Must have interview tips for your next job hunt from an experienced interviewer.
I know how daunting it can be when gearing up for an interview. If you have one on the horizon, I imagine your mind is spinning. You want to make sure to demonstrate professionalism not to mention remember all your answers to questions.
Not too long ago, I was interviewing multiple times a week to find a job post-graduation. Even more recently, I was interviewing virtually to try to land a job in NY before I moved back here. I want to help you be as prepared as you can be for your upcoming interviews to land the job of your dreams (or maybe just to pay the bills—I feel ya).
Why should you trust me to give interview tips?
Before I jump in, you might have paused and asked yourself, “Wait, what does some online squirrel know about interview tips?”
In my last three positions (aka every job since leaving college), I have done some sort of interviewing and hiring as an add on to my role. While a concessions manager, I spent two winters interviewing candidates for various position in our 500+ person department. The second winter, I spearheaded the process, myself interviewing at least 200 people—likely more.
In my next position, I looked for and hired people a bit more skilled to join our (much) smaller operation. Finally, in my current job, I’m actually in the process of hiring two vastly different positions—one an intern position and the other a masters-level + 5 years of work experience position. While I can’t say that these are the be all end all tips, I know that if you put them into practice, it will land you a step above your other average candidates.
So Squirrel, what amazing interview tips do you have for me?
To get here, I imagine you have some knowledge of interview basics. Bring multiple copies of your resume, arrive early (but not TOO early! 5-10 minutes is good), give a firm handshake and make eye contact, et cetera, et cetera. If you are still learning the basics, I think that’s great! We have to start somewhere, and if you want some additional information, please feel free to reach out to me via comments or one of these methods. I am happy to help!
Alright, without further ado, here are 10 interview tips to make you shine:
Tip 1: Dress one step above what you think the dress code is
My first tip is a bit of a segue. I went back and forth about whether or not this should even be a tip as it sounds obvious. However, you would be amazed at how many people fail to dress appropriately for a job interview.
Think about what the dress code likely is at the location you are applying for. Now dress slightly above that. If an office is casual (jeans and hoodies), dress business casual. If it’s business casual, dress business professional. If you are unsure, it’s typically best to err on the side of caution and dress business professional. First impressions are important!
If you are extended or have accepted an offer and are still uncertain of how you should dress at work, it is perfectly ok to ask your future employer what the dress code is—it shows that you care about how you show up to work.
Tip 2: Be friendly and professional to everyone you meet
In this tip, I am not just referring to everyone you are formally introduced to. You need to be friendly and professional to any security, receptionist or other staff that you come across. This is two fold:
- Some employers ask their receptionist how the candidate treated them to get a genuine feel of their personality. You could be interviewing for a C-suite role and this still applies to you. In fact, I would argue it’s even more important that someone at that level demonstrates basic human decency.
- If you are hired, these people, particularly the receptionist or office manager, can make your life smooth sailing or hell. I’ve heard horror stories of people who went on to have awkward interactions with a receptionist for years because of their inappropriate behavior as a candidate. Don’t be that person.
Tip 3: Bring a notepad and pen to take notes and actually take them!
This is one of my favorite tips! You should always bring a notepad and pen to take notes. Padfolios are even better, but a simple notebook will suffice.
When candidates show up for interviews with these simple tools, it conveys a sense of forethought and professionalism. When they actually take notes, it conveys a sense that they are invested in the job they are interviewing for and care to remember the details you discuss at a later time.
Write down the questions you have for your interviewers. This ensures you won’t forget them and shows them that you took the time to prepare for this specific interview (even if your questions are the same for every interview you attend). I will get back to question suggestions below.
Another benefit to having a folder or padfolio is that they allow you a natural space to put the extra copies of your resume. Plus, if you fidget, writing down notes can be an outlet for your nervousness.
Tip 4: You can take a minute before answering questions to seem thoughtful and keep you from rambling
When asked a question, you don’t need to start talking right away. Many successful interviewees pause for 30 seconds to a minute before answering. Trust me, I understand how that can make you go from nervous to sweating bullets and it might take a few interviews before you can do this calmly, but that’s okay! You just need to get there and here’s why:
- When you pause to collect your thoughts, you appear thoughtful and intentional when you speak
- By pausing, you can fully process what it is they are asking you
- If you are able to mentally process your answer, you are less likely to ramble in hopes you’ll answer their question with you story
- Pausing can help the interviewer too! You give them a chance to finish writing up notes from a previous question or further skim through your resume. Ideally, they will have more to remember you by.
The pause time will always seem longer and more awkward to you than to your interviewer, so try not to stress it, though I know it’s hard.
Tip 5: Answer behavioral question using the STAR method
Interviews have largely moved toward behavioral questions. This is because candidates’ past experiences and actions are better indicators of what type of person and worker they are than an answer to a hypothetical situation.
The downside to this type of interviewing process is that people tend to ramble when they are nervous, especially when recalling an event. I have had interviewees go on about one story for 10 minutes, never really touching on the points I needed. This is where the STAR method comes into play.
STAR stands for Situation Task Action Result. In brief, this is how you should structure every “Tell me about a time when…” question. This ensures you set the stage for the story, explain what you did, and what the outcome was. Learning and implementing this method was life changing. Visit my post on the STAR method for a deeper explanation and examples.
