Job-hunting, especially for young professionals and career-shifters, can often be an intimidating process. A big part of it is having to go through interviews at different stages with different people, ranging from hiring managers to team members and leads, and sometimes directors and C-level executives.
As someone fresh off of the experience, I’ve had to personally go through this trial-and-error interviewing phase to be able to note what worked and what didn’t. After all those hours scheduling, attending, and evaluating interviews, here are some tips I’ve gathered to be good practices:
1. Look up the company profile.
This is a double-purpose task: the first is to let your interviewer know that you’ve taken the effort to check them out. The second is to assess how this company appeals to you after learning more about them.
Consider this job interview as a first date—it’s all about getting to know each other, so of course you’d want to know who they are, what they do, and how compatible you would be in an employer-employee relationship.
If you have friends currently or previously employed there, chat them up as they’re your best insider when it comes to company culture and day-to-days. However, if you don’t have those connections, you can check the company website or their business profiles (think LinkedIn, Glassdoor). At the very least, find out the following:
- What are their main products and services?
- Where are their headquarters?
- What industry are they in, and how have they been navigating it for the past x years?
Once the interviewer asks if you’ve heard about their company, simply tick these details off one by one based on your own understanding—and have them correct you in case you missed anything.
2. Greet your interviewers by name.
This is a cliché tip, but it’s cliché for a reason—it works. Calling people by their name perks them up, and it also lets them know that you see them as an individual and not just another interviewer. (This tip applies to your other everyday interactions, too.)
If you know your interviewer’s name beforehand, greet them accordingly; if it’s an unexpected phone call, ask early so you can address them properly. Take care not to overdo it though as that might sound borderline creepy—greeting them at the start and end is often enough.
3. Make the best out of the classic “Tell me about yourself” prompt.
This is a question frequently underutilized by rookie interviewees: they begin re-stating their name, age, and other personal details (I know I have!). Sometimes they list their hobbies, and while those may help break the ice at the beginning, they are for the most part irrelevant.
Remember that a job interview’s main purpose is to see if you’re a potential hire, so if this is asked, it’s best to answer with the past/present formula: let them know your past professional experience, and present career priorities. Compare the two answers below:
- I’m a 25-year-old X university graduate, and I do photography and play the guitar in my free time
- I’m a web developer for healthcare platforms for the past three years, and I’m looking for a new role now, preferably using React/Node
It’s easy to see which answer is more direct, relevant, and capable of steering the conversation to your favor.
4. Answer the question in the first five seconds, and elaborate in the next fifteen (or less!).
Hiring managers often screen lots of candidates and thus have limited time per interview. To make your airtime with them more valuable, it’s best to answer concisely and straight to the point. It gets obvious when interviewees beat around the bush, so make a conscious effort to answer the question immediately and elaborate as needed.
There are usual interview questions like Describe your most challenging project or What are your strengths and weaknesses (though truthfully speaking, the usefulness of these questions vary greatly—but they might get asked regardless). You can have your answers prepared ahead for these, then pluck them out once they’re asked. For questions that require thinking on your feet, just keep in mind that your answer should always highlight skills and past responsibilities that qualify you for this position.
5. Know that it’s okay to admit your gaps.
In the screening process, interviewers often ask which tasks you’ve handled before and what tools you’ve used. No one expects you to know the whole stack of the job description, and that’s okay—besides, if you do, would you really consider a role that doesn’t offer something new while you’re still in the early stages of your career?
Be honest when it’s your first time hearing about a certain software or skill, but always tack on your willingness to learn. The same goes for technical interviews—of course you’re still expected to prepare for them well, but if you get asked an unfamiliar question, you’ll fare better by admitting your gaps and promising to look them up after rather than pretending to know in front of a seasoned interviewer.
6. Be honest about your non-negotiables.
Before the interview, have an honest conversation with yourself on what will make you decline this role. Stretch your limits: Are you willing to undertake all tasks listed under the job description? If the role isn’t fully remote, would you still apply? Are you amenable to shifting, or do you want flexible work hours? How about night shifts?
For the pay range, search for the position you’re applying for in various career sites (not just one!) to get a fair picture of the role’s market price. If you have trusted peers in the same field, you can try opening the pay discussion with them to make sure you’re not being lowballed.
Knowing the answers ahead for these make-or-break questions prepares you to answer them confidently once you’re asked, instead of mumbling a halfhearted response. Remember that HR will note your preferences, so if something is apparently a non-negotiable, better say it early than pursue an application you’ll have to withdraw later. Not only does this gesture show that you respect your interviewers’ time and energy, it also saves yours for refocusing into other worthwhile applications.
7. Always ask for next steps and feedback before wrapping up.
More often than not, your interviewer has made up their mind about your application before ending the talk. If you’ve nailed it, there are some signs you can pick up—so be on the lookout for those—but regardless if it’s clear to you or not, always ask what to expect next and how long you’re supposed to wait for a callback.
If they’re upfront that you won’t be proceeding to the next phases, create a learning experience out of the interview by asking for their feedback. Ask the important question: What steps should I take to make me qualified the next time I apply for this role?
It will make your interviewer think back to where you can improve on, and the question is framed nicely enough for you to get a constructive answer.
Being qualified for a role is one thing, but effectively communicating that you are to your interviewers is another. Remembering these tips is a good starting point for your next job interview, but don’t forget to evaluate afterwards how you fared so you can add your own good practices too.
Best of luck, and always put your best foot forward! ⭐️
Got thoughts on this topic? Share them in the comments below!