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A formal interview has to be one of the most artificially structured and uncomfortable conversations we have in life. The best first interviews should feel like conversations, but at some point in the process, as you speak with more senior people and/or realize that you really want the job, it's hard not to be a little apprehensive.

Happy businessman shaking hands with a female interviewer in office

The first step is to remember that it’s just an interview. Of course, the possibility of a new position might be exciting and bring up apprehension. That’s natural, because you want to do a good job. You are in the interview process, because the company thinks it’s worthwhile to have a conversation with you. So, start there. You are in the room, because you deserve to be there. After that, it’s up to you to do a great job in the conversations that follow. This article will help with important tips on how to prepare, and how to set the right tone as you conclude the process.

Five Important Tips for a Great Interview

1. Prepare

You don’t have to know everything, but definitely do a cursory review of the company’s website, and the LinkedIn profiles of the people you’ll meet. Think in advance about specific examples you can use to illustrate your skills and accomplishments. Know the company as well as the position for which you are interviewing. Your responses should explain how your skills and experiences will benefit the new employer. You can’t address that unless you know who they are, how they function and what their culture is like.

Practice what you want to say. The point isn’t to sound rehearsed (so practice using varied wording), the point is to marshal your thoughts in advance. That way, you can stay focused on the key points you want to make about yourself without rambling.

2. Evaluate

Don’t forget, this interview is also for you to evaluate the opportunity. Pretend in a few short weeks you will go into your current boss’s office and quit. You’re going to change colleagues, roles, leaders and culture. That’s a big life change, and hopefully, a positive life change. So think….what do you need to know to be comfortable moving forward? Ask it!

3. Set A Tone of Transparency

The way you interact with your potential boss now will set the tone for how you will communicate in the future. You have a job now, so you have some leverage and nothing to lose. Nothing is off the table. If it’s on your mind ask it. Provide the courtesy of allowing your interviewer to handle your objection. If it’s a big one, and they don’t have a good answer, maybe this isn’t the right role for you. If they have a good answer, you’ll have your mind put at ease. Either way, be as real and genuine as you can on the things you want to talk about, and what you want from your job and career.

4. Be Mindful of How You Answer Questions

Millions of words have been written about how to put your best foot forward during a job interview. But when it comes to words, one thing is certain: you should never assume more is better. Otherwise, you might put your foot in your mouth. You might even talk your way out of the job instead of landing it.

Every open-ended question can be answered with a short, summarized response or a lengthy, detailed response. It is oh, so tempting to launch right into the latter. After all, you want this job badly. You want to divulge every conceivable morsel of information that might be what the interviewer and company are looking for to choose you. But here’s the thing: you don’t really know what that is.

So offer a two-stage answer. Start with the short response, then ask if they need more information. For example, suppose you’re asked about your past public speaking experience. Instead of listing every presentation you’ve ever made, say something like, “I’ve made sales presentations to prospects, training presentations to employees and customers, and testified before the state legislature. Is there a particular type of public speaking you want me to focus on?” You’ve answered the question, quickly and concisely. If the interviewer wants to know more, they will ask. If they do, using this approach allows you to understand more clearly just what they want to know from a more detailed answer. That way, you can give a more relevant response tailored to the company or specific position.

By keeping your answers brief at first, you are showing good time management skills and showing you respect the interviewer’s time. By leaving the door open for a longer response, you are telling the interviewer you have as-yet-unseen depth as a candidate. And of course, if they take you up on your offer, you have a chance to sell yourself and your capabilities in greater detail.

5. Ask Questions, But Don’t Grill

When someone asks you at the end of an interview whether you have any questions for them, and you don't, it’s not good. On the other hand, if you spend the first hour grilling the interviewer with your own questions, there may not be enough time for them to learn what they wanted to learn about you. This needs to be a two-way street and the best interviews will feel like a conversation where there is a good back and forth. Below are some questions to get your mind working.

Sample Questions

  • A year from now, if you're patting me on the back telling me I've done a great job and I’ve been a great hire, what have I accomplished in the first year that makes you say so?
  • What have people done to succeed at this in the past, or what are the reasons you think someone has not succeeded?
  • What would be the fast start goals?(90 days, 180 days)
  • What are some of the biggest challenges I will likely face?
  • What resources will I have to overcome those challenges?
  • What are the biggest challenges this division/company will face this year?
  • What is the company culture like?
  • What is the team like?
  • How will we work together? What’s your management style?
  • What do you like about working for this company?
  • What are the next steps in the interview process?

Set the Right Tone As You Conclude Your Interview

If you are interested in the job, let the person know. There is usually no benefit to playing hard to get. You can still negotiate terms at the end, but if they don’t think you even want the job you may not get to the end.

Also, rather than putting them fully on the spot and asking “Will you recommend me for the job/next step?” try this: “I’m really interested in the role. While I’m still here, have I provided you all the information you need to make a decision regarding the next step? Is there anything I’ve left you unsure about or anything I can provide further clarification on?”

Finally, send a thank you email or card or both, thanking those who interviewed you for their time, and re-expressing interest. It goes a long way, and surprisingly very few people do it. People notice and sometimes it’s mentioned along with other things for reasons why to move forward or not with a candidate.

You Can Do This!

It may seem daunting to enter a rigorous interview process for your dream job, and you may feel that if you get one thing wrong, you won’t land it. Just remember that if you’ve made it to the interview stage, you’ve already beaten out many other applicants. There is something the hiring team saw on your resume that prompted them to contact you. Now you just need to do some preparation and manage your time well during the interview and things should be smooth.

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