Good interview skills allow job seekers to showcase their capabilities, convey interest in a role and set themselves apart from the competition. Accomplishing these goals requires considerable planning and attention on the part of the job seeker. At the same time, interviews offer employers a means to assess qualifications, determine interest and decide whether an applicant has the interpersonal qualities required for success.
During the initial phases of the interview process, job seekers should be focused on interview skills such as making a good impression and differentiating themselves. As you begin your interview process, leveraging your Sherpa recruiting or staffing manager to gather information about the company, department and leadership is a great place to start. Throughout the various stages of interviewing, highlight skills, abilities and results that set you apart from other candidates. Stay poised, be prepared and refer to our helpful interview skills below to help you land the role.
Phone and Video Interviews
In Person Interviews
Tricky Interview Questions
Interviews conducted via phone or video are just as important as in-person interviews. In many ways, they are harder because candidates don’t have the advantage of giving and receiving clear visual cues. Employ the following interview skills when preparing for a phone or video interview to increase your chances of moving to the next step in the hiring process.
- Compile a list of what qualifies you for each aspect of the job. For phone screens, keep this and a copy of your resume nearby so you can refer to them as needed. For video interviews, consider taping a copy of your resume beside of or behind your camera so you can look directly into it and avoid looking down for the duration of the interview. When you rehearse your answers for typical questions, practice speaking without using “um”, “uh”, “okay” and “you know”.. These non-words and delays are even more noticeable over the phone or on camera.
- For phone interviews, use a landline when you can or a reliable cell service location. Bad connections are not a good first impression.
- For video, test your connection and set up, including camera, microphone and speakers, in advance with friends and family. Use favorable lighting and a background that isn’t distracting. Take note of where you are looking versus where the camera is to find ways to make eye contact whenever you can.
- Remove all distractions. Interviewing in a quiet place will help you devote your full attention to your interviewer.
- Have a glass of water handy in case you need it.
- Take notes that are brief, but thorough enough to remember key items discussed for later use in your thank you note and face to face meeting.
- Focus, listen and process the questions carefully. It is easier to lose focus when you are not face to face. Ask for clarification if needed and be careful not to interrupt the interviewer.
- Enunciate, answer the question and be concise. If you talk too long, it won’t be as easy via phone or video to see that you’ve lost their attention. You can always pause and ask if they need more information.
- For all interviews, including over the phone, sit up straight and smile (even if they can’t see you via phone). Why? Because you will breathe easier, be more relaxed and have a more positive inflection in your voice.
- Your clothing, jewelry, grooming and posture matter just as they do in person. Conservative professional dress is always a safe choice.
Don’t underestimate the importance companies put on phone and video interviews and keep in mind, many of the interview skills shown above also apply in a live interview scenario. You’ll read more about In Person Interviews in the next tab.
Earning an in person interview is a crucial step in the job search process. Properly preparing for this all important meeting should be a high priority when the time comes. The following guidelines will help you hone your in person interview skills:
- Research the job and company. Hiring managers expect you to have done your homework. The company’s official website, social media, the internet and local business publications are great places to learn details about ownership, annual sales revenue, principal lines of business, and the nature and scope of local operations.
- Look your best. Even if the company has a business casual dress code or environment, dress professionally for the first interview, unless you are specifically told to come dressed in business casual attire. Polish your shoes, wear tailored and pressed clothing that is conservative yet current, and moderate your use of cosmetics, fragrance and jewelry. Blue or black two piece suits are the safest bets. Bright and multi-colored clothing may tend to detract from the substance of your interview.
- Plan to arrive 15 minutes early. You are probably travelling to a new location, so be sure to anticipate traffic bottlenecks, parking issues and the need to get through building security. If you aren’t sure of the location, scope it out in advance so you don’t have to endure the stress of getting lost or rushing on interview day.
- Know the essentials. These include the exact time and place of the meeting, the full names and titles of interviewers and the correct pronunciation of names.
- Review your own resume. You can expect several specific questions about what you’ve done in each position. Bring copies of your resume, a list of business references and be sure the resume you present on interview day is the same version you presented for the initial selection. Visit our page on resume guidelines to make sure yours is up to par.
- Focus on good verbal and non-verbal communication. Greet the interviewer with confidence and a firm handshake. Throughout the interview, use attentive posture, maintain eye contact, wear an engaging smile and keep the conversation flowing.
- Prepare questions in advance. Be ready to ask appropriate questions when given the opportunity. Inquire about what it will take to add value and be successful in the role you for which you are interviewing. Don’t ask about benefits or time off – those topics are best addressed the end of the interview process.
- Stay calm. Even for the most seasoned, interviewing can be stressful. If possible, try to give yourself time to relax before you go for your interview. Try not to schedule your interview right after or in the middle of an already over-booked day. Arriving already stressed will not afford you the chance to decompress before presenting yourself for consideration.
