A Concise Guide to the Job Interview

Everything You Really Need to Know

Businesswoman at job interview
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When an employer calls and asks you to come in for a job interview, it's a very big deal. It means he or she looked at your resume and, based on it, thinks you are qualified for the job. You may wonder, "if the boss already knows I'm qualified, why bother with an interview?"

What Is The Interviewer Trying to Learn About You?

During a job interview, the employer will confirm that you do in fact meet all the job requirements. Believe it or not, some people—not you of course—lie on their resumes and the interviewer will ask questions to make sure the job candidate has been honest thus far.

Once he or she confirms that you have in fact told the truth, and you are as skilled as your resume implies, the interviewer will want to know what kind of employee you will be. Will you be a hard worker? Are you enthusiastic? Are you likable? One of the most important things the employer will try to determine is whether you will be you be a good fit. A worker who isn't can disrupt a workplace, and nobody wants that.

What Is Your Role In the Interview?

You have two goals when you go on a job interview. Your first is to make them want you. You have to convince the employer that you will be an excellent addition to the staff. You want him or her to envision you doing the job for which you are a candidate right now. You probably have, at least, some competition out there. You will have to prove yourself to be the best person for the job.

Your second goal is to make sure the job is a good fit for you and that you will be satisfied and successful if you get it. Learn about the employer's expectations. Try to get a feeling about what it will be like working there. Get a glimpse of your potential coworkers. Do they look happy? Ask questions about the job, but avoiding asking about salary and benefits unless you get an offer of employment.

Types of Job Interviews

  1. The Screening Interview: Your first interview with a particular company or organization is usually a screening interview. If it's a larger company, you will speak with someone from the human resources (HR) department in person, by phone, or via video chat. He or she will make sure your resume is accurate by verifying all pertinent information. If you pass this step, you will move on to the next one.
  2. The Selection Interview: The selection interview tends to make candidates nervous. The hiring manager typically conducts it, sometimes along with members of his or her staff, to determine if you will be a good fit for the job. The employer knows you have the necessary qualifications, but not whether you will be a good fit based on your personality. Someone who can't interact well with management and coworkers may disrupt the functioning of an entire department. Ultimately, this can affect the company's bottom line. More than one job candidate for a single opening may appear to fit in. You may be invited back for several interviews with different people before a final decision is made.
  3. The Group Interview: During a group interview, the interviewer questions several job candidates at once. Since any group naturally stratifies into leaders and followers, he or she can quickly discover into which category each candidate falls. In addition to finding out whether you are a leader or a follower, the interviewer can also learn whether you are a "team player." You should act naturally. Acting like a leader if you are not one may get you a job that is inappropriate for you.
  4. The Panel Interview: In a panel interview, several people interview the candidate at once. Although it can be quite intimidating, attempt to remain calm. Try to establish rapport with all members of the panel. Make eye contact with each one as you answer his or her questions.
  5. The Stress Interview: The stress interview is not a very nice way to be introduced to the company that may end up being your future employer. Unfortunately, some organizations use this technique to weed out candidates who cannot handle adversity. The interviewer may try to artificially introduce stress into the interview by asking questions so quickly that the candidate doesn't have time to answer each one or by responding to answers with silence. The interviewer may also ask weird questions, not to find out the answer, but instead how the candidate replies. Keep your cool. Later, try to figure out if this tactic was called for—for example when you are interviewing for a very stressful job—or whether the interviewer was just acting mean. The answer can help you decide if you want the job after all.
  6. The Behavioral Interview: During a behavioral interview, the interviewer's goal is to get the job candidate to demonstrate he or she has the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for the position. You will be required to give examples of when and how you have used these competencies.

Preparing for the Interview

You should always research a prospective employer before the big day. What you learn will allow you to answer questions intelligently. You may even uncover something that can help you decide whether you would accept a job offer.

Gathering employer information is not a simple task. If the employer is a public corporation, you can use the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings to get financial information. That information will be harder to come by if it is a private company. In either case, look at the organization's website and official social media pages. Then use other resources including articles from newspapers and magazines. Don't forget about your network. Find out if someone you know works for the organization or knows anyone who does.

In order to effectively answer questions in a job interview, you are going to have to know a lot about yourself too. You may think you know everything you need to know, but when you have to start talking about yourself you, like most people, may have difficulty.

Start by listing your attributes. Think about what you can bring to the employer. If you're having trouble with this, ask former coworkers or others with whom you've worked closely to list which of your work-related traits they most admired.

Once you come up with a list of attributes, try to find some faults. You won't, obviously, spontaneously announce them to a prospective employer, but if you are asked about your flaws you will be ready. For example, if the interviewer asks "what is something that has been a problem for you at work?" you will be able to choose something that is innocuous or can be turned around into a positive.

