Oh, job interviews. Love them or fear them, there’s no getting around interviews for most working people.
Luckily, interviewing’s a skill like any other, and there are lots of ways you can practice and improve your game. This guide contains the best strategies for getting ready for a job interview and making an excellent impression on the hiring manager.
Read on for 13 essential tips on what you should do before, during, and after your interview to land your target job!
Before the Interview…
There are lots of steps you can take to plan for a job interview, from practicing your responses to common interview questions to picking out your outfit the night before. Preparation will not only help you rock your interview, but it will also calm your nerves by reducing all those scary unknowns.
Read on for the six most important ways to get ready in the days leading up to your interview.
#1: Map Your Route
The last thing you want to happen on the day of your job interview is to be late. It would be pretty much the worst to end up running into the building feeling frazzled and out of breath. Getting lost and being late are disorienting and will distract you from doing a good job.
To prevent this from happening, you should plan how and when to get to your interview beforehand. Map out the route and get a sense of traffic conditions or train schedule on that day. Then write down a schedule for that morning - when you need to wake up, meal prep, getting dressed - or whatever else you can do to take control of timing.
A good rule of thumb is to plan to arrive near the building 25% of your total time early. If the commute takes two hours, try to be there 30 minutes early. If it takes 30 minutes, then give yourself seven to ten minutes of extra leeway. Then you can hang out and enter the building about five minutes before your interview.
If you’re late on the day of your interview, you’ll get stressed out and start out on the wrong foot. If you walk in way too early, you'll probably make the other employees feel awkward as you lurk in the entrance hall.
While you’re surely preparing what to say, don’t forget to plan for a smooth, punctual arrival, too!
#2: Dress the Part
In addition to planning your route to get to your interview, you should also think about what you’re going to wear. Business casual clothes tend to be best, otherwise known as "corporate classics."
You might also get a sense of what employees tend to wear on a day-to-day basis. If you know anyone that works there, that person could be a great source of intel. Of course, those employees have already been hired, so you should dress a little “up” from what they’re wearing. In general, it's better to err on the side of slightly more formal, rather than less.
Pick out your outfit and do any ironing or dry cleaning in advance. By picking out your clothes, you can make your morning easier, look great, and feel more confident.
Lookin' sharp. And also like a groomsman in a wedding. This outfit might err on the side of too dressy.
#3: Print Your Materials
Besides your fabulous self in your corporate classic outfit, what do you need to bring to the interview? Unless instructed otherwise, it’s a good idea to bring a few copies of your resume. You might print out five or so, especially if you’re interviewing with more than one person.
In addition to the interview, you could bring a list of references with contact information or perhaps recommendation letters themselves. You might also have supplemental materials, like a portfolio of work, your sales record, or even a two-month plan you drew up to show the hiring manager what steps you’d take in the new position.
Print everything out a day or two beforehand; printers have a habit of breaking at the worst possible time. Gather everything in a folder or binder so that it’s organized and accessible. You wouldn’t want to go shuffling through your bag, taking out old receipts and gum wrappers, in search of your resume right after you just finished telling the interviewer how organized you are!
#4: Do Your Research
Before the interview is your time to dig deeply into the organization and job. Learn everything you can about the job description and company, like its mission, workplace values, and overall culture. If applicable, you might consider ways the company could improve and how you could contribute to those positive changes.
During the interview, you want to show that you’re knowledgeable about the organization and enthusiastic to join it. By doing thorough research online or by speaking to current or former employees, you can tailor everything you say to the new job and company. You can also use what you learned to inform any questions you have for your interviewer.
Overall, your goal in the interview is to show that you’re qualified and that you have a clear understanding of the job. By doing your research, you can be strategic about what you say and make sure all your answers match up to the opportunity at hand.
Inch your nose a little closer to that grindstone! It's time to do some research.
#5: Investigate Your Interviewer
Beyond learning about the new job and organization, you can also do some investigating about your interviewer. Thanks to LinkedIn, Twitter, and the internet in general, you may be able to get some intel on your interviewer before meeting her in person.
Learning about your interviewer can be one more way to be strategic about your answers during the interview. You might uncover common ground, like you both went to the same college or love to play ultimate frisbee, and work it into the conversation. You might be able to spark a connection that you otherwise wouldn’t have known about.
On LinkedIn, your interviewer will likely see that you visited her page. I spoke with a few interviewers who said they'd look favorably on this LinkedIn research as a sign that you're doing your due diligence. They added that they wouldn't be too pleased if you tried to add them as a connection, though. Connecting on LinkedIn should be saved for people that you know.
