How to Ace a Job Interview
If you have managed to get a job interview with a prospective employer, congratulations! Scoring an interview is a hard thing to do – and you should be proud of yourself. This means that you’ve overcome the first hurdle to getting the position. It also means that your application or resume sparked the employer’s interest, so you can go into the interview knowing that the employer liked something about you.
The interview is your chance to shine – your opportunity to sell yourself to the prospective employer. But it isn’t a one-way street. The interview is also your chance to assess the employer and decide whether you actually want the job.
Acing the job interview means:
- Preparing before the interview
- Focusing during the interview
- Following up after the interview
- Sample interview questions
- Sample questions to ask during an interview
Let’s look at each of these in turn.
Research the Employer
The only way you can convince a prospective employer that you are right for a job is to explain how your skills, abilities, and personality fit with the organization’s culture and mission. And the only way to do this is to actually know and understand the organization. Look up the employer on the Internet. Read its website. Read newspaper articles and press releases about the employer. If you can, research the person who is interviewing you. The more you know, the more you can develop a rapport with the interviewer – and the more you can convince the interviewer that you understand the organization and what it needs. Plus, doing your research makes you look professional and smart – and that’s always a good thing.
Know How You Will Look
The morning of the interview is not the time to realize that you need a haircut. It’s also not the time to realize that you don’t have access to a shower or personal care items like deodorant or a toothbrush. In the days before the interview, make sure you know how you will take care of your grooming and appearance.
If you need access to a shower or personal care items, visit The Gathering Place – a day shelter for economically disadvantaged women and children. There, you can sign up for a shower and also obtain personal care items. The Gathering Place is located at 1535 High Street in Denver. The phone number is 303-321-4198.
When getting yourself ready on the day of the interview, keep your look conservative. Don’t wear a lot of jewelry or makeup. Don’t wear perfume. Hide tattoos if you can.
Know What You Will Wear
Part of understanding the culture of the organization is understanding what is appropriate to wear to the interview. If you are seeking a construction position, then you probably don’t need a business suit. But if you are applying to be a paralegal in a law firm, you just might. It’s okay to ask the person who called you to set up the interview what the appropriate attire is. And if that doesn’t work, ask advice from friends and family.
Depending on your circumstances, you may not own appropriate clothes to wear – and you may not be able to afford any. One option is to borrow some from a friend or family member. Another option is to go to Dress for Success, an organization that provides professional attire and career tools to economically disadvantaged women. The Dress for Success location in Denver is at 1510 High St, 2nd Floor (corner of Colfax and High St). The phone number is 303-832-1889.
Know What You Will Say
If you think about it, you can probably predict what some of the interview questions will be. For example, the interviewer is going to want to know why you want the job. And why you think you are right for the job. And what you think you can contribute to the organization.
The interviewer will also want you to explain your felony conviction. And any gaps in employment. And any other red flags that might appear on your resume or application.
At the end of this handout, you can find some common interview questions. Read through them and make sure you know what you would say if you had to answer them.
Know What You Will Ask
The interview is your chance to find out if you actually want this job with this organization. Not only is it okay for you to ask the employer questions, it’s a great thing to do. You will look confident and prepared and interested – all things that an employer wants in an employee. At the end of this handout, you can find a list of sample questions that you can ask the interviewer.
Know Where You Are Going
Before you leave for the interview, be sure you know where it is, how long it takes to get there, and how you will get there (will you drive or take the bus?). Getting lost or showing up late will make you feel stressed and make you look bad to the interviewer.
Know What You Will Bring
Prior to the interview, ask if there is anything that you should bring – for example, samples of your work. It’s also a good idea to bring extra copies of your resume and a list of references.
Practice, Practice, Practice
It may feel silly, but there’s no better way to prepare for an interview than to practice with someone else. Get a friend or family member – or your Free to Learn instructor – to ask you some questions. You can also practice by looking in the mirror. This will give you the chance to practice things like your handshake and eye contact – and it will give you the opportunity to test out some of the answers that you have prepared.
Set the tone of the interview and make a good first impression by standing up when you see the interviewer and offering to shake hands. A firm handshake that you initiate shows that you are a confident professional. Similarly, at the end of the interview, offer your hand as you are saying goodbye.
Make Eye Contact
Make frequent and steady eye contact with the interviewer. It shows that you are attentive and have nothing to hide. A lack of eye contact will make you seem nervous and shifty.
