Job interviews can feel like a scary and mysterious game where the rules are unknown. Hiring managers often make things hard on applicants by asking seemingly unrelated, or worse, illegal questions and failing to communicate clearly with interviewees. To make things more confusing, experts offer conflicting advice about what to do before, during and after the interview.
Author and career guru, Denise Dudley, knows a thing or two about interviewing. Her new book, Work It! Get In, Get Noticed, Get Promoted, outlines all the do’s and don’ts of interviewing. Rather than getting bogged down with theories and conjecture, it offers clear-cut answers and concrete solutions. “I’ve looked over thousands of resumes, personally hired hundreds of people — and I’ve fired a few, too — and I’ve been teaching career skills for a very long time,” Dudley says. “I know what works.” Read on for her advice on navigating the job interview landmine.
What are most hiring managers looking for in a candidate during a job interview?
To introduce this topic in general, here’s how I like to look at it: you have a goal of getting hired, and the hiring manager (or interviewer) has a goal of filling a specific position with the best-qualified candidate—and if all goes well, there’s a strong possibility that your two independent goals can merge! So what is the hiring manager really looking for? In one word: FIT. Do your skills fit with the job description? Does your personality fit with the company culture? Do you look, talk, and act like you already fit into the organization? If you can convince the hiring manager that you’re the perfect fit for what he/she’s looking for, you’re in.
Now, let’s break it down further. In an interview, everything counts. Every-thing. If you’re serious about being hired, you must leave nothing to chance. Your appearance must be neat, clean, polished, and professional. You must arrive at your interview on time (being late is an almost-for-sure deal-killer). You must be competent, confident, energetic, and enthusiastic. And you have to know your stuff, backwards and forwards—both about the company you’re applying to, and about yourself. Even though you’re going to bring a few hardcopies of your resume to the interview, you must know your own personal history without having to read it! After all, you’re selling a product—yourself—and you should be an expert on all your great qualities and abilities.
Introverted candidates are often at a disadvantage because they may not seem as enthusiastic as an extrovert. How can these candidates show their interest in the position without trying to change personalities?
Regardless of whether it’s fair, we know through almost countless studies that introverted people don’t do as well in any sort of interview situation (including first dates) as people who are more extroverted. So, without attempting to change your personality (which wouldn’t really work, anyway), it’s important to master a few skills that will help you project yourself (and your skills) to the interviewer, regardless of your natural introversion.
Work on your handshake. This might sound small, but it’s actually huge. If you can pull off a great, assertive handshake, you can almost fool the interviewer into thinking you’re a lot more extroverted than you really are. Why? Because of the “first impression rule.” We know that first impressions will stick to you like glue, and once formed—for better or for worse—are almost impossible to modify or alter. So when you first meet your interviewer, muster up the energy to stride confidently forward, offer your hand, smile, make direct eye contact, shake hands firmly but gently, say your name clearly and loudly enough to be heard, and tell the interviewer it’s great to meet them. And BINGO! You’ve just locked in a great first impression that’s likely to remain throughout the interview (unless you crawl under the table or hide under your chair!).
Work on your voice. Introverted people tend to minimize themselves through quiet, weak, unassertive voices. Instead, it’s important to speak clearly and loudly enough to be heard, but it’s also important to make sure you stay in the lower registers of your voice (you’ll sound more powerful), and that you finish your sentences with a downward inflection rather than an upward inflection (you’ll sound more like you know what you’re talking about). Also, do your best to eliminate “fillers” (umm, uhhh, ya know, Okaaay, etc.) as you speak.
Know thyself. Study your resume until you have it memorized. Think of examples in your work history that illustrate your skill and ability, and have them at the ready to answer the interviewer’s questions. Study yourself as if you’re about to be tested on the subject of “you” (which is exactly what an interview is!). The more you know, the better prepared you’ll be, and the better prepared you are, the more confident you’ll feel (and look and sound). Extroverted people are pretty good at “winging it” in a social situation (including stressful ones), whereas introverted people tend to withdraw. So knowing your stuff will just naturally remove any inclination to clam up, right when you’re expected to shine!
So, how do you accomplish all these suggestions? With good old-fashioned practice! Practice your smile in front of the mirror. Shake hands with your friends and roommates. Record yourself and critique your voice and content delivery. Have a trusted pal do a few “mock interviews” with you. Do all of these things until you feel self-assured and ready to go.
What are some big do’s and don’ts during a job interview?
Do make sure you arrive on time! As I’ve already mentioned, being late will most likely eliminate you from the running.
Do bring extra copies of your resume with you. It’s possible that you might be interviewed by multiple people, and you want to look prepared. Ditto if you’ve been asked to show samples of your work, such as copywriting, design layouts, or photographic work.
