There is a lot of advice on the internet about preparing for interviews and how to answer specific questions and while much of that is useful, there is not that much content out there that helps with the small behaviors that make a big difference in an interview. I’ve been hiring and interviewing people now for over 5 years and I have paid close attention to the signs that people exhibit in their interviews to reveal what they are really like.
Behaviors of a person speak a lot louder than words as it is very hard to change your behaviors on the spot, unlike prepared answers, which are easy to remember and be prepared for. Behaviors will take time to practice, make a much bigger impact and its important to know what behaviors work well in an interview so you can practice them in advance and learn the techniques as habits. In fact, many of these behaviors are great to have for general business interactions, not just interviews so they are well worth learning.
It seems I have an amusing story on just about every one of these items where someone does very poorly in an interview and it shows clearly their lack of preparation and/or poor behavior habits. So, I hope you learn something from this list, it was fun to make and highlight the things I’ve seen and now look for in the interview process and I truly hope they help you in some way. Please add your own ideas in comments, add a story about one of these or any remark about interviewing behaviors.
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Interview Tips – Prepare for a Good First Impression
- Be clean shaven or at least freshly trimmed
- Use a mint or breath freshener instead of chewing gum
- Go VERY light on any perfume, deoderant or cologne, you don’t want it to be noticed really
- Dress above the normal dress code, if any. When in doubt, overdress
- Wear black dress shoes that don’t stand out, and polish them if they need it
- Be early. Late for an interview without at least 30 minutes notice has no excuse
- Never arrive more than 10 minutes early. Wait in your car, walk around the block or wait nearby without announcing yourself too early
- Ensure you are flexible and available for scheduling interviews if you want to be taken seriously
- Clean up your social media presence and make things private that you wouldn’t want an employer to see. Trust me, they do look and it can make a difference. In fact, you should always keep your social media presence professional as there is no way to really remove things, so keep it presentable at all times.
- Prepare your introduction pitch as you will usually have a couple minutes to introduce yourself, your background and brief history
- Practice responding to many typical questions and behavior questions
- If given a choice learn how to win at roulette and always avoid an interview over lunch. Its messy, complicated and much riskier to leaving a good impression.
- If you have a phone interview, still dress up, smile and show enthusiasm even if they are not in the room to see it because they will hear it instead!
- The first couple minutes are often casual just as you are getting comfortable. Lead this if possible (but only for a couple minutes) to show confidence and to prevent any awkward first impressions.
Interview Tips – What to Have / Bring With You
- Bring a few sheets of paper to make notes on
- Bring a quality pen for writing with
- Have your own notes and preparation in a small, thin notebook or on index cards
- A simple, small bag but absolutely no electronics, laptops, large project samples or excess papers
- Leave your phone turned OFF, vibrate is still distracting and can be heard so simply turn it off
- Leave your phone out of sight and do not check it, even while waiting
- Better yet, leave your phone in your car and not on your person
- Have your references ready and a sheet to provide in case you are asked for them
- Do your research to bring some knowledge about the companies vision, products, recent news releases and changes to the business
- Also, gain knowledge of major competitors and recent important activity in the industry
Interview Tips – Personal Behaviors
- Be friendly to EVERYONE you encounter while waiting for an interview, as you never know who you might meet
- That includes smiling at people you see
- Chat with the receptionist, be friendly
- Read any company literature available while waiting, not a magazine. Things like pamphlets, awards, posters, etc.
- Note any questions that arise from what you read or learn from chatting with people before the interview.
- Introduce yourself professionally, state your full name and a brief comment or pleasantry such as “Nice to meet you”
- Always clarify the pronunciation or name you heard if you are unsure, so that you can use it again.
- Ensure you remember the person’s names you are introduced to
- Learn to shake hands professionally and never give a weak frail handshake
- Look a person in the eye when you meet them and shake their hand
- Maintain appropriate eye contact and well all interviewers equality when not answering a direct question
- Keep excellent posture
- Lean forward a little to stay attentive and show interest
- Keep your hands/arms in your lap or on the table, never cross them or fold them behind your head
- Its OK to cross your legs, but men, its not OK to rest your foot up on your knee
- Breathe deeply and calmly to help you relax
- If you forget something or don’t understand, just ask the interviewer to please repeat it
Interview Tips – Interaction and Communication
- Ask where to sit or wait for instruction on where to sit
- Accept any offer for water if you don’t already have some, but don’t complicate it with coffee or special instruction
- Elaborate in your responses, an interviewer learns the most by how you describe things and respond
- State you need a moment to think, when you need a moment to think, don’t just sit silently
- Be honest, yet positive. Any lies are easily detected by a good interviewer, trust me
- Also be yourself and let your personality expose itself as you interact, there is nothing worse than someone not believing you were authentic
- Know every word and detail on your resume, expect to be asked to explain something from it
- Reword a question or a response if you don’t understand or are not being understood
- Ask after a short responses if they would like you to go in to more detail (if you have more you could add) instead of just going on and on
- If you have questions, ask them during the interview if that topic comes up, but don’t direct the interviewer off topic, they DO have an agenda and you don’t know it
- Let the interviewer stay in control of the interview, they want to get their questions answered before having to answer yours
- Look to identify the interviewer’s communication style and behavioral style (such as the D.i.S.C. model) to better understand what they may be most interested in
- Show some enthusiasm as you communicate and in your responses especially
Interview Tips – Answering Questions
- Listen carefully and patiently for an interviewer to finish their question, NEVER interrupt!
