How to Improve Interview Skills: Before, During, and Afterward
One of the hardest things in life for anyone is to admit that they need to improve themselves. However, when it comes to job interviews, a refresher course is needed every now and then.
Whether it’s the “wrong kind” of eye contact, or not answering the question, the things you do before, during, and after an interview can impact whether or not you get the job. Here’s how to improve your job interview skills.
Consider the Interviewer’s Perspective
When someone is interviewing you, you need that person on your side. If the interviewer decides that you’re “the one,” they have to go to their higher-ups and champion you for the job. When you’re hired, the company is taking a chance on you. If you work out, great. If not, then that’s bad for everyone.
A job interview should be a two-way street. While the company is interviewing you to see if you’re right for them, you should be interviewing the company to see if they’re the right fit for you. However, there’s no denying that there are probably more candidates than job openings. That’s why you need to leave the best impression possible to improve your chances of getting an offer.
Improve Your “Before” Skills
You may not realize this, but improving your job interview skills starts before you walk through the door, hop on the call, or pull up video conferencing.
Say what, now?
While interview prep can include getting a haircut and picking out the perfect outfit, there are other steps you can take to help make a good first impression.
Review your resume.
Even if you’re 100% positive you’ve memorized your resume, it won’t hurt to review it the night before your interview. If you do it with the job description in hand, you may find some gems in your work history that you’ve forgotten about that you can mention during the interview.
Reviewing your resume also allows you to identify the skills, experiences, and achievements you want to highlight during your interview. Doing it before the interview gives you the opportunity to practice using the STAR method to give concrete examples of your skills and how your actions benefited the company.
Do your research.
Of course, you know you should research the company before your interview. And, you might even think to research your interviewer, too. But, at least for the company, make sure you’re going beyond the home page and “about” section of the website.
Take some time to look for press releases or recent publications about the company and ask questions relating to those news items. Find out some interesting tidbits about the industry and have those ready to discuss, too.
Going to a job interview is stressful enough. So, plan ahead to make sure you don’t accidentally add more.
If you’re traveling to the interview, map out your transportation before you go. If you’re driving, have at least one alternate route ready to go, in case your first one is not an option. Maybe even do a practice run and make sure you can find the place and park. And, in either case, give yourself plenty of time to arrive. If you’re more than 20 minutes early, find a place nearby to wait until it’s time to go in.
For a remote interview, test your audio and visual equipment ahead of time. You don’t want to have to troubleshoot during the interview. Check yourself out on screen and make sure your surroundings say “professional.” Kid and pet pictures are fine, but a teetering pile of papers or an inappropriate poster is not.
Do a mock interview.
Mock interviews sound silly (especially if this isn’t your first job interview), but practice makes perfect. And mock interviews give you a chance to work out any kinks and figure out the best answer to some tough interview questions.
Grab some questions from the Internet or make up some of your own. Write them down and stick them in a hat. Have a friend pull the questions from your hat and fire away!
Too weird? Pull the answers out of the hat yourself and practice alone. Either way, practice until you’re comfortable with the questions and your answers. Be sure to consider the position and your background, too, so that your answers draw on experiences that can apply to the role in which you’re interviewing.
Be polite to everyone.
Once it’s the big day, you’re bound to be a bundle of nerves. But, there’s one more pre-interview skill you might need to work on.
You know to be polite to the interviewer. But, what about the receptionist? Or the barista downstairs? Or the custodian in the hallway? Employers don’t want to see you treat anyone disrespectfully, so being polite to everyone you run across at the interview is always a smart idea.
If you think it won’t come up, think again. Many times the interviewer will ask people who had contact with you how you behaved. You never know who is going to talk to the doorman long after you’re gone.
Watch Your Body Language During the Interview
The interview is, hopefully, where we all know how to shine. But, interestingly, there are some very subtle things that we do that can help (or hurt) us during the interview. Sure enough, sometimes improving interview skills can really mean improving your body language.
Sit the right way.
With any luck, you’ll sit in a comfortable chair during the interview. Even if you don’t, you need to make sure that you sit the “right” way.
That means sitting up straight. Slouching or leaning back could indicate that you don’t care about the conversation.
You may have heard that leaning into a conversation is another way to indicate you’re interested and engaged. And, that’s true. However, if you are a taller or larger person, you may not want to lean in too far. That could be intimidating for the other person. When it doubt, choose straight up!
Furthermore, if you’re interviewing for a remote job, your positioning can impact how you sound or appear through video chat.
Keep your hands in line.
A strong, firm handshake is important. After that, try to keep your hands at your sides or in your lap, one hand on top of the other.
Also, try not to clasp your hands. While this may be a natural position for you, some people may see this as a sign of stress from you. If you do prefer to clasp your hands, don’t do it tightly. If nothing else, you don’t want to make your hands sweaty!
