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I’ve taken part in many interviews, on both sides of the desk. And while I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the really ugly, I can safely say...

I’ve taken part in many interviews, on both sides of the desk. And while I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the really ugly, I can safely say I’m always most disappointed by the candidates who seem perfect on paper, but who just don’t impress when the opportunity presents itself.

Often times, this is because they don’t spend enough time preparing. Preparation not only leads to sharing the facets of your background that are most relevant to the position and to the people you’re meeting with, but it also helps you head into the interview confident and relaxed. When you’re confident and relaxed, you can be yourself. And that, my friends, is what will land you that position.
Here are five things you can do before and during your next job interview to improve your comfort level—so you can focus on showing everyone that you’re a great fit for the job.

1. Use Company Stalking to Your Advantage

It goes without saying that you should find out everything you can about your potential place of employment ahead of time. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and the company’s website and blog all provide you with information that will help you go to a job interview confident and prepared.
But this research isn’t about memorizing facts and figures—it’s about getting information that you can use to your advantage. For example, by visiting the company Facebook page, you should get a feel for the culture and overall vibe of the place. Are there photos of the employees? Great—you can decide whether to dress extra professional or don business casual to the interview. Oh, and look—the company has “Beer Fridays” and participates in a softball league. If it just so happens that you love beer and softball, that’s a perfect piece of info to bring up in the interview.
Twitter can also be an excellent resource because you can see what the company and its employees are talking about. Are they sarcastically bantering with each other? Feel free to throw a few jokes in as you’re meeting with people. Are they tweeting up a storm about an event or product launch? Use it as a conversation starter.

2. Know Who You’re Talking To

Before you go, try to find out who you’ll be meeting with, whether it’s an HR representative, your would-be boss, or the CEO. Why? Your interview answers and conversation topics should vary based on the person you are speaking with, and by knowing who you'll be talking to, you can spend time thinking through how you might connect with each of these people.
For example, if you’ll be talking to an executive, the company's founder, or an overall top dog, he or she will likely be focused on the big picture. So, rather than sharing the minutia of your responsibilities in your last role, talk about a few big results you can point to. On the other hand, if you’re interviewing with your immediate supervisor, you’ll want to demonstrate exactly why you’re the best person to tackle the day-to-day responsibilities of the position.
The startup I work for, Automated Insights, also often sends general employees in to talk with the candidate. In this scenario, remember that your potential co-workers are interested in how you coming on board will make their lives easier. If someone mentions a task your future position handles, show how you could fill that role—but in a way that tries to relate, rather than impress. (e.g., "Yeah, that computer program isreally frustrating, but my last job required me to use it a lot, so I could definitely take over that task.") When it comes time for that employee to give their opinion, you’ll earn his or her vote.

3. Let Some Personality In

On that note, an important thing to remember is that you were selected for this interview based on your skills and accomplishments. The interviewers know you have what it takes to do the job, so now’s your chance to inject some personality into what’s written on that resume and cover letter.
At Automated Insights, we are a competitive group. When the conversation isn’t on work, it’s usually on ping pong, darts, or fantasy football. In an interview, we bring these games up not only to see if candidates will fit in with the culture, but to give them the opportunity to open up and display their personality, too. In other words, if someone asks about your hobbies outside of work, it’s totally OK to open up and share what really makes you tick. (Do keep it semi-professional, though: Saying you like to have a few beers at the local hot spot on Saturday night is fine. Telling them that Monday is usually a rough day for you because you’re always hungover is not.)

4. Don’t Save Your Questions for the End

Naturally, you’ll probably go into the interview with a few questions (because you did so much research ahead of time!). But, contrary to what you might have heard, don't compile said questions into a list and save them all for the end.
Remember, during the interview you should be engaged in discussion. So, weave your questions in naturally, as the topics come up. (e.g., “I’ve supervised up to five people at a time. How many direct reports does this position have?”) You may also find that many your questions will be answered before you can even ask them.
Typically, there is a Q&A period at the end, but save that for any remaining or housekeeping-type questions you want answered (e.g., “When will you be making a hiring decision?”). Working your well-thought-out questions into the interview will create a normal flow of conversation and relax both sides of the table.