The one caveat I have is that if you are applying for a job that’s highly technical, this method might not be fully applicable. Technical interviews are wildly different and you need to prove you know what you are talking about.That said, it doesn’t hurt to review this method anyway.
Want a free STAR Brainstorming Worksheet?Sign up for our newsletter and have it sent straight to your inbox!
Tip 6: When asked if you have a weakness, the worst thing you could do is say you don’t have one.
It might seem counter-intuitive to air your weaknesses when you’re trying to sell yourself for a job. Contrary to what your instinct says, you absolutely need to prepare at least one weakness. My company actually asks for “areas of growth,” which sounds better but is essentially the same thing.
Failing to acknowledge an area of weakness/growth shows a lack of self-awareness and desire for improvement. Everyone has some area in which they are not great at. Now, that’s not to say you should list any and all things under the sun.
When I am interviewing someone, the best weakness answers are those that are somewhat related to the job, but are not crucial to getting that job done. I also suggest you identify a way you are working to improve it.
For example, one of my weaknesses when I was interviewing in college was public speaking. I was a painfully shy child who grew into a shy and soft-spoken adult. I would explain this history, then mention that I was in the process of taking a public speaking course to learn tips and gain confidence. This is actually a true story and I (surprisingly) quite enjoy presenting now.
Tip 7: Your answer to “Do you have any questions?” should always be YES
However, don’t just ask any questions. This is your last chance to stand out from everyone else. I am so appreciative and become advocates for candidates who ask thoughtful questions. You want to demonstrate your interest and curiosity of the position and company. Also remember that it’s not just the company who is interviewing you; you are interviewing the company. For example, you may want to ask:
- Can you describe the culture at [company]?
- Can you describe the team dynamics of the group I would be working with?
- Is this position new or had someone held it before? Why did they leave?
- This may give some insight into what it’s like working for the company or team
- Based on someone with my experience/resume, what would you say would be the most challenging part of this position?
- This opens up a window for you to address any concerns they have regarding your qualifications.
- What vision does the leadership team have for the organization?
- You should assess whether or not this question would make sense for the position you are interviewing for or it may come across particularly odd.
- What does success look like for a person in this position? How would my performance be measured?
- What are some of the immediate projects that I would be working?
- How would you advise someone who is starting in this position to gain as much knowledge about the work and content as fast as possible?
These are just some of the many questions you can ask and there are tons of resources on the internet with more.
As I mentioned above, you should write some down in your notebook and refer to it during the interview. However, please do not ask ALL the questions. My recommendation is you pick about 4-6 of varying difficulty and actually ask 3-4. I tell you to pick more because they may answer some of your questions during the interview and asking would make you come across as not listening.
Tip 8: In some areas, asking for salary history is illegal
As a way to combat wage inequality, some lawmakers have made asking for salary history illegal. This way employers must pay people what the position is worth rather than just pay enough to make it appealing to the candidate. That said, I see how it can be tricky to not answer that question—you feel you are coming across as being difficult. You have a couple options:
- You can tell them (nicely) that they are not allowed to ask that by law
- You can answer truthfully, and possibly mention at the end something along the lines of, “For this position, I am looking to earn [insert range here]”
- Tell them that you are making the amount that you want to or should be making in your position (if underpaid). Now, yes, this is a lie, but they also can’t verify it. The only time I would caution against this is if your salary is particularly high for the position you’re in. Just as you don’t want to shortchange yourself, you also don’t want to box yourself out of consideration by being too expensive.
Tip 9: Send a personalized thank you note
If you don’t already have an email address (from setting up the interview), ask for a business card at the end of the interview! Then make sure to send a personalized thank you note within 24-48 hours.
What do I mean by personalized?
Remember those notes you diligently took in the interview? This is the perfect opportunity to tie a pretty bow on your interview experience. Pick out 1-2 things they shared and/or you discussed and integrate them into the note.
You can express your gratitude for their transparency and willingness to talk. You can reiterate your fit for the position. You can even go on to ask additional questions. This exchange solidifies you in the hiring manager’s mind and can be a way to keep the lines of communication open.
Tip 10: If you don’t get the job, be gracious and consider asking for feedback
It is extremely frustrating to get passed over for an opportunity that you believe you are the best fit for. Most people read the rejection letter and move on with their lives, which I completely understand as I have done that too. One thing you might want to consider, if the letter was not automated, is asking for feedback on where you can improve. Take care to not sound bitter or ungrateful, but use it as an opportunity to restate your interest in the company. You never know when a position that you are a great fit for will open up.
A few months ago, my team was hiring for a vacancy. We interviewed one woman who was great, but not quite the right fit for our team. However, she stayed in touch with the hiring manager over the last few months and lo and behold, a position opened up that she is a better fit for! We are still in the hiring process so I can’t tell you whether or not she is joining the team, but this is a great demonstration of what can happen if you keep the lines of communication open.
There you have it folks. 10 tips to help you nail your next interview and get that job! I hope I’ve provided some helpful advice or at least a refresher for you brilliant people!
Let me know if there are tips you think are missing and I can create a part 2 with your generous help. Alternatively, if you find you have questions about any of the tips, please reach out in the comments below or via my contact page. Until next time…