This Top Interview Tips collection is the first in a series of monster hands-on practical tips to get you that new job. Stay tuned for additional tip collections on resumes, career change, and much more!
So, why do we need interview tips?
One of the first things new clients almost always ask me for are my top interview tips. Why are they always so popular and in-demand?
It’s simple: interviews are the “make or break” moment of the job process. We can prepare our resumes and our application packages by ourselves and on our own timelines. But interviews are live, and that’s why we’re always looking for different interview tricks and techniques.
As always, these interview tips have been developed through years of trial and error. There is no perfect interview formula – think “art” versus “science.” There’s also no way that anyone can memorize and test out all of these at once, nor would there be any point to doing that.
Enough with the introduction! Let’s get straight into the 44 Top Interview Tips.
1. Schedule the interview during your peak times.
If you’re a morning person, try to do it in the morning. If you get a buzz from an afternoon coffee, have it then. Yes, they will present a time to you, but you should always present your preferred option first, and let them counter-offer.
2. Research the company.
Try to go beyond the “About” page and get to know the culture. Nike produces shoes, but they really sell a fitness lifestyle. What is your target company really about? Get to the heart of the company’s purpose, which will not only help you answer questions in the interview, but it will tell you if you even want to work for them in the first place!
3. Know your career story.
Yes, you know the details of your experience – but can you tell a story about yourself? Can you sum up your career that doesn’t include, “…and then, and then, and then?” Every good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. And in this case: a future as well! Personalize your resume and let them get to know you. (One of my personal favorite interview tips.)
4. Practice your story.
Tell it to friends, use it when introducing yourself at parties. Get used to telling your story so that when the delivery really matters, it’s natural. This might sound artificial, but how many times have you met people and they’ve asked you, “So, what do you do for a living?” It’s the standard intro question when getting to know someone, so start taking advantage of the opportunity!
5. Pay attention to people’s reactions when you tell your story.
Do their eyes glaze over? Do they ask questions because they’re super interested, or because they don’t understand? Don’t get defensive: get better. Tweak your story until they’re interested – and start asking questions because they want to know more.
6. Know your goals.
You’re always going to get some variation of “Where do you see yourself in X years?” Set a goal that’s easily understandable and relatable – and steer clear of vague platitudes like “I want to be really successful in a great company like this one.” If you only think of the next year, then state that. Just be clear and unapologetic.
7. Visualize your performance.
No, this isn’t new-age silliness. Envisioning success means that your real interview will feel like the second time. Even more than picturing their reactions, picture yourself: calm, confident, and truly enjoying yourself.
8. Practice in front of a mirror – and out loud.
You don’t know what questions will be asked, but you do know they’ll be asking about you. So tell the mirror what you know about yourself! It should be at conversation volume, no whispering or rushing through it. If you’re self-conscious about others hearing you, wait until they’re out of the house.
9. Practice for real.
I’ve written before about using recruitment agencies as a free interview practice resource. If you’ve coordinated it well, you could easily get 5-10 interviews done in a single day – and you might even be offered a job to boot! There’s no better way to get in your interview “reps” than with recruitment agencies. Go out and get some trial runs!
10. Take control of whichever variables you can.
You can’t control what questions they’ll ask or how they’ll behave, but you can control: what you prepare the night before, when you leave the next day, what you’re wearing, what you eat (or don’t eat) beforehand, etc. Sorting these out beforehand will help to factor in what you can control: your own performance. We can even treat the interview like a mini-project and plan accordingly – what things might happen that would impact the end result? (Not the most glamorous of the interview tips, but definitely one of the most important!)
11. Develop a routine.
Trying to get into a rhythm before your interview is super important, especially if you haven’t done one in a while. I like to find a café near the interview, plan to arrive 30-60 minutes before the interview, and have a cup of coffee with my headphones on. Knowing what works for you will breed familiarity – and when things are familiar to us, we’re not awed by the moment, we’re putting our best foot forward.
12. Get in a comfort zone.
The focus is often on “impressing,” but you can’t impress if you’re nervous and intimidated! So get into your best mood and give yourself your best chance for success. How do we do that? Well, taking care of the variables and routine will certainly help that – ever get frustrated by a traffic accident or an out-of-service elevator? But listening to music you love will help, maybe having a positive conversation with your spouse or a friend will help, reading a magazine or an inspiring book might help. Whatever makes you happy and energized is what we’re looking for here.
13. Be in the moment.
Multi-tasking is the best way to do something badly, so don’t tend to emails while you’re waiting to go in, and don’t think about what you have to do once you’re done. Those million tasks waiting for you at home or at the office will still be there after your interview – so what can you do about them now? Block them from your universe, and just focus on the task at hand: nailing the interview, and getting the job.
