Tips for a Successful Interview
The devil, they say, is in the details. Interviewers will be thinking broadly about how well you might fit into the organization and within specific teams, but it’s the little things that they’ll often remember most—your body language and demeanor, the examples you used to explain your answers, even whether or not you seemed to be enjoying the conversion. With that in mind, be sure you’re presenting your best self in every interview by doing the following:
Dress well. This should go without saying. Don’t go prom or wedding formal, but do dress professionally. No business casual and no wearing what you would normally wear to class.
Be positive. Always stay positive during the interview. Don’t show frustration, annoyance, or aggravation, no matter how challenging the interview or how confrontational the interviewer. Also, never speak ill of advisors, professors, or the graduate school experience, because doing so will only reflect poorly on you. Remember, you’re trying to break into a new profession, and your reputation depends on how you present yourself to and interact with those who work in the field. No one likes whiners, complainers, and debbie-downers.
Be articulate. Being well-spoken will make any applicant shine brighter. To come across as a clear, cogent thinker, start your answers off with short, simple sentences that actually answer the question and encapsulate your main point. Then follow up with a relevant example or two before restating your main point again. Also, avoid saying uh, um, like, hrm, hrmph, uh-huh, and other nonverbal or over-used expressions. Dropping a few won’t draw too much attention, but too many will raise eyebrows.
Provide concrete examples. Back up your claims of expertise and experience with specific, detailed examples. Examples go a long way in personalizing your interview and application, and they will usually be the deciding factor as to whether or not the interviewer believes your claims. Keep your explanation short and focused, though, so that you don’t spend your time babbling. Start off by identifying the problem, and then talk about how you solved it and, ideally, any steps you took to prevent the problem from happening again. Bring up a second example only if it illustrates a point that is related but distinctly unique from the first example. Altogether, you want your examples to take up no more than 2 or 3 minutes of talking time.
Remember that less is usually more. Focus on 1 or 2 examples to illustrate a point rather than listing 5 or 6. One great example is more memorable and illustrative than 5 so-so examples (or even 5 great examples). You’ll also come across as less articulate and prepared if you sit there rattling off one example after another.
Be mindful of your body language. Even if you’re not aware of it, your body language will convey a lot to your interviewers. Nervous, less confident applicants will hunch their shoulders, look down at the table, and fidget. Cocky applicants will often lean back in their chairs, put their hands in their pockets, look widely around the room, and speak in a semi (or full-on) bored tone of voice.
To convey your enthusiasm, friendliness, and professionalism, you should sit up straight or even lean ever so slightly forward toward the interviewers. Keep your hands (but not arms) folded on the table in front of you, and gesticulate every now and then when you talk, which, if done in moderation, will communicate your excitement. Most importantly, smile and make eye contact with each of your interviewers frequently.
Connect most questions back to your skills and experiences. You’ll have to field tough questions in every interview, and the best way to do that is to connect your answers back to your skills and experiences. If, for example, you’re asked to talk about your management experience but have none, talk about how working with students is, in some aspects, very much like managing employees. Also talk about the times in which you’ve had to praise or boost the performance of underperforming students. By keeping the conversation focused on your skills and experience, you emphasize the strongest parts of your application over the gaps and weaker areas. You also help solidify the connection in the interviewer’s mind between the qualifications required for the job and the qualifications that you bring to the table.
Sell your “soft” skills, too. Applicants often forget that their people skills are just as important as their expertise, their technical skills, and their experience. These “soft” skills are vital for success in the workplace, however, especially since so many organizations are structured around teams of professionals who work together to accomplish tasks and goals. No one, for example, wants to hire an applicant who misreads social cues and who can’t work well with others. During your conversations with interviewers, you should therefore make a point of highlighting your communication skills, your experience working in teams, and other interpersonal skills. They may not seem like they’re of much value to the first-time job seeker, but they mean a lot to experienced professionals.
Ask questions. Again, ask the interviewer your most important questions to demonstrate your interest in the position and your desire to learn more. Be sure to talk about the post-interview follow-up process as well, including the probable timetable for the search and what potential next steps might look like.
Let the interviewer know that you came prepared. When possible, drop details in your questions and answers that communicate the extent of your preparedness. For example, instead of simply asking an interviewer, “What is the company’s plan for long-term growth?” say, “I recently read that the company is expanding into the Latin American market, starting with Brazil. I’m wondering if you would be willing to talk a bit more about how this fits in with the company’s long-term plans for growth, and how the person in this position would be playing a role.” Even subtle demonstrations of your knowledge will make you a stronger, more serious applicant in the interviewers’ eyes.
Smile. This is often said to be the #1 thing that applicants forget to do in their interviews, even though it’s one of the most important. Smiling will not only help you relax, but doing so will also communicate to interviewers a high degree of poise, confidence, and friendliness.
Be confident. Everyone likes confidence, but no one likes arrogance.
Send a thank-you email the next day. Always send a thank-you email the next day. Keep it short, but do succinctly express your gratitude and enthusiasm, and reiterate your qualifications and ways in which you believe you would be able to add value to the company. Do it well and do it within 24-hours, and your thank-you email will make you stand out, especially since so few candidates actually take the time and effort to do this.