29 Job Interview Tips: Your Complete Guide to Acing It
It's easy to find job interview tips online. But they are often scattered across different websites, and they are rarely part of a complete package that covers the entire process. That's why this guide features a full range of today's most vital tips all in one place. The less time you spend gathering advice, the more time you'll be able to spend focusing on the real task at hand: nailing your next job interview.
After all, the interview stage is arguably the most important part of the job-seeking process. It's when most employers make their hiring decisions. And the importance is amplified by the fact that, for most job openings, only a small percentage of applicants are ever invited to interviews. So when you get the opportunity, you need to put your very best foot forward. It's all about standing out from a short list of other candidates who likely have, on paper, similar qualifications to you.
But job interviews run both ways. They aren't just about potential employers learning more about you; they're also about you learning more about them. What's the point of succeeding at one aspect if you fail at the other? Being able to detect whether or not employment opportunities are right for you is just as important as potential employers being able to determine whether you are right for them.
Besides, if you find out that you're not a good match for a particular opportunity, you can learn from the experience and pursue other jobs that might be better for you. Did you know that, between 2014 and 2024, more than 46.5 million job openings could become available across America due to employment growth and the replacement needs of employers?* New possibilities are always being created, which is why it's vital to know how to ace a job interview. You need a proven process that can give you an edge against the competition for every opportunity that you pursue.
Each job interview is like an audition. How well you perform will depend on how well you prepare. Employers don't hire resumes. They hire whole persons, which means that you have to be able to demonstrate good character traits that complement your relevant skills and accomplishments. Performing well in interviews is often the key factor in landing the best jobs.
So give yourself the advantage of a time-tested process for success. The following job interview tips are based on the accumulated wisdom and experiences of countless employers, human resources (HR) professionals, and job seekers.
1. Thoroughly Research Your Potential Employer
It's truly surprising how many job applicants know little to nothing about the organizations that they send their resumes to. As a result, many people show up to interviews without understanding what their potential employers actually do or what their positions might entail. In fact, according to one survey, nearly 40 percent of American job applicants won't even spend a full 60 seconds reading through an employer's online job description.**
That's a recipe for failure. Why would a company want to hire you if you don't even know the basics of its business? Organizations want to hire people who understand something about the industries they operate in, including some of the challenges and opportunities that they face. That's why conducting good research is one of the most essential tips for job interviews.
Besides, it's very likely that any organization you interview with has already done as much research about you as it can online. Shouldn't you at least match those efforts? Visit its website and read everything. Google the organization's name and read press releases, news stories, articles, blog posts, and reviews. If you know any current or former employees of the organization, ask them to share some of their insights with you.
The ultimate goal of conducting your research is to start figuring out how you might contribute to your potential employer's success. By the same token, research is also useful for getting a better sense of an organization's work culture, management style, and what it values most. It's all information that serves as a foundation for acing your actual interview.
The more effort you put into advanced preparation, the better your chances will be of landing the job.
2. Schedule Your Interview Wisely
It's true; you might not have much of a choice about when your interview will be. In most cases, however, a potential employer will give you some options. So it's a good idea to choose the day and time of your interview carefully.
The last thing you want to end up with is a scheduling conflict that adds more stress to the process. Feeling rushed or worried about missing other commitments will only erode your confidence and focus. Ideally, you'll want to have plenty of free time both before and after your interview. That way, you'll have a greater sense of calm as well as a buffer from your other obligations.
So, how long are job interviews? Typically, an interview will last at least 30 minutes if everything is going well, and many interviews last between 45 and 60 minutes. But you might want to schedule your interview as if it will last two or three hours, just in case it gets delayed or runs longer than expected.
It might also be a good idea to avoid any interview times that are immediately before or after the usual lunch times. Some interviewers might want to rush things a little in order to get to lunch earlier, or they might be late or a bit unfocused after coming back from lunch. That's why midmornings or midafternoons are often better choices. And out of those options, midmorning might be the best time since that's when most workers tend to experience their highest levels of focus and productivity.