14. Don’t be late.
Another bonus of my pre-interview coffee is that I make sure it’s always a two-minute walk from the interview – versus a 45-minute (or whatever) drive. This means that I’ll know exactly when to leave, I won’t have to worry about traffic, construction, etc. (see Tip #10). Some people will buy a really good excuse for being late, and some won’t, but the only guarantee you have is that it can only be negative – there’s no chance it will help make a positive impression.
15. But don’t be too early, either.
If you wait in the reception area for 25 minutes, you’ll quickly go from “keen” to “stalker.” 10-15 minutes before the interview is generally considered an acceptable time. Five minutes would be fine, too, but it’s tough to target that small a buffer if you don’t know the building: do you have to call someone to let you in, is there a second set of stairs, is the hallway a mile long, etc. Best to plan to arrive at the office level 10-15 minutes early.
16. Be outgoing and friendly to everyone.
You don’t know what relationships people have with each other, and what they’ll say after you’re gone. Maybe that receptionist is best friends with the vice president of marketing, or maybe your new boss just happens to walk by you. In any case, when you are actively being friendly to everyone – including the people at the coffee shop, including the security guard at the front door – it puts you in the right mindset for your interview. Make sure you leave nothing but good vibes.
Yes, we’re going to do this anyway. But taking a moment to breathe consciously, deliberately, and slowly will clear the brain clutter. No, don’t do it right in front of the receptionist. Do it in the elevator, or in the washroom before you go in. But do it! If you find your heart racing, or your forehead getting sweaty, don’t let it sort itself out. Exhale all of the stress out before you go inside.
18. Know that they should want to impress you as much you want to impress them (Part I).
Know your own value, and always remember: confidence sells! Just like with dating, hiring executives are looking more for a “right match” than the “most qualified.” If you come across as too humble and just honored to be there, then they’ll most likely move on to the next person.
19. Know that they should want to impress you as much you want to impress them (Part II).
If they treat you like a number, then you shouldn’t want to work for them – period! A job is a contract, and you should each get something valuable out of it. They could give you a great job, yes, but they will only get the best out of you if they treat you with respect and value. If you’re just a cog in the machine, don’t try to win them over – run! (If you’re going to remember only one of the interview tips, please make it this one!)
20. Always maintain eye contact.
Sometimes we’re nervous, or sometimes the questions are really tough and we need to focus our thoughts. So yes, every once in a while it feels natural to look away from the interviewer. But we need to be aware of it and consciously redirect our focus back on the people across the table. Otherwise, we could look evasive, and we certainly won’t exude the confidence they’re looking for. And most importantly, it will be impossible to build a real connection! After all, understanding each is other is often called “seeing eye-to-eye.” It’s tough to see eye-to-eye, if you’re always looking away!
21. Smile constantly.
Sir Laurence Olivier – one of the greatest actors of all time – said his method started “outside-in.” Meaning, he could only become the character after he had gotten the outside appearance right. You don’t want to look like a mannequin, but keeping a smile on your face will not only force a positive attitude and confidence – it will also endear you to the interviewers.
22. Know that this is a performance.
Sticking with acting, don’t forget that you’re on the stage and under the spotlight! Don’t think they know your experience just because they’ve read your resume – the interview is where they get to know “you.” So show them your best, and don’t assume they know what you’re thinking. Come away with a perfect score.
23. Focus on your performance only.
You can’t control what they’re looking for, or what they’re thinking. You might not even agree on the most basic concepts of life and business. So what can you do about that? Nothing. If you try to be everything to everyone, you will fail. You could deliver the performance of a lifetime and not get the job, because the interviewer is just built differently than you. Should you feel bad about that? Absolutely not! Just deliver the best interview performance you can, and whatever happens, happens. Just take the great performance to a different company that is looking for what you bring (see Tips #18 and #44).
24. Look at all interviewers equally.
It’s not unthinkable that you might make more of a connection with one of the interviewers over the others. Maybe it’s a natural click, maybe it’s just because they’re sitting across from you. Either way, that’s great! The only bad connections are the ones you don’t make. But make sure you don’t focus all of your attention on that one person – the others will definitely notice, and they will feel ignored. Even worse, they could become slightly resentful. Spread the love!
25. But don’t bounce between them, either!
If we’re thinking too much about paying equal attention, we can easily get into robot mode and basically ignore everyone equally. Don’t swivel your head around like an automated sprinkler – just get into a good cadence, and keep it natural.
26. Answer the questions you wish you were asked.
This is an old politician’s trick: if you don’t like where a question is going, answer a “reinterpreted” version of it – one that suits you better. No, we’re not ignoring the question, we’re just framing it in a more favorable way – a way that reflects the story that you want to tell.
