Basic Interview Skills

This article, like my previous one on the topic of resumes, is not meant to target any particular group. It is intended to be relevant to people across the board, whether applying for school, a job, a volunteer position, or any other situation in which an interview is being conducted. These are not rules, they are guidelines, but read the explanation for each before you decide whether it applies to your situation.

First, before the interview, make sure you are prepared for the following:

  1. Dress Appropriately: The type of interview and the level of the position will dictate what this is. Generally, it is considered appropriate to dress a step above what an employee at the same position would wear. In all cases, make sure the clothes are clean, and are not overly flamboyant. Unless you are applying for a fashion position, the clothes should complement you, not vice versa.
  2. Prepare Questions: Most interviews will give you the opportunity to ask questions of the interviewer. Don’t try to ask one off-the-cuff, unless it is to follow up on something said earlier in the interview. Instead, use the question to show you’ve done some research into the position you are applying for.
  3. Study: Yes, the interview is like an exam of your life. For some positions, you may be able to find out the kinds of questions asked. For others, look up standard interview questions (a quick Google search will turn up thousands of results). Think about the answers you want to give. Say them out loud in front of a mirror or a friend so that you won’t hesitate in the interview.

During the interview, keep the following facts in mind:

  1. You are one applicant (of many): You are trying to set yourself above the other applicants, but do it on your own merit, not on the fact that everyone else is bad.
  2. Don’t burn bridges: Be careful when talking about people and jobs from your past. Focus on the positive, and try to avoid negative statements. For example, when asked why you want to leave your current position, don’t say that you hate your current boss. Instead, say something like “I’m looking for a position where I am encouraged to explore new fields, and where management actively supports professional development.”
  3. You are not a peer (yet): You are applying for a position, and the interviewer does have the upper hand. No matter how casual the interview may seem, keep in mind that the initial decision as to whether you work there is up to the interviewer. Even if the interviewer is a friend or past associate, keep it professional at all times.
  4. You don’t have the offer yet: This is not the time to start negotiating. Wait until you have the offer before you make requests. Never make a demand, as it reflects poorly on you.
  5. Keep on topic: A question may have resulted in an answer that included your pet, but return to the topic of the interview, not your pet.
  6. Be courteous: No matter how well or badly you think the interview went, thank the interviewer for his or her time. Always be polite, even if he or she is rude, or if you know that you won’t take the offer. It will make you look better, and they may refer you to someone else who will have a better offer for you.
  7. Follow up: If there is the slightest chance that you would want the offer, follow up within a few days thanking the interviewer for their time (yes, a second time). You can include a question with your follow up, or an offer to provide additional information if needed. You can use this note to include your references if you have not already provided them.