Your CV and covering letter have earned you an invitation for a job interview. Congratulations! You have worked hard to get this far and you are excited – and probably a bit nervous – about the next step. Here's how to turn that excitement into a confident performance, whether for a phone screening, an in-person interview or a video interview.
First, ask for the name of your interviewer – or interviewers – and check LinkedIn or Twitter to find out about their career history and interests. "You are likely to feel more confident in the interview if you are conversing with someone you know something about," wrote Ruth Spellman, chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute, in The Guardian. Ask about the format of the interview and the number of people involved. "It's not that you have to prepare particularly differently, but if you're expecting a relaxed chat with an HR person and you get five senior people grilling you, it's likely to throw you," says career coach Michael Higgins.
Think about the questions interviewers often ask. "Why do you want to work here?" is a classic one. You can find information on the company website and in news stories about the business. If the company has a YouTube channel, look at that as well.
"Tell me about yourself" is another classic. While the answer ought to be simple, it's easy to forget something essential – or to say something you didn't intend to say, especially if you are nervous. The likelihood of saying the wrong thing increases when you are speaking a foreign language, so have a two- to three-minute response prepared and practise it.
Often, interviewers will ask why you left a past job or why you want to leave your current one. Be careful how you respond to this. "Never speak badly of your previous employer," says Chris Meredith, CEO of officebroker.com. "If asked why you're leaving your current position, focus on your ambitions, how this job will help you get to where you need to be, and what elements of the job excite you," Meredith told The Daily Telegraph.
Another popular interview tactic is to ask about your weak points. Questions about weaknesses are designed to evaluate a candidate's honesty and self-awareness, and to reduce the company's risk of hiring the wrong person. "Always be prepared to share some weaknesses, but make sure the quality you choose is not central to the job," Meredith says. "Finding a weakness from your past that you have worked towards improving can be an effective strategy. Come up with this trait as part of your interview preparation so that you won't be left speechless."
"Tell me about a time you failed" is another question that strikes fear into the hearts of jobseekers. "Highlight a failure and then follow up with what you learned and how you changed," advises career coach Christie Mims. "Interviewers are less concerned with the failure than how you handled it (you are human after all). They want to know that you are capable of thoughtful growth and can handle stress under pressure," Mims told U.S. News & World Report.
More and more interviewers are asking offbeat questions that, on the surface at least, seem to have little to do with the jobs they are trying to fill. The trend, which started at technology companies, has spread to other industries. For example, interviewees at the mining company BHP Billiton were asked recently, "Would you rather fight a horse-sized duck or a hundred duck-sized horses?" There are no right or wrong answers to such questions, according to Canadian career coach Daisy Wright. They are used to test candidates' ability to think creatively, logically and quickly. While it is impossible to prepare for every offbeat question, an internet search under "strange interview questions" will at least give you an idea what to expect.
Most job interviews take place in offices, but don't be surprised if you are invited to go out to lunch or dinner with potential employers. The lunch interview is often used for groups of candidates, when interviewers want to see how you interact with others. Although a lunch interview may seem like a friendly, social event, you shouldn't be too relaxed, warns Julie Clare of Britain's National Careers Service. "Don't tell the employer things you wouldn't disclose in a more formal interview," Clare told The Guardian.
You can prepare for a lunch interview by going to the restaurant beforehand to check the menu and atmosphere, or by looking it up online. Choose food that is simple to eat so you can concentrate on what is being said, and don't order the most expensive dish on the menu. "Take your lead from the interviewer on what they order," Clare says. "Don't order the finest steak and a glass of expensive wine if the interviewer orders a sandwich and a glass of water."
You might also be asked to take part in a video interview, especially if you live far away from the interviewers. "If a company [had] said 15 years ago that they conducted interviews remotely through a camera in your computer, you would have thought you were applying to Hogwarts," writes careers blogger Heather R. Huhman. "Now, webcam interviewing is becoming a mainstream method of recruiting – saving employers both time and money while still giving them (almost) all the information they need to make a hiring decision."
It's important to make a professional impression, Huhman says. If you are interviewing from your house, do so in a neat, clean room. "Also, make sure you're interviewing away from any loud noises or potential interruptions, such as a TV/ radio, pet, or smoke detector that needs new batteries." Be sure that your face is well lit and that you are wearing professional clothing, preferably light-coloured so that you are easily seen.
Most interviews end with interviewers asking candidates whether they have any questions. "I don't have any questions" or "How much holiday do I get?" are the wrong response, says Chris Meredith. "While a job interview is a chance for you to decide whether you would potentially like to work at the company you're interviewing at, asking how much holiday you get is a question you should save for after you've been offered the job, along with 'How much do I get paid?' and 'What is your sickness policy?'"
As the interview comes to an end, you will want to find out where you stand. Writing in Forbes, Lisa Quast suggests asking something like: "Based on my background and the skills and experience we discussed, how well do I fit the profile of the candidate you are looking for?" To find out how close the employer is to actually hiring, Quast suggests asking, "What are the next steps in the hiring process?". This should also help you discover whether more candidates will be interviewed.
Don't underestimate the importance of small details that are easily overlooked, Quast says. Ask for the interviewer's business card before leaving. "That way you'll have their correctly spelled name, title, mailing address, telephone number and email address to use when you write your thankyou note."
If you've just been interviewed for your dream job, of course you hope that the interview will be followed by a job offer. But it's important to be realistic. You may need to present yourself to a number of employers before one of them offers you a job, so regard every interview as a learning experience. "As soon after the interview as you can, find a quiet place and write down as many of the questions that you were asked as you can remember," suggests Michael Higgins. "Rank how you answered them on a scale of one to ten. Work on the answers in order from lowest to highest so that you can improve for future interviews."