Acing an interview?
April 3, 2008 8:02 AM   Subscribe

My first interview is tomorrow. Do you have actual, useful advice? How can I stay calm?

Sorry if this is an open-ended question, but everything I'm finding online is stuff like, "Try to arrive early" and, "Make sure to do some research on what the company does." Despite never having interviewed before, I do have some common sense. ;) I'm hoping that the hive mind has accumulated some good tips.

The job is part web development, part business management (on their Internet side of things). I'm good at both, but, put under pressure, will unwittingly talk myself into seeming utterly incapable of even turning on a computer. They haven't told me what "type" of interview I'll be in, although I was told that the people were easy-going and seemed to like me, from my resume and their quick checks.

In addition to general advice on how to do well in an interview, how do I keep from being a nervous wreck? (It's mostly irrational fear.) I'm excited about this job, so I don't want to risk making a fool of myself. Metafilter!! Please hope me.
posted by fogster to Work & Money (21 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
My best piece of advice... think of this the same way that you would a date.
You need to be interviewing them as well!

Remember that an interview is a two-way street. This may or may not even be the job that you eventually want to take. Don't come off as arrogant, but make sure you have a few questions that basically ask "why should I take this job?"
posted by juicedigital at 8:07 AM on April 3, 2008

Best answer: Is this stuff you just like doing, even outside of work? If it is, try to treat the interview like a conversation rather than a high-pressure interview -- just "talk shop" and get engaged in it. Get excited. It'll help words and actions flow better for you, and it'll probably demonstrate a lot of enthusiasm, which can only help you.

Good luck!
posted by olinerd at 8:08 AM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Preparation is always the key to remaining calm.

You say you're "good at both" - think of examples to illustrate this. What skills / competencies do you have that allow you to be good at what they're asking you to do? Look at what is on your CV and try to think of at least 3 things you have learnt from the experience that's on there. Typical things would be teamwork, remaining calm in stressful situations, ability to plan your time effectively etc.

Think about what sort of things would a company employing a web developer / business analyst want from that person? Do you have those skills? For the developer side, can you follow specs? Can you solve problems when needed? Can you think for yourself if needed? In the interviews ask them what they would expect and then give examples of how you are that person and why.

It might sound obvious but tailor your answers to what they ask, don't just go in there and blurt out all your great skills. If they tell you they want X then you can do X, because of this and this. You are not telling them they need Z, they know they need X.

They may ask some weakness questions, try and think of a couple. I'm a team player and I don't like it when people don't pull their weight is a crap one. Something better might be, sometimes I get a requirement I'm very keen to get it done and I don't fully plan things out in advance, so I've learnt to take a few minutes before starting a task to think things through from start to finish.

Do turn up early, that's very important. Have as good an idea of what they do as you can in the time you have, but in my experience 25% of the interview will be them telling you what they do anyway. Don't talk too much - there is a very strong urge to keep going. Say your piece and make a conscious effort to stop there. It will sound a bit strange to you, but they won't notice. A good interviewer won't interrupt you so it is possible to dig yourself into a hole.

Good luck.
posted by jontyjago at 8:17 AM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Like almost anything else, interviewing gets easier with practice. Try to think about about what kind of things you'll be talking about and imagine what you'd say. Don't practice to the point of scripting, just think of a few stories that you've got that can be used to highlight things you're good at.

Not only is a story more engaging, but it's illustrative. Simply saying you're reliable and meet deadlines doesn't convince the way a story about how you were able to successfully juggle three different, demanding clients and make all of them happy does.

And what juicedigital said is dead-on. You should want them to hire you because it looks like a great (or at least good) place to work, not because they've got an opening.
posted by Nelsormensch at 8:23 AM on April 3, 2008

Best answer: It's great to come across really enthusiastic about the job and the industry (although not desperate or you'll hang yourself!). I find it helps to think of loads of 'scenario' questions (and other questions) you might get asked, so you can prepare some good answers. I work in a completely different industry, but the questions which usually come up in my interviews include "What's the biggest challenge you have faced at work and how did you deal with it?" "Give us an example of working as part of a team", "What would you do in this situation [worst-case scenario]?", "what are your best and worst qualities?". I always say my worst quality is being a perfectionist - it's a really good answer cos you don't have to put yourself down and it makes you sound like a really hard worker! The last time I used it I got a laugh from the interviewers and I find that if you can lighten the atmosphere and make them laugh that's a huge bonus to you. (By the way, I got that job!)

