You’ve worked hard on your resume, and you finally networked your way to the right person. This is your chance: you’ve got an interview coming.
What now? Wing it and hope for the best? Google for interview tips—and end up with the same template as everyone else?
No, you’re smarter than that. You want to stand out from the crowd. Here are 13 tips on how you can do that:
1. Acknowledge your weaknesses
“What are your weaknesses?” is one of the most common interview questions, yet few people answer it honestly. They try to sidestep it or frame it as a positive thing—which is what most career counselors advise.
But we all recognize what this tactic really is: a facade. A better way to approach this question would be to acknowledge weaknesses that have nothing to do with the job you’re applying for. And tell the hiring manager what you’re doing to improve on them.
For example, it doesn’t matter if you’re not great with numbers if you’re applying to be a graphic designer. Or that you need to work on your presentation skills if you’re applying for a role that doesn’t require it, like a copywriter, consumer support, over-the-phone sales, etc.
Smiling is so simple, yet few people actually do it. For good reason: you’re usually nervous in an interview, or you’re intentionally trying to keep it professional.
What most people don’t know is that a smile can break the tension in the room and set you apart from the rest of the brooding crowd. It shows you’re friendly and fun—the exact kind of person people want to work with.
3. Prepare for questions others don’t
Once in awhile, you get asked really weird questions during an interview. This is especially true if you want to land a high-level job with cutting-edge companies. There’s a reason why they ask these questions: to test your thought process and your ability to think on your feet.
So be prepared for questions like “How would you estimate the number of golf balls in Australia?” (actual question in one of my interviews) or “Have you ever had a boss from hell?”
4. Keep your cool when things go south
Sometimes, no matter how much you’ve prepared, things go wrong. In fact, I know of some interviewers who intentionally disrupt the interview to see how candidates react.
So keep your cool when things go south. Remember that one stumble likely won’t cost you a potential job if you get the rest of right.
5. Get to know your interviewer before the interview
Who is this guy who’ll be asking you questions?
Knowing his background can help a lot. In my last interview, the hiring manager used to work with an ex-colleague. We bonded over that, and he didn’t even need a reference from me because he knew his friend’s standards.
Every person and every interview is unique, but you might share a common hobby or the same alma mater. At one time, I even did research on the interviewer’s university because I knew he was an active alumni.
6. Emphasize your cultural fit
Qualifications matter—no doubt about that. But qualification is a binary factor: either you’re qualified, or you’re not. Being more qualified doesn’t work in your advantage. In fact, hiring managers call that “overqualified.”
The more important thing, once you fulfill the job requirements, is your cultural fit. That is, do your beliefs and values align with the company? We all know how important teamwork is these days, so a prick can really cost the company.
7. Use enthusiastic vocabulary
The vocabulary you use says a lot about the kind of person you are. For example, consider “It’s my job” compared to “It’s my career” or “It’s my mission.” All these words have the same meaning, but show different levels of enthusiasm.
Or how about this: “Being a nurse is what I do” versus “Being a nurse is who I am.” Do you see issues as a “problem” or a “challenge”? Hiring managers pick up on these unconscious triggers.
8. Finish strong
Studies have shown that if you’re given a string of random numbers to memorize, you’ll most likely remember the first few and the last few. The former is called the Law of Primacy (why the first impression is so important) and the latter is called the Law of Recency.
This is why it’s crucial for you to finish strong. You can tell an interview is about to end when the interviewer asks you if you have any other questions, at which time you need to give your best shot. Stories are your best bet here. Reserve a question that you can use to lead into your story until the hiring manager asks if you have a last question.
For example, if the company is pro-flexible working arrangements:
“What do you think about employees working from home?”… “It’s just that a couple of months ago, my son fell sick and he needed someone there just in case something happened. I didn’t want to miss work for it because it was peak season. The company policy in my previous role didn’t allow for that and I had to take a leave, which I hated because my colleagues John and Paul were struggling to meet the orders coming in to the point that they had to work overtime. And there I was, not allowed to log into the system.”
9. Thank the interviewer and show your enthusiasm
You’d think that thanking the interviewer and showing your desire to work in the company you just interviewed for is common sense… but it’s not.
When you thank the interviewer, don’t just say the words. Instead, finish the thought: Thank you for…
- Taking time out of your busy schedule to meet with me. I know you’re busy with ______.
- Not laughing about the ridiculous career goals I told you about.
- Being the nicest interviewer I’ve ever had. (If it’s true.)
You get the point. Giving a reason why you say something makes it more credible.
10. Follow up
After you leave the interview, email a thank you note within an hour. Then follow up in three days, then a week, and consistently do it until you get a solid yes or no.
Absolutely don’t give up! There are many reasons why an interviewer may not call you back other than the fact that you blew the interview. It might be a perseverance test, she might just be plain busy, or—and this is more common than you think—she’s procrastinating.
If you don’t follow up, and her boss finally asks her to make up her mind and make a hire (or the work piled up to a tipping point), your email would already have been buried and the Law of Recency kicks in—the last few candidates who applied after you will be the ones being considered.
11. Keep in touch and add more value
Of course, there’s no need to be rude when you follow up. Every communication between you and the hiring manager needs to add value.
One of the most effective ways to do that is by linking to interesting articles around the Web that are relevant to them. Do you know how much busy people appreciate it when you take the time to curate the Web for them? They want to keep up with the latest happenings; they just don’t have the time.
12. Learn to negotiate
There’s one thing all high performers do: they negotiate when they get an offer. Why not, when you always have alternatives, right?
But even if this offer is your only one, negotiate it! Doing so is an indication that you, too, are a high performer. There’s no need to lie about having options. The very fact that you want to negotiate triggers a subconscious assumption that you’re in demand.
And remember, negotiating need not be adversarial.
13. Close the loop
Last but not least, thank the people who got you introduced. Thank the interviewer and thank everyone in between, even if you end up taking another offer. Take them out to coffee if you can afford to. A simple expression of gratitude can double the amount of people willing to help you in the future. It shows your appreciation and encourages them to help you out in the future.
Remember: build your network before you need them. Build it today.
Andrianes Pinantoan is part of Open Colleges’ HR management faculty and the editor of the Open Colleges Blog, where he and his team write about career advancement and personal development. Connect with him on Google+.