What is Your Best Interview Advice?

By Lynn Truong on 17 September 2007 (Updated 16 June 2011) 34 comments
Photo: iStock

I'm personally horrible during interviews. I'm shy, humble, blush easily, and have a bad memory (I can never answer those "Tell me a time when you..."). Overall I think the interview process is ineffective and unrepresentative. But it's a required process.

So what is your best advice to do a great interview? This could be anything from what to bring, what to wear, or how to answer a common question.

Share your best interview advice in the comments section and get entered in a random drawing for $25 Amazon Gift Certificate!  This drawing is over.  Congrats to Ask the Manager, the winner of the drawing.  Thank you to everyone who participated!

While I'm no good at interviews, my fellow Wise Bread bloggers are pretty savvy job hunters. Check out what they have to say:

Will Chen

I like to ask interviewers what kind of reference material they read in their spare time to keep up with industry changes. This could be a particular trade magazine, newsletter, forum, website, etc. After the interview, I will check out their suggestions and make a good faith effort to soak up as much information as I can from these reference sources.

When I write a follow up e-mail to the interviewer, I'll add a "p.s." thanking him for the tip and mention one or two specific articles I found especially interesting.

After doing this for a couple of interviews in the same field, I begin to get a great sense of what the top people in the business are reading to stay on top of the game. Pretty soon when my interviewer makes a reference recommendation I can tell him that I've already been following that publication for a long time.

Linsey Knerl

While I think it is amazing that it can take up to two months after sending your resume to be contacted for an interview, the decision to hire (or not) based on that interview can occur the same day. This often leaves candidates without enough time to get a traditional "thank you" note to the interviewer. If I don't do anything else after an interview, I always send an email of appreciation. If you don't have the email address of the interviewer, scour the internet, check Hoovers, or call his secretary and mention that you need it to send some additional information from the interview. Then do this immediately!

Since punctuality, communication, and follow-up are necessary for doing any job successfully, this one step may give you enough of an edge to put you ahead of other candidates. And if nothing else, it gives the interviewer a quick and easy way to communicate with you if you don't hear back for a while and need to inquire about your candidate status.

Sarah Winfrey

Talk to the interviewers like they're people. Having been on the interviewing side, I know that so many people try to sound the same, because they're all trying to sound like the person they think you want them to sound like. The problem is, they put you to sleep. They're boring. It's the people who talk to me like I'm a person, the people who seem to genuinely want to know how I'm doing and who respond when I genuinely want to know how they're doing who keep me engaged in the rest of the interview. These are often the same people who answer their interview questions not only from their schooling and professional experience but also from their lives.

Now, there's a point where this can go too far. You don't want to share all about your personal life. But answering a question about how you deal with the unexpected by telling a story about your recent car accident and how you responded to unexpected complications might be better than telling yet ANOTHER story about a crashing computer at your last job, as long as you don't go into gory, ranting detail. Be interesting, not needy. Show that you can be focused and interesting at the same time.

Philip Brewer

Have an answer to the question, "What's your biggest weakness?"

Of course you don't tell them any actual weakness that you might have. Instead, pick one of your less ordinary characteristics that isn't really negative, but that you can put a negative spin on. Then provide that (the negative spin) as your weakness. But then immediately go ahead and give them the neutral (or positive) take on the same trait, saying that you're working on doing better that way.

If you can't think of anything good, you can just make something up out of anything that you do well.

For example, if you're good at anticipating customer needs, you could say, "I guess my worst trait is that I sometimes jump to conclusions about what a customer is asking for. When I'm right it lets me provide really prompt service, but when I'm wrong it doesn't make for a good customer experience. I'm working on really listening to the customer."

Nora Dunn

I guess my history as a professional actor comes in handy with the interview process, because my general way of preparing for an interview is to rehearse.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

I don't rehearse to spew out memorized formal-sounding and insincere answers to anticipated questions, so much as I just rehearse the whole process. I anticipate what the interviewer might ask, and practice what a response may be a few times. Before I pick up the phone to touch base with my potential employer, I make sure I know what I want to say so I don't stutter my way through the conversation.

