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Tips For A Successful Job Interview

I have a specialized assignment at work. After some cajoling, I got my bosses to agree to select the person who will fill my position when I retire next year. That gave me a chance to interview the people who were competing for my job.

Interviewing my potential replacements was a little like attending my own funeral, without having to hold quite so still. Several candidates referred to me by name, with me sitting right there as part of the interview panel. They all said nice things about me, and they’d glance over when they mentioned me. I did sort of stay still and smiled just a little. I thought I looked very natural.

During the interviews, I realized that people sabotage their own efforts to get jobs. Today, I’m going to help job seekers by discussing mistakes that I saw during this last set of interviews.

Be On Time

Be on time. The interviewer knows how to work this. (image via wikimedia)

Your interviewer should never have to wait for you. Be early.

An early arrival impresses interviewers and gains you a few minutes to prepare yourself for what is to come. Planning to be early also provides you a time cushion for unexpected traffic or other factors that change “right on time” to “apologetically late”.

If you are late, admit it and apologize. Those who are in a position to hire and fire others are bright enough to read a clock. Your interviewer knows that you are late. Say you are sorry.

Remember, part of any job is arriving when you are expected. Nothing says “I am not the one you want” like showing up late for a job interview.

Be Ready For Standard Questions

I can tell you from my experiences as an interviewer and interviewee that you’ll often get at least one of these questions. They may not be worded exactly as these examples are, but if you listen closely you will hear questions like:

  • Why do you want this job?
  • What are your strong points and weaknesses?
  • Tell me (us) about yourself

These questions are a gift. If you prepare, you’ll hit them over the fence. If you’re not ready for these queries, you are on the way to giving the job away to another candidate.

Find someone you trust to give you honest feedback. Ask them to pretend they are interviewing you for the job you want. Answer the questions I’ve listed, plus any others you anticipate being asked. After practicing without the job on the line, you will find yourself giving solid answers when it is on the line.

As you practice, be sure to give extra attention to questions that are about you. Talking about yourself is hard, but it is appropriate in an interview. Rehearsing will help you over the discomfort and help you focus on giving an answer that sells you.

Learn A Little About The Job

A guy, at a blank slate. He didn’t get the job either. (image via wikimedia)

Take a little time to learn about the place you are hoping to work – their policies, products, and successes. Learn as much as you can about the position you want, in general and in the context of the organization that you hope will hire you.

In last week’s interviews, a very talented person gave away a shot at the job by saying “I did not read much on the subject because I wanted to be a blank slate, without bad habits, if I got the job.” This week he is a blank slate, without the job. His answer left the impression that he did not care enough to do a little research.

Learning a little about the job communicates a level of concern that employers like. Companies can get blank slates by the crate. People who care about their job before they even get it are harder to come by; they are the ones who get happy news from their new bosses.

Dress Nicely. Don’t Bring Friends

I don’t run into this problem when I hire, but I see people do it all the time in entry-level positions. They arrive to meet a potential employer after putting no special effort into their appearance. Very often, they arrive with several friends who sit and talk to the applicant as they complete a job application. Sometimes, the whole crowd applies for the same job.

If were hiring for my business, I’d be looking for people who were self motivated. Arriving in a ball cap and a pair of shorts wouldn’t tell me you are eager to work. It would say to me that you don’t care enough to distinguish yourself from the next person to come through the door. The person arriving with three friends would be giving me the message that they’d like me to pay them to have social time.

Be independent. Look sharp. Act in a professional manner. Be social on your own time.

Times are tough, competition for jobs is fierce. Preparation for an interview is critical. A little knowledge and concern for what you are doing will distinguish you from the crowd. Good luck, and be early!

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35 Comments on “Tips For A Successful Job Interview”

  1. Todd Pack says:

    I watched a guy lose a job once when he told the interviewers, “I’m not confrontational, but….” He then told a story about how he had confronted a co-worker he thought had disrespected him. The interviewee thought the story would help him get the job because it demonstrated his ability to … you know, I’m not sure what he was thinking. Soon as he started telling his little story, the interviews’ completely disengaged. It was fascinating to watch.

  2. Debbie says:

    Excellent advice, O Wise One! You’d think folks would know the job interview process is not a group thing, wouldn’t you? You’d also think they’d know to dress appropriately, show some interest in the position (not just its perks), and respect the interviewer enough to show up on time. Then when they don’t get the job, they leave muttering about how unfair life is. Go figure!

    • omawarisan says:

      I see the group thing in restaurants a lot. They come in, mutter something about an application, then sit at a table where customers could be sitting and fill it out. I can’t imagine that works for anyone.

  3. Good advice! My favorite “Don’t ask” question is “Are raises automatic here or do you have to work for them?”

    • omawarisan says:

      Amazing the things people come out with. In an interview for a similar position on my team a few years ago, a candidate said he wanted to be on the team as a stepping stone to another team. Not good.

