Interviews easily make the top 5 list of most anxiety-inducing situations. Often times, even the most qualified of candidates deliver underwhelming performances and ultimately, fail to impress. But what if we told you that there are a few things you can do to basically guarantee that your interview will go well? This guide will provide you with all of the tips & tricks needed to communicate your skills and strengths and interview effectively. So lets get started…
And while I’m all about putting a positive spin on a negative situation… “You have to fail first in order to succeed!” … landing that job I wanted so badly right out of college would’ve been pretty cool, too!
So what went wrong for me? In a matter of 20 minutes, the recruiter went from being impressed with my set of skills (as listed on my resume), to thinking that I wasn’t quite what they were looking for.
While it’s not always about your actual interview performance (maybe you interviewed well, but had to compete against some kind of superhuman)–typically, rejections/no offers are a result of underwhelming interviews. In my personal experience, although I had the relevant skills, I didn’t do the greatest job conveying my true awesomeness and potential. Does any of this sound familiar?
How exactly do you showcase your strengths in an interview anyway? No matter how confident you might feel, interviews easily make the list of top 5 most anxiety-inducing situations you can put yourself through. Whether you’re a recent college grad looking to land your first job, or you’re a seasoned expert in your field looking for a new company… the stakes are almost always high. Sometimes, our nerves get the best of us, and we end up selling ourselves way too short.
Over the years, I’ve learned (as both an interviewee and an interviewer) several tips & tricks to effectively interview and communicate strengths–what I like to call firepower.
This guide will teach you how to showcase your FIREPOWER. Specifically, it will cover:
- Before – everything you need to do the day (or days) before to adequately prepare for the interview.
- During – from body language to asking the right questions… everything you need to know when you’re in the hot seat.
- After – how to follow up in a genuine/appropriate way.
Before we get started, I want to leave you with this general tip:
Think of an interview as an exchange of information, rather than an interrogation. They get to learn about you, and you get to learn about them. It’s a 2-way street! With that being said, don’t focus so much on saying the right things that (you think) interviewers want to hear. Instead, focus on being yourself and communicating what you know already know. Share with them your unique experiences.
Thank you for taking the time to read this – I hope that it serves you well. Now, let’s get to crushin’ interviews!
Royce Rowan, Portfolium Co-founder and CMO
P.S. At this point, you’ve likely wowed them with your Portfolium, resume, or application, which isn’t easy to do… so congrats! Now it’s time for you take that positive momentum and impress them even more in person!
Before we get started, let’s quickly review the different types of traditional face-to-face interviews you might experience. The style chosen by the employer will likely influence the nature of the interview itself, as well as the type of questions you’ll be asked. Additionally, by determining the interview type, you’ll be able to detect the information employers are looking for. With that being said, it’s important to familiarize yourself with all of them:
The Situational (or “Case”) Interview – Recruiters will ask you to resolve a hypothetical problem-situation. These questions are typically used to evaluate how you’d solve a problem and how you communicate your thought process to others. In short, the recruiter is looking to see: how you tackle the situation, arrive at your solution, and communicate the solution. It’s important to note that situational interviews are meant to be interactive… don’t be afraid to ask questions!
The Behavioral Interview – These interviews are characterized by the all-too-familiar question, “Tell me about a time when…” Here, based on the assumption that past behaviors predict and drive future behaviors, recruiters want to learn how you might react to or handle a job-specific situation. However, unlike situational interviews, behavioral interviews focus on concrete examples of your past experiences. In these interviews, it’s all about conveying what you already know. Behavioral interviews are great because they set the stage for you to showcase actual samples of your work and school projects (we’ll cover this in more detail later on).
The Structured (or “Standardized”) Interview – Employers will use this method when they’re looking for an efficient way to standardize responses and compare candidates. In these situations, interview questions are often pre-determined, and interviewers are looking for proof of specific skills/abilities rather than personality matches.