3. Get Clear About Your Strengths
Knowing what you have to offer is incredibly important. On the surface, this part seems easy. So a lot of job seekers pay little attention to it. But homing in on your greatest attributes requires plenty of thought and effort, especially since you need to figure out how they align with the needs of each potential employer. It's a mistake to begin preparing for a job interview without paying attention to this step early on.
Consider it another part of your research. Enlist the help of friends, former colleagues, or anyone else who knows you well. Your resume should already list your most relevant skills. But it's essential that you start pulling together all of the supporting evidence that legitimizes those abilities. Go beyond your training and academic credentials. For example, think about any specific praise or feedback that you've received from past managers, clients, or customers. Or gather any awards or mentions in the media that you may have received.
Ultimately, you want to be able to sort through the evidence and fully understand which strengths will be most relevant to the organization that you'll be interviewing with. If you've already done good research on your potential employer, then you should be able to anticipate what they're looking for. See if you can come up with a short pitch that highlights how your core strengths might benefit the organization.
4. Explore Common Interview Questions
Nobody likes to feel stumped. But it happens, especially when job seekers haven't dedicated enough time to considering what they might be asked. Figuring out what to say at a job interview is made easier when you've given plenty of thought to the potential questions.
Start by considering some of the most common job interview questions. According to a survey of American employers and HR pros from 2015, they include queries such as:***
- Can you tell us about yourself?
- What made you leave your last job?
- What makes you want this job?
- What is your biggest strength?
- What is your greatest weakness?
- Can you describe how you've overcome a difficult work situation?
Of course, every interviewer is different. And most interviewers include questions that are specific to their particular industries or to the positions they're hiring for. That's one reason why your research is so essential. The more you know about an organization and its industry, the easier time you'll have with answering such questions. Some job seekers add to their research by asking other professionals in their field for examples of questions that they've been asked during interviews. Websites like Quora and LinkedIn are great for enlisting that kind of help.
Certainly, you still might be asked something that you didn't expect. After all, interviewers have all types of questions to choose from beyond the routine ones. The important thing to remember is that most of your answers should be within the context of how you'll be able to help the organization—even for questions that seem less formal or more conversational. Strive to keep the focus on your strengths, your enthusiasm for the opportunity, and the ways that you can contribute to the organization's success.
5. Prepare Good Stories and Specific Examples
Your interviewer will probably want to get a good sense of how you think. So being able to showcase your thought process through short but vivid stories is a powerful way to come across as smart and capable. In fact, a big part of knowing how to nail a job interview is knowing how to tell relevant and memorable stories about your past successes.
While preparing for your interview, think about past examples when you solved a challenging problem at work or made a positive impact in other ways. Write them all down. Then figure out how you can make those examples sound as interesting as possible, without lying or exaggerating. And make the stories short. You don't want to ramble or drown your stories in unnecessary detail.
Write out as many stories as you can, then practice reciting a few of the best ones. Taking advantage of this tip is one of the best ways to prevent using boring, one-word answers. Good stories can make you shine and leave the interviewer wanting more.
6. Prepare Your Own Questions
What is a job interview good for if you don't learn more about your potential employer? It's your best opportunity to find out whether or not you are truly a good match for the job. Plus, not asking questions of your own can make it seem like you lack confidence or aren't really interested.
Take the time to think about and prepare several potential questions that are relevant to the organization and the specific position. (You'll probably only ask a few during your interview, depending on what you already know from your research or from what has been discussed.) Here are some general examples to get you started:
- For someone in this position, what is a typical day like?
- Why did the last person in this position leave?
- What are the main challenges of this role?
- What do you see as the main qualities necessary for succeeding in this position?
- What is the organization's management style?
- What do you see as the biggest opportunities for the future success of the organization?
- How does the organization measure and review job performance?
- What might my career path in this organization look like?
- What do you personally enjoy the most about working here?