Finally, doing some research on your interviewer is also one other way to help you feel prepared. You can gain a sense of her professional and educational background. This knowledge can help you feel less nervous than you might walking into an interview with a completely anonymous person.
#6: Prepare for Questioning
The main part of your interview preparation should be thinking about your responses to common interview questions. Just about any interviewer will have questions on hand to explore your background and qualifications. Your interviewer will likely also ask follow-up questions aimed to dig even deeper into what you have to say.
Some common questions include, "Tell me about yourself," "Why do you want this job?" and "What would you contribute in this role?" The hiring manager might also ask you to share specific experiences of times that you achieved something, failed, managed conflict, or demonstrated leadership. In preparing your responses, you should think of ways that you can show that you possess the core competencies that the interviewer's looking for.
Once you come up with your responses, you might also practice by doing mock interviews with a friend - or a mirror! Practice what you would say, aiming to sound natural rather than rehearsed. You may not have a word-for-word script, but you should make sure to hit salient points.
Now that you have a sense of the main steps to prepare in the weeks and days leading up to the interview, let’s go over a few interview tips that apply during the meeting. What can you do to feel confident and make a great impression?
Do mock interviews with a friend to perfect your responses and body language.
During the Interview...
Now for the main event! The interview's your chance to prove to the hiring manager that she should hire you. It's also an opportunity for you to learn more about the position and organization. There's a lot to juggle during the interview, but below are the most important job interview tips for answering prompts, asking questions, and making sure your body language communicates the right message.
#7: Be Clear and Concise
A lot of interview questions are open-ended (for instance, tell me about yourself), but that doesn’t mean you should tell your whole life story. You want to avoid going off on tangents, and instead produce concise answers that make an impact.
Aim to speak for about one to two minutes in response to most interview questions. Try to structure and conclude your answers in a clear way. Without preparation, it’s all too easy to trail off at the end with a vague, “So, yeah…”
You can practice this before the meeting with mock interview practice. Then, when you actually sit down with your interviewer, you'll be ready to deliver your ideas in a clear and impactful way. For more on what this looks like, check out our sample answers to common interview questions here.
#8: Ace Behavioral Questions
A lot of interviewers ask behavioral questions that call for specific examples. "Describe a time you demonstrated leadership," is one example. "Could you speak to a time that your behavior impacted your team?" is another. Then there’s the dreaded, "Talk about a time that you failed."
These can be some of the hardest questions to answer. If you’re caught off guard, then it’s easy for your mind to go blank. Or you might have a lot of situations pop into your mind, but you’re not sure which one you should choose.
Ideally, you can choose a success story that illustrates you possess one of the major qualities the hiring manager is looking for. Similarly, if you’re asked to talk about a failure, don’t mention a time you failed because you lack one of the job’s core competencies. As with all your answers, aim to be strategic. Ideally, everything you say will go on the hiring manager’s list of reasons to hire you.
When it comes to questions that deal with weaknesses or mistakes, make sure to focus on the experience as an opportunity for growth and talk about what you did to overcome your problem. Don’t evade the question, but move on from the error to focus on the positive that came from it.
Again, be strategic about the examples you choose. Your stories should show that you’ve taken actions in the past that point to your success in the future.
You might be asked to talk about a specific time you handled conflict, demonstrated leadership, or dealt with a hot air balloon burner blast valve malfunction (the last one being most relevant for aspiring hot air balloon pilots).
#9: Embrace the Culture
Beyond showing that you’re qualified, you also want to show that you’d make a strong cultural fit. Here’s where all the research you did before comes in handy. Learn about the company’s values and show that you share those same commitments in your answers.
The interviewer may ask you about your work style, relationships with coworkers, or professional values. These types of questions all relate back to cultural fit. Keep an eye out for these questions and realize that they're opportunities to show why you’d make a great addition to the team.
#10: Ask Questions
Don’t be fooled into thinking that an interview’s a one-sided interrogation. You should feel free, even obliged, to ask your interviewer questions throughout your time together. The meeting’s not just a chance for the hiring manager to get to know you, but it’s also an opportunity for you to learn more about the job and organization and pick the brain of someone who works there.
In addition to getting you more information, asking questions is one more way to show your enthusiasm and readiness to learn. It demonstrates your active interest in the organization.
You should save at least two or three good questions for the end of the interview. Most hiring managers ask, “Do you have any questions for me?” Your answer should always be yes! You might use the ones you prepared or draw on new ones you thought of throughout your conversation.
You might ask about a typical day in the office, the organization’s short-term and long-term goals, or what your teammates would be like. You could also do some research on what CEO’s say are their favorite questions from applicants.