The Panel Interview – The most anxiety-inducing of all interviews. I mean, 4 on 1…is that even fair?! Although panel interviews can be very intimidating, we encourage you to look at it this way–they give you the opportunity to impress several people, all at once. In these situations, it’s important that you quickly recognize each panel member’s personality type, and try to connect with each of them. When responding, direct your initial answer to the person who asked the question, but as you continue to elaborate, address the other interviewers.
The Group Interview – Although group interviews aren’t too common, some companies might require a group interview as part of a screening process. Other recruiters might use group interviews to assess personality/cultural fit, communication skills, and collaborative abilities. These situations can be tricky, as there’s a very fine line between appropriately standing out and being annoyingly overbearing. In these situations, always keep yourself in check–never talk over or interrupt another candidate and don’t ever deliberately put someone else down. Also, make sure that what you contribute to the conversation is meaningful and relevant to what is being discussed.
The Nondirective (or “Undirected”) Interview – “Tell me about yourself…” Perhaps the most relaxed of the interview types. A nondirective interview is typically unstructured, and allows you to discuss your qualifications and experiences openly. Employers will often opt for this structure when they haven’t prepared a specific list of questions to ask, or, if they’re simply looking to create a friendly/less threatening environment. Take advantage of this setup to communicate and focus on your strengths, and to demonstrate leadership and organizational abilities. Don’t be afraid to take the lead!
One last note about interview types – more likely than not, recruiters will implement different techniques throughout the interview. It’s not uncommon to see a recruiter start off with a nondirective question such as “So tell me about yourself…” and then shift into more behavioral questions like, “Tell me about a time when you…” Make sure you’re prepared to answer all kinds of questions!
Now that you’re familiar with the different types of interviews you might experience, let’s discuss what to do before, during and after an interview!
1. Before – How and What to Prepare
We’ve created an easy-to-use cheat sheet to help you complete each of the steps listed in the “Before” section, which we’ll cover in this chapter.
Use the cheat sheet to:
- Research important information about the company.
- Brainstorm relevant academic projects/reports, and job/internship/life experiences you can showcase in your interview.
- Create bridging statements that link your skills/experiences to the company’s needs/interests.
- Generate impressive questions to ask your interviewer(s).
Once completed, study this cheat sheet to prepare for your interview, as it will help you practice what to say, and when.
An interview should be approached like an exam. If anything, this is one of the most important exams of your life, as the stakes are usually pretty high. So why would you not put in as much effort as you would for a midterm or final?! Do your research, study, rehearse, practice. etc.
You can access the cheat sheet template at: http://smarturl.it/cheat_sheet
STEP 1 – RESEARCH
This may sound like an obvious one, but people often make the mistake of only gathering superficial information about a company. Although it might be important to know a company’s size and location, it’s even more important to know the values they practice, their culture, and what their employees do on a daily basis.
- Go to the company website and review:
- Their mission statement, vision, and company culture.
- The job’s requirements/qualifications.
- Look for any recent press/news about the company. Although most companies have a press section within their site, you can always search their name using the “News” filter on Google.
- Look at the interviewer’s LinkedIn profile. What’s their most recent project? Any accomplishments or press releases you should congratulate them for?
- Glassdoor is a life-changer! Current/former employees leave reviews and give you a quick glimpse of the pros/cons of working with a company. Also, users share specific interview questions that they were asked when they were in the hot seat.
STEP 2 – FIND YOUR FIREPOWER
Now it’s time to brainstorm how you’re going to SHOW employers why they should hire you. How are you going to communicate your skills and strengths to them? Begin by considering the information that you gathered in Step 1: what are they looking for and what do they value? Most importantly, how do those things align with your skills, experiences, and interests?
Many college students and recent grads are intimidated by this step because they lack an extensive work history. What they don’t always realize is that there are other aspects of their lives that are just as relevant as formal jobs experiences.