Through this rehearsal process, there is also something to be said for visualization. As I rehearse, things are going just the way I want them to in the interview. The more I see things going that way, the better the chances are that they'll end up being that smooth when it's showtime.

Julie Rains

My best interview advice (besides mine, which is "be yourself" and is occasionally useful) comes from a recruiter friend.

If the interviewer says, "tell me about yourself," you should say

"Where should I start?" to get an idea of the interviewer's interests.

If the interviewer gives you a nice introduction, such as "what are your career goals?" or "what is your biggest accomplishment?" or even "what have you been doing since college?" you know how to narrow your response to fit the question.

If the interviewer says, "wherever you want to start," then you can pick a reasonable point (mostly likely it should be at least after college) and give a brief career summary.

You could close (this section of the interview) with "would you like me to go into more detail about 'xyz' time period?"

Justin Ryan

This is very timely, as I'm currently reviewing applications for new bloggers for First Wives World. My most basic piece of advice is: Follow instructions. If the advertisement asks for something specific, do exactly as it says. If you can't be bothered to do as they have asked, don't bother to apply, because you're sending a very strong message with your first communication. In the ad I placed for FWW bloggers, I gave specific instructions on how to apply. Quite unsurprisingly, about half of the people who responded didn't do as I asked, and they were elminated immediately.

What the applicants didn't seem to realize is, I wrote the ad with specific requirements for two reasons: 1) There are certain things I need to know about the person in order to recommend them, and 2) I wanted to see if they could follow instructions. It was a test, and about half didn't pass.

So, my advice is, the next time you see a very specific ad, do exactly what it says. The employer may very well be testing whether you know how to follow instructions, and will toss your applicaiton if you demonstrate you would rather do what you want than provide what he or she needs.

Outside of that, I echo Sarah: Have something unique. The applications I remember are the ones who wrote really interesting stories in their sample posts.

Share your best interview advice in the comments section and get entered in a random drawing for $25 Amazon Gift Certificate!

Deadline to enter drawing is 9/22 midnight. Don't forget to enter your email address in the field provided and only one entry per person.

This drawing is over.  Congrats to Ask the Manager, the winner of the drawing.  Thank you to everyone who participated!

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Guest's picture

Sending in your resume:
Cover letters are not obsolete! If you're applying for a job outside your normal field or that pushes your experience, a good cover letter (even in the body of an e-mail) can support your resume and get you in the door for an interview.

Before interviewing:
Prepare. Seriously. Read up on the company (at least their web site), practice answers to the classic questions (why you're leaving your old job, strength/weakness, etc.). Write down a couple questions you want to ask about the company and working at the company. Bringing notes to the interview is totally fine. In fact, it's great because then if the interviewer answers your questions, you can refer to your notes and say so!

Guest's picture
RYAN

I always make it a point to ask the interviewer what their career path was. It gives you a great idea about when and why they came to the company, if they have been moved up to where they are now, and it forces the interview into more of a give and take conversation.

i also ask where they are headed in their career, this brings out if they want to head somewhere else, up or out, or if they love the job/company and would never leave. just gives you a little more insight than you might otherwise get from the interview.

Guest's picture

When I hired for the first company I owned, I put very specific instructions right on our website for all to see. Unfortunately, less than 5% of potential job seekers actually followed my instructions. (If Justin got a 50% rate of compliance, he should consider himself lucky!) I finally added this on the job opportunities page of our website, hoping it would reinforce the idea of following instructions. (Sadly it didn't.):

-----------------------
"I sent you an email. Why didn't I hear back from you?"

Unfortunately, despite our best efforts to clearly outline what we are looking for in an application package, most applicants simply do not provide us with the information we ask for. Similarly, others write to ask if they should bother applying. (Should we bother replying?)

Mostly Math provides professional services, and our employees must be highly service oriented. If you are not willing to take the time to find out about and follow our application requirements to serve yourself in this process, then you will not be willing to go that extra mile to serve your students.
------------------------

I know it's not exactly advice for getting through an interview, but it's crucial advice for getting an interview in the first place!

Guest's picture
Lauren

Someone once told me that if you squeeze the muscles in each hand and each foot you send a little input to each hemisphere of the brain and it helps "activate" them just before you go in the door. I do this before an interview, even though I think it's silly, because it's a ritual that reminds me to stop, breathe, and walk in relaxed. Athletes have rituals that they follow pre-game and this is the same idea. If you think it helps you, then it does.

