13 MIN READ

Interview Skills

What to Do Before, During and After Your Interview


We all need interview skills. In a wide range of situations, the ability to answer tough questions, and to stay cool under pressure, is extremely valuable.

Perhaps you're looking for a new job or a promotion. Maybe you need to reinterview for your own job. Or maybe you want to brush up on your interview skills before meeting with a potential new client.

In this article and video, you can learn the skills you need to ace your next interview – whatever form it takes.

We'll outline the preparation you need to do in advance, how to follow up afterward, and how to deliver a polished and persuasive performance in the interview itself – giving you the very best chance of success!

Click here to view a transcript of this video.

How to Prepare for an Interview

There's no doubt that interviews can be stressful. But the more time you spend preparing for an interview, the more confident you will feel. That confidence will be noted, favorably, by your interviewer.

Follow these six steps to set yourself up for success.

1. Research the Organization

If you have an interview with a new organization, start by finding out more about it. Spend time browsing the organization's website (the "About" section is a good place to start) and reach out to anyone in your network that may have a personal connection or any other information.

This will help you to plan answers that align with the organization's goals and values. By mentioning key facts during the interview, you'll show that you're organized, diligent, and serious about the job.

It's also a good idea to research your interviewer as an individual. Visit their LinkedIn profile to discover their professional interests and career history. If possible, you can also make discreet inquiries within your wider professional network. This will help you to anticipate their questions, and to build rapport with them on the day.

2. Prepare and Practice Your Answers

You'll likely be under pressure in the interview, so having answers ready for the most common – and most difficult – questions will ensure that you don't forget something important. This will also save you from having to think them up on the spot!

Thoroughly reread the job advert, or the job description, as the interview will likely be structured around it. Consider how your experience matches the job requirements, and try to come up with examples.

Our article How to Answer Interview Questions contains a comprehensive list of common questions, along with guidance on preparing powerful answers for each one.

Many people find role-playing useful before an interview. Sit down with a friend or colleague who's willing to act as the interviewer. Then, go through several rounds of mock interviews until you feel confident with your answers.

You can also use visualization techniques to rehearse a successful interview. Picture yourself sitting confidently, speaking clearly, and giving all the responses you've prepared.

And there are a range of memory techniques that you can use to fix your answers firmly in your mind. The Roman Room System is a particularly powerful method for remembering and recalling your key points.

Tip:

See our article Hiring People: Questions to Ask for a guide to the kind of questions you might face and a breakdown of the techniques interviewers use.

3. Calm Your Nerves

A few nerves can sharpen your mind and push you to perform at your best. However, many people struggle with anxiety before an interview. And, if you don't take steps to control it, that anxiety could hamper your performance.

There are many techniques that you can use to reduce stress, quiet your mind, and restore feelings of calm and control.

See our articles on physical relaxation techniques and guided imagery for useful ways to combat anxiety.

Our video on Confidence Hacks has quick, useful tips and tricks to combat nerves.

Tip:

Try to find out about the format of the interview: how many people will be interviewing you? Will any of the interviewers be joining by telephone or online? Will you be expected to do any tests before or after the interview?

The more you know about the challenge ahead, the more comfortable you'll feel.

4. Polish Your Image

You need to show up to your interview looking professional. In general, this means dressing "one level up" from what regular employees at the company tend to wear.

If you don't know what the normal level is, try to look for images of the office online. If that doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to ask! The organization will likely be happy that you take these things seriously.

Lay out your outfit the night before. Make sure that your clothes are clean and pressed, and that your personal appearance is tidy and professional.

4. Don't Forget the Basics

Some of the simplest things are the most important.

With that in mind, make sure you plan your journey – check your route and leave plenty of time to get to your destination.

This may sound obvious, but people regularly miss interviews, or arrive late, due to unexpected hitches on their journey. Leaving it to the last minute can also make you more anxious in an already stressful situation. If it's practical, consider making a test journey in advance.

Also, if you're bringing a portfolio to showcase your career highlights, ensure that it's ready to go the night before. And pack extra copies of your résumé – it's a good idea to reread this, too, so that you're not caught out by anything in it!

During the Interview

1. Make a Good First Impression

Your interview may be your first interaction with the organization or this group of people. So, treat everyone you meet as though they were your interviewer.

For example, imagine that you arrive late to your interview, and you start complaining about the journey to the person who's sharing the elevator with you. Only when you both get out at the same floor do you realize that they're the CEO!

Arrive in good time and be courteous, polite and friendly to everyone you meet – making a great first impression will pay off later in the process.

Note:

If your interview is taking place online, there are additional ways to make a good – or bad – impression. See our video How to Ace a Video Interview for more advice on this.

2. Answer the Right Questions

Although you've prepared responses to the questions you think you'll face, be sure to answer the questions that you are asked.

Listen carefully to what's being said, and don't be afraid to ask for clarification if necessary. It's better to have the question repeated than to "wing it" because you haven't understood what you've been asked. This will also show that you're fully engaged in the interview – and buy you some time to consider your answer.

Even if you get the precise question you'd anticipated, resist the urge to repeat your practice answer word for word. Instead, act as though you're hearing it for the first time. This will stop you from coming across as robotic or overconfident, and reassure the interviewer that you're giving an engaged, honest response.

3. Ask Questions

Think of your interview as a conversation, not an interrogation. Yes, the interviewer will be asking you lots of questions, but it's important that you ask questions, too – and that you listen carefully to their answers.

This will enable you to make an informed decision about whether the organization or role is a good fit for you.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • What is the biggest challenge in this role?
  • Who will be my boss, or who will I be reporting to? What are they like? What are their expectations?
  • Who previously held this role? Why did they leave?
  • What does this company value the most?
  • How will my success be evaluated? What metrics will be used? (This is particularly important if you're reinterviewing for your own job.)