Don’t hesitate to tell employers about your semester-long research project, or that time you dedicated your entire summer to volunteering abroad (as long as it’s all relevant). These types of experiences also contribute to your professional development and character.
HACK #1 BUILD YOUR PORTFOLIUM
So how exactly do you showcase your school projects, hobbies and volunteer experiences? Resumes don’t necessarily allow much space for this, as they’re traditionally used to briefly list education and employment history…
Portfolium is a free academic digital portfolio that allows you to visually present and highlight your work, skills, and projects using different media. Our philosophy is that you’re more than your resume!
HACK #2 USE YOUR TABLET
Another great strategy is to prepare a digital presentation of your work on a tablet. Now that you’ve completed Hack #1, this should be very easy for you! Simply open your web browser and go to Portfolium, as it’s fully mobile optimized. Make sure to rehearse which of your entries you’ll be wanting to show off.
Although you want to demonstrate your conversation skills, interviews (especially behavioral ones), set the stage for you to showcase samples of your work. By accompanying your pitch with visual content, you’re more likely to impress employers. It’s in the science! 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000X faster in the brain than text.
Also, think of it this way: anyone can claim (for example) “I designed and fabricated a prototype glider”, but how many can actually prove it? Leave a lasting impression with real life artifacts of your work!
STEP 3 – BRIDGING STATEMENTS
Now that you’ve determined what specific artifacts you’ll be using to showcase yourself in your interview, it’s important to brainstorm a few bridging statements that will link your experiences to the company’s needs and interests. Bridging statements are especially important in nondirective interviews, where it’s really up to you to guide and lead the conversation. In these situations, use bridging statements to help you avoid aimless chatter.
Bridging statements are important because they:
- Prove that you did your research about the company
- Add relevance to what you’re discussing; why should this project of yours be of interest to them?
- Help you avoid aimless and narcissistic talk; it’s not about you, but how and what you could contribute to their team
“I recently saw that [company name] was in the news for ________. That caught my eye because I recently wrote a report on ________, where I investigated ________ and found ________.”
“I understand that [company name] prides itself on its innovative, forward-thinking approach to education. I highly value this because I volunteer helping youth in schools and I can see the need for this firsthand.”
STEP 4 – PREPARE QUESTIONS
Regardless of the type of interview you’re facing, it’s important to initiate dialogue with recruiters by asking questions. High-quality questions will not only show that you’re genuinely interested, but they can also demonstrate your analytical and creative skills.
Most recruiters will allot a few minutes at the end of the interview to address any questions you might have. Take advantage of this opportunity to wow them with some impressive questions. Your goal is to really make them think, and maybe even give them a good new idea!
How has this position evolved since it was first created?
How does this company define and/or measure success?
Simple questions that can be answered by looking at their website.
Any questions related to salary, hours and promotions (asking too soon can make your intentions seem insincere).
HACK #3 – GET THE IPHONE APP
Don’t have a tablet? Fear not! Prepare your digital presentation work using the Portfolium iOS app! While it’s ideal for adding content to your portfolio on-the-go, you can also use the app to share your work wherever, whenever! Look for the Portfolium iOS app in the iTunes Store!
2. During – What to do and say in the hot seat
HOW TO KEEP CALM
Unlike the “before” phase (Chapter 1), there isn’t necessarily a set of chronological steps to follow while interviewing (if only it was that easy). This is because interviews are unpredictable. As we covered in the introduction, there are several different interview styles that recruiters might use. Additionally (and obviously), depending on the job and the company, the recruiter’s vision of the “ideal candidate” will vary. The good news is that if you’ve completed “Step 1: Research Them,” you should already have a good idea of who they are, and what they’re looking for.
Also, despite the unpredictable nature of interviews, there are a few key things you can do to truly rock your interview:
- Be professional [from start to finish]
- [Use positive] body language
- Answer questions [effectively]
- Ask [impressive] questions
These pointers should be very obvious, but we’ve included them anyway:
- Arrive ten minutes early. Arriving just in time is considered late. When your interview is scheduled for 2pm, it usually means that you’re scheduled to start the interview at 2pm, not check in with the receptionist at 2pm.