Guest's picture
Guest

Stay as sincere as possible. Don't try to say or proclaim things that you did not do. If you don't want to say that you don't know several aspects of the job you are being hired for, then say that you are willing to learn, and improve your skills. Don't lie in your resume,you will end up fumbling. Interviewers are not stupid. They have been interviewing for ages and they know how to smell all these things.

If phone interview, write up and prepare all possible questions and answers. Before interview, keep talking to someone nonstop about what you do, how you did what you did, what is your future aspirations etc. When you practice talking for a long time, talking for an interview becomes easy and it flows cause that is what you were doing for days before the interview.

Guest's picture
Paul

One thing that we typically ask when interviewing candidates for software engineering positions is for the candidate to rate themselves between 1 and 10 with regard to certain skills. Personally, I think this is sort of a silly question; the only information we give is the two extremes that represent 1 and 10, and there's a strong psychological (some might say, psychic warfare) component to the answer that people give. Most of the answers that people give to this question are poor -- the typical response is to give a number without qualifying or justifying it in any way.

That being said, it's possible to answer this question well. The single best answer I've ever heard is: "tell me what a 5 is." This answer, to me at least, indicated that this candidate was sincerely thinking about the question and wanted to give an answer that would fit properly into what the people interviewing him considered the "scale" to be.

My point here is that if you get a dumb or vague question during an interview, asking for clarification never hurts. A related point is to make sure that you've actually answered the question that's been asked. When you've answered a question, it's fine to ask "is that what you were looking for" or something to that effect.

Guest's picture
Mark Bunge

I work for an internet anti piracy firm and when I was asked in the interview if I had ever pirated anything I paused for second. I thought in my head do I lie and say I'm an innocent iTunes user or do I tell the truth. So I told them that I had already had my internet shut off for downloading a movie. They explained it was probably caused by them. I thought for sure when I walked out of there that I was either going to be exactly what they want because I was already an insider in the world of piracy OR they would view me as the 'enemy.' Later that day I was called back and told to pick up some extra paperwork. A month later the office opened and within 3 weeks I was the manager. Best job I've ever had. The company has doubled in size(from 60 to 120ish) since I started working here.

The funny thing is, that the person I interviewed with was actually the Chief Operating Officer. I had no idea. Sometimes a story that appears to be negative can be a positive if it demonstrates a certain skill, such as computer proficiency or demonstrates some other specific skill.

Myscha Theriault's picture

I had a good tip Lynn, but Philip beat me to it. What he said!

Good discussion generator, though. Lot's of people can use these types of tips, and they certainly appear to be good ones.

Guest's picture
Benjamin Briles

If you've ever heard of a behavorial interview, you know how scary these can sound. The key to these interviews is to have a few (4-6) good (and true, every word!) stories about projects you have worked on. Even if you have only had one job, you will have plenty of stories to choose from. Remember though that you should think these up at least 24 hours in advance so you can sleep on it. If you're rubbish at remembering details, don't worry about it, the sleep will help you to remember them since you called up the framework for that memory.

The idea is that they ask a question like "Describe a time when you were working on a team project and you had to motivate your teammates to accomplish their tasks." This is a really broad question. You're really answering these questions: What was the situation? What did you do? How did you handle this situation and what was the result? What they're really trying to find out about you is how you have reacted to situations that you may get into again and how you'll act then. Past behavior is not like the stock market, in that it IS indicative of future performance.

To give you some clues, I'll go through each question they're actually asking.

Q: What was the situation?
A: Tell them who you were working with, any important factors about these relationships, and the problem itself.

Q: What did you do?
A: Tell them how you interacted with those around you, and how you went about solving the problem, including any obstacles that came up.

Q: How did you handle this situation and what was the result?
A: If there was an obstacle, tell them how you overcame it, especially including fall-back plans you made ahead of time. The most important part to the entire story is that the result must be good. Even if there was a terrible situation and you turned it into just a normal day, that's not good enough. Stress the parts of the problem or obstacles that were stressing you at the time, and show how you solved that problem. These results should be at least a 7 on the 1-10 scale of how it ended up.

