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Make an impression: how to ace a job interview

Make an impression: how to ace a job interview

Artwork by: Pablo Cammello

  • How to impress an employer in an interview
  • How do you crush an interview before it starts?
  • Introducing yourself
  • Is it ok to bring notes to an interview?
  • The do's and don'ts of interviewing
  • What not to say in a job interview
  • What you should not do during an interview
  • The 10 most common interview questions and how you should answer them
  • 1. Tell me about yourself.
  • 2. What brought you here today?
  • 3. (and not others)?
  • 4. What are your goals?
  • 5. What’s an achievement you’re proud of?
  • 6. What’s your expected salary?
  • 7. Describe a time you had a conflict at work and how did you respond?
  • 8. What are your strengths?
  • 9. What are your weaknesses?
  • 10. Why should we hire you?
  • Key takeaways

This article explores the ways to make a great impression in a job interview through self-preparation and strategically answering top interview questions.

If you’re preparing yourself for an interview, congrats! Landing an interview is one of the biggest hurdles that any job seeker encounters. The fact that you are looking into how to do well in a job interview is a great sign, it means you’re preparing yourself. Below, we’ll discuss all things to consider in order to make a great impression and ace the job interview. 

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • How to make a good first impression.

  • Behaviors to avoid during an interview.

  • The most common interview questions and how to prepare for them.

How to impress an employer in an interview

Making a good impression is everyone’s goal during an interview. Keep in mind that impressions begin before the conversation does. Consider these tips to get a foot up early on in the interview. 

How do you crush an interview before it starts?

The best way to crush an interview before it starts is to prepare yourself. Do research on the company by looking at its website and social media. Re-read the job description then look up the same role in other companies to get an exhaustive list of what your expectations might be.  If you need to reschedule an interview, read our tips how to do this correctly.

Expert Tip

Do research on the interviewer as well. You can almost always find details on the interviewer by visiting their LinkedIn profile. What types of posts do they make? What are their interests? Find common ground ahead of time and use these snippets as tools for making a great impression when you bring them up in the interview. 

Introducing yourself

Introducing yourself in an interview is a small gesture that can make a big impact. The two main things to keep in mind are body language and eye contact. 

Always shake the hand of your interviewer. Initiate a handshake by extending your hand even if they haven’t yet. This shows confidence and is a professional courtesy that everyone should get comfortable with. 

For more tips, check out our article on how to introduce yourself in an interview.

Is it ok to bring notes to an interview?

Bringing notes to a job interview is a somewhat controversial topic. For the most part, you should do what you can to avoid bringing pre-written notes, though there are some circumstances where it’s appropriate. To learn more about those situations, read our article about bringing notes to an interview. 

On the other hand, it’s generally acceptable to bring a notebook and pen for taking notes during an interview. This shows the interviewer that you are taking this opportunity seriously and that you will likely behave in a similar fashion once you’re hired. 

Regardless of your approach, the main thing is to ask for permission. This doesn’t have to be a formal request, but a quick and casual question as you initially sit down, such as, “Do you mind if I take some notes while we chat?”.

The do's and don'ts of interviewing

Everyone is so concerned with what to do during an interview, that they forget to learn about what you shouldn’t do. Luckily we’ve got you covered with a few answers to both sides of the practice. 

What not to say in a job interview

Interviews are a time to sell ourselves, so it’s best to stay clear of any self-deprecating comments or tone. Yes, everyone has flaws, but an interview is not an appropriate time to dwell on those. Instead, focus on all the wonderful traits you bring to the table. If you don’t feel like you possess a lot of strengths, focus on reframing by using the magic phrase, “No I don’t have experience in [skill/trait/topic], but I’m eager to learn about it”. 

Similarly, avoid responding to a question by saying, “I don’t know”. Instead, try responding with, “I’m not familiar, could you tell me more about it?” or “I haven’t studied it extensively but I am familiar with the concept”. 

Lastly, it is a well-known red flag to speak poorly of or complain about a past employer. The message you send when speaking ill of a past employer during an interview is that you will likely speak poorly of the interviewing company, too. It also demonstrates a lack of professionalism or company loyalty, as well as an affinity for gossiping or drama. 

If you are asked directly about why you left your previous employer, it is absolutely okay to fib in order to save face. Let the interviewer know it wasn’t the right fit for you, and leave it at that. It is also okay to ask that the interviewer not contact your previous employer. Again, don’t offer more information. If you leave it at that, the interviewer will typically not push further. 

What you should not do during an interview

The point of an interview is to open doors for yourself. Even if you aren’t sure that you would take the job if offered, it’s best to wait until you’ve received the offer before disclosing that. During the interview, it is in your best interest to act certain and excited by the prospect of the position. Ultimately, indifference will not open doors.

