You’ve done it: You landed that job interview. After all the resume sprucing and cover letter writing, you finally got the call from HR and your first interview with your dream company is on the books. Now, it’s all about landing the job.
But where to begin? Between figuring out what to wear, what questions to ask, and whether or not you should send a thank-you note, you might be feeling overwhelmed. That’s why we asked 5 women who’ve dedicated their careers to hiring talent (like you!) to share their best insider advice. This is exactly what hiring managers look for during an interview.
Colleen McCreary is the chief people officer at Credit Karma and has completed approximately 10,000 interviews during her career. She told us about one interviewee who nailed the interview and landed the job almost immediately—even though she didn’t stand out on paper or LinkedIn.
“When I met with her, from the moment that I shook her hand, she was engaged, she used my name right away, she was exceptionally savvy relative to the hallway conversation as we were walking down to my office,” McCreary says. “Then we sat down, and basically every question I asked her, she was able to ask a question back that was right on target, very thoughtful. She did not seem to get flustered at all.”
Sounds impressive. If you’re ready to become an “instant hire” like McCreary’s candidate, here’s what to do before, during, and after your interview.
How to get hired on-the-spot
Across the board, all of our hiring managers agreed that doing your research before an interview is critical. You should know the company, their consumer/audience and how they make money.
“How can you contribute to adding to the bottom line? Is this in the form of development, cost savings, hiring the right talent, process improvement?” asks Heather Deyrieux, president of HR Florida State Council, a professional group representing that state’s HR community. “Come to the interview with ideas,” she adds.
You can also use LinkedIn to learn about the person who previously held this job and see how their background lines up with yours, and check out other employees at the company. However, McCreary says, you want to “walk the line between being completely unprepared and a stalker. You sort of want to land right in the middle of that.” So while you should definitely research the person or people who will be interviewing you (try to see if you have anything in common and use that to bond with them during your conversation), don’t look at their LinkedIn profile every day before and after you meet—you’ll seem a little creepy. Do look up the company on Glassdoor and see what you can glean about the interview process, though—that will help you feel more prepared. And have an answer in your back pocket about a time you failed or felt challenged—you’re almost sure to be asked a question of that nature.
Dana Hundley, a recruiter who founded the career coaching agency Career Cooperative with Jenna Richardson, told us that doing on a deep dive on the company will help you know how to frame your experience in relation to the position you’re interviewing for.
“Arm yourself with information so you know what experience you want to highlight and how to frame it to be most effective in an interview,” says Hundley. “Start with the company website, check the most recent press releases and what social media channels the company uses/promotes. If you don’t have them, ask for the names of the people you will be interviewing with and check out their LinkedIn profiles. Do a quick Google News search for recent company announcements you can speak to. The goal is to understand what the company does and, to the best of your ability, what the environment is like.”
While you’re digging around, look out for specific anecdotes about the company that you can refer to during your job interview, advises Jackie Ducci, founder and CEO of the talent acquisition agency Ducci & Associates and author of Almost Hired. “Did you see a cool article about the company that piqued your interest? Perhaps the firm is involved in philanthropic work involving a cause that you care about, too?” she says. “Perfect examples of things to mention during the course of your interview.”
Hundley also says it’s a good idea to re-read your resume before a job interview. Use it to remind yourself of specific examples, projects, and anecdotes from your work history that you can reference during your interview. And, awkward as it may be, consider doing a practice interview with a friend—it’ll help you organize your thoughts and possibly even shake off some of your jitters.
As far as your personal presentation goes, you’ll want to look clean and tidy when you step through the company’s doors. What you wear depends on the industry you’re in, but “you want people to look like they’ve actually acknowledged that this is an interview and they’ve taken the steps to make sure that means something,” says McCreary. You don’t want to look disheveled or thrown together, or like you just walked in off the street. Bathe the morning of your interview so you’re smelling fresh and clean, and wear something that makes you feel comfortable, confident and professional. Deyrieux says it never hurts to wear a blazer or even a suit—they’re classic workwear staples and will make you look pulled together.