- Say “thank you.” Follow up your interview with a short, well written thank you note that demonstrates your interest and your professionalism. Proper spelling and grammar are a must, and, keep in mind that hand written notes are not outdated – just be sure your writing is legible and professional.
Many interview questions are asked with the underlying objective of exploring a job seeker’s attitudes and motivations. We’ve developed a list of questions that can prove tricky if you if you don’t consider them ahead of time. Rehearsing your answer to these questions is a good interview skill to employ:
- Why are you looking, or why did you leave your last job? Answer this question in both a positive and a forthright way. The most common mistakes made when answering this question are either a vague response, which implies you are hiding something, or a negative, defensive reply.
- What do you know about our company? Be prepared to tell the interviewer three things you learned from your research about the company, such as what the company does, what the sales volume is and a brief observation about a recent, positive news story about the company. Don’t stall on this one – show them you’ve done your homework!
- Tell me about yourself. Sometimes phrased as “Tell me about your background,” or “Tell me about your accomplishments.” Regardless of how the question is asked, we suggest that you create a one minute career overview that describes your professional background, accomplishments, strengths and career aspirations. Relate how these make you a good fit for this position and be succinct – this is a brief synopsis of you, not your entire work history or life experience.
- What do you want to be doing in five years? Communicate what your goals are without being overly specific. If you don’t answer clearly, you could appear to lack a sense of direction. Be too specific and you may signal a red flag if your answer doesn’t match what the company has to offer long-term. If you’re looking for rapid advancement, be sure to point out that you understand the commitment necessary to achieve your objectives.
- What are your strengths and weaknesses? Be prepared to talk about two or three functional strengths and one or two intangible characteristics that you regard as strengths. It helps to frame your comments by saying: “My supervisor said…” or “I feel that.…” It is best to address the weakness by saying: “I’m working on…” or “I would like to learn more about…” or “In my last performance review my supervisor suggested.…” The “I can’t think of any weaknesses” response may give the interviewer the impression that you are afraid to admit weaknesses or you are not coachable. Similarly, saying your biggest weakness is that you are a perfectionist or you work too hard isn’t as powerful as sharing how something impacted your work and detailing how you overcame it.
- What salary are you looking for? The further along you are in the interview process, the more specific you should be. If this is asked during the first interview, you may not know the nature of the long-term opportunity and the overall benefits yet, so you’re not in the position to give a specific number. However, it’s best to answer the question rather than avoid it. One way to answer might be – ”My current base is in the low $60s, and I am eligible for up to 10 percent in incentive compensation. Of course I would like to move forward, but my primary motivations are the experience I will get and the opportunity to keep learning and growing.” Note that the interviewer now has an idea about the range of salary you would entertain, but you have left your options open to accepting a higher or lower offer, depending on how interested you are in the overall opportunity. In addition, you minimized the chance of shutting yourself out of the job, because you didn’t give a specific number that was outside of their hiring range.
- Why are you interested in our company? Provide a specific reason why the position fits your career plan, and point out something about the company that appeals to you.
- Tell me what you like to do outside of work. Often, employers ask this question to be friendly and break the ice. In addition, they may use it to see what kind of work/life balance you are looking for and to determine whether your outside interests will conflict with your job. It is important to describe a couple of activities to show that you are well rounded. Philanthropic interests are great to mention here, and this is the time to highlight any involvement or leadership activities in the community as well.
When it comes to answering the tough questions, keep the following general advice in mind:
- Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. If you don’t understand a question, it’s better to ask the interviewer to explain than to risk stumbling.
- Don’t “over answer.” Be careful not to get off track or talk a long time without making sure you are providing the information the interviewer is seeking. If interviewers want more detail, they will ask for it. At the same time, there are very few if any questions where a simple “yes” or “no” answer is sufficient, so give examples or explain briefly whenever possible.
Effective questions and a strong closing statement helps set you apart. You should establish a strategy for closing the interview. As a part of this strategy, you will want to prepare relevant questions and a closing statement that reinforces your interest in the position and makes you memorable.
Ask good questions.
Asking pertinent questions during the interview is every bit as important as answering questions and will leave hiring managers with a favorable impression. In general, the interviewer should do the majority of the questioning, however, there will be time for you to ask yours and you’ll want to avoid looking like you put no consideration into them. In addition to helping employers determine if you’re the right match for the job, insightful questions show them you are organized, prepared and serious about the role.
The following are some questions that you might ask:
- May I ask why this position is open?
- In your opinion, what are the greatest challenges offered by this position?
- How do you define success for the employee in this position?
- Do you have any reservations or concerns about my qualifications for this position?
Keep in mind that asking questions about compensation, vacation and benefits are generally not appropriate during a first interview, but will come into play as you advance further in the interview process.
Set yourself apart.
Most candidates close an interview by saying something like: ”I am interested and look forward to hearing from you.” While acceptable, consider making your closing your interview more powerfully by not only telling the company that you are interested, but also why you are interested. Point out specifics about why you are a strong fit for the role and, most of all, tell them you want the job.