Practice, Practice, And Then Practice Some More

It's important not to sound overly rehearsed for a job interview, but that does not mean you shouldn't be prepared. You want to answer questions confidently and provide information about yourself that will help you get the job. Figure out how you will answer any questions the interviewer fires at you. Having a basic idea of what you want to say will keep you from sounding hesitant by pausing too long or using filler words like "uh" and "um" before you manage to reply. Make sure you know what points you want to make, but vary your responses each time you practice so you don't sound like you've memorized them.

How you answer questions is as important as your words. Interviewers pay close attention to things like eye contact and body language. You want to convey an image of someone who is self-assured. The only way to do this is to practice. Many people find it helpful to record themselves answering questions on video. Study your posture, the way you make eye contact, and your body language. If you don't have a video camera, a mirror will do. Have a friend conduct mock job interviews with you. The more you repeat a scenario, the more comfortable you will begin to feel with it. 

What to Wear

It would be nice to say that how you look has nothing to do with the results of your job interview, but unfortunately, that isn't the case. Appearance counts whether we like it or not. Knowing how to dress for a job interview won't get you the job if you aren't the best candidate, but wearing the wrong thing may count against you. 

Dress appropriately for the job and the company for which you are interviewing. Wear a suit if that is the industry standard in your field or even if the dress is slightly less formal than that. Don't wear a suit, however, if people tend to dress very casually in your field of work. For example, if you wear a suit to an interview when everyone else, including the interviewer, is wearing jeans, you will look out of place. Even in that case, you should get a little more dressed up than you would for just another day at the office. If you are unsure about what typical attire is at a particular workplace, stake out the employer's front entrance a few days before your interview to see what people are wearing.

Good grooming is essential. Your hair should be neat and stylish and your nails should be well manicured. Excessively long nails are out. You don't want to look like you can't handle tasks that may require manual dexterity. Polish should be a neutral color. Avoid strong fragrances and heavy makeup.

How to Conduct Yourself on a Job Interview

If the interviewer can get to know the "real you" he or she can decide whether you will mesh well with his or her other employers. The first thing you have to do is establish rapport. It begins the instant you walk in the door. Let the interviewer set the tone. For example, wait for him or her to extend his hand for a handshake, but be ready to offer your hand immediately. Some experts suggest talking at the same rate and tone as the interviewer. For example, if the interviewer is speaking softly, so should you.

Body language gives more away about you than what you say. Making eye contact is very important but make sure it looks natural. A smiling, relaxed face is very inviting. Hands resting casually in your lap rather than arms folded across your chest indicates that you are open and not guarded. If you normally move your hands around a lot when you speak, tone it down some. You don't want to look too stiff, but you don't want to look like you're a bundle of nervous energy.

When answering questions, speak slowly and clearly. Pause slightly before you begin. Your answers will seem less rehearsed and it will give you a chance to collect your thoughts. Keep in mind that a very brief pause may seem like an eternity to you, but not to the interviewer.

Do You Have Any Questions?

When, as things are drawing to a close and the interviewer asks "do you have any questions," be ready with some. As much as possible, your questions should let the employer picture you in the role for which you are a candidate. You can ask, for example, what a typical day at work is like or about any special projects you would be involved in.

Ask questions that will allow you to learn more about the employer, but don't ask about anything you should have been able to uncover through your research. You don't want to look like you didn't do your homework. Asking these types of questions will not only let the interviewer know you are interested in working there, but you can use what you learn to help you make a decision about accepting a job offer. Don't ask about salary, benefits, or vacations, as those all imply "what will you, the employer, do for me?"

How to Handle Tricky Questions

You've probably heard references to illegal interview questions. It's important to remember that the questions themselves aren't illegal, but using a job candidate's answers to make a hiring decision could be. For example, if an interviewer asks what your nationality is and then doesn't hire you because of your answer, the employer could be violating Section VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Employers shouldn't ask these types of questions, but it is up to you to decide whether to answer them. Although they should be, some interviewers are not aware of the legal issues involved. Simply say that the answer to the question is unrelated to your ability to do the job.

The interviewer may ask you what your desired salary is. It's a good idea to master salary negotiation skills before you begin. Find out what typical salaries are in your field. Always provide a range, although not an exact amount. This will help keep you from pricing yourself out of a job. You don't want the employer to think they can't afford you, or that you are a cheap commodity either.

Tips for Following Up

  • Send a thank you note to the interviewer within 24 hours. This is your chance to reiterate something you mentioned on the interview or bring up something you forgot to mention. It is also a nice gesture and a simple matter of etiquette. Sending your note by email is fine as long as you've communicated with the employer that way before. Sending a thank you note sets you apart from everyone else who forgot to or chose not to do this.
  • Also, send a brief note for anyone else who participated. If you don't remember each person's name, call the receptionist for some help (and also send him or her a thank you note).
  • After waiting to hear back from the employer for about one week, you should consider calling to follow up. However, if the employer told you when you could expect to hear something, don't call until after that date.