7. Plan Your Look
Deciding what to wear to a job interview can definitely be tricky. But it's a vital area to focus on since dressing inappropriately can put you out of the running for a job before you even get to answer questions. Of course, what might be inappropriate job interview attire for one type of position might be perfectly acceptable for another. It really just depends on the industry and the organization's work culture. That's why a lot of job seekers call ahead to ask about dress codes and inquire about how formal or casual their potential places of work are.
In general, it's usually best to err on the side of dressing up a bit more than what you think is appropriate for a particular workplace. But you don't want to overdo it. You should still look like you fit in. It's a delicate balancing act.
That being said, figuring out how to dress for a job interview gets easier if you focus on options that are classic or conservative. That means not wearing anything too risqué, revealing, or distracting. (Choosing job interview outfits is not the same as choosing trendy items for a fashion show.) At the same time, you don't want to look sloppy. The idea is to appear as though you care about the details and take the opportunity seriously. So, in most cases, it's probably a good idea to:
- Avoid wearing white socks
- Avoid sandals, flip-flops, or other open-toed shoes
- Leave hats and headphones at home
- Choose a belt that matches your shoes
- Avoid wearing shorts
- Choose clothing that isn't too big or small for your frame
- Minimize the amount of jewelry you wear
One of the big things to understand about choosing what to wear for a job interview is that you don't have to look like a supermodel. It's important to feel comfortable while coming across as who you really are. But you still want people to remember you. Just be simple about it. Something like a small lapel pin can serve that purpose (and can be a good conversation starter).
Of course, other factors to consider include the color of your job interview clothes as well as what to do with your hair and makeup (if you wear it).
In terms of color, blue (especially navy blue) and black are two of the best options since they can signal confidence, trustworthiness, and leadership. Other safe options are gray, which signals analytical ability, and white, which signals organization and attention to detail. Just don't overdo any one color. Using other colors such as red, purple, yellow, and green for small accents can signal optimism and creativity. But orange, which signals playfulness, can sometimes come across as unprofessional.
When it comes to job interview hairstyles, it's important to remember that you want to keep your interviewer's attention on your capabilities, not on your hair. Go for an overall style that, while polished, also signals professionalism. For men, that is often easy since they tend to have shorter haircuts. But for women with long hair, that can be a little more challenging. Good styling options to consider might be a bun, loose curls, low-key braids, a sleek ponytail, or pinning at least one side back. Basically, any option that keeps your hair out of your face and doesn't look sloppy is probably a good one to go with.
For job interview makeup, you'll likely want to avoid anything that is too glitzy, heavy, bright, or dark. Go for natural tones and colors that accentuate your features without overdoing it. Your interview probably isn't an event that calls for the type of makeup you'd wear to a fancy dinner or evening out at a nightclub.
8. Gather What You'll Take With You
Choosing what to bring to a job interview is another aspect that often gets overlooked until the last minute. But planning ahead can help ensure that you don't forget something that might make an important difference. And it can prevent you from being late since you won't have to worry about gathering a bunch of items on your way out the door.
While deciding what to take to a job interview, consider items such as:
- Copies of your most current resume
- Copies of your references
- A professional notebook for jotting down reminders or taking notes
- Your day planner (if you keep one)
- An extra pen or two in case your interviewer forgets one or runs out of ink
- Your own list of potential questions to ask
- A list of story reminders
- A portfolio or examples of your best and most recent work (if relevant to the position)
- A few tissues and cough drops (just in case you need them)
9. Set Up a Mock Interview
Practice tends to pay off. So if you truly want to discover how to do well in a job interview, then you need to identify the mistakes that you're most likely to make. Plus, like everyone else, you probably make some mistakes without even being aware of them.
Why not enlist the help of a friend? He or she can play the role of the interviewer by asking you routine and difficult questions. Then you can ask for honest feedback about how confident and knowledgeable you appeared or whether you did anything that might be received negatively. You might even want to video the whole thing so that you can see everything for yourself.
The more you're able to practice talking about yourself in this kind of arrangement, the better off you'll be when you have to do the real thing. It's why this step is especially useful for anyone going to his or her first job interview. Tips like this one can help you come across as somebody who has been through real interviews before, even if you haven't.