5. Accept the Beverage

While no one’s ever been denied a job because they said no when offered a beverage—take one. I’m serious.
Remember, your goal is to be relaxed and comfortable so you can show the best you. And think about it: You’re going to be talking. A lot. Which means you are going to regret saying, “No thanks, I’m fine” to a beverage 45 minutes into the interview after you’ve been talking for 29 of them.
But what’s more, saying “Yes, I’d love one, thank you,” is the natural thing to do. When you visit a family member or friends house, you have no problem accepting a refreshing glass of water or whatever Grandma has available. And doing the same with the interviewers will show them that you’re comfortable enough to spend 40+ a week with them. (And, hey, free drink! You might not get the job, but you got a Coke, so it’s not a total loss.)
Interviews are a big deal, and landing that new career can be a game-changer, but it’s important to remember that you’ve already accomplished something: You landed the interview. So, relax a little bit. As long as you’ve done your research and you let your personality shine through, you’ll be prepared to ace the interview.

6. Fake it till you make it:

Your first interview can be a scary prospect, as you come face-to-face with your potential new boss. The key is to remember the interviewer just wants to see what you’re like, find out if you’ll be a good match for the job and will fit in at the company. Even if you’re nervous, try not to let it show, instead let your personality shine.
Tops tips are, give a firm handshake and keep eye contact with the interviewer. Take deep breath after each question they ask and always look interested and attentive when the interviewer is speaking.
Always arrive 15 minutes before the interview and find a seat in a nearby coffee shop, this will give you time to collect your thoughts and calm your nerves. Head into the office 5 minutes before the interview is due to start. Don’t worry if there are butterflies in your stomach – no one knows they’re there apart from you. Just believe in yourself.

7. It’s revision time again:

You may have thought your revision days were over, but reading up on a company before the interview is a must if you want to impress.
The trick here, is to know more than the interviewer expects you to, so looking over the company website and the job description isn’t enough. Know the name and position of the person interviewing you, their career industry and background – you can find this out from their LinkedIn profile and a quick Google search. It will give you an idea of where you can find common ground.
Don’t forget to cover the basics – what the company does and its vision for the future. For extra points, identify the company’s competitors and what makes the company unique in its market – this will highlight to the employer you have a good degree of commercial awareness.
When you’ve brushed up on the company, it’s time to think about how you can add value. Look at the job description and for each responsibility listed, note a time you demonstrated that skill in the past. A good way to test your knowledge ahead of time is to talk about the company to friends and family. But don’t think of it as a test, by simply sharing what you know about the company, you’ll find that when it comes to the interview, your responses will sound more genuine and less like you’re reading from a script.

8. Know what to share and what to hold back:

Putting yourself in the interviewer’s shoes is a helpful way of deciding what to say (and what not to say). E.g. speaking badly of a past employer is a big ‘no’ – it creates instant alarm bell for an interviewer.
Think of the questions they’re likely to ask and how you’ll respond – but don’t over rehearse, remember you don’t want to sound like a script. An interview isn’t a one-way street; come prepared with a mental list of questions you would like to ask them, e.g. “What kind of projects will the company be working on over the next year?” or, “How do you see this new hire fitting into the team?”. This will show your eagerness for getting stuck into the company long-term.

