Face-to-Face Interviews: Secrets, Tricks and Tips
[This article was updated in March 2016]
For job-seekers in today’s challenging job market, getting in front of an actual live person to interview for a job with a company is a major goal – second only to receiving and accepting an actual job offer! It seems like more and more these days, companies who are interested in a candidate begin their screening process with a phone interview – usually conducted by an internal company recruiter or an HR person. I’ve already posted a separate blog about phone interviews [“Phone Interviews: Secrets, Tricks and Tips.”] For those candidates lucky enough to pass through the phone interview and graduate to a face-to-face interview … this blog is for you!
After coaching and prepping hundreds of candidates for face-to-face interviews over the years, here are some tips, tricks and secrets that I’ve learned that may help. Now I admit that some of this information is identical to my phone interview prep … so, you’ll excuse me if I plagiarize from myself and repeat certain sections from that earlier blog. There are, of course, several very different key aspects to preparing for an in-person interview that are included here.
Research the industry, the company and the players.
Find out everything you can about the place, their business, their products, their position in their industry, their reputation, their competition, their financial stability and the key decision-makers who work there. Study the company’s website, take notes and jot down questions related to their business that you can ask at the end of your interview. Google Search the company and see what else you can find out about them beyond their own website. Look up the company on a professional business database like Dun & Bradstreet’s Million Dollar Database Premier or ReferenceUSA Business. Anyone with a public library card number can log into those databases from any home computer! (Ask your local librarian for help if you don’t know how to do this.) Read and study the company’s information there in detail. You certainly want to sound like you’ve done your homework, and that you are informed about them when asked the inevitable question: “How much do you know about our company?”
Research your interviewer.
Find out everything you can about the person that will be interviewing you. Try to find a bio on the company’s website. See if there is a bio of your interviewer in the personnel listed on the professional business databases mentioned above. Do a Google Search on their name and see what comes up. Look their name up on LinkedIn and check out their profile there. Figure out if you share any of their 1st degree LinkedIn connections, and if so, reach out to those people and ask if they can give you any insights. Also look them up on Facebook, Twitter and any other Social Media sites you can find to see if they have any public profiles. Take note of things like prior places they’ve worked, where they went to school, hobbies and interests, etc. The more you can learn about your interviewer, the better prepared you’ll be to connect on a personal level. Think of ways to use this information as part of the “Nuggets” technique listed below. (And by the way … your interviewer might be doing those same exact Social Media searches on you — so don’t be surprised if they mention things they’ve learned about you from those same sources!) Just be careful during the interview to not to let the conversation drift too far away from professional topics and into either offering up too much personal information or discussing potentially controversial subjects. For example: politics, religion, sexual orientation … those might be great topics for a first date — but not a job interview!
Study the job description and prepare stories.
Carefully think through each element of the job description (assuming you have one) for the position you are interviewing for beforehand and prepare concrete examples of when, where and how you have done all the specific things described in that job description. Telling stories is a very powerful interview technique. Prepare brief stories about your past accomplishments and experiences that illustrate how you provided value to your past employers … and by inference, how you would bring similar value to a new company. Be ready to tell your stories and demonstrate with details how you fit each and every requirement they listed. Try to work those stories into your conversation in a natural way during your interview.
Print out and bring a few copies of your résumé with you.
Most likely, your interviewer will already have a copy in front of them … but sometimes they don’t. If not, it’s always helpful to ask if they’d like to have a copy to refer to – which you just happen to have ready to hand them. You might also be introduced to other people who will want to interview you, and who may not be prepared with a copy of your résumé. It’s best to have them handy.
Dress for Success.
I would advise everyone to dress up for every interview (jacket & tie or a suit for men, conservative business suit for women, no flashy jewelry … and absolutely NO perfume or cologne!) Pay attention to grooming and personal hygiene (hair, nails, breath, etc.) Unless your interviewer specifically instructs you to dress casually for an interview — meaning THEY brought it up in advance … not that you asked if it would be OK — dressing up is the accepted rule of thumb. Sure, lots of places are “Business Casual” these days. I’ve seen interviewers dressed in jeans. However, don’t ever assume that means YOU can dress down for an interview. I’ve had more than one casually dressed decision-maker tell me that they thought a candidate showed a lack of respect by not dressing up for their interview. The bottom line is that dressing up cannot possibly hurt you!