10. Exercise to Calm Your Nerves
Most people experience anxiety in the days and hours leading up to a job interview. But a lot of research has shown that exercise can help reduce those feelings of nervousness. So by getting in at least 30 minutes of moderate-to-intense exercise a few hours before your interview, you can kill some of your anxiety while also making your mind a little sharper.
11. Eat a Nutritious Meal
A grumbling stomach can be embarrassing, especially when you're trying to impress someone you'd like to work for. So having a good meal ahead of your interview is a smart way to prevent those humiliating sounds and provide the nutrients that your body needs for energy and mental focus. Just avoid any kind of food that tends to disagree with you. Stick with some of your staples. The hours before an interview are not the time to try new foods or that exotic restaurant you've been eyeing.
12. Take Care of the Final Details
You'll probably run across this tip in most job interview advice. Basically, you never want to overlook details related to your attire or personal hygiene. That means doing simple things like having a shower if you need one, brushing your teeth, cleaning and trimming your nails, getting wrinkles out of your clothes, and shining your shoes. And if you smoke or wear any scents, you should seriously consider giving up the habit until after your interview. Strong smells, whether from cigarettes, perfumes, or colognes, can be an instant turnoff and provide a reason for your interviewer not to like you.
13. Visualize the Outcome You Want
Like exercise, this step can do wonders for calming your anxiety. You can do this at home before you leave, or you can find a quiet place on the way to your interview location. Either way, you simply close your eyes and try to imagine succeeding throughout the interview. Spend at least a few minutes visualizing the whole process in this way and calmly repeating to yourself that you're going to do great.
If you're so inclined, you can also say a prayer for job interview success. You might want to show gratitude for the opportunity and ask for inner calm, a sharp mind, and clarity and wisdom to help guide you and your potential employer in making the correct decision.
14. Arrive Early
Give yourself more than enough time to get to your interview. By getting there about 10 minutes early, you can take slow, deep breaths and get into a more relaxed and focused headspace. Plus, you won't be risking the immediate appearance of being rude or unprofessional.
Surprisingly, however, a lot of young job seekers believe that it's acceptable to arrive more than five minutes late to an interview. In fact, according to a 2014 survey, as many as 30 percent of people in the Millennial generation think that way.** Unfortunately, by not following this simple tip for interview success, a lot of them will experience instant failure. Most employers believe in punctuality. If you're not there in time, you signal that you don't care. Arriving late is considered disrespectful.
15. Turn Off Your Phone
Here's another preventable blunder that may actually be on the rise. Would you answer your phone or send a text message during a job interview? Like arriving late, most employers would consider it rude and disrespectful. In fact, 68 percent of HR pros and employers that were surveyed in 2015 said that texting or answering calls is an immediate deal-breaker.***
Yet, according to a different survey, about one-third of Millennials believe that texting during an interview is acceptable.** So a big disconnect exists, which is why this step is one of the most important job interview tips for teens and young adults. If you want to succeed, then your best course of action is probably to turn your phone off and leave it alone. In certain situations, exceptions might be made for tasks like checking your schedule or looking up somebody's contact information.
16. Treat Everyone You Encounter With Respect
In many workplaces, it isn't just the people who conduct the interview that you need to impress. A good interview performance begins the second you walk through the door. From the receptionist to other potential coworkers, you might be judged by a significant variety of people who will be solicited for their opinions later on. So don't overlook anyone. A single rude act or off-color remark to someone you think isn't important could be the very thing that puts you out of contention for the job.
17. Extend a Firm Handshake
It might seem old-fashioned, but a lot of employers still use handshakes to measure the confidence of job candidates. Along with your overall look and smile, your handshake provides one of the strongest first impressions. Don't worry though; you don't need to crush your interviewer's hand (and it's advisable not to). Just put enough force into it to avoid getting your own hand crushed or coming across as shy or intimidated.