9. The closer:

Ending an interview can be a bit like ending a first date, as you wonder “Did they like me?”, or “Do I like them?”. So if you want to avoid that awkward “So, this was fun” moment, just remember at the end of the interview to:
  • Ask the interviewer about your application: to see if they have any concerns or if they would like to know anything else. It also gives you the opportunity to get valuable feedback and show that you’re attentive.
  • Always get a business card: it looks professional and means you have direct access to the person who interviewed you.
  • Don’t play hard to get: you don’t need to gush about everything, but if you’re interested in the role and company, you need to let the interviewer know.
  • Send a follow up email: if you get a business card, it means you can email the interviewer directly. Do this the day after the interview so you’re still fresh in their mind
Interviews can be tough, but what they really come down to is practice. The more you do them, the better you get at them, so get out there and get practicing!
10. You can be too eager for the role
While employers prefer candidates who are enthusiastic about working for them specifically, it is possible to be too enthusiastic.
Being overly needy makes you look bad and lowers your value as a potential hire. For example, if you’re currently employed and you tell your interviewer that you could start work right away, this could hurt your chances. It indicates that you’re willing to make an unprofessional exit from your present job by leaving them hanging with no notice. Is that the kind of person they would want on their team?
Although it’s good to send a thank-you note after an interview, too much follow-up can kill your chances. Calling or emailing multiple times to check up on the status of your application will make you look desperate and will likely get on the employer’s nerves.
11. Employers want to like you as a person
Since they already think you have the skills, and they want to hire you, what are most employers looking for in an interview? Frankly, they want to know if they like you and if you’re going to fit in with the team. Once they hire you, you become someone they will have to see and speak to every day at work. They often end up spending more time with you than they do with their family or friends. So likeability really matters.
This is why coming up with clichéd answers to standard questions won’t work. If you say that your biggest flaw is that you’re a ‘perfectionist workaholic,’ the interviewer won’t learn anything about the real you, and may be annoyed by your lack of sincerity.
Be personable, and talk in a friendly, conversational manner rather than simply quoting rehearsed answers. Try to build rapport with the interviewer.
12. Your looks really matter
How you look may determine whether or not you get the job. If you are dressed too casually, you may appear unprofessional or not serious about the role. If the company culture, or the hiring manager specifically has issues with multiple piercings, visible tattoos or odd facial hair, these may cost you the gig. If you appear nervous, sweaty and easily flustered, they might assume that you are not up for the job.
Dress up, wear clothes that are just a touch more formal than required on the day-to-day of the job. Arrive a little early so that you don’t have to run to make it on time, and be at your calm and confident best.

13. Check out the interviewer and the hiring manager.

In your phone screening you should always ask for the name of the person the position reports to. Armed with this information you can research their background.
The more you know about the person who makes the hiring decision, the better you can focus your conversation.
If you are not interviewing with the hiring manager in this first round, ask for the name of the individual(s) who will be interviewing you.
Then, do your research about them before the meeting.
  • Where have they worked (did you work for the same or a similar company)?
  • What was their career path (do you have a similar path)?
  • Do you have a school or location in common with them?
This helps you build rapport with your interviewer and remember –-
People hire people they like. So, your job is not only to impress them with your skills and experience, but also to get them to like you and want to work with you.
LinkedIn will tell you all sorts of information including how long they have been there and where they came from.
Be sure to see what LinkedIn Groups they belong to, who they are following, their interests and projects, whether you know anyone in common, and if they have posted comments and articles.
Also see if they are active on Twitter and check out their tweets as these give a glimpse into their personality.
14. Show off those listening skills.
One of the best social skills that many introverts have is the ability to listen carefully and zero in on the heart of the issue—one of the most beneficial skills to bring into an interview. Even if you’re used to being the one who hangs back in conversation, that’s something you can use to your advantage in a job interview. A customized answer to a complicated question can give you an edge of someone who’s in extrovert interview mode, and working from a set of personal talking points.

15. Practice, practice, practice.

Know the job description cold. Know ahead of time what questions you have about the job or company. Know what you want to to emphasize in your own history and experience. Then, once you have those in mind, practice answering questions about all of them. The more familiar you are with the lines of the conversation ahead of time, the easier it will be to deal with them when you’re in an unfamiliar space with unfamiliar faces.

16. Use the thank you email to your advantage.

If you did fumble something or let nerves get the better of you in part of the interview, the follow-up note can help you clarify a bungled point. If you’re better in writing than chatting in person, a coherent and charming thank you note can help shore up the final impression.
The job interview as we know it is not suited super-well to those of us with introvert tendencies—but that doesn’t mean you have to accept that. You don’t need to become a social butterfly overnight, but having a set of strategies in you pocket can really help you compete with people who take to the format much more naturally.


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