Be on time – not too early, and NEVER late!
Make sure you know exactly where you are going. Verify the exact address and location that you are to meet your interviewer. Use Google Maps to plan your route. If you have one, use a GPS in your car to avoid getting lost. Do a practice driving run if you are unsure of the location. NEVER be late! But, also do not show up more than 5-10 minutes early. (That is disrespectful to the interviewer, and actually shows desperation.) If you do arrive too early, sit in your car and re-read the job description and gather your thoughts. Don’t go in until it’s close to your appointment time. On the other hand, if you do find yourself running late due to unexpected circumstances (severe weather, traffic problems, etc.) make sure you have a phone number with you that you can call to alert your interviewer about your delay. Nothing is worse than showing up late without having called. And then remember to silence your cell phone before you walk in the door!
Have a Firm Handshake.
It may sound obvious, but how you shake hands says volumes about your personality. Practice on someone you trust if needed. You want it to be firm, but not so tight that it feels like you are trying to break bones! The worst is the “fish” handshake – a completely limp hand. That’s just creepy! Almost as bad is gripping someone around their fingers instead of fully locking hands at the base of the thumb. This may sound overly picky, but you’d be surprised how much your handshake contributes to that all-important first impression.
Remember to speak clearly, and try to convey enthusiasm and energy through your tone of voice. Smiling helps (really, it does!) Smile as much as possible during the conversation. Try it … you’ll notice that you actually sound very different when you talk through a smile.
Make Eye Contact.
Throughout the interview, make sure you make eye contact with your interviewer. It’s OK if you have to refer to notes, or read something … but be conscious of where your eyes are focusing, and meet your interviewers eyes as much as possible (without going overboard by staring!)
Pay attention to your posture.
Sit up straight in your chair. Do not slouch or lean back. From time to time, a good trick is to lean forward towards the interviewer. When speaking, leaning forward transmits the message that you want to emphasize your point. When listening, leaning forward transmits the message that you are fully engaged in active listening. Also, don’t chew gum!
Mirroring the vocal cadence and body language of the interviewer.
A trick often used by sales people is to listen to the speed and tone of the interviewer’s voice, and try to match it with your own. I don’t mean imitate the person’s voice or accent … but simply talk slower or faster to match the way the other person sounds, and mirror their general tone and level. Mirroring the general body language of your interviewer (which way they’re leaning, crossing their legs, tilting their head, and other broad gestures) has the same effect. Doing this subconsciously makes the other person feel more comfortable with you, and helps you form a connection with them.
Use the “Nuggets” technique to establish rapport.
“Nuggets” are all those little things that you can pick out about a person or a company that you can make a positive comment about, compliment a person on, and use to connect on a personal level with the person you are talking with. When done correctly, using “Nuggets” in an interview can increase your chances of success and cast you in a more favorable light. Everyone loves to hear compliments … and it’s simply human nature for someone to be attracted to someone else who says complimentary things about them, and who seems impressed with them. [For more on this powerful interview technique, read: “Nuggets: A Secret Interviewing Technique.”]
Projecting a Positive Attitude is a critical key.
Concentrate on projecting positive energy and enthusiasm. Try to express passion for your work, a sense of humor, and a genuine aura of optimism. Those are the qualities that make a person attractive to others. It’s nearly impossible to fake those qualities, and frankly it’s one of the main reasons people get hired. Being able to convey a positive attitude is critical. [For more on this, read: “The Power of a Positive Attitude.”]
Questions, Questions, Questions.
