A job interview is a lot like a date.
You know there will be questions, you change your clothes four times before you find the right combination, you want to make a great first impression. There’s a mix of euphoria, anxiety and a thousand “what ifs.”
You meet a stranger. And it works best when there’s a natural, mutual conversation going, rather than a rapid-fire Q&A session where you barely have time to acknowledge each other as people.
And then, you wait three days for them to call. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. If not, you go on the next one.
Sounds simple, right? But there’s one key difference between the two. While you don’t have to prepare for a date, you definitely should prepare for your job interview.
In this guide, you’ll find all information you need to nail it.
Table of Contents
How to get a job interview?
Before we get to the art of nailing a job interview, you need to actually get one. How?
1. Create a resume that stands out
This may sound quite obvious but you’d be surprised how many people still underestimate the power of a well-written resume.
Here’s an example. Some time ago, we were hiring for a customer support role. And almost half of the applicants had very weak resumes — both in design and content. We even received a resume written in Microsoft Word, without any template used. In 2020. Yup…
As you can probably guess, the applicants who didn’t take extra minutes of their day to do this didn’t make it to the second round.
In other words, you should take some time to create a well-designed resume. The easy way out is to use a resume builder. Then pick the right format, write it the way you’d like to read it, tailor it for specific positions and don’t forget to make it ATS-friendly (if you plan to apply via job boards).
2. Make use of your connections
Statistically speaking, over thirty percent of new hires come from employee referrals, according to SilkRoad’s Sources of Hire 2017 study. It’s no secret that recruiters prioritise referrals over classic CV’s and standard applications.
Firstly, you need to determine which companies you’d like to join. Then, you need to identify possible connections within them.
If you know anyone who works at the company you’d like to apply to, ask them if they can put in a good word for you.
If you don’t know anyone personally, you can try networking with people who work for that organization via LinkedIn. For instance, if you’re a marketer, connect with individuals within their marketing department. But it’s important to do some networking first and ask for a referral later.
On a side note, don’t hesitate to get an interview via referral. It’s not about unfair advantages. Nowadays, majority of companies offer employee referral bonuses. So, it’s a win-win situation both for you and the person who referred you.
3. Take action
Did you spend hours trying to find a contact within your targeted company but no luck?
Take the initiative and apply directly. Simply research the companies you want to work for and reach out to them.
Ideally, seek out contact information of a recruiter or hiring manager and send them an email or message on LinkedIn in the form of an open letter.
Let them know that you’re interest in collaboration and present your skills and experience in a way that will make it difficult for them to overlook your request.
Alternatively, you can apply through the company’s career page or a job board (but this is a far less effective approach).
4. Follow up on every job application
No replies yet? It doesn’t have to mean that you’re not the right candidate. Maybe they’re just busy, or they’re still interviewing other applicants. Still it means that it’s time to get a little proactive.
If you’ve shared your resume directly with a recruiter or manager, you can follow up via email after four or five business days. It shows that you’re really interested in the position and the company.
Remember to be always polite and respectful, never pushy. All you need to do is send a quick note reminding the person that you applied a few days ago and ask whether they’ve received your resume or if the position is still open.
If you’ve submitted several job applications, remember to track your progress and results. It will make planning and tracking follow ups much easier.
5. Get noticed online
Now on a slightly different note — landing interviews without even applying for a job.
You can’t exactly go from one company’s doorstep to another with a sheet of paper filled with ideas, suggestions, and qualifications, and expect anyone to actually pay attention to it. Online space is different. You have a much better chance that somebody will notice it there.
Create a blog or website where you can publish some writings demonstrating your ideas. Or simply use LinkedIn to present yourself as a subject-matter expert.
You never know when someone notices you and you can receive cool job offers from hiring managers, even if you aren’t actively searching for a job. I get a few of them every week and so can you.
Before your interview — how to prepare?
OK, you’ve nailed the first steps and got invited to a job interview. Congrats! But what now?
Do some research. If you come prepared, you feel much more confident. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should rehearse every little thing. Just invest some time in research and you’ll see the difference.
Where to start? These are eight things that you should definitely know about before your job interview.
1. Know more about the company than others
At the very least, you should familiarize yourself with the company’s history, structure, and direct competitors. But that’s only the absolute minimum. You should always try to go deeper and find every bit of information you can.
In the end, you want to understand the company and show that your personality matches their company culture.
If the company is developing a certain product, try to use it, express your interest in it and explain what sets it apart from the competition.
If the company is active on social media, research their sites, read a couple of their most recent blog posts and find out what other people are saying about it. It’s always good to know a bit more than others — find some fun facts or company stories.