Do (your best to) dress as if you already work at the company you’re interviewing with. (You might need to do some research to find out what the dress code is.) And when in doubt, dress on the conservative side.
Do rehearse your answers to some of the most common interview questions, such as “Tell me about yourself,” “Why are you looking for a job,” and “Why should we hire you.” You want to appear as if you’ve prepared ahead for the interview.
Don’t ramble on and on. Interviewers have short attention spans, and unless you’ve been asked to review your entire resume, line by line, or give a detailed account of your life, from birth to present day (by the way, those things won’t happen!), keep your answers under approximately 90 seconds. Exception: if you’ve been asked what’s called a “behavioral question,” you may need to take a little longer to get through the STAR response method. (If you don’t know the STAR method, look it up—it’s useful, and most interviewers are using behavioral questions these days.)
Don’t ever badmouth another employer or former supervisor. Even if you’re baited. Even if they specifically ask you what you don’t like about your current job (or boss). But what if they do ask? Relate the answer to you, personally, rather than to the company or supervisor: “I’m looking for a new opportunity—one where I can better use my skills, and can feel as if I’m a more integral part of the team.” Or, “I’ve decided it’s time to work for a company where I can really learn, grow, and put my skills to good use, for the benefit of both myself and the organization.” See how it works? Even though these answers indirectly acknowledge that your current work situation isn’t exactly perfect, in no way did you say anything negative about anyone.
Don’t appear angry, disgusted, agitated, or any other “state of being” that’s anything other than pleasant, positive, and professional—no matter how your day is going! Even if you got a speeding ticket on your way to the interview, or the parking lot attendant barked at you for not knowing where you were going, or the interviewer is running fifteen minutes late. This is no time to “let down your hair” and share your displeasure with life. No interviewer is going to take a chance on recommending someone who exhibits a negative attitude (even a semi-justified one) before they’re even hired.
Don’t fidget—it’s distracting to the interviewer, and it makes you look nervous or flustered. Don’t pick at your cuticles, play with your hair, rub your chin, kick your feet around, cross and uncross your legs ten times, or do anything other than sit calmly and placidly, as if you’re relaxed and in control. When you first sit down for your interview, place your purse or briefcase on the floor (or wherever you’re directed to put them). Place the extra copies of your resume aside, if you’re not handing them out. Place your hands directly on the arms of the chair, or in your lap. You want to give the appearance of being composed and self-assured.
When is a good time to bring up salary and benefits?
If salary and benefits haven’t been discussed (and if they weren’t part of the “wanted ad” for the position), it’s perfectly appropriate to ask about salary and benefits at the end of the interview. In fact, it’s a great question to ask (assuming it hasn’t been answered yet) when the hiring manager says, “Do you have any questions?”
Warning: do not lead with this question the minute you sit down in the interview! You will appear tacky and crass, as if you have an “all about me” attitude. Instead, you want to appear interested in the position, the company, your future co-workers, the hiring manager him/herself, and just about anything else you can think of before you jump into the “me” phase of the interview.
And while salary and benefits are completely fine to discuss, don’t ask about personal time off, if it’s possible to leave early on Fridays, come in late on Mondays, or any other question that will make you appear as if you can’t wait to get out of there before you’re even hired! Remember, you’re in competition with other candidates, and among other considerations, the hiring manager is going to choose the person he/she thinks will be the most committed and dedicated to the job.
Is a hand-written thank you note necessary after an interview or will an email suffice?
I think it’s important to do both! First of all, sending a thank you note (or in this case, two) is simply the polite thing to do. (And while we’re on the subject, make sure you send notes to everyone who interviewed you, plus anyone who referred you to the job opening.) But aside from politeness and proper form, here’s another way to look at it: after the interview is over, time becomes your enemy. In other words, the hiring manager’s memory of you begins to fade, and to blur together with memories of the other candidates. (Yes, I realize you’re “special,” but hiring managers may see up to twelve people a day during a real hiring blitz.) Hence, you want to do whatever you can to keep your memory fresh, while simultaneously reminding the hiring manager of what a great person you are.
So, after the interview, here comes your email thank you note (send it on the very same day you interviewed, by the way). And next, what’s this? A hand-written thank you note, as well! How lovely and thoughtful! Once more, you’ve managed to put your name in front of the hiring manager’s nose, thus increasing your odds of being called back, or even hired on the spot. Two thank you note reminders of your awesomeness, compared to only one—who wouldn’t want that?
Two important tips: make sure your email thank you note and your hand-written thank you note are worded differently, and keep both of them short and to the point. You don’t want to create a “reading assignment” for an already-busy hiring manager! You want both of your notes to feel refreshing, brief, and positive, or you’ll defeat your purpose.