Landing the right job can determine where you live, your social connections, your choice of a partner, and even the quality of your kids’ education.
Since so much depends on the outcome of your interview, it’s important to avoid missteps. Especially since the competition is so steep. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were over 6.7 million unemployed Americans as of April 2014. Also, many employed workers are searching for better jobs. As a result, companies are bombarded with candidates. Many employers report receiving hundreds—and sometimes, thousands—of applications for one job.
With so many applicants chasing so few positions, employers can afford to be particularly choosy, and they’re taking their time to fill these open positions. In fact, the average amount of time it takes to fill a job vacancy has risen from 15 days in the middle of 2009, to 23 days as of 2013, according to a study in the Quarterly Journal of Economics by economists Steven J. Davis, R. Jason Faberman, and John C. Haltiwanger.
An overabundance of candidates and extended hiring timeframes combine to make the interview process even more important. Employers can afford to pursue perfection, so you need to appear as close a match to the position as humanly possible.
However, you can increase your quality quotient, which will, in turn, help you gain an advantage over the other applicants. By understanding the seven major parts of the pre-interview and interview process, you can make a good first impression, stand out from the competition, and increase your chances of landing that great job.
1. Conduct Background Research—Know the Company You're Hiring For
Background research is an important part of the pre-interview process. Companies hire employees because they need help to reach their goals and objectives. They need specific employees to perform specific tasks. As such, the ultimate goal of your interview is to convince the employer that you are the best person for a particular job.
However, you won’t be very convincing if you don’t know anything about the company. You cannot present a compelling case to be hired if you are not familiar with the company’s goals, objectives, core values, or other critical information. The best place to find valuable information about the company is on its website. Ideally, you should read the “About Us” page, in addition to pages about the company’s products and services, the organizational structure, competitive placement in the market, and philanthropic efforts.
At first glance, this level of research may seem excessive. However, familiarizing yourself with this type of information will allow you to provide much stronger answers in your interview. For example, if the company stresses honesty, integrity and ethical behavior, you can shape some of your answers to include these traits. If the company values customer service, you’ll know to emphasize your customer service skills during the interview. If the company places an emphasis on “accuracy,” you’ll know not to answer, “a lack of attention to detail,” if you are asked to name one of your weaknesses.
In addition, one of the most important questions that you may be asked during the interview is “How can you help our company?” By conducting background research on the organization, you will be able to answer this question in a way that demonstrates your knowledge of the company.
2. Present Yourself Professionally, Without Unrestrained Style
Your appearance is part of both your pre-interview and interview process. Your preparation before the interview will play a major role in how you are perceived during the interview. As a result, you need to put your best foot forward.
Proper grooming is the first step in the process. Most employers prefer to hire neat, clean-shaven applicants. This is neither the time nor the place to display your individual fashion style. Your objective is to impress the employer with your skills and abilities, not with your ability to physically stand out in a crowd. Men with mohawks, 4-inch beards, earrings and tattoos that seem to envelop the entire body are usually not at the top of the company’s wish list, unless, perhaps, it is a ultra-creative, laid-back organization.
Women with purple hair—and other stark hair colors, visible tattoos, plunging necklines, miniskirts, stiletto heels and excessive makeup may be passed over for more conservatively dressed applicants. As a general rule of thumb for both men and women, if you are considering wearing anything that usually elicits stares from strangers, this choice is probably too flashy for most interviews.
A nice dark colored suit may sound boring, but it is your best bet for making a good first impression during your interview. Make sure that your clothes are clean and wrinkle-free. Your shoes should be polished and free from dust and dirt. Jewelry should be kept to a minimum for both sexes. Women should not wear the type of earrings, bracelets and other jewelry that clicks, clangs, or makes other sounds whenever you move, since this is also distracting.
3. Timeliness Is Important, So Be on Time
You should not be late for the interview under any circumstances. Granted there are exceptions to the rule, such as pulling someone from a burning house or car, or administering CPR to someone who stopped breathing. But unless your reason for being late falls within these categories, do not expect the interviewer to be forgiving.
If you are not familiar with the interview location, you need to locate the setting in advance. It is a good idea to actually visit the site during daytime hours, so you will know how long it takes you to get there in traffic, and then you can also discover if there are streets closed for construction, parking issues, or anything else that would negatively affect your ability to arrive on time. And if your vehicle is low on fuel, replenish your gas tank in advance.
You should prepare your clothes in advance, and it is a good idea to have an alternate set of clothing prepared, just in case you encounter a missing button, broken zipper, etc.
Another issue facing some applicants is the ability to leave work on time to go to the interview. If possible, schedule your interview early in the morning, so you can go to work afterwards. If this is not possible, plan to leave your job in plenty of time to arrive at the interview in a timely manner. You can’t afford to have any last minute work-related delays.