- Think for a moment about what they are really asking for before you dive in and answer what first comes to mind
- You should always strive to use examples or stories in your answers to show practical application, not just knowledge
- Be vulnerable with the weakness question. Lame weaknesses often considered a positive is a bad answer. Put something realistic and tell about how it has been a struggle, which you are changing and what you still need to do about it. Don’t fake or discount a weakness as something easy to fix, as that is a very weak answer.
- Make sure you highlight strengths not on their own, but why they are strengths in your mind for this specific job. Your strengths must be useful in your role and fill a need or they are not advantages.
- Tell me about yourself is that exactly, yourself. Not your job history and work experience, but you, as a person. The questions about your work history are coming. It’s fine to focus your answer on work related things, but talk about your interests, career shifts or major changes / decisions and things that are important to you. Your background, major travel history and other personal items may be of interest and give insight to who you are, but don’t get deep into unrelated topics like family, hobbies, sports, etc at this point, since its usually early in an interview that this is asked
- Salary expectations should never be shared until you have an offer. Simply state you will consider any competitive offer and expect it to be comparable in the industry
- Use questions to show that you are well prepared and you researched some thing about the company to form your questions from
- Its best to admit when you don’t know something or can’t answer a question, instead of given some vague or incorrect answer pretending you are right. You’re not fooling anyone.
- Highlight transferable skills in your responses if you don’t have a lot of experience or relevant experience and express your confidence that you will apply and perform in a new area
- Often interviewers ask two part questions to see if you were listening and respond to both. Make sure you think about answering both parts and don’t loose sight of a second part if there is one.
- When a question comes up that you don’t know the answer to, this can be a great opportunity to assure them that you would love to learn more about that for the role and expand your experience
- Don’t assume people know acronyms or organizations you mention, always ask or elaborate on what things are to ensure they understand your responses
- Never bad mouth previous companies or co-workers, if there were negatives to address, make it specific about a decision, strategy, shift in process or some other behavior, but not personal. Only use something like this if you are answering a question directly or it is used to demonstrate overcoming that particular obstacle.
Interview Tips – Asking Questions
- Absolutely never, ever ask about compensation, benefits or bonus in an interview. Those discussions come once you know they want you or have an offer for you.
- Ask questions that are a level above the specific role you are applying for to show you can think beyond the expected role. Think about things your boss would be interested in or looking for and ask questions to have them answer something they are familiar and passionate about. Showing interest in things they are interested in is best here.
- Ask questions that fit their D.i.S.C. behavioral (or another personality) profile you detect during the interview, to ask what interests them most
- Ask about events or news releases about the company to show you’ve done some research but ensure it is a meaningful question that you genuinely want to know about and discuss.
- Plan your questions to be a discussion with several more short probing questions
- Have questions to ask that cover multiple areas: the business itself, products or projects you’ll be involved in, responsibilities and the role itself, the work culture and environment, expectations and performance
- Use open ended questions, not closed questions since they can be awkward and come across shallow and meaningless to the interviewer
- Asking questions about something you learned during the interview or read while waiting can show your curiosity and intelligence if the question is suitable
- Don’t ask excessive questions and focus on the most intelligent ones. Instead of going on endlessly with questions, state you have more questions but would be happy to ask them at the next opportunity or at another meeting. This shows you respect their time and they will either agree or let you ask more (which is a sign they want to learn more about you, a good thing!)
- Use questions to show that you are well prepared and you researched some thing about the company to form your questions from
- Experience questions can often be answered with examples from volunteering work or clubs or sports. Think about ways to highlight outside areas and if possible, tie that behavior back to the workplace as well.
Interview Tips – Closing and Exiting
- Ensure you restate with enthusiasm that you want an offer and how you will best contribute to the company if you get one
- Tell them you would love the opportunity to discuss more, meet other team members or see some of the work environments or products if applicable
- Get contact details and permission to contact any of the interviewers if you have more questions
- Ensure you thank the interviewers for the opportunity to meet, again stating you hope to proceed and am exciting to come back again
- Shake hands when you leave and wish them politely to have a great day
- Leave promptly when the time comes and show you respect their time by not dilly dallying around and wasting any time
Interview Tips – Follow Up
- Assess your interview immediately after leaving
- Note all the items or skills that were of particular interest
- Prepare any extra comments or questions about those important areas for the next opportunity with them
- Review what questions you were not prepared well for, or found difficult to answer
- Write out and practice answering those questions again
- Note what further information or questions you have before you would accept an offer
- Contact the interviewer the following day as well as anyone else you met and got contact details from
- Be polite, thank them for the time to meet and restate why you can fill the role and that you are wanting to proceed to the next stage or receive an offer
- Include a new example (if brief) about how your skills or experience will fill the role or a specific need you learned during the interview
- Never push the interviewers for an answer when following up, but don’t be afraid to call several times. Things get in the way all the time and can delay an expected hiring process.
- Make sure you have voice mail with a personal greeting recorded so any call backs hear your voice directly
- Always follow up with any call backs and offers, even if it is not what you want. Be honest and discuss options or changes that would convince you or why you have made a decision one way or another.
- Call all of your references you provided to give them a heads up about the interview, the company they can expect to call and if there are any points you recommend they share if appropriate.
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