CEO of Likable, Dave Kerpen, for instance, loved the question, “How will the work I’ll be doing contribute to the organization’s mission?” as he thought it showed the applicant really cared about her work and had an eye on the big picture.
You can find a longer list of potential questions to ask your interview in this complete guide. As with all your interview prep, make sure to tailor your questions to the target job and organization.
Make sure to ask questions to show your interest in the position. Good question 1 + good question 2 + good question 3 = pure enthusiasm, as this equation clearly shows.
#11: Show Enthusiasm
Hiring managers want to invest in someone who’s dedicated to the organization and eager to contribute. Taking on a new hire is a significant investment, so enthusiasm for the job is a major factor when deciding who to choose.
You can show your excitement through how prepared you are, how much you know about the job and company, and any specific plans you have for what you’d bring to the role. Avoid saying anything that could indicate you’re not very interested; for instance, don’t ask about how soon you can move up in the company or suggest that the job’s just a steppingstone for you.
Instead, express your enthusiasm and show how you’ll channel that positive energy to bring value to the company.
#12: Be Aware of Your Body Language
Beyond what you say, your body language also communicates a great deal. If you’re nervous, it can feel like your hands and arms are doing their own thing independent of your body. Try to be aware of any physical tension and rein it back in.
Slouching, crossing both your arms and legs, or perching on the edge of your seat could indicate discomfort, nervousness, or a sense of being closed off. Try to consciously face your interviewer with your whole body to show that your attention is focused on her and what she has to say.
Similarly, facing your interviewer directly can show that you're engaged and actively listening. As you do your mock interviews, consider what your body language is communicating and how you can show that you’re confident in your qualifications for the job.
The interview process doesn’t actually end when you say goodbye and leave the room. There are a few more steps that you should take after the interview if you’re serious about getting the job. Read on to learn what you can do after the meeting to solidify your good impression.
This crossed arms stance says, "Go away. I'm too cool to talk to you." The moose head belt buckle, though, might undermine that last claim.
After the Interview...
Your final handshake on the way out the door shouldn't be your last communication with the hiring manager. Instead, you should follow up with her via a thoughtful note. Read on to see what you can say to make your note stand out from the pack.
#13: Send a Thank You Note and Follow Up
You may have heard that it’s a best practice to follow up with your interviewer after the meeting. But how exactly should you follow up, and what should you say?
In most cases, it’s fine to send an email. Depending on the manager and company, a handwritten note might also add a creative, personalized touch.
As for the content of your follow-up, you should make sure to thank the interviewer for her time. You should also restate your interest in the position. Beyond these two essentials, you should consider other ways to personalize your note.
For instance, you could touch on something specific the two of you talked about or add some more thoughts in response to an interview question. Perhaps you could send a link to an article that came up or even news about an activity or movie you'd both discovered was a shared favorite.
Adding these kinds of extra details is one more way to make a connection with your interviewer and make sure she remembers you.
After your follow-up, you’ll likely wait to hear from the employer about next steps or, ideally, the decision to hire you! If the hiring process involves a second round of interviews, then make sure to keep prepping for the next one.
Now that you've taken a look at the 13 essential tips for interview prep, let's go over the key takeaways to remember as you get ready to rock your job interview.
Sending a thoughtful follow-up after your interview's a nice touch. Sending a basket of red roses is overkill.
Key Takeaways for Job Interview Success
Interviews can be daunting, and they become even more nerve-wracking if you don’t what to expect. To reduce the unknowns and feel more confident, you should take plenty of time to plan and prepare.
Plan how to get to the interview and what to wear. Prepare what you’ll say during the interview and how you’ll follow up afterward. All of this preparation will help you feel more confident, especially if you have trouble thinking on your feet in unfamiliar situations.
Other strategies can help you feel more bold, too. Try to get a good night’s sleep so you can be energetic and alert. Proactively reduce stress by exercising and consuming less caffeine and sugar.
You might even try “power posing” with your hands on your hips for two minutes before going into the interview (ideally, where someone can’t see you). Our minds are parts of our bodies, after all, so prioritizing physical self-care can only help get your head in a good place before interviewing.
Ultimately, your best bet for job interview success is to show up deeply informed about the new job and organization. Give thoughtful, tailored responses that show you have the core competencies your interviewer seeks and would excel in the new role.
Know your audience. Prepare yourself. Get the job. Easy enough, right?
You know that you should prepare your responses to common interview questions, but what exactly are those questions? Check out this comprehensive guide for the top 100 questions asked in a job interview!
Are you wondering how to structure your responses? This guide has real sample answers to seven of the most common job interview questions.
Are you in the midst of the job hunt? Check out this guide for six free cover letter samples, plus a step-by-step cover letter template to guide you through the writing process.
Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.