You may think that it is not a big deal to be a few minutes late for your interview, but you are being judged on your timeliness. The interviewer does not know you, and this is their first opportunity to judge how you handle commitments. If you don’t show up on time for your interview, you’ve already created a negative impression regarding how seriously you take your obligations. And the interviewer may be wondering if the company hires you, is this a sign that you will make excuses for not performing your work in a timely manner.
4. Communicate with Poise, Interest, and Expressiveness
Nonverbal communication plays a major role in the job interview, although it is not more important than verbal communication, according to Dr. Ronald E. Riggio in Psychology Today. Nodding your head and smiling do not compensate for not being able to intelligently answer questions. However, your communication techniques contribute to the overall impression that you create. And according to Riggio, applicants who project the best images during interviews master the following:
- Poise, being comfortable and confident.
- Interest, making eye contact and being attentive.
- Expressiveness, using positive emotions such as occasionally smiling
Practicing your interview is one way to help you gain poise and confidence, while losing your feelings of nervousness.
Also, looking interested and making eye contact should not be taken to the extreme. For example, Riggio says you should not “stare down” the interviewer, but on the other hand, do not appear to be bored or uninterested.
In addition, expressiveness should not be taken to the extreme. For example, while you should smile, don’t smile so often that it looks fake or forced. Also, refrain from displaying anger or annoyance, even if you are talking about a negative situation.
5. Overcome Difficult Issues
During the interview, some sticky questions may arise, especially if there are gaps in your employment history. According to Forbes magazine, it is important to let the interviewer know that you spent this time productively. Be sure to include freelance and volunteer work that you were doing during this time frame. Also, you may be asked why you left your last job or why you are planning to leave your current job. It is important to remain positive in your response. Penguin Interview suggests the following types of answers:
“My last job was not challenging enough. I was not motivated to wake up to work anymore and I really needed a change. Based on the job description I really believe that I can find what am I looking for in your company."
"There was a downsizing in our company and similarly to most people in my department, I was fired. However, it is the past. I am ready to utilize the knowledge and experience and start to build my new career in your corporation."
Be sure that your answers bring the question back to the position that you are interviewing for, and end with ways that you can help the company.
6. Ask Intelligent Questions
Asking intelligent questions shows that you have an interest in the company, and it lets the interviewer know that you have done your research. It also gives you an opportunity to learn more about the job. According to U.S. News & World Report, these are the types of questions that demonstrate a genuine interest in the company and the position:
- Why is this position open? What is the turnover rate for this job? This type of question will help you determine if the job is a good fit. A high turnover rate could indicate a difficult manager, unrealistic expectations, or some other type of problem.
- What are the biggest challenges a person would face in this position? This question shows that although you’re excited about the position, you also understand that every job has challenges and you’re ready to meet them head on.
- What would a successful year look like for this position, and how would it be evaluated? This question demonstrates that you’re not just interested in drawing a paycheck. You’re a high achiever, with a desire to know the criteria for success.
- How would you describe your management style? This is another question that shows the manager that you’re serious about the job. And while the manager may not be able to provide an accurate self-assessment, their response will at least give you some idea of their management style.
- Do you have any reservations about my fit for the job that I could address? This question provides an excellent opportunity for you to squelch any qualms the manager may have about hiring you. By providing clarity, you may be able to put their fears to rest.
7. Avoid Interview Landmines
During the interview process, it is important to avoid the landmines that can potentially derail your chances of getting the job. For example, do not bad mouth previous bosses, no matter how terrible they were, because you may come across as someone who is bitter and is carrying a lot of emotional baggage.
According to Monster.com, it is also unacceptable to say, “I just need a job,” when asked why you are applying for the position, or asked why the company should hire you. While it may be true that you need a job, employers do not want to hire someone who just needs a job. They want employees who truly want to work for the organization.
Monster also recommends that you avoid asking such questions as, “How long do I have to be here before I get vacation time? How much vacation time do I get?” These types of questions make you appear to be more interested in what’s in it for you, which is not the way to impress potential employers.
Telling companies that you are also interviewing with other companies is also a no-no. In your eyes, you may appear to be a more attractive candidate if you let them know other companies are also interviewing you. However, Monster says that sharing this knowledge actually makes you appear less attractive since companies do not want to compete for your interests.
Other potential landmines include making political, religious and sexist comments. First, the interviewer would be appalled that you would make these types of comments to someone that you do not even know. And then, the interviewer might think that you are the type of person who always makes inappropriate comments. And if they hire you, the company could potentially face lawsuits as a result of your behavior.
Are You Ready for Your Job Interview?
The stakes are high and the number of candidates is even higher, but an interview is your opportunity to stand out from the competition. Since you never get a second chance to make a good first impression, your impact should be lasting and positive. Preparing in advance allows you to communicate confidence and appear as an interesting, memorable candidate.
While it may seem like a lot of work to research the company you're interviewing for, adhere to such strict appearance, and comply with arrival rules, following these guidelines demonstrates your willingness to be a team player who abides by the customs and norms that govern the hiring process. At the same time, your ability to ask engaging questions marks you as a top candidate for the job. By applying these techniques, you can ace your next job interview.