There are literally hundreds of different questions that interviewers might ask, depending on the position of the interviewer, and their interview style. I do not intend to list specific questions and how to answer them here. A simple Google Search on “Interview Questions” will take you to dozens of great websites that go into great detail on that topic. I will say that the most common thing you’ll hear from almost every interviewer near the beginning of your meeting is some variation of: “Tell me about yourself.” Answering that is pretty basic, and also fairly critical. Don’t ask “where should I begin” – a sure sign of someone who needs to be spoon-fed instructions instead of thinking on their feet … definitely not the message you want to give! Also, don’t give an autobiography of your entire life starting with where you were born, where you went to school, what your hobbies and interests are, etc. – all personal items to be filed under the category of “too much information.” Keep your answer focused on your professional profile as it relates to this job and this company. Be prepared to give an expanded version of your “Elevator Pitch” in which you give an overview of your most recent and most relevant career experiences, and your professional goals. Try, if possible, to reference elements in their job description, and how your skills and experiences match it. Remember to use your prepared stories if you can. However, don’t let this answer go on too long … keep it well under 5 minutes. It’s OK to ask when you are done: “Would you like me to go into greater detail on anything in particular?”
Be a good listener, and never interrupt.
Any good interview is a 2-way exchange of information. Let the interviewer talk and lead the discussion without interrupting. Listen carefully, and then give thoughtful answers. Answer questions directly and completely, but try not to go off on tangents or “over-talk” your answers. It’s better to give a brief answer, and then ask “is that what you wanted, or should I give you more details?” Candidates often get nervous and talk too much during interviews, trying way too hard to “sell themselves.” While talking, pay attention to the body language of your interviewer and watch for signs of boredom – fidgeting, looking at their watch, etc. – and cut yourself off if you see them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve debriefed interviewers who complained about candidates who talked on and on and on during interviews, without letting the interviewer get a word in edgewise! Sometimes it’s better to simply shut up and listen!!!
Don’t bring up salary or benefits … but be prepared to answer the Dreaded Salary Question directly if asked.
Never be the one to bring it up … but if asked point blank what you made at your last job, or what your salary expectations are going forward – don’t play games or avoid answering. You need to prepare direct and truthful responses to those questions. If this topic came up in a prior phone interview, make sure your answers are consistent with what you said before. It’s best to be honest about your history, and to give a range for your expectations (rather than a specific number.) Your history is what it is – you can’t change it, and delaying telling them serves no purpose. And your expectations should not be a moving target … you should know what you need as a minimum, and what range makes sense based on your history. Now it is true that if the range you give does not overlap with the range that they have budgeted for the job you are pursuing, they will very likely eliminate you from consideration. On the other hand, if you dance around this issue and/or refuse to give a straight answer, then that is just as likely to raise a red flag that will eliminate you here. There are simply too many qualified applicants for every open job for most companies to want to deal with someone who can’t give a straightforward answer on this. The bottom line is that if your salary expectations do not match what they can pay, then it’s a waste of both your and their time to continue pursuing this position. They’ll find out eventually, so it’s better to know sooner rather than later. [For more details on this topic, read: “Answering the Dreaded Salary Question.”]
Prepare a list of questions you can ask.
Almost every interviewer asks near the end of an interview: “Do you have any questions?” Candidates are often judged by the quality of the questions they ask … and candidates who have no questions at all might be perceived as having no interest in the position. Some suggested ideas for general questions are: “How long have you been with the company, and what do you like about it?” “How would you describe the company culture here?” “What characteristics have made your best employees successful here?” You might also want to think of more specific questions about the company or their products, based your research. [For more on this, read: “’So, Do You Have Any Questions?’ Nailing the Interview Closer.”]
At the end of the interview, clarify the next steps.
If you are interested in this job, make sure to say so! (“I just want to let you know that I am very interested in this opportunity, and hope we can move forward. What is the next step?”) Don’t leave without determining what the expectations are for the next steps, and how and when YOU should follow-up. Ask what their timetable is for hiring, and how their hiring process works. Also make sure you get a business card with the email address and phone number of your interviewer, and send them a thank-you email that same day. If you met with more than one person, get everyone’s cards and do the same with them. Then immediately make a note on your calendar of when your pro-active follow-up call will be if you don’t hear back from them first. If you really want this job, don’t just sit back wait for them to make the next move. You have to go after it!