Guide to a Successful Interview

Interviews help employers understand who you are and what you bring to the table, preparing correctly helps put your best foot forward.

As automated as the hiring process has become, one thing remains tried and true: interviews. Whether potential candidates are meeting employers virtually or in-person, employers want the opportunity to get to know the person behind the polished resume. (Want information about how to write a stellar resume? Click here.) It provides context for who that person is and what he or she will bring to the table. In fact, Quartz.com states that almost 60% of hiring decisions are made within the first fifteen minutes of meeting an applicant. As such, your interview is a pivotal piece of the job search process. You must prepare accordingly to impress interviewers.

prepory’s TIPS FOR ACING AN INTERVIEW:

1. Before the Interview: Research! 

Companies want to know that you know who they are and what they stand for.  Before the interview, visit the company’s website, read the company’s goals and mission statement, and look over the company’s social media pages. The information the company shares will provide important information about the company’s culture and values. Make mental notes about the company, such as the awards they’ve won, the research they’ve published, or projects they’ve completed. You should use this information to inform your answers in the interview.

If the company asks you what kind of work environment you thrive in, you can use your research to describe the parts of the company’s work culture you like. Let’s say the website discusses a collaborative environment and its values page discusses corporate volunteering. You could say, “I like working in an environment where I can work in a team. I also enjoy working for companies that care about giving back to the community they are part of.”

2. Tell them who you are

Most interviewers will begin an interview asking applicants to talk about themselves. You should use this time to speak about your professional life and accomplishments. Discuss the jobs you’ve worked, your educational background and any applicable experiences.  Think of it as a walkthrough of your resume. At the end of your professional experience, you should add a few details about what you do outside of their job. This may include hobbies, personal goals, etc. Providing personal information humanizes you and makes the interview more memorable.

“My name is Kacey Lee and I am currently the Entertainment Editor at Miami Sun Magazine. I currently oversee 14 staff writers and 6 photographers and provide creative direction for our digital team. I approve, assign, and edit over 30 stories a month for our print magazine. Before working here, I worked as a staff editor for the Manhattan Moment Magazine as a staff writer for 5 years. My online stories reached 30,000 readers a month at the minimum. Before that, I attended Northwestern University with a double major in Sociology and Journalism. Outside of my professional life, I enjoy playing paintball with my friends and running on the beach with my dog.”

3. Align experience with the job’s expectations

Employers want to know that you have experience in a specific job function because it means you are familiar with and can be successful in the role. Before interviewing, reread the job description and find commonalities between the jobs you have previously held and the position’s expectations. In the interview, try to highlight commonalities between previous positions and the job you’re interviewing for.

If you feel it’s time for something new and you are moving industries, it is very important for you to highlight your transferable skills. Explain how the skills you’ve utilized in their previous job can be applied to a new industry. Skills like organization, communication, and time management are necessary in almost all job functions and can be highlighted in an interview.

4. Use the STAR method

Employers will likely ask you to provide an example of a professional challenge you faced and how you solved it. Interviewees often spend too much time explaining the problem and rush through the solution. Before the interview, think of a time you had a problem at work and practice using the STAR method to explain the issue. Be sure that the example you share ends in a positive manner and paints you in a good light.

Start by identifying the Situation, or the problem. Give a few details to explain the severity of the issue at hand and how it would affect the company.

Then, explain the Task or the objective to fix the situation. In other words, what needed to be done to fix the problem?

Next, explain the Action taken to alleviate the situation. When explaining the action, use action verbs. Take more time to explain this section than the first two. Use a great deal of detail here as it showcases your initiative and ability.

Finally, share the Results. If the results were quantified, include those numbers. For example, saying “I created computer software that increased productivity by 45%.” Numbers show rather than tell how effective the applicant’s input was.

For example:

“I was the Operations Manager of a large distribution company. One year, one of our manufacturing factories closed down unexpectedly and stalled over 1,000 shipments from our warehouse. I knew this problem would cause a large issue so I called my director to ask if I could approve a discount for our clients’ next purchase. He approved it and I personally called each client to apologize. I offered a discount to alleviate the severity of the situation. The next month, our clients ordered 30% more than last month. Clients expressed gratitude for our responsive customer service.”