27. Understand the context of the questions.
Some questions are open-ended and require interpretation, and yet we often just jump into different scenarios hoping to address all angles. Why all the scrambling? Asking for more context, or the intent of the question will show our thoughtfulness and our curiosity. And by getting at the real question, we can make sure we’re giving the proper answer. Don’t take the shotgun approach – get some clarity.
28. Silence is better than noise.
We all have our silence-fillers like “okay” or “right” or “you know” or “um.” Sometimes they appear to keep a rhythm when we don’t know what to say, sometimes they appear at the end of sentence like a ritual. The real problem of these little habits is that we often do them without even noticing. And when we are aware that we do it, often it happens way more often than we think. Start paying attention to how you speak in formal settings, like in interviews. Observe yourself and consciously try to eliminate these little verbal burps – it’s just a habit, and every habit can be undone. (This is one of the interview tips that requires the most conscious, self-aware, and deliberate practice.)
29. State your answers right away.
We don’t get straight to the point often enough. So often we explain, introduce, and prepare our wisdom for minutes on end before we actually say what we want to say. If we do this, though, we just keep people in unnecessary suspense – or even worse, disinterest. We can also confuse our argument, because they might start thinking they understand our point in the “background,” but then we could take it in a different direction with the “conclusion.” Just get straight to your point, then explain how you arrived there – just like an essay.
30. Don’t think aloud.
If you need a moment to think, then take it. You could even say, “That’s a really interesting question, I’m going to have to think about that one” and do your thinking silently. (That little interview trick can not only buy you some time, but it can also act as a mini-compliment, since their question was so startlingly profound.) This tip is different from Tip # 28, where the sounds are unconscious – in this situation, we sit and basically work the mental gears right under the spotlight, letting them creak for all to hear. This slip is easier for you to notice (and fix!), but it’s also easier for them to notice, because they’ll be sitting and waiting for you to actually spit something out. It’s okay to take your time and think – just do without the “umms” and “hmmms.”
31. Don’t ramble.
Sometimes we make a great point that nails the question and wows everyone – and then we emphasize why it was a great point, then we explain why we decided to make the great point, then we describe the person that taught us the great point… and then everyone falls asleep. It’s just like in that Seinfeld episode, where George decides to act like a comedian in business meetings: he decides that once he’s made the audience laugh, he just says, “Goodnight, you’ve been great!” and leaves. No, I don’t recommend leaving the interview mid-way through – but if you’ve made a great and fully answered the question, don’t feel the need to fill any silence afterwards.
32. Don’t repeat yourself.
Similar to above, sometimes we fill silence with re-stating our point – and then maybe re-stating it again. It shows a lack of clarity, and an inability to think on your feet – so avoid repetition at all costs. Every once in a while, though, the same type of answer just has to be used again – so what do we do? It’s perfectly okay to quickly acknowledge that you’ve already said something, but then present it differently: maybe a different perspective, different words, different lessons learned. The main point can be similar, but the last thing the interviewers want is the exact same answer to three different questions.
33. Make it conversational.
Some interviews are like verbal tennis matches: question, answer, next question, next answer. Nobody likes a robot, let alone interviewing a robot. Try to disrupt this auto-rhythm and make it more natural instead. If you relating to one of your experiences, ask them if they’ve ever experienced something similar. Ask them if they’ve seen it in their company. Tell a very brief side story to take the edge off. Anything that brings the formality down a few notches will make it more of a personal connection, rather than an interviewing “transaction.”
34. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself.
Mistakes – we’ve all made them! And they’re far more likely to happen when you’re in stressful situations such as, oh, I don’t know: an interview! But if you say the wrong thing, the worst thing you can do is clam up and pretend it didn’t happen. They’ll know it happened, you’ll know it happened, and everyone will be sitting there pretending that they’re not thinking about it. But since everyone makes mistakes, everyone knows that it’s not rare – so why treat it like that? Laugh about your mistake, correct yourself – and then just move on.
35. Describe your experience confidently.
Humble is good, don’t get me wrong. Nobody likes a braggart. But too often we swing to the other end of the pendulum and avoid bragging to the point that we make it seem like we only lurked in the shadows. Talk about your contributions with confidence and state how important you were. Pride is a step beyond confidence, in that the person comes out. There’s a smile that people get when they’re proud of what they did. It’s not harsh and aggressive like bragging. It’s deep, positive – and contagious. But…
36. Don’t make it all about “me.”
Nothing has ever been produced by one person – ever. Even a painter needs to buy his brushes from someone else! Brag about what you did, talk about the contributions that “you” made, but always within the context of a team. If you led the team, that’s great – but it will sound suspicious if you led the team, set the direction, wrote all the code, tested the product, wrote the marketing materials, managed the finances, etc.
