A good way to think about the process of getting a job is that a resume gets you in the door, and an interview is where you close the deal.
Here are nine ways to ace an interview and get the job:
1. Tell good stories.
When someone says, “Tell me about yourself,” they don’t want to hear you rattle off a list of what you’ve done or what you’ve accomplished. People want stories. Stories are what make you stick in people’s minds.
The problem is, most people can’t figure out a story to tell about themselves, so they start listing facts. This is boring, and research shows that listing facts about ourselves instead of telling stories actually makes us feel disjointed — which is, of course, no good in an interview. Compelling stories make us believe in ourselves. So find a story arc to your career, and tell it during every interview.
2. Understand the behavioral interview.
When someone asks you a question that begins, “Tell me about a time when…” it’s a cue that you’re in a behavioral interview. There are established ways to answer this type of question.
The interviewer is trying to see how you acted in the past, which is a good predictor of how you’ll act in the future. You need to tell the interviewer about a situation you encountered, the action you took to solve the problem, and quantify the results. This is called the STAR response — Situation or Task, Action, Results.
3. Ask questions at the beginning, not the end.
Don’t wait until the end to ask good questions. What’s the point? You just spent the whole interview telling the person you’re right for the job — it’s a little late to be asking questions about the job, right? So ask your questions at the beginning. And then use the answers to better position yourself for the job during the interview.
At the end, when the interviewer says, Do you have any questions?” you can say, “No, I think I asked everything I needed to ask at the beginning of the interview. But thank you” instead of thinking of a pile of pseudo-questions
4. Stop stressing about your MySpace page.
Look, there’s nothing we can do about the fact that nearly every college kid is writing stupid things to his friend and posting it on MySpace or Facebook.
Hiring managers care less and less about these pages; it’s not earth-shattering news to human resources that college kids do stupid things. Which is lucky, because often, trying to clean up an online footprint is a lost cause.
So instead of worrying about what you did in the past, focus on what you’re doing now. Write articles online, or write a blog — do anything that will come up higher on Googlethan your prom date photo. Getting your ideas at the top of a search is the way to impress an interviewer. You want to get hired for your ideas, not your clean record on MySpace.
5. Explain away job hopping and long gaps.
It doesn’t matter what you do with your time as long as you’re doing productive, interesting things. So a gap is fine, as long as you can talk about what you learned, and how you grew during the gap. And job hopping is fine as long as you can show you made a significant, quantifiable contribution everywhere you went.
6. Present a plan.
Show the interviewer that you’ve done a bit of thinking about the company and the job. Brendon Connelly at Slacker Manager suggests that you go to the interview with a plan for the first three months you’re in the job.
Show some humility — say, “This is just something I came up with that we might use to get the interview started.” Of course, you can only do this if you know a lot about the job. But the best way to get the job is to know a lot about it.
7. Manage your parents.
It’s common today for parents to be involved in their twentysomething child’s job hunt. Parental involvement is so ubiquitous during interviews for summer internship programs that companies like Merrill Lynch will actually send an acceptance letter to a parent if the candidate requests one.
But some parents hover so close by that they make their kid look incompetent. Get help from your parents, but don’t get too much. Check out CollegeRecrutier.com to find out where your parents fall on the spectrum.
8. Play to stereotypes.
You’ll probably interview with more than one person. And each person you talk with will have some sort of personal agenda that will infiltrate your interview. Your job is to identify the type of person you’re talking to so that you can give the type of answer they’re looking for.
9. Practice. A lot.
An interview isn’t an improvisation — it’s a rehearsed performance. And it’s no mystery what the most common interview questions are, so prepare you answers. Even if you end up fielding a question you didn’t anticipate, surely a version of one the 50 answers you did prepare will work with the surprise question.
You can practice with a friend, or you can go back to your college counseling office, which will probably help you out no matter where you are in your career. But Alexandra Levit at Water Cooler Wisdom recommends using InterviewTrue to practice on video.