The job application process is pretty straightforward: send your resume and cover letter, nail the interview, get the job. Piece of cake, right?
The reality is that in today’s ultra-competitive job market every aspect of your job hunt must be top notch. Having the perfect resume and cover letter is a different topic.
Once you are invited to an interview the tough part of landing a job is just about to start. A lot of people can get through the first screening process based on their writing ability and on-paper skills. But the interview is where you will be assessed on who you really are. A lot of these tips apply to both in-person and phone interviews.
Before the interview
Research the employer
The first you have to do is conduct a thorough research of the company, its history, values and future plans. Go over their website and make a Google search covering the last month of news. If they have recently released their annual report, take a look at it as well. Make sure that you also know the company’s competitors and its position in the industry. If you know who is going to interview you, look at their profile on the company website or on LinkedIn, you will feel like you already know the person when you meet them.
All this research will prove useful during the interview, as you will show that you are very serious about this opportunity and a proactive individual. Surveys have shown that having little to no knowledge about the company is the biggest mistake made during interviews. You do not want to be that person.
Highlight your strengths and assess your weaknesses
Once you know everything you need about your potential employer, it’s time to focus on the position you are applying for.
Read through the job description and highlight the requirements for the job that match how you described yourself in the cover letter. Prepare yourself to emphasize these points during the interview, as they will be your strongest cards to play and should be your main focal point. Equally important is establishing what weaknesses your CV and cover letter have with regards to the job you are applying for. If you are a Finance major applying for a marketing position you must be prepared to justify this kind of discrepancies.
Finally, work on answers to the most common interview questions.
Have a short, two or three-minute response that you can give comfortably to the typical “tell me about yourself” interview starter. Remember to always highlight your strengths relative to the job position!
As for the dreaded “What are your biggest weaknesses?” question, the best advice is to choose two or three weaknesses that are not crucial to the position you are applying for and point out measures you have taken to correct these shortcomings.
Prepare the route to the interview
Make sure you know how to get to the interview location, and the time it will take you. If you are driving, find out where you can park nearby, and have a backup parking option ready if needed. If you plan to use public transport, check if there are any planned strikes or schedule changes on the day of the interview. Add 20 minutes to your planned travel time, if anything unexpected happens. It is always better to be early than late.
Know how to dress
When deciding what to wear to your interview there is one simple rule to follow: wear what you would for the job itself. If you are interviewing for a startup where everyone is casually dressed and show up in a three-piece suit, you will look foolish, to put it mildly.
If in doubt, it is, however, better to slightly overdress than the other way around, as it is better to seem overzealous than non-caring.
As a guideline, for men a white shirt, dark suit and dark, polished shoes will be always appropriate. A clean-shaven look is strongly advised. For women, a knee-length skirt or dark suit pants, combined with a white button down shirt and a jacket will suffice, along with subtle makeup and jewelry.
If you are unsure about the dress code at the company, you can ask the HR representative that invited you to the interview about it, it is always better that feeling uncomfortable during the interview because you are not properly dressed.
During the interview
Arrive early, and leave your phone in the car
Make sure to arrive at least 15 minutes before the scheduled interview time. Nothing screams “unprofessional!” like arriving late to the interview without a very,very good reason. When you introduce yourself at the reception desk, state the full name of your interviewer and the time of the interview. Do not fiddle with your phone while you are waiting. Actually, leave it in your car or in your coat pocket the whole time. Looking at cat pictures on a message board might be a fun pastime for you, but it will distract you from the interview and you can come off as bored and frivolous. If you have a lot of time to wait, look through your cover letter one last time or try to get a feel for the workplace atmosphere.
The first impression is the only impression
Remember that you only have one opportunity to make a good first impression, so make the most out of it. The way you present yourself will have a huge impact on the hiring manager’s decision. Look everyone in the eye and smile when you introduce yourself. Make sure your handshake is firm but not too tight, and make sure to remember everyone’s names when they introduce themselves.
Speak clearly and say "please" and "thank you." Make sure the people you talk to during the interview can make out what you're saying. Talking audibly, with good enunciation, tells people you're confident, while good manners tells them you're considerate of other people.
Be a good listener
It's very easy to be so intently focused on giving a good interview that you forget that it's a two-way process. As important as it is to give good answers to the questions you will be asked, pay close attention to what you are being told during the interview. One of the worst things that can happen is the hiring manager noticing that you are not listening to their description of the company. Make mental notes about what they tell you, and bring these things up later in the interview when it is your turn to ask questions. This way you will show that you are a good and attentive listener. It is very important to ask the right questions at the end of the interview, but instead of asking impersonal questions that your interviewer might have heard a hundred times, make inquiries about some recent company developments you have read of online, or go back to something that was discussed previously. At the end of the interview be as polite as you were when you arrived, even if you feel it didn’t go well. Thank them for the opportunity and make sure to schedule a follow-up.
After the interview
As soon as you get home from the interview, send a personal thank you e-mail to everyone that interviewed you. If you did not receive a business card from your interviewer or do not have their email address from earlier, contact HR and ask for them. Your follow-up should always include a thank you note for taking the time to interview you, as well as a reminder of why you believe you are the best fit for the position. Make a reference to something the person said during the interview and emphasize how it has improved even more the positive image you had of the company.
Get back on the horse!
Even if your interview went great, do not take for granted that you are their top choice. The worst mistake you can make is to stop looking for a job because you think they are already writing your name on the contract. Always assess what you could have done better during the interview, as well as what you think was your strongest attribute.
Interviews are perhaps the most intimidating step of the job search process, but if you are able to continuously improve, landing your dream job will easier than you think.