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Build Your Career Get the Job

Your Complete Guide to a Successful Job Interview

Your Complete Guide to a Successful Job Interview
Credit: Pressmaster/Shutterstock

Congratulations, you've landed a job interview. Now what?

Whether it's your first, 15th or 100th time interviewing, it's important to be prepared if you want to succeed. From your initial contact with the hiring manager to following up after your meeting, here's everything you need to know to ace your next job interview.

In this article:

Before you arrive at the interview, you should be well-versed in everything the company does and stands for.

"Know the company you're interviewing for. Make sure you know the company's mission statement and values," said Margaret Freel, corporate recruiter at TechSmith, a business and academic software company.

Freel suggests being up to date with everything the company has been up to recently, such as if it has been in the news, released new products or won any recent awards. If you have the opportunity to try the company's product or service, do it so you have firsthand experience with what the business offers.

Candidates should also "research the company through blogs, publications, studies and speaking with industry leaders," said Taylor Dumouchel, marketing specialist for Peak Sales Recruiting. "Use this information to demonstrate your knowledge of the company's current market position and where they are headed in the future."

"These are things a candidate should know and be prepared to talk about during the interview," Freel said. "Doing your research is a signal to the interviewer that you're not just looking for a job, but this job."

Your resume is likely the reason the hiring manager called you. Although you submitted a digital copy with your application, remember to bring a printed copy of your resume to an interview.

"Don't assume your interviewer has seen your resume, let alone has an available copy for your interview," said Amanda Augustine, career advice expert for TopResume. She adds that you should be prepared with at least three copies of your resume.

"Additional employees may be pulled into the interview process at the last minute," she said. "Be prepared to hand them a copy of your resume, walk them through your career story, and tie your qualifications back to the position at hand."

Augustine advised rereading the job description before your interview, and going through your resume to develop a narrative that explains how your previous experiences have shaped you into a great candidate for this role at this company.

"Always think about your experience in the context of this particular job and its requirements," she said. "You don't need to rehash every role that’s listed on your resume, but you should call attention to the parts of your experience that are most relevant for this job opportunity."

If there are job gaps on your resume, you may be asked what happened or why there is one. The good news is that you can easily rehearse and prepare responses to questions about short stays or work gaps, said Erica Zahka, CEO and founder of Own The Boardroom, a website that rents out professional attire.

"Always be honest, concise and never point fingers at previous employers," she said. "For short stays, make sure it is clear that the reason you left company X after such a short period of time is not a reason that applies for this role."

"Explain the gap honestly and with confidence, and then shift the conversation back towards your future-facing goals as they relate to the position," said Dana Leavy-Detrick, founder and chief creative scribe at Brooklyn Resume Studio. "If you're returning to the workforce from an extended leave, talk about what inspired you to make a transition and how you plan to leverage your strengths."

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After you've discussed your resume, you'll likely jump into questions from the interviewer. No matter what they ask, don't let yourself get tripped up.

"Candidates get nervous about job interviews because there's the potential they'll be asked an open-ended question that will give the interviewer a secret view into who the candidate really is," said Rich Milgram, founder and CEO of career network Beyond. "But the real secret is that a lot of the time the interviewer doesn't know what the right answer is either, or they'll admit that there is no right answer, so just relax."

Glassdoor recently compiled a list of the most asked questions to expect in an interview:

  1. What are your strengths?
  2. What are your weaknesses?
  3. Why are you interested in working for [company name]?
  4. Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years?
  5. Are you willing to relocate?
  6. Are you willing to travel?
  7. Tell me about an accomplishment you are most proud of.
  8. Tell me about a time you made a mistake.
  9. What is your dream job?
  10. How did you hear about this position?
  11. Discuss your resume.
  12. Discuss your educational background.
  13. Describe yourself.
  14. Tell me how you handled a difficult situation.
  15. Why should we hire you?

For any questions on your skill or experience, Augustine recommends using the STAR method to demonstrate how you possess a particular skill that's required for the role:

  • Identify a Situation or Task where you demonstrated that skill.
  • Describe the Actions you took to resolve the matter.
  • Discuss the Results of your actions. For instance, were you able to defuse a tense situation with a disgruntled customer? Did you help your team complete a project on time or under budget? Did you cut costs or generate revenue?

Leavy-Detrick recommends practicing your answers to common questions about your strengths, long and short-term career goals, and other topics, and reviewing them with a friend or colleague.

"They'll be able to immediately identify shifts in your tone and mannerisms that might impact your presentation and confidence," she said.

You should also prepare a few questions of your own for when your interviewer invites you to ask. This not only gives you the opportunity to gain deeper insights into the company, role and culture, but shows the hiring manager that you're truly interested in the organization.

"During the interview, you should take the time to assess whether the employer is a right fit for you, not just try to prove to the employer that you're right for the job," Zahka said.

Under regulations from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employers are barred from asking a certain set of questions that can be considered discriminatory. These questions could involve your ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, family arrangements or other personal identity factors. This Business News Daily article outlines some other illegal job interview questions that employers shouldn't ask.

If you feel uncomfortable about a question or believe it's discriminatory, according to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, you have several options for how to respond:

  • Politely ask the interviewer what relevance the question has to the position or why the question is being asked.
  • Redirect the conversation toward a discussion of your skills and abilities as they relate to the position.
  • Answer the question with or without regret.
  • Refuse to answer the question.
  • End the interview.

If an employer asks something truly offensive or discriminatory, you can file a complaint with the EEOC.

MORE RESOURCES:

Things You Should Never Do During a Job Interview
Body Language Mistakes to Avoid in Job Interviews
Smart Questions You Should Ask During Every Job Interview
How 'Personal' Should You Get in a Job Interview?

One of the trickiest timelines to decipher is how long after the interview you should follow up. If the hiring manager doesn't indicate the company's timeline by the end of the interview, be sure to politely ask (before you leave) when you might expect to hear from them if they decide to move forward.

"Honor the time frame that they present before following up … about their decision," Zahka said.

Regardless of the company's decision time frame, experts advise emailing a thank-you note to each individual you met with during the interview within 24 hours. If you wish to send an additional handwritten note, S. Chris Edmonds, an author and the founder and CEO of The Purposeful Culture Group, advised mailing it out the same day you send your email.

"That way, it'll arrive a day or two following your email note, adding gravitas to your thoughtfulness," Edmonds said in another Business News Daily interview.

MORE RESOURCES:

After the Interview: Sample Thank You Letters
4 Things You Should Never Do After a Job Interview
Get the Job: Avoid These 3 Thank You Note Mistakes

The most important thing to remember is, even if you don't ultimately get the job, every interview is a learning opportunity. Practice makes perfect, and by following these steps, you'll be an interview pro in no time.

Shannon Gausepohl

Shannon Gausepohl graduated from Rowan University in 2012 with a degree in journalism. She has worked at a newspaper and in the public relations field, and is currently a staff writer at Business News Daily. Shannon is a zealous bookworm, has her blue belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu, and loves her Blue Heeler mix, Tucker.