Guest's picture

Learn about the company/institution your are trying to get a job with. Also, confidence always helps. And don't forget to remember that million dollar question: "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?"

Guest's picture
Rue

Review your own resume before you go in so that dates are fresh in your mind and to remind you of any good stories/relevant work experience you may have. I've had interviewees come in and give me wrong dates (off by almost a decade once) from what is in front of me on paper, and had others who seemed to have done some really neat things but couldn't talk about them in the interview. Yes, you should already know this stuff, but make sure it is fresh in your mind before you walk through the door...

Guest's picture
Barbara

When you're asked a question that you really want to find the righ answer to, it's not a bad idea to take a minute to answer. I've found interviewers appreciate answers that I obviously gave a little on-the-spot thought too rather than rattling off something that sounded rehearsed. It shows that you're actually taking the moment to consider your answers.

Guest's picture
DJ

I'm talking ironed clothes, coordinating colors, beautiful hair, white smile, shined shoes.

This can mean the world. Your appearance is indicative of how seriously you are taking the job. If you look like you didn't invest any time in getting ready, it indicates that you wouldn't invest much time in the job!

Don't send that message. Look your best!

-Miss DJ

Guest's picture
Heather

I'm a girl on the smaller side, but if you shook my hand without looking at me you might think I was a 200-pound man. I've had a number of compliments on my hand shaking ability and I've grown to loathe the "dead fish" I occasionally receive.

As a journalist I've been on the giving and receiving end of countless interviews (though not for pre-employment) and a good shake, with a little eye contact and a smile can really set you apart from the crowd. And it's cheaper than a new suit.

Guest's picture

A big mistake people make is not thinking beyond their desire to get a job offer. The wiser goal is to see if you’re a mutual match, emphasis on mutual. Think of it like dating: If you approached every date determined to make your date fall for you, you’d lose sight of whether or not you were right for each other. Don’t get so focused on wanting them to like you that you forget to make sure you actually like the company and the job.

And "what are your weaknesses?" seems to trip up a lot of people. I have a post on it here that I hope will be useful.

Guest's picture

A big mistake people make is not thinking beyond their desire to get a job offer. The wiser goal is to see if you’re a mutual match, emphasis on mutual. Think of it like dating: If you approached every date determined to make your date fall for you, you’d lose sight of whether or not you were right for each other. Don’t get so focused on wanting them to like you that you forget to make sure you actually like the company and the job.

And "what are your weaknesses?" seems to trip up a lot of people. I have a post on it here that I hope will be useful.

Guest's picture
John

The most important thing to remember in an interview situation is that you are interviewing THEM just as much as they are interviewing YOU.

You've got to figure our whether this is a company you really want to work for. Is this a good learning environment with active mentors who will help you in build your career, or are you just selling yourself to them because they're the first person who paid attention to your resume, or they're the most prestigious company that has deigned to interview you?

Make sure you ask good questions designed to show the interviewers that you're interested in investing the next few years of your life with them IF they're willing and able to help you build your skills and value.

This is not to say that you should only ask self-interested questions, or that any self-interested question will do.

Bad: "How many sick days to I get?"
Good: "What does your company do to promote employee wellness?"

Bad: "What's your 401k match?"
Good: "What's your strategy for retaining good people?"

Bad: "The other guy has free beer. Do you have free beer? Can I have one right now?"
Good: "A lot of companies encourage team-building activities and "fun" at the office that promotes work-group cohesiveness and improves long-term productivity. Do you have any activities like that? Can you give me an example right now?"

The right company will respect your desire to grow your own human capital -- indeed, they will see it as a clear strength of yours -- and will demonstrate THEIR capacity to meet YOUR expectations, not just the other way around. I'd hire a critical thinker who shows forethought in career planning over a desperate yes-person who's over-impressed with my brand any day of the week and twice on casual Friday.

Guest's picture
Christy

For goodness sakes!
Don't forget to bring a pen!

Guest's picture

I've always done well in interviews. The key is not only to engage in friendly conversation but to also learn more about the interviewer. I usually end up interviewing the interviewer and in the process come across as being more assertive and personable. Your resume will speak about your accomplishments and qualifications. The interview is meant to show that you can fulfill the personality and confidence department.