18. Embrace the Small Talk
Here's a startling fact: As part of a 2015 survey, 50 percent of American employers said that they can tell whether or not a candidate is a good fit within the first five minutes of a job interview.*** Clearly, what happens during those first few minutes is vitally important. So even something as seemingly minor as how you respond to chitchat about the weather could have a meaningful impact on your chances of success. Treat every bit of conversation as if a successful outcome depends on it, because it just might.
19. Exude a Positive and Appealing Attitude
Your attitude is one of the biggest factors that will make or break your success. Most employers want to hire people who project confidence, enthusiasm, and an overall professional vibe. As a result, it's hardly ever a good idea to complain about your past work experiences. You especially don't want to grumble about any of your former coworkers or bosses. Your interviewers might begin imagining that you'll say negative stuff about them in the future.
In addition, it's best not to take your confidence to a level where you come across as cocky or arrogant. Any employer needs to know that you genuinely value other people's ideas and opinions. Arrogance is one of the top traits that can derail your chances of getting the job. The same thing goes for coming across as entitled or desperate.
Show enthusiasm, speak well of other people, and demonstrate respect for a diversity of ideas.
20. Mind Your Vocabulary
Swearing can be a major turnoff. That's why avoiding crude language is basic job interview etiquette. Even if you've overheard your interviewer or other people in the organization swearing, it's usually a good idea to tone down or omit any parts of your vocabulary that could be considered offensive.
21. Control Your Body Language
Non-verbal signals are often just as important as what you say. And sometimes they are more important. So a major aspect of knowing what to do in a job interview relates to your body language. In fact, about 67 percent of employers in a 2015 survey said that the biggest mistake that a job candidate can make in his or her body language is avoiding eye contact.*** Other potential mistakes include things like:
- Not smiling
- Playing with objects on the table
- Fidgeting in your chair
- Tapping your fingers or foot
- Slouching or showing other bad posture
- Crossing your arms
- Touching your face
- Twirling your hair
- Using a lot of hand gestures
Some people believe that mirroring your interviewer can be a good strategy since it might signal that you are on the same page. But it's also a strategy that can backfire. Unless you're very careful, using similar gestures or a similar pace of breathing or way of speaking could come off as disrespectful parroting. So the best strategy is often just to sit up straight, square you shoulders, smile, maintain eye contact, and avoid moving around too much.
22. Stay On Point
Even when answering questions that seem more conversational than formal, it's best not to ramble or steer the discussion toward irrelevant tangents. In fact, sometimes the conversational questions are the ones that matter most since they provide the opportunity to frame your answers in a way that the interviewer might not expect. If you keep your answers aligned with you how can meet the needs of your potential employer, without having them sound too contrived, then you might increase your odds of leaving a favorable impression.
23. Be Honest and Be Yourself
Getting caught in a lie is usually an immediate deal-breaker. If an interviewer feels that you can't be trusted, then you'll probably lose the job opportunity pretty quickly. So it's essential to stay honest, even if you're not proud of something in your background. If it comes up, own it. But find a way to show that you've learned and grown from your experiences.
By the same token, it's important to let your interviewer get a feel for the personality that you might bring to the work environment. If you seem too rehearsed, then that can also erode a little trust. Being yourself, in the context of a professional situation, is essential for establishing genuine rapport and helping everyone involved make the right decision.
24. Watch Out for Curveballs
Some organizations like to play tricks or conduct secret tests on the people they interview. It helps them learn how job candidates conduct themselves when their guards are down or discover how they react to challenges or awkward or unusual circumstances. As a result, it's always a good idea to expect the unexpected and to remember that someone might be evaluating you even when you aren't being formally interviewed. It's sometimes a crucial element in knowing how to pass a job interview.
Of course, there's no real way to know what kinds of curveballs might be thrown your way. But some interviewers have been known to do things such as:
- Purposefully remain quiet for an extended period of time after a job candidate finishes answering a question
- Make arrangements ahead of time to have a job candidate's order served incorrectly when an interview is conducted during a meal
- Have somebody like a janitor or low-level employee initiate a strange conversation while a job candidate is waiting for the interviewer
- Leave garbage on the table and walk by a clearly visible trash can when the interview is finished
25. Try to Enjoy the Process
One way to make interviewing feel less awkward or stressful is to treat it like a travel adventure. Remember that it's your chance to meet new people and learn more about fascinating organizations and different work settings. It's all just a part of the journey, so you might as well find fun in it where you can. When you think about how to survive a job interview, remind yourself not to overlook the moments that bring you joy, no matter how small they might seem.
