Interview Tips That Actually Work

Your goal in any interview process is to have the interviewing company take the next step after speaking to you. That next step might be another interview, or it might be a job offer, but you always want to look toward making it to the next step. With that said, you never want to do or say anything that might prevent them from making the decision to continue the process with you. In the end you want to be holding that job offer and have the ability to make the decision that is right for you.

Here are some pointers from me, your external Recruiter. Hopefully already know these, but they are a good “refresher” before going into an interview:

Be on Time.
This means be a little early. It is better to sit in the parking lot for ten minutes and walk in a few minutes before your start time, than to walk in a minute late. Know how long it will take you to get to your destination at the time of day you will be going. Plan accordingly.

Dress appropriately.
It used to always be “wear a suit” to an interview. Not anymore. In the world of “business casual” and especially in less traditional software companies, you will probably stand out in a suit if all the employees are wearing jeans. That doesn’t mean wear jeans to the interview, but it does mean you should look the part of fitting in with the company culture. Ask your Recruiter what the attire is, and then just take it up a notch. For example, I suggest khakis and a collared shirt if jeans are the daily norm. Also, leave the perfume/cologne at home. Of course there are always exceptions, but this works out just fine the majority of the time.
Side note: If you are doing a Skype interview, be just as mindful about your appearance and what they might see in the background. Be sure you won’t be interrupted or distracted during Skype or phone interviews.

Read about the company beforehand and know what they do. Don’t do this five minutes before you walk in (they’ll know). Spend a little time learning about the company and really absorb what the company is about, so you can be genuinely interested and enthusiastic. If you aren’t genuinely interested, this might not be a good long-term opportunity for you. Ask your Recruiter about the people you’ll be interviewing with so you know how their role fits in with the company and what you can expect in the interview. If this is a technical interview, there may be a test so don’t be surprised if you have to solve a problem or write some code. Your Recruiter should be able to tell you to expect this.

Let the Company drive the interview.
Keep in mind the Interviewer has probably set aside a specific amount of time to get through the interview process and probably has some key questions he wants to ask. It should always be a back and forth communication, but let him drive the agenda. Be careful not to take over the interview to the point that it feels like you are interviewing them. Interact naturally, give well-supported, specific answers, and don’t go off on any tangents.
Conduct yourself in a professional, positive and likeable way. Make eye contact with your interviewer and stay calm. Obviously don’t use inappropriate language or slang (even if your interviewer does), and try to walk the perfect balance of confidence and humbleness. Arrogance does not go over well. Be positive and avoid saying negative things or things that might prevent your interviewer from wanting to take the next step. If you hear something you are concerned about or not sure about, instead of having a negative reaction, simply keep your reaction neutral and talk over your concerns with your Recruiter. “I’ll certainly take that under consideration,” is a great way to reply to something you are concerned about. Also, don’t throw any past employers under the bus even if it was a bad experience. If you need to convey something that is negative about a past employer or job, try to do it as diplomatically as possible.

Employers look for people who love what they do and get excited by the prospect of tearing into the nitty-gritty of the job. Expressing a technical interest in the opportunity is important. Here are some very common interview questions, so think through how you’d answer these if they were asked:
What do you want  from this job?
Where do you see yourself in five years?
What are your strengths? Weaknesses?
What do you like most/least about your current company?

If this is a first interview, that is not the time to ask questions about what your hours will be, what benefits they have, etc. First interviews are for letting them get to know your skills and allowing you to understand more about the job. Ask your Recruiter for details like this.

If they ask about Salary.
There are a lot of opinions on this so be sure to handle this the way your Recruiter suggests. As a Recruiter, I have already discussed salary requirements of every candidate I present before he/she ever gets to the interview stage so be sure you are on the same page with your Recruiter. The general rule is to stay flexible. Tell them you are most interested in evaluating the total package. If they don’t bring it up…you shouldn’t bring it up.

Close strong.
A great ending question you could ask (only if you are comfortable with it) – “Is there anything about me or my background that you think would prevent me from doing this job?” This will enable you to address any concerns or questions the Interviewer might have. Another suggestion – “What could I do in the first 60-90 days to make the biggest impact in this position?” OR “What would be my top 2-3 priorities in the position in the first 60-90 days?” This shows initiative and also lets you clearly understand near term expectations.

Finally, I always suggest you make this statement to the Hiring Manager at the end of the interview, “I’m really excited about this opportunity and I look forward to taking the next step.” Of course don’t say that if it isn’t true, but if it is, don’t assume they know you are interested. I’ve had clients call me after an interview and say, “Wow, we really liked John, but we just aren’t sure how much he liked us.”