And, don’t cross your arms. Some people see this as a defensive posture and can signal disinterest in the conversation.
Furthermore, if gesturing your arms is your thing, try to keep it in check during an interview. It can bother some people.
Get in the right headspace.
You probably don’t think much about your head. But, making the wrong move may send the interviewer the wrong message.
Make eye contact like you would any other conversation. Don’t avoid eye contact, but also don’t turn the interview into a staring contest. Find natural moments to look away. For example, before you answer a question, take a deep breath and look up for a minute while you think of an answer.
Nodding is also an important part of non-verbal communication and lets the interviewer know you understand or agree with them. So, feel free to nod in agreement, especially if you don’t want to interrupt the interviewer. But, nodding too much can signal indifference, so make sure to speak up every once in a while.
Don’t check your phone.
Yes. This one is so important it’s all by itself. Our phones are indispensable these days, and you’ll have it with you during the interview. But don’t touch it. Not even once. Turn it off. Not to vibrate or silent. But off. Even if someone calls you during the interview and you ignore it, you don’t want any interruptions during the interview.
Watch your mouth.
You’re probably not throwing F-bombs in an interview. But, a wrong choice of words (no matter how G-rated) can still cause problems.
Never bad-mouth a present or former employer. Sure, things may have unbearable, but your answers should remain professional. Instead of giving the interviewer a laundry list of grievances, keep your answer polite and disciplined.
This doesn’t mean you have to sit like a statue. But don’t fidget. Avoid twirling your hair, tapping your legs or feet, or shifting a lot in the chair (even if it is a terrible chair). Doing any of these could indicate that you’re nervous, uncomfortable, or even bored.
Use your listening ears.
Obviously, you’ve prepared your answers to common interview questions. And, you have a game plan for what to say for less common questions. But, before you whip out an answer you really want to give, make sure you’re listening first.
While you may think you know what the question is, make sure you don’t half listen. That means listening to the whole question and not coming up with what you think is an awesome answer half-way through the question. For starters, you may not answer the entire question. And, worse, you may give the wrong answer to the wrong question.
Not answering the question that’s being asked indicates that you not only need to improve your interview skills, but you also lack listening skills and don’t pay attention to the details. Listen thoughtfully and carefully before answering a question, then make sure you answer the question directly and completely. And, don’t be afraid to ask for clarity if you’re not 100% positive of what’s being asked.
Ask the “best” questions.
A common part of most interviews includes your turn to ask the questions. Brie Reynolds, career development manager and career coach at FlexJobs, advises candidates to have five or six questions ready to go. While some of your questions may be answered during the interview, having that many questions prepared still gives you a few to ask when it’s your turn.
While you may want to ask about the work schedule or other logistics, Reynolds suggests that you ask pointed questions about the challenges and goals of the job and/or company. As an example, she says ask this: Let’s say six months have passed since you hired someone for this position. What will they have done during that time to make you feel that you made the right choice?
The answer will give you a lot of information about what the company wants in their next hire. And you’ll get an idea of the skills they want and what kinds of tasks you’ll need to accomplish if you’re hired.
Brush Up on Post-Interview Skills
Even though the interview is over, there’s still some wrap up you need to do. So, brush up on these post-interview skills to help you stand out from the crowd.
Send a thank you.
Whether you use snail mail or email, make sure you send a thank-you note that you edited and proofread. If you didn’t get a card or other contact information from each person who interviewed you, Reynolds suggests you ask each person directly for their information and explain why you’re asking. “A simple, ‘could I have your email address to follow up with my appreciation for your time?’ should suffice.”
And, if you’re sending multiple thank-you notes to people in the same organization, make sure you personalize each thank-you note, even if it was a group interview. There’s a good chance they’re comparing the thank-you notes to see if you made an effort to personalize them.
Be interested, but not desperate.
It’s OK to follow up with an employer if you haven’t heard back after a week or two. Whether you email or call, make sure your message is short and polite. Reiterate your interest in the job without sounding desperate.
Even something short and vague like “Hi. I’m following up on my interview from (date). I was wondering if you’ve made any decisions and if there’s anything else that’s needed. Thanks so much,” is appropriate.
And, in the end, if you don’t hear back from them, let it go and consider yourself lucky. If they treat you like that post-interview, imagine how they might treat you if you work there.
Improving Interview Skills Is a Process
Knowing how to improve interview skills is one thing. Implementation is another.
But, the more you practice, the better you’ll get, so don’t feel shy about practicing these at home with a few trusted companions. No matter how goofy it makes you feel, it’s better to feel goofy with friends in a practice interview, than in an actual interview with strangers.
Still want some coaching and tips? Consider scheduling an appointment with a FlexJobs career coach. They can provide you individualized help with improving your job interviewing skills.
Photo Credit: bigstockphoto.com
A version of this piece was originally published on November 12, 2013.
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