26. Save Discussions About Salary Until Near the End
In most situations, it's usually better to let your potential employer be the first one to ask about salary expectations. But if that happens too early in the interview, you might be better off politely deflecting the question until after you've had the chance to thoroughly sell your potential contributions. By offering a number too early, you might derail the interviewer's interest in hiring you. Take the initiative to keep presenting your case about why you would be a good fit. Then, if they are still interested, they will come back to the question, and they'll probably be more receptive to what you think you're worth.
27. Ask for the Job
Amazingly, a lot of people forget this step or feel that the onus is always on the potential employer to make an offer. But it's a big mistake not to ask for the job if you've decided that it would be a good match for you. When the interview is over, don't hesitate to make your feelings known. Clearly and confidently articulate your desire to work for the organization. By doing so, you remove all of the guesswork from the equation. It's how you can close the deal.
28. Make Peace With Potential Rejection
In competition, not everyone comes out a winner. But that's often easy to forget when things don't go your way. So it's important to prepare yourself for the possibility that you might be unsuccessful. It won't necessarily mean that you aren't qualified, and it won't necessarily mean that you should change your strategy. If you fail to land the job, handle the rejection gracefully, learn what you can from the experience, and move on to the next opportunity.
29. Send a Short Thank-You Note
In a 2011 survey of over 2,800 American employers, more than 20 percent of them said that the likelihood of hiring a job candidate decreases if a thank-you note isn't sent after an interview.**** It signals a lack of seriousness and professional follow-through. That's why sending a note can make you stand out above your competition.
But this step is easy. Writing a job-interview thank-you email doesn't take much time. And, these days, many employers actually prefer to receive emailed notes rather than hand-written ones. Plus, hand-written notes can take too long to make their way through the postal service. By sending a job-interview follow-up email as opposed to a physical letter, you can say thank you within 24 hours of the meeting.
Another advantage of emailing your thank-you note is that it might spark a new conversation and open the door to future opportunities even if you weren't hired for the one that you were interviewed for. So as you consider how to follow up after a job interview, think about best practices such as:
- Sending a customized note to each person who was part of the interview
- Mentioning your appreciation for the opportunity
- Restating your interest in the job, your main qualifications, and how you could benefit the organization
- Mentioning parts of the conversation that were particularly interesting to you
- Proofreading your thank-you note to ensure that it doesn't include any spelling or grammatical errors
Grab Your Opportunities
By following the job interview tips above, you can greatly boost your chances of landing the positions that you really want. After all, many job seekers never prepare for their interviews to this extent. You could stand out and shine.
Of course, in order to succeed in any job interview (or even to be invited to one), you need good qualifications to talk about. So if you don't yet have all of the skills that you'll need for your ideal opportunities, then it's probably time to start getting them.
Begin by checking out the many convenient training programs offered by trade schools, vocational colleges, and career-oriented universities in your area or online. The following search tool makes it easy to narrow down your options. Simply enter your zip code to discover some of the most relevant schools near you!
* Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Employment Projections, website last visited on March 23, 2016.
** Ultimate Software and The Center for Generational Kinetics, Is There Really a Generational Divide at Work? Surprising Research on Millennials and Emerging Trends in the U.S. Workforce, website last visited on March 23, 2016.
*** CareerBuilder, "Employers Share Strangest Interview Mishaps and Biggest Body Language Mistakes," website last visited on June 14, 2016.
**** CareerBuilder, "More Than One-in-Five Hiring Managers Say They Are Less Likely to Hire a Candidate Who Didn't Send a Thank-You Note, Finds a New CareerBuilder Survey, website last visited on June 14, 2016.