Send a short, well-written follow-up email either directly or through your Recruiter after the interview.

Top 10 interview questions and how you should answer them

As the saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” So here is a valuable insight into the world of interview questions and the techniques best used to answer them:

There are some questions that are asked frequently in interviews and you should prepare your answers beforehand. The key things to remember when responding to interview questions are to keep your answers relevant, brief and to the point. If you are faced with a difficult question, make sure you stay calm, don’t get defensive, and take a moment to think about your response before you answer.

Remember, these responses are only suggestions. Try to personalize your response as much as possible.

Question: Tell me about yourself.

Answer: Identify some of your main attributes and memorize them. Describe your qualifications, career history and range of skills, emphasizing those skills relevant to the job on offer.

Q: What have your achievements been to date?

A: Select an achievement that is work-related and fairly recent. Identify the skills you used in the achievement and quantify the benefit it had to the company. For example, “My greatest achievement has been to design and implement a new sales ledger system, bringing it in ahead of time and improving our debtors’ position significantly, saving the company $50,000 per month in interest.”

Q: Are you happy with your career to date?

A: This question is really about your self-esteem, confidence and career aspirations. The answer must be a “yes”, followed by a brief explanation as to what it is about your career so far that’s made you happy. If you have hit a career plateau, or you feel you are moving too slowly, then you must qualify your answer.

Q: What is the most difficult situation you have had to face and how did you tackle it?

A: The purpose of this question is to find out what your definition of difficult is and whether you can show a logical approach to problem solving. In order to show yourself in a positive light, select a difficult work situation which was not caused by you and which can be quickly explained in a few sentences. Explain how you defined the problem, what the options were, why you selected the one you did and what the outcome was. Always end on a positive note.

Q: What do you like about your present job?

A: This is a straightforward question. All you have to do is make sure that your “likes” correspond to the skills required in the job. Be enthusiastic; describe your job as interesting and diverse but do not overdo it – after all, you are looking to leave.

Q: What do you dislike about your present job?

A: Be cautious with this answer. Do not be too specific as you may draw attention to weaknesses that will leave you open to further problems. One approach is to choose a characteristic of your present company, such as its size or slow decision-making processes. Give your answer with the air of someone who takes problems and frustrations in stride as part of the job.

Q: What are your strengths?

A: This is one question that you know you are going to get so there is no excuse for being unprepared. Concentrate on discussing your main strengths. List three or four proficiencies e.g. your ability to learn quickly, determination to succeed, positive attitude, your ability to relate to people and achieve a common goal. You may be asked to give examples of the above so be prepared.

Q: What is your greatest weakness?

A: Do not say you have none – this will lead to further problems. You have two options – use a professed weakness such as a lack of experience (not ability) on your part in an area that is not vital for the job. The second option is to describe a personal or professional weakness that could also be considered to be a strength, and the steps you have taken to combat it. An example would be, “I know my team thinks I’m too demanding at times – I tend to drive them pretty hard but I’m getting much better at using the carrot and not the stick.”

Q: Why do you want to leave your current employer?

A: State how you are looking for a new challenge, more responsibility, experience and a change of environment. Do not be negative in your reasons for leaving. It is rarely appropriate to cite salary as your primary motivator.

Q: Why have you applied for this particular job?

A: The employer is looking for evidence that the job suits you, fits in with your general aptitudes, coincides with your long-term goals and involves doing things you enjoy. Make sure you have a good understanding of the role and the organization, and describe the attributes of the organization that interest you most.

Other questions to consider:

How does your job fit in to your department and company?
What do you enjoy about this industry?
Give an example of when you have worked under pressure.
What kinds of people do you like working with?
Give me an example of when your work was criticized.
Give me an example of when you have felt anger at work. How did you cope and did you still perform well?
What kind of people do you find it difficult to work with?
Give me an example of when you have had to face a conflict of interest at work.
Tell me about the last time you disagreed with your boss.
Give me an example of when you haven’t gotten along with others.
Do you prefer to work alone or in a group? Why?
This organization is very different to your current employer – how do you think you are going to fit in?
What are you looking for in a company?
How do you measure your own performance?
What kind of pressures have you encountered at work?
Are you a self-starter? Give me examples to demonstrate this?
What changes in the workplace have caused you difficulty and why?
How do you feel about working long hours and/or weekends?
Give me an example of when you have been out of your depth.
What have you failed to achieve to date?
What can you bring to this organization?