How to Prepare for and Conquer an Interview

The majority of people get nervous for interviews. It is a natural reaction to being out of your comfort zone. The first thing to do is train your brain to remember that the interviewers want you to succeed. No, really! They are rooting for you because if the interview goes well, then they can hire you and end the search process. Most companies want to fill positions quickly – but this doesn’t mean that one should assume they didn’t get a position if they don’t hear back right away. Recruiters tend to schedule several interviews around the same time, so even if they want to hire someone, they may still have interviews scheduled that they will not cancel. So, be patient!

The purpose of the interview

An important thing to keep in mind is what and who this interview is actually for. If you think that interviews are a one-way street and just a way for the organization to get to know you and your experience, you’re wrong! The interview is also your chance to see if the position and company are what you are looking for. You may have the skills to do the job, but do you like the culture, location and the potential team you would be working with? These are the answers that you get out of the interview while the interviewers get to determine your fit.

Building confidence by speaking with intimidating people

After realizing that interviewers are on your side and that you are also interviewing them, then it’s time to practice speaking with intimidating people, or people you respect. Just like how actors practice their auditions in front of their parents and coaches, professionals have to practice interviewing, too. For college students, I suggest asking a professor, career development counselor, or an older student to do a mock interview with you. For someone out of college, I suggest asking a friend or relative who you respect, or someone with recruiting experience. Even if it is just a five minute session asking two questions, this practice will help. The more you experience the nerves and adrenaline of an interview, the more control you will have over those feelings when it really counts.

In the first mock interview you may completely bomb it and give terrible answers or totally blank on your experience. This is part of the process, because you probably won’t crash and burn like that again. The next time you may be slightly more relaxed and have some key points in mind that you remember to touch on. By the time you have three practice sessions under your belt, I promise you’ll be much more prepared and relaxed than if you go into the real interview cold. It is all about learning what you need to keep yourself collected in a high priority situation.

Shaking hands and eye contact

Shaking hands with every person included in the interview is the proper way to introduce yourself. Be sure to shake hands with everyone on the way out as well to thank them for their time and consideration. Remember to make eye contact with the person you are shaking hands with, and to also keep eye contact during the interview. If an interviewee is looking at their hands, the ground, or out the window/door they will seem unconfident, unprofessional, and potentially rude. Try to be conscious of meeting each person’s eyes while you speak and when they are speaking to you.

Know your resume and do your research

Chances are your interviewers are going to ask you about the items on your resume. You should be able to expand on all of the experience and involvement you have listed. It is a good idea to practice the things you want to say about each part of your resume.

Research is your best friend when it comes to interviews! Employers expect you to have some knowledge about the company when you come in to interview. Whether it’s the mission, core values, or inclusion initiatives, you need to have some good bits of information about the company that you can comment on or ask about. Reading information from the company’s website, blog, or recent articles that have been written about them is a great way to look informed and eager.

Selling your skills – how to back up claims about yourself

This is something that many people forget when they’re practicing answers for interview questions. If an interviewer asks “what’s one word you would use to describe yourself” and you say “organized”, that is not a complete answer. A complete answer would be: “I use the word organized to describe myself because I never miss a deadline. I keep every project and meeting on my calendar and in my past position I demonstrated my organization skills by [insert example here]”. Always back up any claims you make about yourself. If it’s difficult to think of something that backs up a claim, you may want to reconsider saying it.

How to speak professionally without sounding unnatural

We all know the difference between how we talk to our best friend and how we talk to an interviewer or someone we want to impress. Subtract the “umms”, “likes”, and slang words and add our best vocabulary. However, some interviewees end up sounding very unnatural in an interview because they are trying so hard to speak “professionally”. This should be avoided, because interviews are not only to show off experience and skills, but also to show the interviewer who you are. If you’re talking like a robot, they won’t be able to get a sense for who you really are and they won’t feel confident in hiring you.

So, how do we find the balance between speaking professionally and still being natural? It again comes down to practice. If someone has never had to speak any differently than how they do with friends, then it will never feel or sound natural, and they may not even know how to do it. It’s time to train that brain again! College students can use their class time to practice speaking professionally. When asking a question or answering one, make sure not to use those filler words (umm and like), and try not to start off with “so”- that is a hard habit to break. For both college students and graduates, I highly recommend taping or recording yourself during practice interviews and taping yourself practicing speaking professionally on your own time. When playing it back you can see what needs to be worked on and whether it sounds unnatural or not. The more you practice and hear yourself, the easier it will be to work out those kinks.

Interview attire

Whether interviewing for an entry-level position at a company that wears casual attire, or a C-level position at a more old school company, you should wear a suit or suit equivalent (for women) to the interview. You are trying to impress and show your level of professionalism. Even if the interviewers are wearing jeans, the interviewee should not be. I recommend darker or neutral colors for the interview because you want your skills and personality to be the focus point, not the loud pattern of your shirt. The same rule applies to jewelry and hair style: keep it simple.

I also suggest bringing a padfolio, folder, or if you have them, a briefcase or business-style purse (dark/neutral color, structured, no larger than an average laptop or folder). This way you can have your few essential items on hand: copies of your resume, business cards, work portfolio and a pen. You should always at the very least have copies of your resume at an interview, so you should not be empty handed.

Ask good questions

Asking questions is imperative in an interview, both to show interest in the position and company, and also to determine if the opportunity is a good fit for you. Make sure to prepare several questions for the interviewer so you’re prepared when the time comes. Get a few ideas by reading the 10 of the best interview questions you can ask.

Don’t forget- after nailing the interview, send a thank you note to the interviewers, try not to stress about everything that was or wasn’t said, and wait to hear back from the company. If you didn’t get the position, it doesn’t necessarily mean the interview didn’t go well, it means someone else interviewed as well as you and also had qualifications that better fit the company’s needs. Every interview that doesn’t end up in an offer is just another practice session for when you will interview for the right job. Onward and upward!

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