Along those same lines, it’s best to hold off on asking for specific needs during the interview (not including accommodation for a disability, but even this has a strategy that should be applied). I once interviewed a candidate who asked about bringing pets to work. After I informed them that the building was animal-free, they disclosed that they were contemplating getting a puppy. They continued to ask if the position would allow them to either bring the puppy to work or take regular breaks throughout the day for walks and feedings. This candidate had excellent experience but their questions showed a lack of professionalism, and they ultimately were not offered the position.

One of the most common errors in interviews is getting too casual. Having an interview that feels more like a conversation than a structured Q&A is what everyone hopes for. However, you don’t want to become so relaxed that you lose your professional demeanor. If you notice yourself reaching to pull your phone out, use cuss or slang words, or begin to slouch, these are your signs that you need to reel it back in. 

Aside from work-appropriate hobbies, it’s best practice to steer clear of any personal topics. Keep the conversation returning to your skills, qualifications, and experiences as a professional.

The 10 most common interview questions and how you should answer them

1. Tell me about yourself.

It's almost guaranteed that every interview will commence with this prompt. It provides an opportunity to share a bit about your non-work self, use this to your advantage. For any interview, your goal is to stand out from the rest of the interview pool, and sharing a little snippet from your personal life is a great way to achieve this. Don’t go into too much detail in order to avoid getting off track. This question is not a prompt to tell your life story. Try tying a hobby in by using a phrase like, “When I’m not working, I typically spend my time either at the pottery studio or at home cooking”.

Copyable example 

Use these phrases to begin your response to this question.

“I knew I was passionate about X ever since…”

“My career journey started in an unexpected way…”

“I never expected X to have such a lasting influence on me, but…”

2. What brought you here today?

This question is essentially asking about your professional journey. Talk about your background, inspirations, and qualifications, but do so in the form of a story. The STAR technique is a way to format your storytelling for interviews. STAR is an acronym, which stands for situation, task, action, and result. Before your interview, practice answering this question using the STAR model.

3. Why do you want to work for this company (and not others)?

All companies want employees who are passionately choosing them as an employer, rather than settling. Even if it is not your first pick, you should enter the interview ready to convince them otherwise. The way to achieve this is to do your research. With all the tools available to us today, such as LinkedIn or Glassdoor, the expectation is that you have a solid answer to this question, with examples to back it up. Learn about their mission, the founders, the services they offer, or the awards they’ve won, and reference them here. 

4. What are your goals?

This question might also be asked in the form of, “What is your five-year plan?”. Above all else, lean into loyalty to the company. Answer truthfully for yourself, but do so with the assumption that you will still be working for this company at that point. If you are entry-level staff, describe how you want to move into management. If you are interviewing for a management position, talk about goals for improving processes. If you’re c-level, discuss branching, marketing, or sustainability. 

5. What’s an achievement you’re proud of?

Even if this question isn’t asked specifically about the professional realm, the example 

you give should reflect directly on what you bring to the team professionally. Many of us have items on our resumes that don’t feel justified by the description given. Resumes aren’t typically the place to go into detail about achievements. This question, however, is the place to delve in. 

6. What’s your expected salary?

This is the big question on everyone’s mind during an interview. It’s recommended to always have done research ahead of time so that you’ll have a number prepared for this question. It’s also common to provide a range. Sometimes the interviewer will state the range they’re willing to offer, and it’ll be up to you to advocate for yourself and tell them the number you expect.

7. Describe a time you had a conflict at work and how did you respond?

This is a great opportunity to flex your conflict management skills; something that every professional should possess. Come prepared with a story to tell, again, following the STAR method. If you don’t have a great example from your experience, make one up, as long as you are willing to follow through with the precedent you set. Basically, interviewers are looking for you to say that you don’t let emotions or personal life interfere with professionalism, that you have good communication, and that you can move past hiccups quickly and efficiently. 

8. What are your strengths?

Go ahead and flaunt yourself when asked this question! This is not a time to be humble. Share the incredible feedback you’ve received from peers, co-workers, and bosses over the years to enforce the claims you’re making. Prepare for this question so that when asked, you don’t stumble through your answer or draw a blank. 

9. What are your weaknesses?

This question gets a lot of attention, and its purpose is often misconstrued. Don’t spend time coming up with a weakness that is actually a strength. Be honest, tell the interviewer something that you consider to be a true weakness, so that you can describe the effort and approaches you’ve taken to overcome it. The way to ace this question is to show an aptitude for personal growth, and a drive for self-improvement. 

10. Why should we hire you?

The best response to this question is a blend of credentials and passion. Describe how inspired you are by the company, and how much your values align with its mission and vision. Recount what you will bring to the team and speak with certainty. Instead of saying, “I would do X, Y, and Z…” use a more assertive voice. “What I’m bringing to the team is…”

Key takeaways

  1. Prepare your answers ahead of time to common interview questions.

  2. Advocate for yourself, this is the time to flaunt your skills and abilities.

  3. Speak from a passionate place.

  4. Remain professional and confident at all times.

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