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Advice / Job Search / Interviewing

All the Basic Interview Tips That Experienced People Forget About


Whether it’s been a while since you’ve had an interview, you’re switching careers, or you are just having a total blank, you might need a bit of a reminder on how to prepare for one.

So, to help you do just that, I’ve broken the process down so you know exactly what you need to do to nail every single step.

You’ve got this!

The Week of: Practice Answering Interview Questions

During this time, you’re going to want to focus on coming up with answers to basic interview questions to be sure you know how to talk about yourself, your interests, and your qualifications in a professional but enthusiastic manner. Have a friend mock interview you and give you feedback on how you sound (Are you talking too fast? Do you say “um” or “like” a lot?), as well as how you appear (Do you look confident? Do you use good eye contact?). If no one’s available, do it yourself and record it.

Then, once you have those down, try responding to behavioral questions—because in some form or another, they almost always come up.

And, if you have some extra time, work on responding to these problem-solving questions, and maybe some brain teasers—while these are more common toward the second or third round, it doesn’t hurt to at least anticipate how you’d approach them.

In addition, you also should prepare five of your own questions to ask in the interview. These can be anything about the kinds of projects you’ll work on, how you’ll be trained, the company’s five-year plan, the team and company culture, or even the hiring manager’s favorite part of his job. While you likely won’t have time for all five, you’ll want to have a few extras in case some get answered during the interview.

The Night Before: Lay Out Your Outfit and Your Game Plan

The last thing you’d want is to sleep through your alarm and only have 10 minutes to pull yourself together, so take the night before to plan what you’re going to wear. Business formal? Business casual? There’s a difference. Hint: You can look on Instagram to get a better idea. After that’s set, locate the company, figure out how you’ll get there, and try to determine if there’s any special kind of parking situation you should know about.

Next, it’s time to do some last minute interview prep. What kind of last minute prep? Besides going over your notes and answers, take this evening to research the company by looking at its website, lightly stalking its social media, and Googling to see if it’s gotten any recent press lately. Get a sense of the company does, what its mission is, and what you could contribute. It doesn’t hurt to also know what role the company plays in its industry.

Also, glance at the job description one last time to see if there’s any points you can further discuss or inquire about tomorrow. Because if you’ve prepare an answer about a time when you did all this great work independently, and the role is looking for a “team player,” you might want to restructure your response.

The Day of: Cover Those Last Minute Details

Today’s the day! Lucky for you, you’re pretty much ready (because you followed steps one and two above, obviously). Set your alarm a bit earlier than usual to give yourself time to fully wake up, eat a healthy breakfast, and head out of the house. Plan on getting to the office five minutes early.

Muse writer Katie Douthwaite Wolf suggests you ask yourself these questions before heading out:

  • Is there anything I should know about the format of the interview? Such as: Will it be one person or three? Do I know everyone’s names?
  • How long can I expect it to last? If it’s an all-day thing, maybe bring a snack or extra makeup.
  • Is there anything else I should bring? Besides, of course, a few copies of your resume and a notebook. Not sure? Take a look at this just-in-case list of items you might want to have handy.
  • Is there anything I should know about getting there? Unusual traffic? Subway delays?

During: Be Yourself!

The moment of truth: Now all you can do is breathe, smile, shake the hiring manager’s hand, and wait for him or her to initiate.

Honesty is the best policy when it comes to interviews. It’s OK to not know everything, no matter how hard you prepped. With that said, you want to filter what you’re honest about. Don’t embellish your achievements, but also don’t downplay your strengths. Oh, and I know you know to stay away from topics such as drinking, falling asleep at work, or that old boss you really didn’t like.

Throughout the conversation, gauge your interviewer and how you think the conversation is going. If the interview seems to be going south or moving too quickly, try asking any of these five questions to get back on track.

And lastly, be aware of your posture and eye contact. Today is not the day to wear your RBF.

If It’s a Phone Interview: Use Those Verbal Cues

Because you can’t rely on your body language, make sure your voice speaks for itself (no pun intended). Talk slowly and deliberately, maintain a positive and confident tone, and clearly wrap up when you’re done speaking so the interviewer knows how to proceed (and you can avoid the awkward talking over each other moments). For more help, check out these phone interview tips.

If It’s a Video Interview: Be Aware of Your Surroundings

The upside to a video interview is that you can do it in the comforts of your own home. The downside is that you’re doing it in your home—so you have to be aware of what your backdrop looks like (a.k.a., you might want to take down those pictures of you in Cancun with friends). During the interview, focus on the camera rather than your face—yes, interviewers can tell when you’re looking at yourself—and compose yourself as you would in person (smile, nod, don’t fidget).

(And for a video assessment, you might need to do an extra bit of prep.)

After: Follow Up With a Thank You Note

If you made it through without passing out or throwing up, chances are it went pretty well! (And if it totally bombed, you can easily follow up with the hiring manager and politely explain the situation.)

Regardless of how you feel, you always want to send a thank you note—the day of is perfect. Keep it short, simple, and to the point. Bonus points for working in something specific or personal from the conversation.

And then you wait! I know, that’s the hardest part, but if you did everything on this list, you can be confident that you did the best you could. And that, my friends, is a great feeling.