- SMILE often. Smiling exudes confidence and positivity, which will benefit BOTH you and the interviewer.
- Dress appropriately. Keep in mind that this will vary depending on the company’s culture (e.g. tech startup vs. corporate). Research the company before you plan your outfit.
- Use proper grammar. Replace “like” with “for example,” and “such as.” Using a limited vocabulary is definitely one way to unimpress employers.
- Use a strong (but not overpowering) tone of voice. Speak loud enough to be heard clearly, but avoid being overly assertive.
- Make sure your hands are dry before the handshake. Nobody likes sweaty palms!
DURING THE INTERVIEW
With the 3-minute confidence booster, you should be feeling more powerful, happy and calm on the inside. Now it’s time to project this confidence outwardly:
- STEEPLE YOUR HANDS. Hand steepling (when you spread your fingertips, pressing them together in a prayer-like gesture) often symbolizes a very high level of confidence.
- KEEP YOUR THUMBS UP. To project confidence, keep your thumbs up, with your fingers interlaced. This is a body language sign that demonstrates you’re confident in your thoughts. It’s best used while illustrating a point in a story.
- POINT YOUR FEET TOWARDS THE INTERVIEWER. Believe it or not, the feet are the most honest part of the body. When you face someone completely, both feet pointed toward them, it projects confidence and openness.
- SIT UP STRAIGHT WITH YOUR SHOULDERS BACK, AND LEAN IN. By sitting up straight, you’ll naturally be more likely to take risks, due to your increased testosterone and confidence. Similarly, when asked a question, lean in toward your interviewer. This shows you’re listening closely to the question, are comfortable with the interviewer, and conveys engagement.
BODY LANGUAGE TO AVOID ENTIRELY
- NECK OR FACE TOUCHING. This is the adult equivalent of toddlers sucking their thumbs; when wanting to feel comfortable, adults assume these pacifying behaviors. It’s a very obvious sign of nervousness,
- LEG CLEANSING (where you rub your upper legs with your hands). Another pacifying behavior that is very telling of high anxiety levels.
- INTERLOCKING YOUR ANKLES. This typically happens when you’re given a tough a question and you”freeze.” It often signifies discomfort.
- CROSSING YOUR ARMS. It’s the limbic brain’s response to “blocking” individuals from you. Unfortunately, when asked a tough question, it also shows insecurity and anxiousness.
- SLOUCHING. Don’t make yourself look any smaller. Sit up straight to exude confidence, alertness and professionalism.
Ultimately, these tactics are meant to influence not only your interviewer, but you as well. Implementing these tricks will allow you to not only portray confidence on the outside, but feel more confident on the inside. Control your body, control your mind. Internal confidence is what separates a good interview from a great one.
For a more detailed explanation, check out Scott Tousley’s brilliant blog post: “Outsmart Your Interviewer with Body Language Tricks”
*ANSWER QUESTIONS EFFECTIVELY
This is where you’ll truly thrive or… underwhelm. Although professionalism and body language undoubtedly contribute to an interviewer’s overall perception of you, at the end of the day, they’re going to value your ability to answer questions effectively above anything else (hence the *asterisk). In answering questions, you’re not only demonstrating your communication skills, but you’re also pitching your worth.
So how do you answer questions effectively? It’s pretty much impossible to know ahead of time what questions word-for-word you’ll be asked (or is it, Glassdoor?) –but the good news is, you’re now familiar with the types of interview questions out there. The most difficult ones will likely be behavioral or situational … “Tell me about a time when _____” … “What would you do if _____” These questions require you to process and retrieve information very quickly. However, if you’ve completed your interview prep cheat sheet, you should be well-equipped to handle even the toughest of questions!