Plain and simple: “Everybody’s drawn to somebody who looks alive,” says McCreary. That means you’re standing up straight, your arms are open and not crossed, you’re making eye contact and not slumping or fidgeting, and you stand up right away when the interviewer comes out to meet and greet you. You want to seem confident, energetic, friendly, articulate, and warm, without being too intense. You’ll also want to show that you’re engaged in the moment: Be present, ask questions and show that you’re listening to your interviewer—you don’t want to be too stuck in your head or seem like you’re reciting from a script.
“We are also aware that interviewing is nerve-wracking,” says Hundley. “I appreciate when a candidate is self-aware and does things like take a deep breath to calm their nerves, ask for a question to be repeated so they fully understand the question, or take advantage of a sip of water—anything that helps them be their best selves.”
As far as what you want to avoid, Career Cooperative co-founder Richardson says, “If a candidate is not proud of themselves or undermines or devalues their experience, [has] a negative attitude about past-experiences [or] a lack of belief in themselves,” that’s a turnoff. You also want to avoid seeming boastful, and you definitely shouldn’t go on tangents or interrupt your interviewer.
Ducci adds that “getting too comfortable (checking your phone, leaning too far back, propping an arm up on the back of the chair, avoiding eye contact, fidgeting too much)” are surefire ways to turn off your interviewer. “Remember, you’re in their ‘house.’ Just be respectful, and don’t overthink it.”
“Do you have any questions for us?” For many candidates, it’s the most dreaded part of any interview. It doesn’t have to be, though, according to our hiring experts. This is an opportunity to show that you’ve done your research, are excited about the opportunity, and are genuinely curious about the company and the role you’re interviewing for.
In addition to any specific questions you have about the function of the role, McCreary recommends asking questions that get to the heart of the company’s culture: What gets rewarded? How do you show people they’re valued? What are some of the things that are considered great at this company? And, how do you use your values to determine what decisions are made?
She also recommends asking about the interviewer—everyone likes to talk about themselves.
For Ducci, asking targeted questions about the position gives you an opportunity to shine. “I love it when candidates ask about expectations or the previous person who held the now-open job. It tells me that they want to truly understand what the company is looking for in their next hire,” she says. “For example, if the interviewer says, ‘The last person who had this position was amazing, she was so on top of all the little details’ and you know that detail orientation is one of your genuine strengths, capitalize on the opportunity to tell them you’d be a great fit, and give some examples of how and when you’ve managed lots of details in the past. It’ll instantly build rapport.”
Richardson tells us she likes when candidates ask questions about the role that haven’t yet been answered, such as, “What do you think will be my biggest challenge in the ramp-up period?”, and questions that show you’ve done your research. For example, “I know you were here in 2018 when the CEO changed, how has that impacted your experience leading the marketing team?”
It seems like everyone has different—and contradicting—opinions on thank-you notes these days, but one thing was true for our pool of experts: sending a specific, personal and meaningful thank-you note will set an “instant hire” apart from an average candidate (handwritten preferred!).
Says McCreary, “If we’ve had a specific conversation where you as a candidate have said, ‘Oh, can I follow up with you?’, I very much pay attention to see if they actually do what we talked about.” Also, she continues, if you find an article that relates to something you talked about, send that over. Or, if you feel like you didn’t give the best, most detailed response possible during the interview, feel free to send a note expanding on your original answer.
“I actually think that that shows a lot of strength and confidence, and it also shows that you’re very thoughtful about the interview,” McCreary says. “Just a generic, ‘Thanks so much, I really enjoyed our interview’—that email or handwritten note is not going to weigh much.”
Richardson says she likes to receive a “prompt, personalized, and well-written—and proofread—thank-you note.” She also recommends recapping something specific that was discussed during your interview and reiterating specifically why you’re interested in the opportunity.
As for follow-up emails, sending one a week after the interview is OK—much more than that and you might start to drive the hiring manager crazy.
“The most important thing is to show up as the best version of yourself,” says Richardson. “Do what you need to make sure you’re in the right mindset to confront the unknown with confidence. How do you feel when you are with your best friend in the world? Find that feeling and do what you can to emulate it on interview day.”