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Home / Blog / How to Make a Stellar Impression in Your Next Job Interview

How to Make a Stellar Impression in Your Next Job Interview

How to prepare for a job interview and improve your chances for an offer

Dan Waskow
Job Search Coach and Recruiting Expert
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It’s challenging for a potential employer to completely assess or test a candidate for the skill needed to perform a job. Who gets the job often comes down to the interpersonal connections made throughout the interview process.

Whether the interview is over the phone, virtual (video call), or in-person, your interview skills will set you apart from other applicants— or not. This article covers interview prep advice that anyone can (and should) follow to make a positive impression and move forward in the hiring process.

In This Article

The Significance of a Job Interview

As far as job applications go— the first frontier to get an interview, it’s essentially a numbers game. Approximately one in six applications lead to a job interview— a statistic based on data from 2018. These days, my clients are reporting even grimmer numbers. Some hiring teams don’t even book a single interview from 20 or more applications.

An invitation to interview for a job is a positive sign that you’ve passed basic screening and that you have work experience, certifications, and other basic requirements the job opportunity calls for. In other words, you’ve already come a long way. The interview process exists to assess whether you are a good fit for the company culture and whether you can apply relevant experiences you’ve had in other roles to aid the company’s priorities.

While it seems simple, it’s not. How you conduct yourself in a job interview can make or break your chances of getting the job. Making a great impression that highlights your professionalism takes preparation.

Common (and Avoidable) Ways Job Seekers Hurt Their Chances in Job Interviews

If you’ve made it this far in the interview process, the employer has a sense that you’re qualified based on your resume. Don’t sabotage yourself by making avoidable missteps.

Common problems are being late, arriving unprepared, and dressing inappropriately.

Don’t Be Late

Arriving late for an interview puts you on the back foot and creates a poor first impression, even if the delay was out of your hands. Here are my tips for ensuring you’re on time and ready for every interview.

For an In-Person Interview

I always suggest that you plan to arrive at the interview location an hour ahead of time. This creates a margin for something unexpected to happen on the way.

If nothing delays you, and you’re early, great! Bring a magazine, tablet, or a charger for your phone so you can relax and occupy yourself before the interview starts.

Make sure you’re in the right place as soon as you arrive. When I worked in the corporate world, I interviewed several times in buildings in New York City. I would go to the security desk, let someone know what company I was visiting, and make sure I was in the right place. I specifically asked them not to call up to the contact person and announce my arrival. I told them I was there “for a meeting” and wanted to ensure I had the correct location.

If your interview is in a similar place, get your visitor’s badge then, so you don’t have to wait later.

You’ll want to arrive at the actual entrance or building floor ten minutes before the interview. If you need to freshen up, give a bit more time than that, and make friends with the person at the reception desk! Again, double-check that you’re in the right place, stressing that you’re early and that they shouldn’t let the person you’re meeting know just yet. Go back to the desk five minutes before and ask them to inform your contact person you’re there.

For a Phone or Video Interview

You must “check your tech”. If it’s a phone interview, make sure your signal and reception work in the place where you’ll have the interview. If it’s a new or unfamiliar location for you, phone a friend or family member a few minutes before the interview time to test the quality of your connection. 

Video interview software is generally intuitive, but don’t let that deter you from preparing. If you know, for example, that your interview will be via Zoom, familiarize yourself with its features. You should be able to adjust your mic and video feed, share your screen, and send resources via the platform.

For any interview where you’ll be using an internet connection, check that your connection is working the day before the interview, then again a few hours before the start time of the interview. Test your feed by setting up a video call with a friend the day before. Besides the quality of the call, pay attention to how your surroundings and lighting look on-screen.

Besides the tech, best practices for acing video interviews are the same as in-person interviews. Both types of interview require that you show up prepared and looking fresh.

An HR professional preparing for a job interview by researching the company.

Be Prepared

Familiarize yourself with the employer well enough that you can give an “elevator pitch” about them back to the interviewer. This shows that you know the company well enough to explain what they do in a social situation.

If the employer is a large enterprise, research the different divisions and then ask about their various priorities in the interview. This is a great way to show that you’ve done your homework.

Know the Role

Familiarize yourself with key aspects of the job. These are usually listed in a section of the job description labeled “Essential Requirements,” “Basic Qualifications,” or something similar. Be prepared to talk about each of these points. Identify specific examples of how you’ve managed responsibilities or driven results in past roles that show you have the requirements covered.

If there are some that you don’t meet, be ready to discuss how close your experience is to the points you’re missing and how you’ll come up to speed. Research the missing points before the interview. This shows that you’ve done the homework.

Don’t pretend to have work experience that you don’t. Your lack of insight will likely be evident in your interview answers, which doesn’t serve you in any way.

Come With Questions

A trap many candidates fall into is neglecting to have questions prepared. They assume that the interviewers will ask all the questions. Yet, almost all of the hiring managers I supported as an internal recruiter would save time for the candidate to ask questions at the end of the interview.

If you don’t have any questions prepared, the interviewer will wonder how interested you are in the role and whether you spent any time preparing for the interview. On the other hand, using the opportunity to ask intelligent questions about the role and company signals your passion for your industry and the opportunity.