This will also help you during the Q&A session. You might ask the hiring manager about a fact you researched or about a new project the company is working on, etc. Also, if you understand the company, your answers will sound more proficient.
There are several useful websites for this, namely Quora, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn.
2. Thoroughly research the job position
Knowing details about the job position will also help you better answer the hiring manager’s questions at the job interview.
Research thoroughly the competencies and duties of the person working at the position you’re applying for. Fit your skills and knowledge to the job and tailor your answers so that you appear perfectly suited for the job.
By doing the research, you’ll also discover whether you are the right person for the job. You should know about the majority of tasks required by the role.
Based on the requirements, you can rehearse your answers and explain how you can use your knowledge and skills in the position.
3. Know thyself, know thy resume!
Ask yourself this: How are you going to convince a hiring manager about your abilities if you’re not 100% sure about what you can and cannot do?
Go over your resume once again while keeping in mind that hiring managers don’t know you, they only have your resume to work with. Your resume has given them a vague idea about. Now you have to live up to their expectations.
In order to sound more convincing, you should create a professional identity and stick to it.
In other words, get ready to talk about your work history and skills that are highly relevant for the position you’re targeting. Prepare specific examples to demonstrate your skills.
4. Prepare answers to most common questions
Sure, every interview is unique. You cannot predict what exactly is going to happen or what they’re going to ask you. But there are several questions that appear in most job interviews. You can prepare for those.
Try to be specific in your answers. Always provide examples that highlight your skills. Ideally, emphasize the skills that are needed for the job you’re applying to.
These are the ten most common job interview questions and how to answer them:
1. What makes you the best person for this position?
Tell the hiring manager what sets you apart from the rest of the candidates. Go beyond the job description and say how your abilities exceed the standard requirements, also give a couple of suggestions how you’d improve the job position.
2. Why should we hire you?
Take extra care when preparing to answer, “Why should we hire you?“. There’s a trick — anticipate the company’s future goals and allude to them. Think about what value you’d add to the company or the team.
3. Can you tell me a little more about yourself?
Don’t repeat what’s on your resume. Just point out some of your greatest accomplishments and strengths.
4. How did you hear about the position?
This is an easy one. Just don’t make it sound like you randomly found it and applied. Instead, highlight what made you interested in the position and the company itself.
5. What do you know about the company?
Here comes the point number one again. Learn about the company as much as possible, say a couple of complimentary words on their latest successes and say why you want to work for them and not for somebody else. Don’t just recite the whole “About” section of the company’s website.
6. What are your professional strengths?
Pick two or three of your most dominant strengths and elaborate on them. But be specific. Don’t use cliché phrases like “I have excellent communication skills.” Give concrete examples of situations where you demonstrated these strengths.
7. What are your weaknesses?
This is not where you brag about things you’re not good at. The magic is to make your failures sound as though they’re in a way positive. Ideally, pick an example of a weakness which you’ve already transformed into a strength.
Here’s an example: “I tend to have problems with procrastination but I took classes on time management and learned how to organise my work day better.” A couple of other weaknesses that can be made work to your advantage are an inability to say “no”, difficulty to ask for help, fear of public speaking, or a difficulty to maintain work-life balance.
8. What do you consider your greatest professional achievement?
Name achievement that relates to the job in one way or another. If you don’t have much experience behind you yet, even talking about minor achievements is better than saying you haven’t had any.
If you don’t have any experience, think about a situation from school where you demonstrated a certain skill and succeeded.
9. Why are you leaving your current job? Why were you fired?
The best answers is to smile and say something like “They had to let me go because of some internal issues. Now I’m ready to take on a new opportunity.” You can also emphasize that you learned a lot in your previous job and you can use these skills in your new job.
Never, never speak badly of your past employers. It will almost certainly make you look unlikable, even toxic.
10. Why is there a gap in your employment history?
If you have a relevant reason, be honest and say it. If not, it’s always better to say you were unemployed by choice, not because nobody wanted to hire you. The best excuses for a career gap are traveling, volunteering, blogging or self-teaching.
And if you’d like to take your preparation to a whole new level, here’s our extensive list of 100+ most common job interview questions.
11. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Something relatively general like “I see myself in a position where I have progressed up the career ladder, feel fulfilled, and am making a meaningful contribution to the company” usually does the trick.
But if you want to make sure you have prepared a good answer for all kinds of different interview situations or specifically for your position, check out our guide Best Answers: Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years.
5. Get ready to ask questions too
By the end of every interview, you’ll almost certainly hear: “Do you have any questions for us?” And this is not the sort of question you can answer with “No” or “I think you’ve already answered everything I wanted to ask.”
In fact, it’s one of every interview’s decisive moments. Why?
- You can show that you care about the job and are curious about it.