-Raymond

Guest's picture
peggy

Don't forget to actually SHOW UP for your scheduled interview. I'm not kidding; while going through interview hell during my last year of graduate school, the career center people organizing the interviews told me that they were having tons of companies getting PO'ed by all the no-shows amongst the (allegedly) older and wiser graduate/professional students. Case in point, I noticed 5 of us were scheduled to meet w/ one of the pharm. companies, but on that day only 3 of us showed up.

So set your alarms or fancy calendar reminders on your multifunctional gadgetry and show up for your interviews. In fact, get there early if you can!

Guest's picture
Tab

Researching the company and then using that research to ask questions like "I just saw some interesting news about Project X. Can you tell me a little more about it?" and slip in where you have experience with some part of it or that you're interested. Definitely have questions for the interviewer. Two that have served me well are "What brought you to this organization and/or what keeps you here?" and "How will I be evaluated?" For some reason, the latter one in particular catches interviewers off-guard, in a good way.

Guest's picture
Me

1.) Leave your purse at home and bring a briefcase.
2.) Always send a formal thank you letter to everyone. That includes the person that took you to lunch or you spoke with for 20 minutes.
3.) In regards to number 2, get business cards to ensure you are spelling their name correctly. Erik's with a K like it when you spell it with a K!
4.) Your cover letter should match details in the job ad to your skills and resume.
5.) Never ask about benefits until you have been offered the position. Focus on what you can do for the company rather than what they can do for you.
6.) Never discuss salary until you have been offered the position. Always push this off by saying, "Let's focus on making sure I will be a good fit for your company before we discuss salary. Your company has a great reputation, I am sure salary won't be a problem."
7.) Be nothing but positive! Got too little sleep because your flight got in late? Don't tell them that, stay focused and positive on the interview. If you are stressed about this, what will you be stressed about there?
8.) Always send the resume by two methods, fax, electronically online, snail mail, or e-mail. Big companies are always losing things, and this ensures someone will get it.
9.) Don't know who to address your cover letter to? If it is a small company, try to decipher the e-mail address with a person. Go on their website or call after hours to get into their voicemail tree.
10.) Does the job ad say no phone calls please? I risked it and called the company after hours and left a voice message with the hiring manager listing three reasons on why I should be hired. I called everyday listing three new reasons. I am currently working at that job.

Guest's picture
Leia

I would also have to say be prepared, but I'll narrow that down to one specific area.

Grab a notebook and interview yourself. Ask yourself the traditional "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" and the dreaded (if you are a lone wolf like me) teamwork questions. Then make a new page.

What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? Now spin each into the opposite - how can your strengths also be weakness? How can your weakness be a strength? You'll have several answers you can use in answering a question about strengths and weaknesses. Circle two from each.

Guest's picture
JJ Murphy

One simple question has been very successful in my few interviews I have done. The interviewers later told me they were impressed with how I interviewed.

At the point when the interviewers give you an opportunity to ask questions, make sure you ask them something along the lines of "Now that you have chatted with me for XX time, what questions do you not feel clear on? I don't want to leave anyone in the room not sure of an answer."

This is a two fold reason:
1)It allows the interviewers to ask a follow up that they were sitting on.
2)It shows that you are open to communication and getting a "buy in" from people.

Guest's picture
Tyler

I've got a horrible memory and I struggle answering the questions "Was there a time that you...". In preparation for interviews, I review my notes on my accomplishments just before interviewing and these help to jog my memory for experiences that I might be able to share.

Myscha Theriault's picture

the firm handshake thing . . . I've gotten lots of compliments on mine over the years, including during several business discussions in the Middle East. Eye contact and shaking like you mean it can go a long way.

Guest's picture
Rachel

If you want the job simply ask for it! Let them know that you are enthused and that you will work hard for them.

Guest's picture
Bill

The best way to demonstrate that you're serious about a new career is to show a passion for it. One way to do this is to pick up a part-time job in a new field. This experience will allow you to blend your existing skills with the skills you're going to need. You'll also gain a bit of insight into your new career. Lastly, it will demonstrate that you're not just dissatisfied with your current situation and that you're finally pursuing your true calling.

