I’ve taken part in many interviews, on both sides of the desk. And while I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the really ugly, I can safely say I’m always most disappointed by the candidates who seem perfect on paper, but who just don’t impress when the opportunity presents itself.
Often times, this is because they don’t spend enough time preparing. Preparation not only leads to sharing the facets of your background that are most relevant to the position and to the people you’re meeting with, but it also helps you head into the interview confident and relaxed. When you’re confident and relaxed, you can be yourself. And that, my friends, is what will land you that position.
Here are five things you can do before and during your next job interview to improve your comfort level—so you can focus on showing everyone that you’re a great fit for the job.
1. Use Company Stalking to Your Advantage
It goes without saying that you should find out everything you can about your potential place of employment ahead of time. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and the company’s website and blog all provide you with information that will help you go to a job interview confident and prepared.
But this research isn’t about memorizing facts and figures—it’s about getting information that you can use to your advantage. For example, by visiting the company Facebook page, you should get a feel for the culture and overall vibe of the place. Are there photos of the employees? Great—you can decide whether to dress extra professional or don business casual to the interview. Oh, and look—the company has “Beer Fridays” and participates in a softball league. If it just so happens that you love beer and softball, that’s a perfect piece of info to bring up in the interview.
Twitter can also be an excellent resource because you can see what the company and its employees are talking about. Are they sarcastically bantering with each other? Feel free to throw a few jokes in as you’re meeting with people. Are they tweeting up a storm about an event or product launch? Use it as a conversation starter.
2. Know Who You’re Talking To
Before you go, try to find out who you’ll be meeting with, whether it’s an HR representative, your would-be boss, or the CEO. Why? Your interview answers and conversation topics should vary based on the person you are speaking with, and by knowing who you'll be talking to, you can spend time thinking through how you might connect with each of these people.
For example, if you’ll be talking to an executive, the company's founder, or an overall top dog, he or she will likely be focused on the big picture. So, rather than sharing the minutia of your responsibilities in your last role, talk about a few big results you can point to. On the other hand, if you’re interviewing with your immediate supervisor, you’ll want to demonstrate exactly why you’re the best person to tackle the day-to-day responsibilities of the position.
The startup I work for, Automated Insights, also often sends general employees in to talk with the candidate. In this scenario, remember that your potential co-workers are interested in how you coming on board will make their lives easier. If someone mentions a task your future position handles, show how you could fill that role—but in a way that tries to relate, rather than impress. (e.g., "Yeah, that computer program is really frustrating, but my last job required me to use it a lot, so I could definitely take over that task.") When it comes time for that employee to give their opinion, you’ll earn his or her vote.
3. Let Some Personality In
On that note, an important thing to remember is that you were selected for this interview based on your skills and accomplishments. The interviewers know you have what it takes to do the job, so now’s your chance to inject some personality into what’s written on that resume and cover letter.
If someone asks about your hobbies outside of work, it’s totally OK to open up and share what really makes you tick. (Do keep it semi-professional, though: Saying you like to have a few beers at the local hot spot on Saturday night is fine. Telling them that Monday is usually a rough day for you because you’re always hungover is not.)
4. Don’t Save Your Questions for the End
Naturally, you’ll probably go into the interview with a few questions (because you did so much research ahead of time!). But, contrary to what you might have heard, don't compile said questions into a list and save them all for the end.
Remember, during the interview you should be engaged in discussion. So, weave your questions in naturally, as the topics come up. (e.g., “I’ve supervised up to five people at a time. How many direct reports does this position have?”) You may also find that many your questions will be answered before you can even ask them.
Typically, there is a Q&A period at the end, but save that for any remaining or housekeeping-type questions you want answered (e.g., “When will you be making a hiring decision?”). Working your well-thought-out questions into the interview will create a normal flow of conversation and relax both sides of the table.
5. Accept the Beverage
While no one’s ever been denied a job because they said no when offered a beverage—take one. I’m serious.
Remember, your goal is to be relaxed and comfortable so you can show the best you. And think about it: You’re going to be talking. A lot. Which means you are going to regret saying, “No thanks, I’m fine” to a beverage 45 minutes into the interview after you’ve been talking for 29 of them.
But what’s more, saying “Yes, I’d love one, thank you,” is the natural thing to do. When you visit a family member or friends house, you have no problem accepting a refreshing glass of water or whatever Grandma has available. And doing the same with the interviewers will show them that you’re comfortable enough to spend 40+ a week with them. (And, hey, free drink! You might not get the job, but you got a Coke, so it’s not a total loss.)
Interviews are a big deal, and landing that new career can be a game-changer, but it’s important to remember that you’ve already accomplished something: You landed the interview. So, relax a little bit. As long as you’ve done your research and you let your personality shine through, you’ll be prepared to ace the interview.