Speak Clearly and Loudly
Speak loudly enough for the interviewer to hear you. Speak clearly. Don’t mumble.
Be Aware of Your Body Language
Your body language should say that you are a confident and likeable person. Be aware of your facial expressions and of your hands and legs. Be aware of your posture. Sit up straight.
Be Aware of Your Spoken Language
Now is not the time to use poor grammar, slang, or profanity. Choose your words wisely. Use complete sentences. Be clear.
Give Concise Answers
When you answer a question, only give the information needed – don’t ramble on with elaborate details that don’t relate to the question. Don’t go off on tangents. If you don’t understand a question, it’s okay to ask for clarification. If you have to think a moment before answering a question, it’s okay to ask for a little time. “That’s a great question that I had not thought of before. Let me think about it for a moment.” If it is a factual question that you don’t know the answer to, don’t make something up. Offer to find out the information and email or call the interviewer with it later.
Be Friendly and Confident
This is your chance to show the interviewer who you really are. Sell yourself. Believe in yourself. Remember to smile. If you can, relax and enjoy the conversation. Be friendly
Learn How to Follow Up
Before the interview ends, ask a few questions about the hiring process and how you can follow up. Find out what the next steps will be. Ask when they expect to make a decision. Ask interviewers for a business card so that you have their title, phone number, email, and the correct spellings of their names.
End on a Confident Note
When the interview is over, stand up, look the interviewer in the eye, and offer your hand to shake. Thank the interviewer. Say that you enjoyed the interview and that you are still interested in the job. If you can, quickly say once again why you think you are the right person for the job.
After the interview, write an email or send a letter thanking the interviewer. State again your interest in the job. Summarize your qualifications.
Tell me about yourself.
When interviewers say this, they are not interested in every little personal detail about your life. They want a brief story of who you are as related to the job. Summarize the aspects of your education and background and skills and abilities that make you right for the job.
Describe your education.
I see you have a GED. Does this mean that you dropped out of high school?
If you dropped out of high school, be honest about it. Explain briefly why. And then explain how your life is different now. And describe the effort and time and initiative that it took to get your GED. Talk about why you got your GED and what you liked about the process. In other words, turn your GED into something that puts you in a positive light.
What subjects did you enjoy in school? Why?
Why did you leave your last job?
What did you like about that job? What didn’t you like about it?
How did you get along with your former co-workers? Your former supervisor?
Please describe your strengths.
Please describe your weaknesses.
Why do you want to join our company?
Why do you want this job?
Why do you think you are right for this job?
What do you want to be doing five years from now?
What do you do in your spare time? What are your hobbies?
As with everything else in the interview, this isn’t an invitation to talk about things completely unrelated to the job. Choose interests and hobbies that reveal abilities and skills that make you look right for the job.
I see you have a felony conviction on your record. Tell me about it.
Free to Learn has prepared a handout explaining to you how to deal with the felony question. If you haven’t seen it yet, ask your Free to Learn instructor for it.
Why should I hire someone with a felony?
This is a good time to encourage the employer to look at each person as an individual. You can’t answer this question about any ex-offender who walks in the door. But you can answer it about yourself – tell the employer why you deserve a chance. This is also a good time to tell the employer about the federal bonding program and tax credit. Ask your Free to Learn instructor for brochures to hand to employers about these two things.
Did you serve time in prison?
What was prison like?
What did you learn in prison?
You may be incredibly ashamed about your time in prison, but if the interviewer already knows that you are an ex-offender, there’s no point in avoiding it. Instead, spin it into something positive. You probably did learn some things there that you can apply to your life on the outside – things like discipline and how to cope with circumstances beyond your control. You may have also taken classes or worked at jobs that gave you valuable skills and experience.
Below are some sample questions to ask during an interview. Use your judgment on whether a question is right for your circumstances – and feel free to ask questions that aren’t on the list!
You won’t see any questions below about salary or benefits. This is because these questions are best left until after you get an offer and are in a better position to negotiate.
What are the duties and responsibilities of this job?
What are the days and hours that I will be expected to work?
Will I work any overtime?
How are schedules determined?
What is it like working for this company?
How long have you been working for this company? What do you like about working here? What don’t you like about working here?
Please describe to me the ideal person for this position.
What are some reasons that people do well at this organization?
What are some reasons that people do poorly at this organization?
Who would be my supervisor if I took this position?
Whom would I work with if I took this position?
What would my days be like if I took this position?
Would I receive any training as part of this position?
How would my work be evaluated?