STAR responses help you organize your answer, provide necessary details, and fully answer the question. Answers based on examples are far more effective than vague, general responses that do not highlight your skills.

5. Acknowledge your weaknesses

Before an interview, you should assess your weaknesses and identify any reservations an employer may have before hiring you. Interviewers will likely ask you what your weaknesses are. Don’t answer this question by humble bragging. Address real weaknesses that are relevant and appropriate. However, be careful about the weakness you choose to share. If the weakness is pivotal to the job’s expectation, you may not want to share that particular weakness. You would never want to tell an interviewer you don’t like working with others if you are interviewing to be a Human Resource Manager. Whatever your weakness, be sure you include ways in which you are working on the weakness.

For example, “Public speaking makes me very nervous. However, I have started volunteering myself for things at my current job that requires public speaking to gain more practical experience speaking to large groups of people. For instance, if my director cannot lead a meeting, I will volunteer to lead the meeting as a means of practice.”

6. Conduct mock interviews on yourself 

Most interviewers source the same questions from a repository. Do a quick Google search of the most commonly asked interview questions and have answers prepared for each one. You don’t have to memorize answers word for word, but it is helpful to have a general idea of how to answer each question. The more you practice common interview questions, the better prepared they’ll sound and feel for interviews. Practicing especially helps those who get nervous during interviews.

7. Send a thank-you email

Interviewers are likely interviewing more than one person a day for a job. It is highly encouraged to send a follow-up email to ensure your name and interview remains fresh in the interviewer’s heads. Highlight details from the interview to provide context and reiterate interest in the position.

For example:

“Hello, Mr. Thompson,

Thank you so much for taking the time to meet with me today. I enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about the position and the company. After interviewing with you, I am positive I am well-qualified for the position. My experience as a Customer Service Manager at Silver Financial Solutions closely align with the functions of the Client Success Manager position at Cloud Nine Technologies. As discussed, I would be excited to implement more training materials and team-building exercises with fellow employees.

I also very much enjoyed learning about the company. I was especially intrigued by Cloud Nine Technology’s commitment to giving back. As a volunteer at my local Boys and Girls Club, I know how influential mentoring can be for at-risk children.

Again, thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out.

Best,

Emily Stoke

8. Ask good questions

At the end of every interview, interviewers will ask if the applicant has any questions. You should always have at least three questions for the interviewers. These questions should be relevant and informed. Don’t ask questions that can be found on the company’s website. Instead, ask in-depth questions that prove you’ve done your research.

For example:

  • I saw on your website that you partnered with X Company to improve outcomes for clients. How did you go about forming that partnership? What were the challenges of working with another company?

  • With over 60 clients, how do you differentiate your relationships with each? Does each client have a different contract or do you maintain a standard contract and relationship with every client?

Refer to Prepory’s post about the best questions to ask after an interview for inspiration.

9. Make your interview a conversation

According to Randstand, the largest recruiting firm in the U.S., conversational interviewing is the best way to break the interview mold and create a strong impression. Instead of allowing the interviewer to ask all of the questions, turn the interview into a flowing conversation.

If the interviewer asks you to recount a time you dealt with a difficult situation with a coworker, use the STAR method to answer the question. Then, ask the interviewer a question. You may say, “Speaking of coworkers, how would you describe the relationship between coworkers at your company? How might your company address this situation differently than my company did?”

10. Remember you’re interviewing the company, too!

Interviewees often forget that they, too, are interviewing the company. Go to the interview with questions about company culture, promotion opportunities, etc. These kinds of questions can help you understand your relative fit with the company.  It doesn’t matter if you ace the interview but don’t like the job or company.

Prepory wishes you luck on your interview. Remember to smile! 

Chelsi Chang

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At Prepory, we recognize there is more to college applications than demonstrating interest. Contact us now to learn more about how we can guide you through each part of the college admissions process!