The Definitive Guide to Acing Your Interview

Remember: Interviews are nothing more than a conversation between two people hoping to strike a mutually beneficial agreement. Need a little help? Every day, Proven Recruiting works with talented professionals – from new graduates to CEOs – to improve and refine their interview skills. No one is born great at interviews: it’s something you need to practice, hone, and apply regularly. Follow these steps and be sure to comment with your experience!

Passing the initial screen:

Answer the call/Skype in a quiet place free from distractions.

Keep your “cheat sheets” in front of you. Have on hand your resume, job description, any notes you took on the company, and all questions you plan to ask.

▶ Don’t stress the details during your initial conversation. Leave hours, benefits, and vacation policies to follow-up interviews.

Keep it high-level and conversational: don’t get stuck in the weeds. There’s time for that later; for now, focus on making a positive impression. Leave your interviewer wanting to learn more – in the next interview!

Make sure the conversation is 50-50. Try to break the cycle of “Question-Answer-Question-Answer” – an interview should be a dynamic discussion in which you’re both asking questions and getting to know one another better. Just be careful: small talk can be a great tool to transform an awkward interview into something more natural, but make sure your interviewer is taking the bait and engaging equally (50-50). 

Essential pre-interview checklist:

q Have you done your homework? Who are you meeting with? What are their backgrounds? What do you know about the company, the job, the team, etc.?

q What are you going to wear? Plan to be the best-dressed person in the room.

q Have you prepared questions ahead of time? See below for question ideas!

q Are your supplies packed and ready to go? Always arrive ready with your portfolio, extra copies of your resume, driver’s license, something to write with.

q What time do you need to leave in order to arrive 10 minutes early? If possible, drive to your interview location the day before around the same time. This will allow you to gauge commute times and traffic patterns.

The interview – to DO.

▶ Ask the first question!

You’re not the only one getting interviewed: make the interviewer(s) sell their company to you. Flipping the script shows initiative and active interest in the role.

Key: you need to identify your target before you can hit it!

Use examples. Tell a story people will remember.

The  STAR technique can be helpful – it’s essentially a pre-structured response to any behavioral interview question. Meaning: if you’re interviewer asks you about how you dealt with a given work situation, you can effectively break your response into four succinct parts to clearly get your answer across.

The four parts of the STAR technique are:

Situation: set the scene, what was your role, etc.

Task: what were you asked to do?

Action: how did you handle that task? What specific moves did you make to accomplish the challenge?

Result: what did you ultimately accomplish? How can it be measured? Provide specific statistics and numbers.

▶ Quantify your answers.

How much money will you make/save them?

How much time will you save them?

Again, keep it friendly and conversational, 50-50 split.

Don’t get defensive when asked difficult questions. It’s always best to take a moment, breath, and collect your thoughts. Once you say something it can’t be taken back. 

The interview – to AVOID.

▶ Show up late or unprepared.

▶ Give one word answers or tell epic ballads.

▶ Wear excessive perfume or cologne.

▶ Give a loose handshake or avoid eye contact.

▶ Talk about your personal life (rapport is different!).

▶ Be too cocky or too modest.

▶ Say ‘No, I think you’ve covered everything’ when asked if you have any questions.

Prepare to answer these questions:

Prepare responses to the following questions:

▶ Tell me about yourself.

My best advice: flip the script! Offer the briefest of professional overviews before saying, “I’m happy to go into more detail, but I’m curious to learn more about the position and your needs so that I can speak more specifically as to how my experience would be a match.” This kind of response will show your interviewer that you are attentive to their needs. 

▶ Why are you looking?

Talk about how you’re seeking new challenges, looking for more responsibility, or honing in on your passions. Perhaps you were under-utilized at your last job. Be truthful while putting your best foot forward.

▶ Why do you want to work for our company?

This is a great time to bring up all that research you’ve done on the business and its development! Reference something you’ve read or even name a specific person you’d enjoy working with.

Arrive prepared with notes from your research in hand, then glance down as needed.

▶ Why should we hire you?

Control their perception of you by marketing your professional and personal brand effectively. Emphasize traits that will help you excel in the role for which you’re applying.

▶ What’re your biggest weaknesses?

Always tell a story in response to this question, and highlight how a certain weakness has led to a valuable learning opportunity.

▶ What do you want to make?

Avoid answering this question if possible. Instead, turn it around: ask your interviewer how they compensated the last person that worked in this position, or insist that you’ll have to research market rates before giving an informed response.

Prepare to ask (some) of these questions:

Write them down and bring them with you!

▶ What do you want this person to accomplish in the first 3 months, 6 months, 1 year?

This question (and the following questions) helps you set an appropriate target for yourself. Put your interviewer on the spot by having them describe to you what they want – then explain how you can meet and exceed those expectations.

▶ Tell me about the best person you have ever had in this position and what made that person unique?

▶ What are some of the common traits that exist with the more successful employees of this company?

▶ What are the biggest challenges one will face in this role?

▶ Why did my predecessor leave this position?

▶ Tell me about your background and what attracted you here.

▶ What advancement can a person expect, in this company and in the industry at large, after doing this job well?

▶ What are some of the company’s short and long range objectives?

▶ In what areas does this company excel? In what areas does this company have some limitations?

Wrapping up:

▶ ‘Do you have any concerns about my background and how it fits your needs?’

Ask for candid feedback, and give yourself the chance to respond. This is a great opportunity to directly address – and mitigate – your interviewer’s concerns about your professional background, experience, etc.

▶ Next steps and timeline.

When should you hear back? Will there be another round of interviews with different people?

Before leaving, be sure to say: ‘If offered the position, I can start on <date>’

▶ Thank them for their time.

Following up:

Always send a “Thank you” note. At least write an email, but you can really stand out with a handwritten note!

Just a few sentences of “thanks” with a reference to something discussed can go a long way. End by reiterating your interest and asking about next steps before  thanking them again.

Follow up in 1 week if you haven’t heard back. If you haven’t heard anything after 2 weeks, it’s time to move on.

And that’s it! Follow these steps and you’re guaranteed a positive interview experience. Even if you don’t land the job, you’ll have made a strong impression as a professional, competent, and capable candidate – an impression which may serve you well further down the line in your search.

If you’d like a more personalized version of our Definitive Guide, call us at 858 412 1116 or email hello@provenrecruiting.com and we can set something up directly. We’ll also help you touch up your resume and connect you with the right employers. Come say hi!

 

About the author:

Wes Shoup
Associate Partner, Proven Recruiting

As an Associate Partner of Technical Recruiting, Wes works tirelessly to identify, train, and place qualified tech candidates.

During his time at Proven Recruiting, Wes has made it a point to foster strong relationships with tech-specific awareness initiatives. Most recently, he presented at Girls in Tech’s ‘Hacking for Humanity’ Hackathon, an event aimed at supporting Diversity in Tech by offering girls the opportunity to broaden their skills. 

Have a question for Wes? Ask him in the comments below!