How to have a successful job interview

If you’re new to the process of interviewing, it can be pretty intimidating, and it may not be immediately clear what makes a good interview candidate and what actions (or non-actions) can prevent you from securing a follow-up interview, let alone a final offer.

As an intern on the recruiting team at WillowTree this past summer, I gained some first-hand experience on both sides of the interview process. Let’s look at a rundown of important things to keep in mind when putting yourself out there in the job market. divider 600

Before the interview

1. Research the company

If you want a leg up on other candidates for a position, this is the place to start. Companies know you’re applying to any number of opportunities (just as they’re interviewing multiple candidates for a given position), but it still comes across poorly to recruiters when a candidate clearly hasn’t done their homework on what the company they’re applying to actually does. This research is a widely undervalued step in interview prep.

An employer is not likely to hire you unless you have a genuine interest in the position, no matter how strong of a candidate you are! You owe it to yourself (and recruiting teams everywhere) to read a company’s website at the bare minimum to see if you think you’ll be a good fit. You’ll spend a lot of time at your next job, so take the time to really picture yourself in a given role before applying.

This process will also yield some really good, impressive questions to ask your interviewer, which leads us to…

2. Prepare questions

An interview is a time not only for the company to get to know you, but also for you to vet the company and decide whether or not you would be a good fit. Ask questions like, “What is a typical day like for someone in this position?” or “What are your favorite and least favorite parts of working here?” As you progress to further interview stages, the questions should get more specific to the role as well, for instance “What success metrics are you aiming for in the first 6 months of this position?”

We’re always more impressed with candidates who have thoughtful questions for us at the end of an interview. These questions will not only show your interest in the company, but will also give you a chance to see if it will match up with what you are looking for in your next job.

3. Prepare answers

Take time to think about questions the interviewer might ask you such as the classic, “Tell me about yourself,” or “Why do you want to work here?” Having answers to these questions already prepared in your head before even stepping foot inside the doors will help you feel more confident and more likely to nail the interview. You definitely don’t want to sound canned, but having a few points in mind will always work in your favor.

BONUS: Take a walk

This may sound completely irrelevant, but studies suggest that getting a bit of exercise right before a mental activity helps stimulate the brain and quicken reaction time.

Spend some time reviewing your interview questions and answers before your interview, but save a bit of time to get out and clear your head if you can manage it; it’s a good way to settle the nerves and get in a good place to make a confident first impression. divider 600

During the interview

1. Dress appropriately and come prepared

Attire varies greatly depending on the company and the industry. WillowTree is very casual, but if you’re interviewing at a law firm or investment bank, a suit may be expected.

Take some time to research the company by checking out their social media to get an understanding of what people wear, but it’s still good to remember that what you see in pictures isn’t necessarily what is expected for an interview.

Always go more formal if you aren’t sure. Wearing something you feel confident and comfortable in will help you make a good first impression but keep in mind that no matter what you wear, looking polished and professional is key.

Be sure to bring extra copies of your resume to your interview. Chances are the interviewer won’t need it but there might be some other team members in the room with you who may want to see it. It’s always better to have a few on hand just in case.

2. Arrive early…but not too early

One of the best ways to make a good impression is to show up early in order to be respectful of the interviewer’s time. However, this can also work against you if you show up too early because that puts extra pressure on the interviewer to not keep you waiting.

Several times last summer people arrived more than 30 minutes early or on the opposite end of the spectrum, were running very late, both of which can set a negative tone for the interview. A good rule of thumb is to aim for arriving 15 minutes early. You may want to map out where you’re going beforehand so you don’t feel rushed, and if you run into any issues around parking or traffic, you’ll have a built-in buffer.

If you do arrive early, wait in the car (or take that walk!) and review your resume or practice your elevator pitch.

3. Relax!

This interview is your time to get to know the company as well as for them to get to know you so ask those questions you’ve prepared and answer their questions with confidence.

Be sure to provide concrete examples to back up your assertions regarding the skills you would bring to the job. Examples speak so much louder than words so try to come up with one example to support each bullet on your resume.

For instance, be able to explain a time when your “goal-oriented” nature made a significant difference at a previous company. Interviewers are trying to make sure you’re a good investment, so don’t play down your accomplishments; let them know what you can do for them.

If you’re well-prepared for the interview, you’ll be able to relax, which in itself is a bonus for employers. They’re going to have to spend a lot of time with whoever they hire, after all, so the more confident and relaxed you’re able to be in the interview, the more naturally you’ll be able to show off those excellent interpersonal skills! divider 600

After the interview

1. Follow up!

Nothing leaves a better impression on an interviewer than a handwritten thank you note following the interview. It is courteous to send an email within 24 hours thanking them for their time, but also send a more extensive note in the mail a few days later.

This might seem old-fashioned, but it’ll really set you apart from other candidates and show the company that you are willing to go above and beyond for your job.

2. If you receive rejection, PLEASE be professional

Sometimes, of course, things don’t go your way. If a company is unable to hire you at this time for whatever reason, please handle this rejection courteously. Don’t be like those folks who leave negative Glassdoor reviews for a company just because they didn’t get an offer letter. They probably didn’t get the job because, well, they’re the kind of person who does things like that.

A few candidates have reached out to our recruiting team in a very negative fashion after learning they had not received the job and did not handle the rejection well, choosing to bash the company and the team. This obviously does not reflect well on a person and hurts their chances for securing a job with the company in the future.

You may never know exactly why it didn’t work out but it’s important to maintain a degree of professionalism and thank the company for its time and consideration. It’s also perfectly acceptable (and extremely valuable!) to politely ask for feedback on the interview and see if there is anything you can personally or professionally improve upon.

This communicates an openness and desire to learn more. Perhaps you were lacking one specific area of experience that they were looking for and if you take a few months or years to gain that knowledge, AND if you handled the rejection professionally, you may be able to re-apply and secure the job further down the road.

The pressure is off at this point, so take the opportunity to turn your rejection into a learning experience for acing your next interview! divider 600

Incorporating all of these tips will help you immensely with whatever job you are trying to land. Have confidence in yourself and best of luck getting your dream job!

And of course, if you think you could see yourself at WillowTree, we’re always looking for top talent, so be sure to keep an eye on our Careers page.

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