Note:

Although it's important to ask questions, your first interview may not be the best time to ask about salary and benefits. These can be difficult issues to discuss, and asking about them too early may send the wrong signal.

However, salary, benefits and work flexibility are important. They can all make or break the deal, so use your judgment to decide when and how to address these issues.

4. Get Your Tone Right

An interview is usually a fairly formal situation and the language you use should reflect that. You can still be yourself, but make a particular effort to speak clearly, to use the appropriate terminology, and to avoid slang (and certainly bad language). Aim to match your tone to that of the interviewer.

Keep "reading the room" during the interview, to make sure that your words are having the desired effect.

5. Pay Attention to Your Body Language

Your body language plays an important part in the way you come across during interviews. Practice maintaining good eye contact, offering a firm handshake, sitting comfortably but confidently in your chair, and smiling.

It's also important to stay in control of your arms and legs, even if you're nervous. Try not to play with items in your hands, touch your hair or face, fidget, or jiggle your feet or legs. These are all signals to your interviewer that you're nervous or uncomfortable.

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After the Interview

You're not finished when you walk out of the interview room! Follow the steps below to make sure that you get the best out of the whole process.

1. Follow Up

After your interview, send a thank-you letter or email within 24 hours. Include everyone on the interview panel, not just the person at the top. If you can't contact everyone directly, ask your primary contact to pass on your thanks.

2. If You're Offered the Job

If you're offered the position, congratulations! You now need to gather all the information you can about your role. This is the time to get details about your start date, the terms and conditions of employment, and what kind of onboarding or training you'll receive.

It's also worth understanding the goals that relate to your position, and whether the organization expects any quick wins within the first 60-90 days.

3. If You're Not Offered the Job

A rejection can be tough to process, especially if it was a role you really wanted or thought you could easily secure.

Keep in mind that sometimes things simply don't go our way. There will be many factors behind the decision of who gets a job offer. If it wasn't you this time, try not to take it personally.

See our article Developing Resilience for advice on how to bounce back even stronger after a setback.

4. Get Feedback

Once the process is complete, try to get feedback from your interviewers on how you performed, and how well your skills matched the position on offer.

If you didn't get the job or contract, learn whatever lessons you can to increase your chances of success in the future. And if you were successful, you'll know which areas you can improve on when you start your new role.

Key Points

All of us need to brush up on our interview skills from time to time.

Preparation is essential before an interview. Research the company, prepare answers for likely questions, plan your journey, and role-play your performance. If you're struggling with confidence, take the time to invest in yourself and learn techniques to keep your cool.

During the interview, try to make a good first impression, pay close attention to your tone and body language, and ask questions. Listen attentively to make sure you're answering exactly what you're being asked.

Once the interview is over, send a thank-you message to everyone involved in the process. Whether you secure the position or not, ask for feedback to learn from the experience, and to improve your interview skills for the future.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Subscribe to our free newsletter, or join the Mind Tools Club and really supercharge your career!

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Comments (13)
  • Over a month ago charlieswift wrote
    We've added a video to this popular article - let us know what you think. Meanwhile, remember to bear in mind these tips even when you're hoping to move within your existing organization. Different managers and teams can have very different expectations and priorities, so take some time to research and plan with fresh eyes! - Charlie Swift and the MT editorial team
  • Over a month ago paradox wrote
    Hi Midgie and Dianna,

    Thanks for your tips. I just got back from the interview on Friday and I think it went really well. I definitely over-prepared as they only asked me a couple of the dozens of things I went over before the interview.
    Overall I think I stand a pretty good chance of getting the job, except that towards the end of the interview I may have let my guard down a bit and this may hurt me.

    Remembering the few things they did ask about wasn't too much of a problem since I'd rehearsed them in advance and it was pretty much what I would have said naturally anyway.

    The only question for myself is, do I really want the job as it is not quite what I thought it was. I think I will take it though as I've been underemployed for a while and this will help get my career on a new track. It'll be an engineering position on a boat for long periods of time without much time off. If I had more time off in between rotations I'd be a lot more happy about it, but everybody tells me to just bite the bullet for a year or two and then try to renegotiate.

    I wrote thank you cards and sent by mail the next day, if I don't hear back within a few days to a week I plan to call them back to see if they have any questions and will have some statements prepared that relate to what they might ask me. Otherwise I'll just move on to other potential positions. If you have any further advice I'd be very appreciative.

    Thanks,
    -Josh
  • Over a month ago Midgie wrote
    Hi Josh,
    Congratulations on getting another interview for a company that head-hunted you! That must be quite flattering to be approached so they obviously see something in your that you want.

    The fears you express about using the research effectively, missing something or forgetting things are fears that many people experience before a big interview. The best you can do is be relaxed and be yourself. Trust that the answers will come out easily and effortlessly.

    A couple of thoughts though ... if you pick up some interesting points during your research, why note write a few brief notes and take that into the interview with you. Preparing a few key questions you can ask them will also stand you in good stead ... and these questions can be written down along with the notes.

    An excellent way to prepare for what they might ask you is to identify the key skills, qualities and attributes they want from the person in the job. If there is nothing formally written like a job description, then what has been said to you. Plus, what common things are written in the other job descriptions you have seen. Then, come up with examples that you can talk about where you have used that skill or demonstrate that experience.

    The more you can prepare answers to potential questions, the more ideas you will have when you head different questions. Plus, it can boost your confidence levels as you go to the interview knowing that you have rehearsed lots of questions and answers.

    Good luck and keep us posted on how things go.
    Midgie
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