Early in my career, I had the worst interview of my life. Looking back, I was over-confident. As a new career professional, I thought I knew exactly what I was doing. After all, I teach this, right? I skipped the practice and made a mediocre attempt to research the company.
Big mistake. I walked away from the interview, embarrassed by how under-prepared I was. What I hadn’t factored in were my nerves. In a normal situation, I would have been fine. But in the interview, I found myself at a loss, unable to articulate what I wanted to.
What I learned is that I can push past the nerves when I am prepared. Last year, I interviewed for a cool part-time contract job at a local university. (Read more about that here.) This time, I was ready. I reflected. I practiced. I researched. And it paid off when I was offered the position.
If interviews are anxiety-provoking experiences for you, don’t give up. Interviewing is like building a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger you get.
Having worked with hundreds of clients, I have witnessed incredible interview transformations. Even the shyest job seeker can master interviews and land jobs through practice.
Here are my top eight tips for a successful interview experience.
1. Share your stories: Stories evidence how you have excelled in the past.
Even if it’s an open-ended question like “What is your strengths?” you can always add in a short story like, “I bring strong organizational skills. In my past role in teapot sales, I was known in the office for my Excel spreadsheets. I tracked everything – prospects, where they were in the sales funnel, and outcomes.”
2. Make the employer feel special: Employers want to hire people who want to work for them. You may just want a job. But an employer wants someone who is as excited about their business as they are.
3. Do your research: One of the critical questions I used to ask when I was a recruiter was, “What do you know about our company?”
Surprisingly, many job seekers struggled to answer this well. But don’t fall into the trap of memorizing the company website. Provide a thoughtful answer that clearly shows you did your research while also demonstrating your motivation, interest, and connection to the company and the job.
4. Practice, practice, practice: Interviewing isn’t natural to most people. But I have seen clients improve significantly after working hard on their interview skills. Get interview coaching, build some interview question flashcards, or record yourself answering the questions.
5. Speak naturally: Time and time again, I meet job seekers who are fabulous communicators and bring great energy when NOT interviewing. But as soon as we start practicing interview questions, they change their communication style. It becomes stilted and awkward.
Best advice to overcome this? Speak like you would normally. I often say to clients, “Let’s pretend we’re out for coffee and I ask you this question. How would you respond?”
6. Pause: After each question is asked, take a moment to gather your thoughts. Think about what the underlying skills or aptitudes the interviewer might be looking for and then make sure you address those. Also, if you launch straight into your response without a natural pause, it sounds too rehearsed.
7. Recover gracefully. You bomb a question. Don’t worry. It happens - it’s not the end of the world. What’s important is how you recover. Employers are also assessing your soft skills like resiliency, problem-solving abilities and how you keep calm in a difficult situation.
8. Prepare thoughtful questions for the employer: The point of asking questions at the end of your interview isn’t to look smart. These questions should help you in your decision-making process. What do you need to know so that you can make an informed decision?
Some job seekers research obscure information from the company’s website and base their questions on that. Or they spend their time talking about logistics like vacation pay or benefits. Don’t do that. Instead use your valuable time to ask questions about things that would directly impact you such as the job structure, tasks, and company culture.
Once you have done what you can to prepare, go to your interview, knowing that you have given it your best shot.
To your future career success,
Kristin Vandegriend is the founder of Career Story where she has helped hundreds of her clients successfully transition to work they love. She supports her clients to uncover their strengths and communicate to get what they want in the workplace.