Job interviews can be nerve wracking for both interviewees and interviewers. Because you're naturally nervous, you are likely to not be as on top of your game as you'd be in more relaxed circumstances, but there are steps that you can take to control this nervousness and perform better when you are interviewing for a job.
Here are eight tips:
1. Don't just research the company—have a clear focus on how you can contribute
A number of years ago, a friend of mine who was debating whether to interview for a large corporation thought again after she learned that the company was going through a massive layoff and reorganization. However, in researching the company's longevity and consistently strong performance, and in also understanding that the company was in the midst of strengthening its legal and compliance staff, she decided to interview. She got a job in legal/compliance —and is now a major executive with the company ten years later. "Despite the layoffs during the time that I interviewed, I knew they were looking for exactly the skills that I could bring," she said, "And I knew that I could make a difference."
2. Be positive and open
Smile and be prepared to extend your hand in a handshake when you enter the room to meet your interviewer. Your handshake should meet the tension level of the hand that is extended to you. If you grasp too firmly, you could be perceived as being overbearing. If your handshake is too weak, you could be perceived as being indecisive and passive. The best approach is a medium strength handshake. In addition, by presenting yourself as a positive person and maintaining good eye contact with your interviewer throughout the interview, you are more likely to be perceived as a positive and open individual. Most organizations want this type of employee.
3. Be prepared to talk about a failure
Yep, you should definitely expect the "failure" question. Interviewers know that job applicants are going to come prepared to talk about all of the wonderful things they have done—so they always ask a question that can get at the flip side, since none of us succeeds at what we do all of the time.
Your failure story should be about a specific incident, assignment or project that you worked or managed. It could even be about a difficult work relationship that you experienced with someone.
Tell the story in three stages. First, describe the situation and what happened. Second, explain what wasn't working and why you felt you were failing. Third, explain how you tackled the situation and overcame it. If you didn't overcome all of the adversity of the situation, be prepared to tell the interviewer how you grew from the experience and what you learned.
4. Be an active listener
The University of Colorado at Boulder defines active listening as "a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding. Often when people talk to each other, they don't listen attentively. They are often distracted, half listening, half thinking about something else."
This active listening goes beyond speaking. Active listening can also involve watching the eye contact and body language of your interviewer for clues of ease, unease, etc.
The more you can create a true sense of "conversation" and relaxation in the interview, the better you'll perform.
This is easier said than done.
Many interviewees, because they are naturally a little nervous during the interview, can get carried away talking about themselves. Meanwhile, they begin to lose the interest of their interviewers! Don't let this happen to you. Answer questions completely, but as succinctly as possible. Also leave room for your interviewer to participate.
5. Have your personal use cases ready
The company you are interviewing with hopes to find a candidate who is ideally suited for the job it wants to fill. One of the ways this can be determined is by asking you if you've done the job they're looking to fill, and if you can review some of the specific situations or projects you've worked on. This enables the company to see just how familiar you are with the mechanics and the decisions of the job they want to fill.
So, if you're a project manager who is interviewing for a management job, be prepared to talk about one or two projects that you managed, their outcomes, and the various challenges you encountered in these projects and how you solved them. Be specific, but don't use a lot of technical jargon, unless you are interviewing with a fellow techie who can follow everything you say. The closer your own personal use cases align with the job that you're interviewing for, the better your odds that you will get an offer.
6. Dress appropriately
I've been in technology companies where you're considered a rare and endangered species if you arrive in a dress and heels, or in a suit and tie. The expectation in these places is that you come as "business casual." On the flip side, more conservative companies like banks and insurers still expect an interviewee to show up in business attire. As you do your company research, see what you can find out about the company's culture and dress norms. The goal is to come appropriately dressed for your interview, whatever the standard of dress happens to be.
7. Have your own questions ready
At the end of almost every job interview, an applicant almost always gets asked, "Do you have any questions for me?"
It is important to have two or three questions ready!
When the company is interviewing you, you are also interviewing the company. When you have several questions ready and you ask them, this shows the company that you have been giving some serious thought to it. Conversely, If you just end the interview with a, "No, I don't have any questions," this could be interpreted as a less than enthusiastic interest on your part—and it could work against your getting the job.
Good questions to ask are:
- Do you have an internal training and career development program?
- A business-related question like: I see the company is localizing its software in French, German and Spanish. Do you have or will you be opening offices in those countries? (This would be based upon research/information you might have learned)
- How much travel is involved in the job opening I am interviewing for?
- Is this a brand new position, or are you replacing someone?
8. Always be yourself
If you try to be an extrovert with a dominating personality but you really aren't—or if you try to show yourself as highly analytical and cerebral, but you really aren't—it's not going to work. We can only be who we are. And while employers seek certain types of skills and individuals for the jobs they have open—they also value authenticity.
At the end of the day, companies want two things: someone whose skill set fits their needs—and someone who fits. As an interviewee, you should expect the same: a place that can use your skills, and a corporate culture that feels comfortable and welcoming.
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Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.