A job interview can be the most challenging part of an employment search. While you can do almost everything else — writing up a resume, crafting a cover letter, and looking at job postings — from the safety and security of your home, actually putting yourself together and meeting with a potential employer is tough. It’s stressful, unpredictable, and there are all kinds of things that can go wrong.
With that in mind, you should do everything you can to go in prepared. Being prepared doesn’t guarantee that everything will go smoothly or that you’ll walk out with an offer, but if you’ve ever tried to “wing it” or go in without proper prep, you know how deep you can get in before ultimately walking away embarrassed and humbled. So, take the time to do some homework before the job interview.
Acing your job interview
There is no blueprint for acing a job interview, unfortunately. Each interview will be different, and you’ll be meeting with new people each time; some tough, some pushovers. But you should know the basics — what to wear, what questions to ask, and what you absolutely should or should not do during your time with a hiring manager.
Here is a brief overview of those dos and don’ts.
Do: Be confident
Confidence is of the utmost importance during an interview. The last thing you want to do is waddle into a room with a hiring manager and look like an absolute wreck. You need to be composed, speak well, and give the impression that you can handle the job, even when it becomes incredibly stressful.
As we’ve written about before, employers can tell when you’re nervous or anxious, and will make you pay for it. Do your homework, and walk in prepared. Confidence can make a huge difference in how an interview ultimately turns out.
Don’t: Be an egomaniac
Striking a balance between an inflated sense of self-importance and confidence is a bit tricky, but if you’re mindful of how you’re coming off, you should be fine. We discussed this issue — the fact that ego can be destructive — with Ryan Holiday who had some tips for how to effectively navigate it. Read the interview, and remember that confidence and ego aren’t the same thing.
Do: Know your strengths and weaknesses
Everybody hates those questions pertaining to our strengths and weaknesses. They are trick questions, in a sense, to see if you can actually gauge your own shortcomings and strong points, while not just feeding the interviewer a boilerplate answer. They want honesty, and they want to see how you handle difficult questions.
With that said, you should know what your strengths and weaknesses are. Give it some serious thought, and have an answer prepared. Nobody’s perfect, and employers don’t necessarily expect you to be.
Don’t: Be dishonest
To rehash what we just covered, don’t be dishonest or make up some nonsense about how “your greatest strenght is that you work too hard.” Everybody sees through it, and knows it’s a load of crap. Figure out a real strength or weakness, and expand upon it during the discussion. It can and should be a weakness you’re actively managing or working through, which is what an employer is going to want to hear.
Do: Customize your resume
As tedious and time-consuming as it may be, you should tailor your resume to specific job listings. If you’re using the same resume for different positions, you’re likely to not even get past the initial screening software many employers use to sift through piles of resumes. Look for keywords used in the job listing, and use them in the copy. Don’t keep a bunch of irrelevant information on there either, if it doesn’t pertain to the position you’re applying for.
Don’t: Recycle material
As mentioned, you shouldn’t just be using the same resume for any and every job. They’re all different, and each application will require a little effort and customization. Don’t recycle the same resume over and over, because it’ll probably get you nowhere. Oh, and be sure not to lie — employers hate that.
Do: Be willing to do what others won’t
You know what really makes a difference? Being that guy or gal who’s willing to roll up their sleeves and do the dirty work. To do the stuff nobody else wants to do. That’ll win you favor with management, and earn you the respect of your colleagues. Lead by example, and it’ll take you a long way. So, be sure your ego is in check, and let an employer know that they can count on you to get things done — even if it’s going to be unpleasant.
Don’t: Think you’re above it all
We covered the problem with ego previously, and it applies here as well. You need to realize that there will be problems that require some hard work, ingenuity, and getting dirty every once in a while. If you’re willing and able to do these tasks, new doors can open to you. Like our friend Mike Rowe told us, if people are more willing to get dirty every once in a while, we’d all probably be a lot better off.
Do: Have a clear and concise cover letter
In the same way that you need to have a tailored and expertly written resume, your other materials — like your cover letter — need to be in tip-top shape. There are a ton of resources and experts out there that can help you, but you basically need to focus on being clear, concise, and organized. A bad cover letter can cost you a job.
Don’t: Make simple mistakes
There are some mistakes you don’t want to make with your cover letter, but it’s relatively easy to avoid them. If you take the time to proofread and make sure everything is in working order, you’re probably going to be fine. Just make the effort — most people aren’t willing to sacrifice a few extra minutes. But it could make all the difference in the world.
And be sure to follow-up with what the cover letter says during the interview. An employer will likely want to hear more about your past experiences.