10 Tips for an Awesome Interview

DenaMarch 2, 2011

A few interesting facts about me. By the time I was twenty-two, I’d had twenty different jobs. I’ve never been fired from a job. I’ve received a raise or a promotion at every job I’ve ever had. And, finally, I have received a job offer after every single interview that I’ve ever been on.

It could be luck (even though I don’t believe in luck). It could be charm. In fact, it’s probably a little bit of both, but it’s also definitely something else: Preparation.

Even if you are not especially charming. Heck, even if you are the shyest person on the planet, there are ways to make sure that you will shine during your next interview. Here are my tips—from common sense to magic techniques!

1. Be early. Vince Lombardi said that five minutes early is ten minutes late. And when it comes to interviews, this is the golden rule. This seems pretty basic, but it’s critical. Running late for an interview is not only foolish, it’s disrespectful.

Expert Tip: Plan to be at your destination a half an hour before your scheduled interview time. That gives you a buffer in case there’s traffic.

2. Research. Find out as much about the company and the interviewer as you possibly can. Read the company’s website and look for its Mission and/or Vision Statement. Mention a key takeaway during the interview. “I noticed that Company X is really focused on ethics. I actually did my dissertation on Employee Ethics within Small Businesses. I would love to learn more about Company X’s approach to ethics within the industry.”

Expert Tip: Do a Google search for the person who is interviewing you. You might find a brief bio. Look for common ground and bring it up during the interview. “Thank you so much for having me today. By the way, I noticed that you went to Texas A & M. My brother is an alumni there, too. Go Aggies!”

3. Bring questions. The format for interviews generally runs like clock work. The interviewer gives a brief spiel about the company, then goes into detail about the position, then asks the candidate some questions, and finally announces: “Alright, well that’s about all I’ve got. Do you have any questions for me?”

Now it’s great if you’ve thought up a few questions during the interview, but it’s still smart to come prepared with a few generic questions in case you draw a blank. Do a Google search for “good interview questions” and you’ll find tons of great options. Don’t forget to write them down. Even the simplest things can slip your mind in a high-pressure situation like an interview.

4. Prepare to answer questions. After you’ve picked out the “good interview questions” that you want to ask, take some time to answer them as well. Write down your answers and bring them with you and also practice saying them out loud.

5. Prepare for the curve ball. This is my favourite of the tips because it was so much fun to execute back when I was conducting interviews. Most people prepare for all of the standard interview questions — “What is your greatest strength/weakness? What will you bring to our team? Tell me about your work history, etc.” — but few people prepare for a real curve ball, a question so unexpected that it really catches you off guard.

My curve ball questions varied, but a favourite was, “Do you believe in intelligent life on other planets?” Now mind you, this had absolutely nothing to do with the job at hand, but it’s a great way to get a feel for a person’s true self.

If you get thrown a curve ball, the best thing you can do is remain absolutely calm. You can smile at the jest of it, but answer the question. I found that some candidates would get so nervous, refuse to answer the question, shrug their shoulders and say, “I just don’t know.” That really turned me off to a candidate. I wanted to hear something, anything really. I wanted to see that the candidate could “act on his feet.”

Expert Tip: When thrown a curve ball, remain calm and give an answer. One candidate enthusiastically responded to my intelligent life question with, “I’m on the fence about life on other planets, but I loved the movie E.T.!” I loved her answer… and she got the job.

6. Posture. From the moment you come into the room to the moment that you exit, your posture must be excellent—even when you are sitting down. Poor posture (like slouched shoulders and a low-hanging head) are perceived as signs of weakness, laziness, and a lack of confidence. Keep your shoulders pulled back and keep your chin held high.  You will give the illusion of confidence and capability.

7. Sitting and seat placement. There are two things to remember when it comes to the seat. First, when you enter the interview room, you should always reach out to the interviewer for a handshake while introducing yourself. Then, you should wait to be invited to sit. The interviewer will motion you toward the appropriate seat. Sitting before you are invited can be interpreted as rude.

Once you are seated, ensure that your body and your legs are facing the interviewer but allow for your legs to angle away slightly, no more than a couple of inches. This gives the appearance of being open and connected; but not intimidating or arrogant. Keep both feet flat on the ground. Avoid crossing your legs which can make you appear closed off. And finally, do not tap your foot or bounce up and down in your seat. Fidgeting makes you appear uninterested and easily distracted.

8. Eye contact. Eyes are the windows to the soul. During an interview, your eye contact will play an important role in establishing your connection with the interviewer. Hold eye contact while answering questions, especially difficult ones. It is alright to look away for a moment while thinking or to glance down at your paperwork; but do not avoid eye contact. Avoiding eye contact or shifting your eyes away from your interviewer frequently can be perceived as shady behavior.

Expert tip: People often wonder what amount of eye contact is the right amount of eye contact. The best way to decide how much eye contact to use, is to follow the lead of your interviewer. There is no magic number, but the key is to follow the leader. If the interviewer seems to enjoy eye contact (is open, friendly, smiling) then use as much eye contact as she does. However, if the interviewer seems more reserved or even shy, and keeps her gaze away from you, use much less eye contact.

9. Mimicry. Like making eye contact, you should also follow the lead of your interviewer while speaking. If the interviewer is loud and outgoing, then you should be a bit louder and more outgoing, too. Not louder than her, but not shy or soft-spoken either. Likewise, if the interviewer is quiet and reserved, you should be a bit quiet and reserved, too.

It is proven that human beings like people like themselves. The more that you can mimic your interviewer, the better your chances are that she will like you. Of course, you want to be yourself, too, but being likable often means using some imitation.

10. Hands on table. During your interview, the best place to keep your hands is on the table in front of you. Do not twiddle thumbs, tap, flip your pen, or put your hands in your pocket. Simply keep them on the table casually. Pick up your pen occasionally to take notes or write down questions.

Keeping your hands on the table conveys confidence, openness, attentiveness, and professionalism.

Bonus Tip: Visualization. My final tip is my number one piece of advice for preparing for an interview. It is to practice visualization. Visualization is simply the act of imagining. The night before your interview, eliminate all distractions and spend five minutes visualizing. Close your eyes, steady your breathing, and imagine the interview room. Imagine walking in, introducing yourself, shaking your interviewer’s hand, and sitting down. Imagine how great you look. Imagine how confident you feel. Imagine answering the interviewer’s questions with eloquence and ease. Imagine your ideal interview experience.

Taking the time to visualize your perfect interview will truly prepare you to put your best self forward. Take a few minutes to visualize the scenario again on your way to the interview. By the time you get to the actual interview, you will be super-prepared. If you feel yourself getting nervous during your interview, close your eyes, take a breath, and remember your visualization. You will feel relaxed and collected again.

Now it’s your turn! Give me your best interview advice in the comments. And, if you’ve got an interview lined up, best of luck. Let me know how it goes. 🙂

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