  4. robincoyle says:

    When my daughter was in ROTC, the cadre drilled into the cadet’s heads “If you are early, you are on time. If you are on time, you are late.”

    A lot of people would benefit from this advice.

  5. anita says:

    Thanks for the post! I have an interview with some senior-level people next week, so I can use all the advice I can find.

  6. Omawarison says:

    Also, eye contact. It is impressive to an interviewer if your eye physically touches theirs.

    • omawarisan says:

      Good point. Do you prefer extending your eye across the table, or getting up, grabbing them by the sides of their head and pulling them up to your face?

      • Omawarison says:

        I prefer the latter as it gives the impression that you are ready to take charge of a situation and you are willing to step up to accomplish something. However the first option is very impressive and could show your dedication to developing a skill.

        • omawarisan says:

          True. The head grab establishes you as a hands on guy who understands the importance of a personal touch.

          Extending your eye is impressive, but it isn’t practical if the interview happens at a long conference table.

  7. hrhardball says:

    You would think these to be self-evident “tips” for job consideration, unfortunately you have reminded us all that nothing should be assumed. How about this one – try not to curse during an interview? Unbelievable how many people think it’s acceptable to drop a bomb in a professional interview.

  8. Laura says:

    The most common way I’ve seen interviewees sabotage themselves is by refusing to admit that they have opinions. If you have 10 years of experience in your field, and someone asks you a question like “which approach do you like better for [a situation that comes up all the time], X or Y?”, there are four acceptable answers:

    1. X, because …
    2. Y, because …
    3. Well, X has these advantages, but Y has these …
    4. Z, actually, because …

    If you say “oh, either is fine — however you do it here” and won’t elaborate even when we try to press for more details, we’ll conclude that you’re either lying about your experience or have managed to get this far without actually learning anything.

  9. k8edid says:

    I am a nursing professor and also run our skills lab. We have started offering “mock” interviews for our graduates who, despite a nursing shortage, can’t get themselves hired by anyone. After doing a few of these, I can see why. They are told to dress appropriately for an interview, show up on time, come “prepared” (do a little research) and be ready to “sell” themselves.

    One last week showed up in short-shorts and a tank top (“Well, I know I’ll be wearing scrubs so what difference will it make what I wear to the interview?”) Few made any eye contact at all, several showed up late, and one brought her toddler daughter with her. None had done any research into the unit or floor where they hoped to get a job. One said “I’ll take anything you have open – it really doesn’t matter where I work”. Huh?

    And apparently, “selling” onself involves saying “I really need a job to payback my student loans”.

  10. spencercourt says:

    > putting no special effort into their appearance

    Then there was the woman who showed up to an interview for a job I was hiring for dressed like she was going to be an “escort” – high class slutty outfit, including sheer black hose and complete with the CFM shoes. (CFM = “Come F* Me). She thought that may overcome her weak credentials. Her main credential was her mom was friends with the division director and I was asked to give her a “courtesy” interview. You do not say “no” to the division director…

  11. I’ve been interviewing candidates for an entry level position in my department and I wish I could give them your tips. I’ve had people wear Birkenstocks. I’ve had one young woman talk about her kids’ dirty diapers. (I think that’s an interview no-no!)

  12. Spectra says:

    Well, there is that saying, “Dress for the job you Want, not the job you Have”.

    So I always just dressed like the top man in the company, preferably wearing the exact same tie (just stalk the office building in the pre-dawn hours to see what he shows up wearing, then rush out to JC Pennys and buy the exact same tie) and even the same shoes, mimicked his every gesture and expression, scratched my ‘balls’ at least once during the interview, then stood up suddenly before it was over, extended my hand for a rather brusk handshake, and announced, “I’ll review this matter further and give you a call next week or so if I’m still interested it letting you hire me for this position”.

    works every time. (but not with women).

  13. Betty says:

    Oh, I don’t miss interviewing job candidates one bit. I was always stunned by the idiots applying for an entry level or assistant-type position and asking if they would have an assistant at their disposal. Of course, they were always looking for a salary approaching six figures. When learning it was less than half what they were expecting, they’d often say, “well, I need to make $xxx.” I’d reply, “well, it’s not the company’s responsibility if you are living beyond your means.”

  14. Pie says:

    Some of the interviews I’m reading here are hilarious and horrific in equal measure. Don’t these people have career advisors?

    As a temp/freelancer, I always try to find out about the company I’ll be working for if I’ve had advance booking for an assignment (we have t’internet now. There’s no excuse not to). I will also do a reconnaissance, to make sure I know where I’m meant to be and how long it will take to get there. I dress reasonably smart until I get a measure of the office culture, then I relax and slob out like everyone else. My methods may not had been as polished if I was going for my first job, but my attitude would’ve been the same.

  15. We Found Him Captain! says:

    I always carry a telescoping backscratcher in my interview kit. It comes in handy for those itches in sensitive areas which need immediate attention during an interview…. I have made an impression on several interviewers during my days.


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