- Your questions are another determining factor of whether you’re the right candidate for the job or not. Recruiters are able to deduce a lot about you from the questions you ask.
- The hiring manager’s answers can help you decide whether this is the job you really want.
Of course, you cannot anticipate how the interview will go and it’s possible that new questions will come to your mind during the interview.
But having a couple of job interview questions ready beforehand can save you in case nothing springs to your mind. These are the five best questions to ask the hiring manager:
1. What do you enjoy most about working here?
This is a great question to loosen up the conversation. It’s a perfect way for you to relate to the hiring manager on a personal level while encouraging them to reveal some of their personal insights of the company.
Typically, the hiring manager would start speaking about the perks the company offers, describing the team, or telling you about their professional growth. This is a great way for you to learn something more about how the company works.
Usually, it is quite obvious whether his or her answer is honest and spontaneous or just a rehearsed reaction they’ve repeated for a hundredth time.
2. Do you offer any additional professional training or continuing education?
Showing interest in learning new things and growing with the company is always a good idea.
By asking this question you convey a very important message to the potential employer – you show you’re ambitious and care about your constant growth.
3. Can you tell me something about the team I’ll be a part of (if I’m hired)?
Based on how the interview is going, you can leave out the “if I’m hired” part.
One way or another, after the recruiter begins answering the question, listen carefully because the team you’d be working with is one of the most important things about the job.
4. What will be the greatest challenge for me if I am hired for this position?
By asking this question, you kill two birds with one stone. For one, you show you’re already thinking about working with the team and two, you make the hiring manager thinking about you as a member of the said team.
Asking this question also gives you a better insight into the job and lets you find out what sort of problems you might face once you’re hired. Take extra care about your non-verbal communication — don’t let the hiring manager know you’re easily daunted by the possible challenges.
5. Do you think I lack any skill needed for this position?
This is a really straightforward question but you don’t have to fear it. By asking this question you let employer know you’re comfortable with being criticized and that you’re not overly self-confident.
Also, you create a space for you to let them know you want to learn and improve. After they start answering your question, listen very carefully and if you detect any hint of them being unsure about your abilities, don’t be afraid to speak up and defend yourself.
6. Practice your body language
Believe it or not, body language plays a crucial role during the interview.
Try to look as calm as possible. The body language of a calm person is entirely different from that of a nervous one.
Use open gestures, leave your arms resting calmly, don’t make any overexposed gestures, don’t let your nervousness show. You can practice this either in front of a mirror or with another person, which is even better.
Ask your family member or a friend to play the interviewer. Try to answer his or her questions in a way you would in the hot seat.
7. Know the terminology
You should be prepared to use the jargon of the industry you want to work in. Using the right terminology will make you look more competent and intelligent. Be specific and speak clearly.
It doesn’t make a good impression when you twaddle about nothing just to say something. Don’t use helper phrases such as like, you know, I mean too often.
The recruiter doesn’t want you nattering away as though you were talking over a beer. If you want to be better than the rest of the candidates, you should appear more professional than them. Refresh your vocabulary and get familiar with the professional jargon.
8. Video interview
Preparing for a video job interview is very similar to preparing for any other interview.
On the other hand, you will have to take some other things into consideration such as looking good on camera, technical set-up, lightning, headset, and so on. This guide can help you make a great first impression at your video interview.
The day of your interview – how to nail it?
You did your homework, you’re fully prepared and your day D has come. How to start strong and make a lasting impression?
1. Dress for success
The hiring manager will usually inform you of the company’s dress code when they invite you to an interview. If they haven’t, feel free to reach out to them and ask. They really have no reason to hide this from you.
Alternatively, you can dress based on the company sector. For formal corporate interviews it’s usually business professional attire, for less formal corporate interviews it’s business casual attire. If you’re interviewing at a startup, you can opt for a more casual outfit.
If you’re not sure how to dress for each one, you can check our detailed fashion guide for job interviews (examples of outfits included).
Mainly remember the rule of thumb – it’s better to go into your interview slightly overdressed than underdressed. Also, make sure your clothes are clean, ironed, not too short or revealing.
2. Plan your schedule
It’s kind of cliché, but a first impression really matters. Especially when it comes to job interviews.
If you’re late, you may as well remove yourself from the list of potential candidates. Rather than doing this, plan your schedule a little bit in advance.
Know how to get to your interview, know how long it takes to get there, and be aware of the parking situation. If you’re going by a public transport, give yourself some extra time for transport delays or traffic jams. Also, give yourself some time to find a restroom to freshen up.
Don’t arrive late, but not too early either. A good rule of thumb is to arrive fifteen minutes before your interview.
3. Bring copies of your resume
It isn’t always expected. And yes, the interviewers already read your resume. But it’s good to remind them of your credentials with a copy in front of them throughout your conversation.
