Job Interview Skills to Help You Get Hired

Image shows an interviewer and an interviewee at a table, with speech blurbs above them. Text reads: Top Interview Skills: Prepare, be punctual, think before speaking, speak clearly, cohesively, and calmly, be confident not arrogant, listen well, express gratitude.

Image by Miguel Co © The Balance 2019

Acing an interview is a science as much as it is an art, and it requires diligent preparation along with the ability to be at ease in the interview room. It's also that you be comfortable and confident in discussing why you are the best fit for a role.

Interviewing is a skill in and of itself, one in which your ability to interact with the interviewer and to articulate your thoughts are factors that are just as important in getting the job as are the qualifications listed on your resume. Here is a list of interview skills that will help you get hired.

Interview Preparation

Winging it is never worth it. Not only will your interviewer see right through it, but your answers (and your self-confidence) will seriously suffer if you neglect to properly prepare. You should dedicate at least an hour to your preparation.

Here’s a sample formula outlining a 60-minute preparation exercise:

  • 5 minutes re-reading and analyzing the job description, focusing on the essential requirements and responsibilities, in order to tailor your answers andto home in onthe most important aspects of the job.
  • 5 minutes re-reading your resume and cover letter to review how you pitched yourself in the first place.
  • 15 minutes researching potential interview questions specific to the position and the industry.
  • 20 minutes practicing answers to these questions and recalling specific examples from your work experience, such as major accomplishments, challenges, or milestones that will serve as anecdotes to strengthen your responses to situational and behavioral-based interview questions.
  • 15 minutes researching the company, looking into their history, mission and values, and recent projects.

Indeed, practice makes perfect. In addition to practicing these steps on your own, ask a friend or family member to pose as an interviewer so you can get used to answering questions in real time.

Be on Time

There are very few (if any) excuses that will redeem a late arrival. Do whatever you need to do to get there ten to 15 minutes in advance of your interview time, whether it’s planning your outfit and packing your bag the night before, setting five alarms, asking a friend to give you a wake-up call, or leaving extra early to account for potential transportation obstacles.

Think Before You Speak

A well-thought-out answer is always better than a rushed one.

Of course, you don’t want to sit there in silence for five minutes as you ponder an answer, but it is acceptable to take several seconds to think before you speak.

Avoid the “ums” and “uhs” and buy yourself time by repeating the interviewers' questions back to them, or by using a phrase like, “That’s an interesting question!” or, “I was actually just thinking about that when I read an article on a similar topic, and…”

If you’re really stumped, you can say, “What a great question. I’ve actually never been asked this before; let me just take a second to think about this.” Finally, know what to do if you really can’t answer a question.

Speak Clearly, Cohesively, and Calmly

Nerves can get you talking a mile a minute, and so can the simple desire to convey as much valuable information about yourself as possible. However, talking too fast can make you look rushed, flustered or anxious. Make a conscious effort to slow down and speak calmly and clearly. It will help you avoid interview stress.

Be Confident, Not Arrogant

Although you should be willing and able to promote yourself, your experience, and your accomplishments, make sure you don’t come across as arrogant, narcissistic, or self-important. No matter how good you are at your job, you’re going to run into countless obstacles if you lack the emotional intelligence to work on a team and get along with managers, co-workers, or clients.

Focus on exuding a kind and balanced sense of confidence, and when you discuss your achievements, be sure to give credit where credit is due in order to show that you’re a team player.

Actually Listen

Anyone can nod, smile, and say “Right” or “Exactly” over and over, but how many people actually listen?

Interviews are especially tricky because you do need to be listening to your interviewer’s question while mentally preparing your answer.

However, if you don’t listen well in the first place, you might miss the entire point of the question, and as a result, your answer could fall totally flat.

Stay in the moment and don’t let yourself zone out, even if it feels like the interviewer is endlessly blabbing on. Preparation will help tremendously (so that you have material ready to discuss and won't have to come up with it all on the spot), but good listening skills and the ability to stay focused are key.

Express Optimism, Both With Your Words and Your Body Language

No company wants to hire someone with a bad attitude. No matter how difficult your situation is, don’t bring any baggage into the interview room. That means don’t bad-mouth your former employer or any other companies you’ve been associated with, and don'tcomplain about your personal circumstances.

Be natural, expressing reasonable perspectives through a lens of optimism. For example, if you have to talk about a challenging situation, you should include a mention of how you may have helped solve it, and what you learned that made you a better employee. Remember, your body language does matter as much as your words. Walk in with a smile on your face, offer a firm handshake, and sit up tall at the table, leaning slightly forward to engage in the conversation.

Show Interest, Without Desperation

Sometimes, it can be helpful to think of an interview as a (professional) first date. An air of disinterest, apathy, or monotony will likely turn off an interviewer, as will overenthusiastic desperation. No matter how much you want or need the job, refrain from acting desperate; pleading or begging has no place in a job interview. The key is to express earnest interest in the role and in the company, and passion for the work you do. Keep in the back of your mind that you are a valuable asset as an employee.

Know More Than Your Elevator Pitch

Although you should be able to give an elevator pitch in which you introduce yourself, recap your experience, and promote your most valuable professional assets, make sure you’re comfortable talking about yourself beyond that. Know how to discuss both your strengths and weaknesses, and emphasize your best qualities and greatest skills, while putting a positive spin on your areas of improvement.

You should also be able to exert some level of control over the conversation. For example, if an interviewer tries to trip you up with a tricky question like, “Have you ever had a bad experience with an employer?” or “Tell me about a time a coworker was unhappy with you,” you should be able to answer their question while bridging your response into a positive: an idea or example that shows how you learned or grew from the situation. You should also have questions of your own to ask the interviewer.

Express Gratitude

Don’t underestimate the importance of saying “Thank you.” As soon as your interview concludes, you should thank your interviewers for their time and for the opportunity to learn more about the position. When you get home, you should always follow up with a thank-you email. Otherwise, the interviewer may take your silence as a sign that you aren’t really interested in the position.

Key Takeaways

Practice Makes Perfect: Take time to practice your responses to the most frequently asked interview questions.

Prepare in Advance: Interviews are less stressful if you get ready ahead of time, and figure out what you're going to wear, and where you need to be.

Follow-Up is Important: Always follow-up after a job interview with an email or note thanking the interviewer for the time.