If you’re interviewing at a large organization, a good line of questioning is to pinpoint the role’s area of influence. For example, “So, I understand that the XYZ role is in the XYZ functional area, but would I support the whole organization, or, for example, only the ABC division?” This answers (what should be) a legitimate question in your mind and shows that you’ve researched the company structure and role.

Other good questions to ask are:

  • “Who would I report to?” (Bonus points if you have a name or two ready based on your research.)
  • “How did this position become available?”
  • “What would my typical day look like in this role?”
  • “What is the typical career path of people who were previously in this role?”

Another critical area you could explore is asking the interviewer about their background. Research the interviewer on LinkedIn and the company website before the interview so you can prepare a question such as “So, I see that you’ve been at ABC for five years and were with XYZ before that. How would you compare the operations at the companies?”

Prepare Answers for Common Interview Questions

While interviews differ depending on industries and roles, there are many questions you can expect to get. These common interview questions are the lowest-hanging fruit for interview preparation, but candidates still miss the opportunity to come prepared with well-structured answers.

For example, almost every recruiter will start an interview by saying, “Tell me about yourself.” While there is no wrong response, it is a golden and open-ended opportunity to explain how you, specifically, are a perfect fit for the role. Don’t waste this opportunity talking about your hobbies, childhood, or pet— unless these things are relevant to the job.

Interviewers ask this question to get a sense of how your personality and background align with the role. You can also use this time to run them (briefly) through your career history and what you learned at each job.

Clear examples are always better than general statements. Your interviewer may, for example, ask how you deal with challenging situations. The best way to answer this is by recounting how you solved a complex problem in your current or previous role. It’s best to pinpoint these examples in your mind before the interview so that you don't fumble around for an answer and that you have time to think of a perfect example.

Bear in mind that interviews are stressful. You may believe you’ll be able to pull great examples of past challenges and wins from memory on the spot. What if you don’t and you end up with a weak answer?

Give yourself the upper hand by identifying five or six examples of wins, challenges, and collaborative projects to build answers around beforehand. Practice recounting these examples using the STAR method by breaking them down into the situation, task, action, result framework.

Look the Part, Act the Part

When it comes to choosing an interview outfit, you must treat video and in-person interviews the same. Research the company’s dress code for an indication of what is appropriate and aim to be the sharpest dresser in the room. You only get to make a first impression once.

For most jobs, you can’t go wrong with full business attire. If you’re interviewing for a job that is not in a formal office environment, you could go with business casual. In most cases, minimizing jewelry and body adornments such as piercings and tattoos is best.

Make sure your hair is neat, your teeth are clean, and you smell good. That said, go light on the perfume or aftershave— you don’t want to assault your interviewer’s senses.

Body language is as important as your appearance. Greet your interviewer with a firm handshake, don’t slouch or fidget, and maintain good eye contact.

You might be excited about the interview, especially if you’re interviewing for your dream job, but don’t ruin your chances by appearing too nervous or eager.

Following Up After the Interview

As you’re ending the interview, ask what the timing is. The whole thing could go like this:

“Thanks again for taking the time to meet with me. I enjoyed learning more about the role and hearing about your experience. I’m very interested in the opportunity and would like to know your timing for the next steps.”

If the interviewer lets you know when you should expect to hear back, make a note to follow up one business day after what they mentioned to you. If they don’t give you a timeline, waiting five business days is appropriate.

If you haven’t heard back by then, send an email reiterating your interest and asking again about timing and next steps.

You should also send a quick follow-up immediately following the interview. It can be a brief thank-you note to the interviewer the following business day.

What to Do When You Get a Second Interview

If all goes well, the potential employer will invite you for another interview. Thank them and express your enthusiasm for moving forward. Find out the format of the interview, and ask who’s going to be interviewing you. Other than that, follow the same preparations and best practices you did for your first interview.

You may also need to talk about remuneration in the second interview. Be ready to discuss your salary expectations based on industry standards and the range specified in the original job listing you applied to. If you’re asking for a higher number within the range, be ready to justify it by reiterating your experience and unique value.

Final Thoughts

Interviews are not everyday conversations.

Most people don’t interview very often, so it’s a skill very few of us get to hone to perfection. The good news is that some practice already puts you in a better position than most job seekers. Reach out to a trusted colleague, friend, or family member who can do mock interviews with you.

The more time and energy you invest in interview preparation, the better your chances of getting hired.

Dan Waskow
Job Search Coach and Recruiting Expert
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Dan Waskow has over 20 years of experience in Recruiting/Talent Acquisition and Human Resources for companies including Dell Technologies, Fidelity Investments, Accenture, AIG, NASDAQ, PwC, and Credit Suisse.

Dan has worked with hundreds of people on their job searches in areas of work, including technology, operational finance, corporate functions/general and administrative, real estate, and the nonprofit world. He also consults with small and medium-sized employers (up to 500 employees) on ATS selection and Talent Acquisition process implementation and improvement.

Dan has a degree in Psychology from Stony Brook University and lives in New York with his wife and daughters. In his spare time, Dan enjoys something that, on a good day, resembles playing golf and walking around New York City like a tourist looking at the diverse architecture of the city.

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