Moreover, in the odd chance that you’re asked for it or if the interviewer had trouble with their printer, it makes you look prepared for anything.
Suddenly, you’re the guy who took time to print his resumes out, while the other three applicants are asking if they can borrow a pen. See the difference?
Ideally, bring around three copies of your resume. You never know how many employees will be interviewing you and from my experience, it’s always more than one.
And if you have a prepared list of references, you can bring this one too.
4. Create a strong first impression
First minutes of your interview are all about shaking hands firmly, smiling confidently, and looking as if you’re super glad to be there.
The rules are pretty simple. Don’t smell like cigarette smoke. Turn off your cell phone. Don’t chew a gum. Just have a positive attitude and smile!
5. How to behave during your interview
Sit still, with good posture. Don’t cross your arms, nod and make positive gestures. Make eye contact and have an approachable expression.
Also, listen carefully to interviewers’ names – know how to pronounce them correctly and address them appropriately.
If you’re interviewed by more than one person at the same time, briefly address each person with your gaze. Return your attention to the person who asked you the question. It also helps if you ask for business cards and line them up in front of you in order of where they’re sitting.
Last but not least, end the interview on a positive note and let them know you’re truly interested in the opportunity.
After your interview – what’s next?
You just say goodbye, walk out the door and wait. Just kidding. That’s definitely not how it should work. Just because your interview ended, it doesn’t mean that your efforts should end too.
If they haven’t informed you about the next steps, feel free to ask about them. Also, on the same day of your interview, send a thank you email to the interviewer.
1. Ask about the next steps
Find out what action you’re expected to do next in the process – should you send a list of references, will you take a test, will you have a project round tour, or should you just wait till they get back to you?
Make sure you know about the next steps – know when and from whom you should expect to hear next. Also, ask for your interviewers’ business cards or contact information if you don’t have it yet.
If you promise information, send it quickly after the interview. Take down notes right away so you don’t forget critical details.
2. Send a thank you email
Remember to always send a thank you email to the interviewer the same day as the interview.
Showing appreciation for the employer’s time goes a long way. It’s also a really good move for reminding yourself to them. Last but not least, you’ll be seen as the master of post-interview etiquette.
What to write there?
- Thank them for their time and include an honest and specific sentence about why you’re excited about the opportunity.
- Always add some customisation to your email – mention a specific topic you discussed and why you enjoyed discussing it with them.
If you’re not sure how to frame it, here’s our useful template.
Just don’t do these mistakes
Unless you’re perfect, you’ve probably made at least one of them before. And maybe you’re still doing some of them. But no worries, we’ll tell you how to avoid them.
Here are the most common mistakes that candidates make in job interviews, according to hiring managers:
1. Failing to do their research
This one should be obvious but apparently it’s not. It’s easy to avoid by actually doing some research. You should make sure that you have an understanding of what the company does, recent developments in your field, recent developments in the company’s sector and any recent news about the company.
2. Showing off
Instead of saying things you think the interviewer wants to hear, answer honestly. Of course, you should present yourself in the best light but don’t go overboard and end up boasting.
3. Asking no questions
Asking some questions of your own in an interview makes you seem engaged and interested. Before the interview, make a note of three or four questions to ask. That way, even if one or two of them are covered in the course of things, you will still have something to ask.
4. Not acting engaged with the interviewer
Make sure your body language doesn’t make you look bored. Sit up and lean forward to visibly express your interest. It’s also important to make eye contact. A trick to help you do this in a non-creepy way is to imagine a triangle made up of the interviewer’s eyes and nose and cycle through these three points. This will stop you from staring at one point for too long.
5. Making up answers and 6. Lying about achievements
These two are related and can be dealt with in the same way – be honest. If you are a solid candidate who is genuinely interested in the opportunity, you shouldn’t need to lie.
7. Not dressing appropriately
This isn’t as simple as wearing a suit anymore and should be part of your pre-interview research. Find out about the company and its culture to get clues on an appropriate outfit.
8. Rambling on
To avoid doing this, take a short pause before you start speaking. A three- to five-second pause will give you enough time to get your thoughts in order, allowing you to express yourself clearly and succinctly. Rambling is often caused by nervousness, so you should also check out these tips on how to handle your interview nerves.
9. Can’t explain what they will bring to the role
This is another thing you can avoid with proper preparation. Make sure that you take a long, detailed look through the job description so that you really understand what the employer is looking for. Then, think about exactly what you have to offer that will fulfill that.
10. Moaning about their employer
It’s tempting to vent your frustrations about a bad boss or work environment, but it won’t do you any favours. Instead, focus on the positives of what you learned and how you overcome problems.