Interviews require special preparation, as you not only need to be prepared to answer questions and discuss your experience, but you need to exude a professional appearance and demeanor. Following are some of our favorite tips for in-person interviews.
Preparing for the Interview
Recall at least three examples of work-related situations where you exceeded expectations in your role or made a significant positive impact on the business. It may be that you created a program which increased sales, developed a new process that saved money, beat a tight deadline, went out of your way for a customer, prevented a problem by being proactive, or successfully dealt with a difficult customer or coworker. Write out all the details of these situations, including the basis of the issue, your role, and the outcome, so you have concrete examples at the ready when an interviewer asks a behavior-based question. The ability to demonstrate your success in a variety of situations will help ensure the employer that you are someone who will also bring success to their organization.
Interviewers often ask similar questions in many different ways: Why should we hire you? What sets you apart? Why are you the best person for this role? What can you bring to the table? Think about your examples of success and consider what personal qualities of yours enabled you to be successful. Was your success the result of the fact that you are highly creative, resourceful, strategic, energetic, analytical, executional, proactive, or competitive? By connecting your personal qualities to your previous successes, you will be able to easily answer these abstract questions AND back up your answers with concrete examples. When an interviewer asks why they should hire you, you can say “You should hire me because I am resourceful and creative. For instance, let me tell you about the time…” Anyone can list a string of adjectives to describe themselves, regardless of actual qualifications. You will stand out by providing examples that make it clear you are the “real deal.”
Remember to be very detailed in your descriptions of your examples of success. Instead of saying “I managed a salesperson who was not making their numbers, so I worked with them on it;” try “I managed a Key Account salesperson named Jim in our Cincinnati location who called on one of our biggest accounts, Kroger. He was missing a lot of opportunities to increase our share of business in the account.” Then go on to explain how you turned the situation around and what the final results were. Details will make your examples more vivid, believable, and memorable.
Before the Interview
Select your clothing and shoes at least one day before your in-person interview. This will help ensure you are not rushed on the day of the interview, and give you time to purchase new items if needed.
If you are familiar with the company’s dress code, a good rule of thumb is to dress a step above that for your interview. For instance, if the dress code is casual, dress business casual. If the dress code is business casual, wear a suit. When in doubt, it is better to be overdressed than underdressed.
It is also important to ensure you are comfortable in your clothing, especially if you are interviewing for a long period of time.
Avoid wearing fragrance, as your interviewer may have allergies.
Avoid wearing excessive jewelry, makeup, or other adornments that may distract from what you are saying during the interview.
Eat a high-protein meal or snack prior to the interview. Low blood sugar may reduce your ability to think.
Bring a notepad, pen, and at least one copy of your resume per person you will interview with. A padfolio can help keep these items organized.
Prepare a list of at least two references, but do not offer it unless asked. Ensure your references are aware you are interviewing and they may be contacted.
Leave yourself twice as much time to get to the interview location as you think is required. Accidents and road closures always happen at the worst times.
Silence your cell phone.
At the Interview
Stand tall with your shoulders back when you meet the interviewers, and extend your hand for a firm handshake with each one. Remember to make eye contact and smile!
Once seated, maintain good posture. If you have brought a portfolio or notebook, set it aside on the table rather than holding it in front of you.
Request a business card from everyone you meet early on; otherwise you may forget.
Consider showing your palms while you are talking, as it can convey honesty. Avoid looking down while speaking, as it can convey dishonesty.
Always maintain eye contact with your interviewers. To avoid “staring,” make an inverted triangle out of their eyebrows and nose, and continually move your gaze from point to point.
Answer all questions fully and with great detail, but also as succinctly as possible. Do not talk longer than one minute without pausing. This will give the interviewer a chance to interject in case they want to dive deeper on a certain point you’ve made, or if you’ve veered off topic.
An interviewer may ask you why you are seeking a new opportunity, or request that you discuss what you didn’t like about a previous job you held. Be honest in your answer, but remember to frame it as positively as possible. Never bad-mouth your current or previous employers, as this can reflect negatively on you.
Listen more than you speak. Typically, the split should be 60% interviewer / 40% candidate. And never interrupt the interviewer!
Try not to bridge your thoughts or sentences with “uh” or “um.” A pause is a better choice.
Take your time – it’s perfectly acceptable to take a moment or two to collect your thoughts.
Remember to say “thank you” at the end, and ask about next steps in the process.
After the Interview
Write a thank you email to your interviewer(s) within 24 hours. Highlight one or two key talking points from the interview to help them remember you and set you apart from the competition.
If you’ve only received the direct email address of one interviewer, ask that they pass along your thanks to the others.
Follow through on any promises you made during the interview – such as sending work samples or letters of reference.
See our section on Thank You letters for additional tips and examples.