never write down full sentences as you will automatically start reading from them and this will be very obvious to your interviewer.

Video interviews

Again, make sure you have a quiet venue and uninterrupted time to have a smooth interview.

Check that you have the technology necessary for a good interview. Use your desktop or laptop and only use your mobile phone if there is no other choice.  Test your video and audio quality and the speed of your internet connection.

If possible, do a trial run to make sure everything is in working order.

Out-of-office interviews

For an interview at a food venue, make sure you have your dining etiquette down pat. Check the menu earlier so that you are not mulling over what to order. Get to the restaurant a few minutes early and expect the interviewer to pick up the check.

Group interviews

Sometimes potential candidates are interviewed in a group as a screening test prior to further interview appointments. Listening is especially important in group interviews. Just because the focus is not currently on you doesn’t mean you can zone out. Your interviewers are observing how you interact in a group environment as proxy for how well you work as part of a team.

Show you are interested by your body language like leaning forward and cocking your head towards the person speaking. If it is a conversation, give thoughtful responses to their comments.

Other things to remember

  • Turn your phone off before the interview and keep it out of sight
  • Do not bring your own coffee or drink into the interview room
  • Do not use headphones even while you are waiting at reception for your turn. It gives the impression that you are not willing to engage.
  • No badmouthing past employers. It reflects badly on you. It shows the interviewer you don’t work well with people and can’t handle conflicts in a mature way.

Post-interview

Send a thank you email or note

Regardless of what kind of interview it is, send a thank you email or note to the interviewer within 24 hours. In the correspondence, thank them again for the opportunity to attend the interview and reiterate your interest in the position.

You can also take the chance to include any details you forgot to mention during the interview that might improve your chances of getting the job.

Just make sure you keep it short and sweet.

Further reading: Effective Business Writing Skills: A step-by-step guide to Professional Writing

Ask for feedback if you were rejected for the position

If for some reason, you did not get the job you interviewed for, consider it a learning experience and good practice. With every interview you have, you’ll be better prepared to ace the next one.

Asking for feedback will help you work on your interview technique and will also show the interviewer that you want to improve yourself. Who knows? You might set your sights on another position in the same company.

I hope this guide helps you to ace your job interview. Good luck!

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