This post was originally shared on the Wonder Women of Boston blog.
Being good at interviews is a skill very few of us naturally possess. Most people spend several years at a company before looking for a new gig -- so by the time they hit the job seeking circuit, they're out of practice.
Unfortunately, you're not given a do-over if you flub your first (or second, or third) in-person screen - and the pressure to perform well under stress can easily undermine your confidence.
What's an unemployed (or, unhappily employed) person to do?
I've been both an interviewee and interviewer many times during my 10+ years as a working professional. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that candidates who can turn an awkward, first date-esque scenario into an enjoyable experience for both parties will have the upper hand.
If you're looking for a way to feel more comfortable during an interview, follow these steps from start to finish.
1. Do Your Homework
Check out your employer-to-be's website, social media accounts, and blog. If you can install their app, demo their product or download an eBook for free, do it. Your goal is to understand as much as you can about the company's ecosystem and where it fits so you can explain why you want to work there and what excites you about their mission.
As David Vencis, Associate Director of Startup Institute points out, doing your homework lets you flip the power dynamic during an interview and take an informed position right from the start. His suggestion:
"Show you've thought about the challenges the company faces, and what keeps their prospects up at night."
If you have time, take the research one step further and scope out the staff's LinkedIn profiles, user activity, and social media posts.
All this legwork should arm you with talking points, relevant questions for your interviewer(s), and reasons why you want to work for this company -- not just a company in their space. Specifics will always win the day.
2. Rehearse Stories
Make sure you're able to handle any behavioral questions that pop up during the interview by preparing a set of anecdotes that cover a number of scenarios. For example:
- A time you successfully recovered from a failure at work
- A time when you were especially proud of a project you completed
- A time when you were juggling multiple deadlines and had to prioritize your work
Aside from engaging your interviewer with stories rather than canned talking points, you'll be able to counter the dreaded "So, tell me about yourself" with information that couldn't be found on your resume or LinkedIn profile.
3. Take The Commute For A Test Drive
Bonus points if you map out and walk/drive by the site of your interview a day or two in advance. The last thing you want is a nasty surprise like a hard to locate building or an unexpectedly long transit time.
1. Show Up No More Than 10 Minutes Early
If you arrive earlier than that, hang out in a nearby coffee shop. It's likely the hiring manager needs time to prep themselves or their team before you arrive, and you definitely don't want to start your experience off with a flustered interviewer.
Use any extra time to play some psych-out music, take deep breaths, or watch a video that will help you get loose - anything you need to do to relax before heading to your destination.
2. Own The Room
Once you've arrived for your interview, smile warmly, make eye contact, and shake hands with your future teammates. Body language is a huge part of projecting confidence - and even if you don't feel it, others will.
3. Ease Into The Conversation
Remember: You need to be the person your interviewer can envision spending days and weeks sitting next to. Make small talk! Ask about their hobbies, their passions, or any upcoming travel plans.
This approach will help you steer clear of any interrogation vibes and turn the interview into more of a discussion among peers.
4. Show Genuine Interest
- Ask questions about the product, the people who use it, and the company's long-term goals. What would make you -- and the company -- successful?
- Get a sense of how the company positions itself against competitors
- Find out who had the position before you, and any lessons learned
- Inquire how this role would complement the roles of other team members
Remember to take note of any answers that you may want to follow up on later, and ask for each interviewer's business card so you can thank them for this opportunity later on.
*Intermission: Ask to go to the bathroom*
This may sound silly, but if you're meeting with multiple people over several hours (a common practice in the startup industry), excuse yourself halfway through and take a quick break. You can use the time to gather your thoughts and prepare for the next few rounds.
5. Display Your Expertise
Some employers care more about the way you think than how much experience you have with a given task or tool. Each question your interviewer asks is a chance to explain how you tackle workplace challenges, and therefore help them predict how you will approach different facets of the job.
It's also a chance to:
- Offer any ideas you may have for how the company can improve its services
- Share any observations on your past projects in terms of what worked, what didn't work, and lessons you learned
- Cite data on how your work at other companies led to measurable results (in terms of numbers of numbers, positive feedback from leadership/customers, etc)
Bonus points if you're able to segue a story about your past performance into what you'll do for this company if you're hired.
Does this advice sound familiar?
Smile warmly, make eye contact, and shake hands with your future teammates.
As soon as you get home, follow up with a thank you note that contains details on what you learned about the company, and confirms your continued interest in the role. You can send a group thank you note, but individual emails are the best method because they're more personal and targeted.
If you weren't able to get a business card during the interview, take a look at the email of the recruiter or hiring manager who first contacted you; odds are you can figure out whether the company's email addresses are email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org and take an educated guess on where to send followup messages to your interviewers from there.
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That's it from me! If you'd like more career advice, check out our other related posts: