How To Nail The Interview

12 min. read

Tips for a successful interview and hiring process — for both employers and candidates.

For anyone looking to get a job, or switch from one position to another, there will inevitably be an interview along the way, and nailing that interview is really important if you want to be offered the job.

For employers, it’s equally vital that they know how to conduct a successful interview so that they can find and hire the correct candidate for the position. Taking a shot in the dark, or hoping for the best isn’t going to help anyone. Sure, you might get lucky once in a blue moon, but the truth of the matter is that you’re more likely to set your company up for a difficult time, not to mention that you’re also likely to put some poor employee through the ringer, and will most likely have to go through the whole process again sometime soon when they decide to leave.

Tips for candidates

Assuming you’re well qualified and have all your ducks in a row, and are ready to start a new job — next comes the interview. Before you get a job, you have to get an interview, so the job-seeking process is actually a two-part process.

First, you have to do the groundwork in preparing a good resume and cover letter so that hiring managers want to meet you in person (or on a video call). Second, you have to nail the interview so that the hiring manager wants you as part of the team as is willing to offer you the position.

So let’s cover the first part first. Here are some tips to get yourself that interview:

1. Do your homework

Let’s assume there’s a company out there that’s currently hiring and that you like the sound of. Let’s also assume that it seems to you like it would be a great place for you to work. Whatever field you are in, there are likely plenty of articles and news stories online that you can read up on to familiarize yourself with the lay of the land, particularly if you have been out of work for some time or if you are changing jobs. Make sure you’re caught up on current trends in that industry and can speak intelligently about them if you’re asked in the interview. It would also be a good idea to research leaders in the field and competitors of the company that you’re applying to.

2. The submission

Your cover letter and resume are the tools you are going to use to get in the door, so be sure they are in tip-top condition. Whether you’re applying via an online portal or sending via email, or old fashioned snail mail, the principle is the same. Make sure your resume is up to date. You should never assume that your ten-year-old resume is adequate for your new job-seeking adventure. Write a unique cover letter for every job you apply for, addressing it if possible to a specific individual at the company. Better yet, tailor your resume for various jobs by emphasizing key skills that matter to the company. You will know this from your research in the first step.

3. Check your work

No matter how great you are at stringing sentences together, people can always make mistakes. Use tools like Grammarly and have someone read your resume and cover letter before you send it off. Make sure it’s 100 percent ready to go because you don’t want a cover letter to arrive with a typo or unclear language. First impressions start long before you even enter the room.

4. Follow up

A great way to make yourself stand out is to follow up on any correspondence you receive from a company. If you are notified that the position for which you applied has been filled, send a polite thank you note. Not only does this let them know that you are a good communicator with good manners, but in about a month, you can follow up with a letter to the same individual asking if any new positions have opened and reaffirming your desire to work with the company, and it will most likely be well received. You are sure to make an impression on the hiring manager, in addition to getting your name in front of them once more.

Don't discount the basics. Common sense, good manners and attention to detail are critical in job hunting and go a long way in making a good first impression. Before you know it, you'll be interviewing for your dream job.

The interview

Many companies now have an interview process rather than a singular event. In a post pandemic world, you will most likely be asked to conduct an online video interview in which you record yourself answering certain questions, and if this goes well, then graduate to a video call interview.

You may also be asked to submit supplemental written material in support of your application and resume, and you may even have a one-on-one interview followed by a panel interview.

In other words, the interview process may not be as simple as meeting with the head of the department, answering some soft ball questions and being offered the gig right away. Therefore, preparing for your interview means preparing for the interview process. Here are some tips to help you along the way.

Treat video interviews as “the real thing.” It is easy to think of a video interview as more relaxed than a face-to-face interview but the opposite is actually true. Video interviews are often used as an “elimination round” so you want to look better and sharper than the other candidates.

Fix your hair and makeup, dress nicely and conduct the interview in a quiet place with no distractions. Preferably, you should have a blank wall behind you when you record, or at least a background that isn't unsightly or messy or distracting.

Before you submit your answers, try a couple of practice runs to see how you look and sound. Keep your voice well-modulated and ensure that your microphone is working. You don't want to be caught off-guard as the interview starts and then be fussing with your computer trying to get the tech working. This leaves a really bad first impression and sets you off on the wrong foot.

Prepare your materials and talking points in an accessible folder. Having done great research means nothing if you cannot access your answers to questions in under 30 seconds. Compile information on the company, the industry and yourself in a notebook and tab it in any way that helps you cross-reference. Whatever works for you, but the important thing is to be able to access your information quickly.

There is nothing wrong with bringing your information with you to an interview. It's all very well to memorize facts and answers, but not everyone's brain works that way. Showing up prepared can't be seen as anything but a good thing.

Dress appropriately. Dress for the part you want, not the part you have! If your goal is to reach upper-level management, wear a nice, tailored suit to your interview. You are helping the company to envision you in this role and also giving yourself some much-needed confidence. Take care of details and make sure your buttons are snug, your zippers are zipped and your teeth are clean. Little things make a big difference!

If you're interviewing for a tech company, or a creative agency, then dress appropriately for that field. A tailored suit isn't always going to impress a casually dressed creative-type. Again, this plays into doing your research before the interview even starts.

Be natural. Ultimately, a company is hiring you, not a version of you. While it is important to make a good impression, do not pretend to be something you are not, since this will only result in job dissatisfaction even if you are hired. When asked his policy on casting actors for his films, director David Fincher responded in an interview once that he "tries to hire good people, not actors."

The same might be applied to the interview process. Remember that you're just a person having a conversation with another person, and that you might be the right solution to a problem they have -- after all they have a position that needs to be filled.

Don't be afraid to ask questions. If the interview goes well, there's usually a section at the end where the interviewer asks if you have any questions for them. Take this opportunity to get some answers and turn the interview around.

Here are a few great questions to ask the interviewer:

1. How do you measure performance?

This is a key indicator for any company. Not only will it tell you how they analyze and measure success, but it will tell you what they value in job performance, and whether or not you'll know if you're doing a good job in that position.

2. What are the day-to-day duties of this position?

This will let them know that you're interested in the details of the job itself and it will tell you some key pieces of information that may help when it comes to performing the tasks expected of you.

3. Do you have any mentorship / ongoing education programs for employees?

You achieve two things here. Firstly, you're letting them know that you're interested in a long term arrangement and are keen to grow with the company. Second, you're finding out how important the company views mentorship and ongoing care and growth for their employees.

4. What are some challenges that other employees have faced in this role?

This may be a tough question for your interviewer to answer, but it provides valuable insight into the strengths needed to succeed in this position. Understanding the challenging parts of a job is just as important as knowing about the benefits or required responsibilities. If appropriate, you can also point to your resume or explain how your skills could overcome those outlined challenges.

5. If I were to be offered this job, would you have any advice for me?

This is a great question, because it does a few things. It gets the interviewer thinking about you in that position. It also lets them know that you're open to taking advice and that you're teachable, and not a know-it-all. It can also open the conversation into other topics, like "Why did you start working at this company?" and "What's your favorite thing about working here?" and so on.

If all goes well, you'll be getting a call soon that you have the job and you're taking your first steps on a brand new adventure.

Tips for interviewers

As an interviewer and a hiring professional, you probably have a lot of experience in this area, but here are some oft-overlooked details that may help in finding the right person for the job, and the company.

Check references

The hiring process is quite a process of data gathering and due diligence. Reference checking can be a gold mine IF you do it right. It's a bit of a useless exercise if you call the previous employer up and ask if they were a good employee. That doesn't tell you very much.

The very reason you have been given this reference by the candidate is because they know that they will get a glowing report. They're not about to send you a reference from a previous employer who fired them for stealing from the company, are they? Your job is to find something out about the person you don’t already know, surprise the reference, find the small unlikely piece of useful data.

Ask what position the person had at the company when they left, and what was the reference's position in relation to them. Were they a direct senior? A junior who took over the position? Or some position completely unrelated? This will give you a wealth of information to work off.

Ask why the person left. This always surprises people. They never know what to say. You have already gotten an answer from your candidate; now you’re cross checking! Just ask the question, sit back, be quiet and listen.

Ask for their opinion on strenghts and weaknesses. Ask for their opinion on best qualities and their number one memory of the person when they worked together. Ask what their memory is of the person's day-to-day duties. Some job descriptions can be quite vague and uninformative. Get to the bottom of what they did at their job.

All of this will give you a much better picture of who you're thinking of hiring.

Pay attention to details

It's the little things that will tell you a lot. How professional has the candidate's written communication been? Have they picked up the phone when you called? How long does it take them to respond to written or spoken communications? Were they on time for their interview? Did they dress appropriately? Was there chaotic or messy or distracting elements in the background? Look at the background of the video interview. Is it a nice place? Are they neat and tidy? Or is it a dirty, unkept mess?

If there's an in-person interview, try walking them back to their car and taking a peek inside. Is it neat and well-kept? Or does it have trash strewn everywhere. This tells you a lot about a person.

Ask yourself, how are this person's manners? Will they fit in at your company? Will they add value, and be valued at the office? There are a lot of things to consider, but it's the little things that tell you a lot.

When interviewing, we know that the person is most likely presenting some best-version of themselves because they want to be hired. There's a saying that "a person always tells on themselves" meaning that they're bound to reveal their true self sooner or later.

If you take the time and look at the details and not just listen to the brags and the best behavior of the candidate, you're likely to help yourself and your company make a good decision for filling the open position.