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How to Succeed at a Job Interview

Person shaking hands during an interview

You've got the interview! Now you want to make the kind of impression that will get you the job.

There’s a lot to keep in mind during the interview process. To help keep on top of everything, follow these 4 Ps for interview success:

  1. Prepare
  2. Practise
  3. Present
  4. Participate

1. Prepare yourself

Making sure that you’re ready for your interview will boost your confidence and help you do well. Here’s how:

  • Know Yourself. You should be able to describe how your skills, interests, and values match those of the organization.
  • Research the company. This shows that you care about this job enough to learn about the company’s mission statement, products, and values. Check out their latest annual report or news releases and understand how they relate to the position you are being interviewed for. You might find this information online, but you can also call or visit, and ask for brochures or other publications.
  • Understand the job. Ask their human resources or hiring manager for a detailed job description. You can find out more about the job from someone who works there. Or talk to someone in your network who does similar work.
  • Put yourself in the interviewer’s position. Write down questions you would want to ask a potential employee. Research your answers. You can find more tips by reading How to Answer Common Interview Questions.
  • Review your resumé. Choose which of your strengths and abilities match what’s needed for this job so you can point them out in the interview.
  • Identify your accomplishments. Be ready to talk about them in a way that shows hiring managers you can do what’s needed. The STARS method is ideal for this. STARS will help you prepare examples that will showcase your talents.
  • Create your own list of questions or key points about the job posting or the employer. For example, list 3 things you want to know about the job or the organization. Don’t ask simple questions you should know the answers to.
  • Prepare the people you’ll use as references. Let them know what job you’re applying for and how to sell your abilities. Bring a reference list to the interview in case you’re asked for one.
  • Note the interview location. Figure out how to get there and know how long the trip will take. Then add an extra 15 minutes to your travel time.

2. Practise what you’ll say and how you’ll say it

Confidence comes from knowing what you need to do. This saves you from scrambling for answers and reduces your stress. The best way to boost confidence is to rehearse what you’ve prepared. Here’s how:

  • Review the questions and answers you prepared. Decide which situations would make good responses to the questions. The STARS method can help you outline your accomplishments in a way that tells a story, which is an easy way to remember details.
  • Practice your answers out loud. Try not to memorize your responses. You want to sound as if you’re having a conversation. Record your answers so you can hear how you sound.
  • Watch your body language. Practise in front of a mirror to check your posture and facial expression. Make sure you:
    • Keep your head, back, and shoulders upright but relaxed. Your posture shows your level of confidence.
    • Smile when it’s appropriate.
    • Make eye contact.
    • Sit up straight with your feet on the floor.
    • Keep your hands still in your lap or on the arms of your chair, except when you're making a point. Resist the urge to fidget or play with something in your hands.
    • Use appropriate hand gestures when responding to a question.
    • Lean forward slightly to show interest. Leaning back can make you seem uninterested, while sitting on the edge of your chair can make you seem tense.
  • Role-play the interview with a friend. Make sure your friend has a copy of your resumé and watches your body language.

3. Present yourself well

Presentation is key. Your interviewers will observe everything about you—your appearance, your attitude, and your body language. Presenting yourself well says you will fit in because you understand the company culture. Here’s some tips to help you make sure you’re ready:

  • Be clean, neat, and well groomed. This is critical.
  • Some companies have scent-free policies, so avoid perfume, cologne, and after-shave.
  • Try to be slightly better dressed than you would need to be on the job. To find out what the dress code is, visit the organization to see what employees are wearing. Or ask the receptionist or someone you know who works there.
    • When interviewing for a creative workplace, such as a graphic design company, wearing a suit may seem old-fashioned or out of touch. You may want to dress with some flair. At a not-for-profit, expensive clothing might send the wrong message. You may need to do more research in these situations to find out what’s appropriate.
  • If you have tattoos or piercings, you’ll need to use your judgment to decide if they’ll pose a problem in the job you want:
    • Consider whether your piercing could pose a health or safety issue at your job. For example, if the work is physical, could a piercing be accidentally torn out? 
    • If the industry is conservative (such as accounting or banking) or the position is public-facing (such as receptionist or salesperson), cover up your ink, at least for the interview.
    • If you choose to hide the tattoo and then later you get the job, someone could see it eventually. Instead, mention it at the interview and ask if it’s likely to be a problem. This tells the interviewer that you care about the company’s culture and values, and that you have integrity.
  • Here are more dressing tips:
    • Avoid fabrics that will wrinkle after you’ve ironed them, such as linen.
    • Avoid casual clothing, such as running shoes, t-shirts, and hats.
    • Pay attention to details, such as missing buttons.
    • Avoid clothing that is see-through, flashy, too short, or too tight.
    • Wear solid, neutral colours rather than busy or bold prints.
    • Make sure your shoes are clean and in good repair.
    • If you have trouble walking in high heels, wear flats.
    • Keep jewelry and accessories understated.
    • If you’re unsure, ask people you trust for feedback on your clothing choices.
  • Show up on time. Arriving late makes a bad impression before the interview has even started.
  • Turn off your cellphone when you arrive and leave it off until you leave.
  • Take 3 deep breaths just before entering the interview room. This will help you relax and look more confident.
  • Be positive. Leave any emotional baggage about past interviews or bad work situations at the door.
  • When you meet the interviewer, make eye contact, smile, and introduce yourself.
  • Stay standing until you’re offered a chair. 

4. Participate fully in the conversation

The interview is your chance to show your positive attitude and your communication skills. These suggestions can help you shine:

  • Use a pen and paper to make notes, rather than a laptop or other device. 
  • Follow the interviewer’s lead. Even unusual or what you think are irrelevant questions get asked for a reason. 
  • Listen closely to the questions so you can answer them accurately. If you don’t understand a question, politely ask the interviewer to rephrase it. If you don’t know the answer, say so. 
  • Take a moment to think before you answer a question. You can also ask to come back to the question later in the interview if you need more time to think about your answer.
  • Be pleasant, sincere, and direct.
  • Stay on topic. 
  • Avoid answering with only “yes” or “no.” Try to figure out what the interviewer wants to know and answer with that in mind. 
  • Follow up after the interview. Send a thank-you note or email. In it, emphasize 2 or 3 reasons why you’re the best person for the job.

First impressions matter. Following these 4 Ps will help you look confident and capable and show that you’re a good fit for the position.

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