Executing a great interview
Part 2 in a 3-part series

Interviewing is a big topic! In part 1 , we covered interview prep. In this post, I’ll take you through recruiter-tested best practices for executing a great interview.

Good interviews begin with great preparation, followed by confident execution.

You wouldn’t believe how many folks ‘wing it’, taking a quick look at the company website and job description. By observing these guidelines, you’ll automatically stand out. Ready?

Be prepared! Taking time to do your homework is hugely important. It shows respect for the interviewers’ time and also helps you be on your game. You get one opportunity to make a good first impression ~ this is it! For more on how to ace your interview prep, click here to read part 1 of this series.

Bring something to write on. Get a decent-looking $20 portfolio at Target or Walgreens. Black or gray, preferably. Having a professional-looking portfolio sets you apart from the people who show up empty-handed or with a spiral-bound notebook.

In it, you should have a legal pad and pen (test the pen beforehand). Bring a copy of your resume, too. We may not ask to see it, but having it available can be reassuring if you tend to freeze up in an interview. Also, jot a few of your key points and questions down on the pad. Use the pad to take a few notes, but don’t spend a lot of time writing when you’re interviewing – it’s distracting.

Be a little early. Not 20-30 minutes early. Arriving 5-10 minutes before your interview is ideal. If you get here earlier, wait somewhere else (in your car, in a nearby coffee shop, etc.) for a bit.

A word about scent. For an interview, leave the cologne or perfume off. Noses become accustomed to fragrance, and yours may be overpowering even if you can’t smell it. If you’re a smoker, is there a product to magically erase the smell of that last pre-interview cig? We can smell it even if you can’t. And pop a breath mint on your way in.

Know who you’re meeting. Ask for your interviewer using their first AND last names.

Silence your phone. Better yet, shut it off before the interviewer picks you up.

Be nice to the front desk person. Sometimes we check to see how you treated them. Don’t be that person who’s charming to their interviewers but dismissive or rude to the front desk person.

Have a good handshake. Firm, with palms connecting fully. Make eye contact and smile. Don’t squeeze too hard (or too limply). Don’t hang on too long or use your other hand to grab the person’s arm (creepy).

Wait to sit until the interviewer’s seated or asks you to have a seat. If you’re interviewing in a conference room, choose a chair at one of the long sides of the table rather than at either end of the table.

Smile. Your body will take the cue to relax a bit. Also, our brains work better when we’re somewhat relaxed. And breathe. You don’t need to keep a fake smile plastered on, but do check in to see what your face is doing.

Be authentic. If you get super nervous in interviews, it’s OK to say so (once, at the beginning of the interview). If you’re really excited about the position and/or the company, tell them! Mind your manners while being real, of course. No swearing, no complaining about past bosses or companies, EVER. Stay professional.

Listen to the questions. If you’re not clear about what’s being asked, say, “I’m not sure what’s being asked. Could you give me a little more detail (or an example), please?” Answer directly without rambling. Use relevant examples.

Watch the interviewers’ body language: are they nodding? Smiling? Then your answer has landed. If they’re looking confused, ask, “Did I answer your question? Do you need more information?”  If they’re looking distracted or bored, it’s time to stop talking. Some companies  use the STAR technique to interview candidates (we used it at Prime Therapeutics). If you’re not familiar, learn about it here.

Have some of your own questions. Choose 1-2 from this list (jot them down in your portfolio):

  • What brought you here?
  • What was your biggest surprise/challenge?
  • How will you know you’ve hired the right person for this position?
  • What would you expect me to accomplish in the first 6 months?
  • What’s your timeline for filling this position?
  • What would the rest of the interview process look like?
  • Based on what we’ve talked about, do you think I’d be a fit for this position?
    Or (my favorite):
  • Do you have any concerns about my experience that I can address while we’re together?

Aaaaaand make sure your questions are relevant to the interview.
For example, ask job-specific questions of the hiring manager: “What technical skills will I use most?” “What will the person you hire need to accomplish in the first 30/60/90 days?” or “What’s the team like?” If you’re meeting with your prospective manager’s boss, go a little more strategic: “What is this team’s longer term goal?”

Save questions about time off, telecommuting or benefits for your Human Resources interview. In depth compensation and benefits conversations come at the end of the process, usually with HR.

Help the interviewer. Sometimes interviews go off track and the key points (ie. your skills and experience) don’t get discussed. No kidding, I’ve heard candidates say, “It was a great conversation, but we never even covered the job or my skills!”

If this is happening in your interview, it’s up to you to mention your experience even if they don’t. You’ve prepared some examples – mention them, politely, of course, before the interview is over.

When compensation comes up, say, “I’m looking for competitive pay. Can you give me an idea of the salary for this position, please?”  In our initial talent acquisition phone interviews, we always ask about salary expectations. We’re just making sure we’re in the same range.

Later on, after all interviews are completed and you’re at offer stage, get answers to all your compensation questions. Ask about the cost of benefits & when they become available, whether there are bonuses and when they’re paid out (and the company’s track record for paying them), typical merit increase (usually 2-4%), education reimbursement, and paid time off.

PHONE INTERVIEWS

Be prepared, same as an in-person interview. You have to work a little harder to engage your interviewer, since you can’t rely on physical cues. Make sure the phone connection is clear, you’re in a quiet spot, and that you’re not driving or otherwise distracted.

Be standing when you answer the call. There’s a physiology behind this: when seated, our diaphragms are compressed. When we stand, our diaphragms help project sound more fully, making us sound energetic and engaging. You can sit down after that, if you want.

Answer like you’re at your desk. “Hi, this is <your name>” not, “Hello?” Do your best to sound professional, alert, and ready to have a great conversation.

Smile. A smile is noticeable over the phone. And be sure to thank the interviewer and let them know you’re interested before you sign off (if you are, that is).

Remember, you’re interviewing the company, too: Pay attention as you wait for your interviewer. Do people seem energized, happy, friendly? Is the front desk person professional ? How about the interviewers? Do they seem prepared and intentional? Do they know who/what they’re looking for? Are they forthcoming in sharing information? Is interview feedback provided?  Do you like them?

When the interview is finished, thank the interviewer(s). You’ve just met a new connection, even if you’re not going to work together. If you’re excited about this opportunity, say so.

You can sign off by asking one last question, about timing. “When do you think you’ll know about next steps?” or “When do you think you’ll have interview feedback?” This reinforces your interest and will set the cadence for your follow up, which I’ll cover in part 3, “After the Interview”.

Be prepared, be intentional and be confident. You’ve got this.

Download this article as a PDF here.

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I help mid-career professionals clarify their brands, rock their interviews,
and add a little joy to their job search. Because life’s full of interesting people.


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