Justin Ryan's picture

I want to supplement my response with this: Pay attention!

I mentioned above that I had people not follow instructions when applying for the job I recently advertised. I've started getting emails, though, that take it to a whole new level.

My ad was pretty specific, becasue we were looking to expand the type of bloggers we have on FWW (an online community for divorced women). Right now, we've got about six who are finished with their divorce and write from a "life-after-divorce" perspective. We wanted to add some ladies who haven't yet filed but are thinking about it, as well as some who are currently in the middle of the process, so that's what we advertised. 

Ten seconds on our site reveals that everybody we have is currently post-divorce, but I still got about a dozen emails saying "Did you ever think of having someone who was already divorced?" They each got the response "Yes, we did, in fact we have about half a dozen already. If you take a look at the site, you'll see that." 

I'm astounded that someone could apply for a job without even looking at the company their applying with. I'm even more astounded that they could have the audacity to try and call out the company on something without even checking their facts first. I will give credit, though, to one woman who wrote back and admitted that she hadn't looked before she leaped. At least she was honest - after she got caught.

So, while you're following all the other tips here, be sure to pay attention. If you're going to apply, take the time to find out what the story is.

Guest's picture
The Chin

Don't ask about money.
Don't ask about vacation time.
Don't ask about benefits.
Don't drink anything, even water, if it's offered.
Don't look desperate.

Pretend it's all a game and don't be overeager.

Don't be afraid to challenge the interviewer if he says something stupid.

Ask the interviewer a lot of pertinent questions about the job duties and skill set required and then conversationally indicate why you would be the perfect person for the job.

In other words, reverse the roles. You become the interviewer, you assume the dominant role and can move the interview in the direction you want to show your strengths.

Works for me.

Guest's picture
Kerry

That's my best advice, having been on both sides of interviews. Listen to what the interviewer is asking. If you need to ask questions to make sure you've understood what's being asked (or just to give yourself time to be calm), that's fine. But really listen, and then respond with an individual answer, not a canned one - no matter how many times you've planned out what you will say. The interviewer, if he or she is any good, needs to form an impression of who you are. That comes through in everything that takes place, and it begins with listening.

Guest's picture

A person who is going for an interview should always be confident on themselves. They should have confidence about what they know and what they are going to answer during the interview.

One's weakness should be conveyed positively! Try to present ideas in different form which attracts the interviewers.

Guest's picture
Jessica

The Onion ran a headline a couple weeks ago with the best answer to the question "What's your greatest weakness?" as "My ability to answer this question." I don't recommend answering the question that way, but I thought it was pretty funny. I really do hate that question though.

My serious advice is to bring questions with you to ask. Also, it is important to be eager but not to the point where they think you want them more than they want you. Even if you think the position is your "dream job" try not to be overly psyched up for it, or worried that life will not go on if you don't get the job.

Also I would advise women who are recently grads/early-mid twenties to avoid buying a suit in the junior department. You may still be fitting into them, but the suits are often too short and not really business appropriate. You want to look professional though, not matronly. And don't be afraid to remove shoulder pads! For some reason I kept finding suits like this, and they were just awful.

Likewise, buy a suit before you need one. Unlike men who can walk into any department store and buy a nice suit that fits them, no matter what season, this is not the case for women. I tried to buy a suit last July for an interview, but all I could find were these horrible cropped suit pants and jackets. I managed to buy a pair of black dress pants and a jacket, but it was a shopping nightmare.

Finally, if possible, do a practice drive to the interview site. At the very least, leave 15-60 minutes ahead of when you normally would. An hour seems like a lot, but if you have to get on the freeway, you could easily get stuck in a traffic nightmare.

Guest's picture
Lory

Let's put it this way...An interviewer receives around 200 resumes, chooses max 7 for interview and my simple question is how do you stand out? Sell! You are there to get the job and believe me is not enough just to match the job requirements. I always preferred to hire people that bring something to the table that would be a great asset to the company in general, even if they are not expert in that field. Like an accountant with IT background, a Customer Service Representative with accounting skills, a PR person with technical writing skills or design skills. Check your skills! You need to be the best mix for that company to surpass your competition.