Working in career services, I sometimes coach students on their interviewing skills and how to speak about their qualifications and strengths with confidence. When you’re sitting in front of a potential employer who possibly holds the key to a new job, interviewing can be an unnerving experience. Trying to relax and give the right answers while gauging the interviewer’s reactions can lead many people down “man, I blew it” thinking. In my research and in talking to recruiters on how job-seekers can present themselves more effectively in an interview, I learned some surprising key points. Here’s a summary of the points you should remember the next time you have an interview:
- “Tell me about yourself.” Most interviewers begin with this question, or with some variation of it, to establish rapport, and to get the interview rolling. Instead of viewing the question anxiously, set the tone and talk about your strengths. Focus on describing yourself positively with a concise answer that relates to the company, the position, or your interest in the field. Do this by preparing your answer and practicing before the interview. Here’s a fantastic article that gives solid ideas on how to craft the right answer to this unavoidable question.
- Pauses are okay. When challenging questions are posed (e.g. Tell me about a time you …) , it’s natural to feel a little anxious, and immediately say anything that sounds remotely relevant to the question, but think twice before jumping the gun. Remember as the interviewee, you can set the tone and pace of the interview. Brooke Smith, who has recruited for the IT and educational industries, sees a lot of candidates get nervous and answer questions before they understand what they’re being asked. “Take your time, you don’t have to answer immediately…make sure you understand the question.” Ask the interviewer to repeat the question if necessary and save yourself from sounding off-topic or disconnected.
- Recruiters/Hiring managers are people, too. One part of a recruiter’s job in an interview is to stimulate an open dialogue so they can determine a good fit. “Let your personality shine in a professional way,” suggests Christi Rose, a talent manager based in California. To her, a red flag is raised if 15-20 minutes into the interview, the candidate still hasn’t opened up or is still nervous. Not only is it important to hiring managers to hear that you have the skill set to do the job, but they’re also looking to see if there’s a cultural and company fit.
- No cookie cutter answers. Recruiters want to see and hear more than a recitation of your resume. “There’s no one cookie cutter answer; we’re trying to get know you,” says Rose. One hiring manager I spoke to advised being “memorable.” If you know the job description, and understand the qualifications you have that address the employer’s needs, you have the tools to give answers that are memorable and unique to your work experience. And that’s what any hiring manager would appreciate during the hiring process.
- Stay relevant. Staying relevant in your professional life translates to a better interview experience. If you are a worker re-entering the workforce or a stay-at-home mom, lack experience or are in-between careers, both Rose and Smith say that you must be willing to sacrifice in some way to meet your career goals. Whether that’s taking time to attend a networking event in your industry, volunteering, starting an online degree, or doing an internship, you’ll be able to sell yourself more confidently in an interview when you can talk about skills you’ve gained on your road to your new job.
Interviewing can be a nerve-wracking experience but it doesn’t have to be. It can actually be a learning opportunity to see if there’s employer chemistry, and at best, can even excite you more about the position. You won’t get it all right every single time, so pick one thing you’ll do, and do that in your next interview. Aside from actually getting the job offer, the interview tone is in your control. And it goes without saying that most interview anxiety can be dispelled with a little preparation and advanced research, so with these pointers, take a deep breath and ease into your next interview.
Written By: Quisha Henderson
Quisha considers herself to be a lifelong learner and has a passion for helping people live up to their full potential. Her professional experience involves providing student and career development to adult learners at Ashford University. Quisha received her Master of Business Administration and would like to future her education in positive mental health.