Additionally, there are two things you can do during your interview to ensure that you’re effectively answering questions:
- Use the STAR method
- Showcase your digital presentation
STEP 1. USE THE STAR METHOD
Describe a specific Situation or Task. Give details about the task and avoid general descriptions. Use examples from internships, school projects, activities, team participation, community service, hobbies and work experience (anything that’s relevant) as examples of your past behavior. Describe the Action you took and be sure to keep the focus on you. Here, you’re addressing the “how;” what steps did you take to complete the task? Describe the Results you achieved. What happened? What did you accomplish, and most importantly, what did you learn? Note: always quantify your results. Rather than “I increased sales,” say, “In the month of June, I increased sales by 4 times the company average.”
STEP 2. SHOWCASE YOUR DIGITAL PRESENTATION
Use Hack #2 (or #3) to showcase yourself visually! As we previously mentioned, it’s been scientifically proven that people remember information that is presented visually A LOT better.
An added benefit to presenting a digital portfolio is that you’re supporting your claims with actual evidence of your work. As you use the STAR method to elaborate on your responses, open your Portfolium either on your tablet or smartphone to actually show your interviewers what you’re talking about.
Note: if you don’t have access to a smartphone or tablet, simply print your artifacts using the “Export to PDF” feature on Portfolium!
ASK IMPRESSIVE QUESTIONS
At this point, you’ve made it to the end of your interview! If you’re feeling like you didn’t really shine while answering questions, there’s still one last chance to really wow your interviewer.
All that’s left to do is ask the impressive questions you prepared the day before! If you don’t have them memorized, refer to your box 4 of your cheat sheet.
3. After – What to do and say after your interview
FOLLOW UP WITH A THANK YOU NOTE
‘Thank You’ notes can really go a long way, yet people sometimes avoid them altogether out of fear that they’re being overbearing. In reality, this small gesture: 1) keeps you fresh in their minds, and 2) affirms that you’re organized, professional, and on top of things.
Today, most everything is processed at lightning speed (including your resumé), which means that your ‘Thank You’ needs to go out immediately–even if that means sending an email from the parking lot. Other things to consider:
- Tailor it to the company’s culture – ‘Thank You’ emails are the new norm. However, make sure to consider the company’s style before sending your message. Are they very traditional? Opt for a handwritten note. And maybe send that tech startup you interviewed with an immediate email…
- Include specific information about the conversation. Prove that you were paying attention and follow up on something that was discussed.
- Address any interview mistakes & say what you wish you had said. Employers like to see you own up to your mistakes. Use a follow up email to redeem yourself. Don’t be afraid to say things like, “I gave more thought to my response and…“ or, “Another thing I wanted to share…”
- Show your value. If you didn’t get a chance to showcase your digital portfolio in-person, now would be a good time to do so. Send them clickable links of your work as long as it’s relevant to something that was discussed. Avoid any shameless plugs!
- Add any more relevant content. Send them a link to an article, video, or podcast that you feel complements the conversation. By doing so, you’re adding value to the time you’re taking away from them!
- Send it within 24-48 hours. If you don’t quite get to it within 2 days, remember: “it’s better late than never.”
Dear [Interviewer Name],
I wanted to say thank you again for taking the time to meet with me yesterday. I very much enjoyed learning more about [company name]! After our conversation, I am confident that my experiences and values are a great fit for [company name].
Below, I’ve included the link to my digital portfolio, where I provide a bit more detail about the projects I shared with you yesterday.
Also, I recently came across an interesting research article that reminded me of _______, which I know is something you are very passionate about. It’s definitely an interesting read! [provide link]
I am very excited at the possibility of working with such an amazing team and I look forward to hearing from you soon!
Please let me know if there is anything else you might need from me.
That’s a Wrap!
Awesome job, now you’re ready to rock your interview!
Remember to study your cheat sheet and prepare your digital portfolio on your tablet or phone.
You got this! Any questions? Feedback?