15 Tips on How to Act in Interviews

Q: I have an interview coming up and I don’t want to make a fool of myself. What should I do?

A: Interviews are nothing to be afraid of. The same rules can be applied to any conversation you have in life. Be interested in the company, and the interviewer, and show it. Appearances matter, get there early, and make eye contact. Follow up, and you will be on your way to a new job!

15 Tips on How to Act in Interviews

1. Spend 30 minutes researching the company, and yourself.
Find out where it operates, what it designs/builds/creates, what services it offers, and how long it has been in business. You will look like a fool if you ask the interviewer a question that is answered on the front page of their website.

Practice your answers to typical interview questions. If you need help thinking of ways to talk about your accomplishments, see this article on how to create your personal skill inventory.

You also need to choose your words wisely. Use language that shows you are responsible and grounded. Not sure which words to use? Read this article about how to use words to get what you want.

2. Bring your resume on a clean, unfolded page.
Do not let your resume get crumpled in your purse, your wallet, your car, or anywhere else you might leave it. If your resume is in any shape other than flat or folded several times, leave it in the car. It will just look sloppy.

3. Arrive 10-15 minutes early.
If you are on-time, you are late. It sounds dumb, but if you get there early, you have a few minutes to collect yourself and mentally prepare for the upcoming ordeal. If you walk in 2 minutes before it starts, you’ll likely be frazzled and disorganized. You always want to allow for hazards along the route, so you aren’t late.

4. Be friendly with and smile at the receptionist or whoever greets you.
Smile, introduce yourself, shake hands, and ask for their name. Remember it, and use it again to say goodbye as you are leaving. If you are lucky enough to get the job, you don’t want to remember your first encounter with a coworker as negative, rude, or uncomfortable. Do not be overly informal though – remember: this is a formal job interview and you want to play the role of a polite, congenial guest in their office.

5. If they offer you water, don’t be afraid to say yes.
If you think you might want some water in the interview, feel free to say yes if they offer it. Generally they won’t mind getting it for you. The water can help you out later when your mouth gets dry from so much talking. Would you rather ask for water upfront, or start hacking up a lung in the interview and need to excuse yourself to get a drink?

6. Make eye contact and shake hands with everyone, especially the interviewer.
This is critical. You need to project confidence and openness during your interview. Eye contact and a smile will do wonders for someone’s opinion of you. Practice shaking hands with your roommate, significant other, or family member. If you tell them you are practicing for interviews, they will be glad to help, and may even start practicing with you. Get their feedback and try again until they feel comfortable with your handshake.

7. Repeat the interviewer’s name once or twice in the beginning of the conversation.
Try to make it fit naturally into the conversation. “Mr. Smith, I really appreciate that you’ve taken the time to interview me today.” By repeating the interviewer’s name, you have a better chance of remembering it, so that you can use it again at the end of the interview to thank Mr. Smith by name. People like hearing their own name most of all, so by using the interviewer’s name you are essentially subtly stroking his or her ego. For any reason, this is a necessary thing to do if you want to make a good impression.

8. Wait 2-3 seconds to start answering a question.
If you immediately jump in with an answer you run the risk of interrupting your interviewer. Two to three seconds is a natural pause, so it will not inject awkwardness into your response. The extra time will help you gather your thoughts so that you can respond coherently and concisely.

9. When you answer, avoid “um” and “like”.
This may sound like a no-brainer, but the problem is those words sneak in without your brain noticing. You won’t notice these filler words as you are saying them. The only way to prevent this is to practice answering interview questions while recording yourself. Watch the videos to identify where you are most likely to use them, and try again. Do you insert them in the beginning of answers, so that maybe you should give yourself a little more time to think before responding? Or do you use them near the end of your response, when you might be losing steam and starting to babble? Pay attention, and keep practicing.

10. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.
Try to use mainly positive words in your conversation. Don’t speak poorly about your coworkers, or your old boss. The impression your interviewer gets of you will largely depend on subconscious clues, including tone of voice, facial expression, and the general feeling your words create. If you act disdainful of something or someone, your face will show it, your voice will demonstrate it, and your interviewer will be left with a negative impression of you.

11. Ask questions when they ask you if you have any questions.
Come prepared with a few questions that you thought of while doing your research. If you can’t think of anything, or even if you can, try to involve the interviewer personally. Ask them how long they have worked for the company, and how they like it. This will be your best opportunity to find out about the work culture before deciding whether to accept the job they might offer.

12. Thank your interviewer by name and shake hands again as you leave.
Using your interviewer’s name again at the end has the same effect as earlier in the interview. Make sure to smile sincerely (hint: it should reach the corners of your eyes). Tell them how much you appreciated the opportunity to interview.

13. Write down everything you remember after the interview.
If you met 10 people while you were there, write down as many names as you can remember and their occupations. If you don’t get the job, sure it might be a waste of time. But if you get called back for a second interview, it would be helpful to remember names. Write down the topics you discussed in the interview.

14. Send a thank you note.
Send a handwritten note if you can. It sounds old fashioned, but it will help to create a distinct memory of you in your interviewer’s mind. At the very, very least, send an email the same day thanking them for spending the time to talk with you. Include your contact information again, for easy access. Also include something indicating that you enjoyed talking with them about [insert topic here]. If you took notes after the interview, this should be a piece of cake.

15. Follow up.
Give your interviewer some time to decide. After your initial thank you, give it roughly 1 week before you start to follow-up. When you do, try to stop into the office. You should remember the receptionist’s name from the last time you were there, so greet them with a smile. Whether you visit the office or place a phone call, be sure to ask to speak with your interviewer by name.

When you get in touch with them, or need to leave a message, remind them of your name, your phone number, that you are very interested in the position and would like to know when they will have reached a decision. Thank them sincerely, and tell them you will follow-up again in a week. Unless you know the closing date of the position, do not call daily. They’ll just get annoyed. But saying “I spoke with you on Thursday of last week” shows that you are organized and persistent.

Coming soon: How to Survive a Phone Interview


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