37. State what’s important to you.
If you want a certain salary, then state it. If you don’t want a certain type of work, then state it. I’ve seen far too many people act like “yes” men, saying that everything sounds amazing, and they’re just happy to be considered for the job. And what will you think on Day One when everything feels like a massive disappointment? Do you really want a job you don’t like? Be clear about your expectations, and no one gets surprised.
38. Don’t guess what they’re thinking.
If they ask cryptic questions that seem like they’re after something else, don’t navigate it blindly: just ask! Sometimes they ask pointed questions because they want to know something specific, and yet our tendency is often to dance around it. Why not just ask them what they really want to know? Ask them if they thought that you’d given an incomplete answer? Not only does it help to clear the confusion, but it often breaks the ice and leads to a connection-building laugh.
39. Everything can have a positive spin.
If your career has a “red flag” (like getting fired or – gasp! – changing jobs often), don’t hope it won’t come up. Know that it almost certainly will. So rather than avoid it, make sure you prepare a quick explanation before the interview. Make it logical, make it natural – and make it quick. Then, just after you deliver it, pivot to the type of job you’re looking for, then describe why you’re excited about moving forward. If you avoid talking about something you’ll sound deceptive, and if you talk openly but negatively about something, you’ll sound destructive. So expect it, plan for it, and make it a non-issue.
40. Don’t see the interview as a “life event.”
Let’s not make this more than it is. Sure, it might be a great job and an amazing opportunity – but so are hundreds or even thousands of jobs out there. If the job sounded great but you didn’t, just look forward to the next one. Because there is always a next one. And the more you interview, the better you’ll get. So apply, apply, apply, and do as many interviews as you possibly can. Not only will you get better at it, you might just discover that your “dream job” wasn’t as good as one you came across later.
41. Learn from your mistakes.
This requires brutal honesty with no excuses: we need to be able to analyze our situation, and figure out what went wrong. If a comment fell flat, determine what you need to do to improve. If your answers seemed dead, explore what could inject life into them. There’s no point in feeling sorry for ourselves – do we want to feel better, or do we want our careers to be better?? Remove the guilt and the blame, and look at it like a formula you need to figure out – nothing more.
42. Don’t play, “I could have said…”
Our capacity to criticize ourselves is the one superpower that we all seem to have. I personally have come out of interviews feeling pumped because I had just absolutely nailed it – I had perfect answers, I was charismatic, and they absolutely loved me! An hour later, though, and I realized that one thing I said was kind of incomplete, and I’d forgotten to mention that huge project I managed. The next day, I thought of another five things. Three days later, and I talked myself out of a job. What’s the lesson here? If you give yourself a week, you will always come up with better answers than if you give yourself a half-hour. It’s just simple math! The interviewers know this – so why don’t you? Don’t beat yourself for giving a great in-the-moment answer – that’s the whole point of the interview.
43. Use the interview as “intelligence.”
It’s easy to feel swept up in the moment, and if they offer you the job, you might be excited enough to just take it without thinking. But what were they like? Is it definitely a place you want to go to, or are you too focused on the “victory?” It’s important to reflect and to cover everything before we make a big decision. If they press you, it’s perfectly reasonable to say that you feel great about the job, it sounds like a perfect fit, but you’d like to talk things over with your spouse. Then you can just commit to a deadline with them, wherein you agree to tell them your decision by, say, Tuesday. If they insist that you leave with a “yes” or a “no”? Major red flag – if they aren’t willing to be flexible when they offer you the job, how flexible do you think they’ll be when you’re working for them??
44. Learn from your successes!
You’re going to have great performance elements even in failed interviews. Like we mentioned in Tip #23, we can’t know what they’re thinking. We also can’t know if they’ve already offered the job to someone else, and they’re only meeting with you to be polite. So don’t look at the interview as a complete package, and don’t just focus on your mistakes – focus on what you did well, too! “Lessons learned” are about taking all lessons forward – if you’re already doing an awesome job doing “X,” wouldn’t you want to keep doing it??
Interview Tips Wrap-Up
I hope it’s clear by now that just showing up and winging it won’t get us very far in interviews! It shouldn’t be a formula, but it also shouldn’t be random. The point of developing and assembling all of these interview tips is to provide a menu of options: you won’t master all of these interview tips – in fact, you shouldn’t even try! – but you should experiment with as many as you can to see which work for you, and which don’t.
Interviews are, after all, supposed to be as natural as can be. They want to see you, not a version of you.
Have you tried any interview tips that aren’t listed here? Tell us in the comments!