If you go in with some prepared answers and some knowledge about the company it really helps you to feel more confidant. And definitely ask them questions at the end - it makes you look interested in them and the job, which they will like.

You know they're interested in you so you don't have reason to be very nervous. They know you're competent and have the necessary experience, now they need to see your personality to make sure you'll fit in. Smile loads, be really polite and laugh if you can. They'll take a bit of nervous behavior into account as it's natural so don't worry about it, use your nervous energy to bowl them over with your great personality! And I agree with juicedigital - they need to prove to you they're good enough for you too!

Good luck!
posted by Happycat79 at 8:29 AM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I always found it very helpful to grab common interview questions from various sites on the net, and then have a friend sit down and do a mock interview with me. The questions very rarely come up, but it's good to have run through a worst-case scenario beforehand.
posted by MrVisible at 8:35 AM on April 3, 2008

Don't pin too much on the outcome of this interview. Yes, jobs are important, and it may be a good job, but there are others out there. If this one doesn't work out, there will be another, quite possibly better job that comes your way.

Don't just tell yourself this: believe it. Believe it because it's true, but also believe it because if you don't, you'll psyche yourself out and screw up. You can be relaxed about the interview without being cavalier about it.
posted by adamrice at 8:41 AM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Make sure you tell them, at the end of the interview, that you want the job. Yes, it's obvious; you're interviewing, right?

They'll ask you if you have any questions. Whether you have more specific questions or not, always ask, "What's the time-frame for hiring?" or "So, what's my next step?"

Before handshakes and goodbyes, be sure to say, "After meeting with you today, I want this job more than ever," or some other way of saying, point blank, "I want this job." It makes a big difference.

Try to get a business card from your interviewer. Don't worry if you don't have one of your own (unless you're in Japan).

Send your interviewer an email thanking them for meeting you. It's always best if you can describe how the interview was helpful to you in some way. Reiterate that you want the job (I can't stress this enough, and neither can you). The sooner you email them, the better; they may be making their decision right after your interview, and if their Blackberry buzzes with your note of thanks, the scales may tip in your favor, all else being equal.

One other thing: they'll be looking at your resume. Come up with a story for each job on your resume, describing a problem (the more universal, the better) how you addressed it, and what you learned or what your handling of the situation says about you. It helps the interviewer relate your experience to the job in question, and it shows that you are an active, engaged employee, looking to learn from any situation.

There's no such thing as too polite. Did I mention that you should tell them you want the job?

And of course, relax. Relaxing helps you smile, smiling helps you relax, and both help you put the interviewer at ease. After all, they're probably under the gun from some boss, somewhere. You're helping them find the right employee.
posted by breezeway at 9:16 AM on April 3, 2008 [10 favorites]

Best answer: The best advice I ever received was don't feel pressure to respond immediately to questions. It's ok to pause while you figure out your reply then answer. If you need more than a few seconds, say for a particularly tricky question or one you didn't anticipate, say something like "if I could take a moment to gather my thoughts?". It will help mitigate the awkward silence and lessen the pressure to answer immediately.
posted by kitkatcathy at 9:19 AM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

This week I had several people come to my office for interviews, so this is from fresh experience.

* Do not smoke before an interview or wear too much perfume. One woman's perfume made my eyes water so badly I hustled her out the door in less than 10 minutes.

* Know what you are interviewing for. Same smelly lady obviously had applied to so many different positions that she didn't know which position she had applied for, what our company did, or the salary range / hours we advertised for. I'm not going to waste my time on stuff you already should know before you walk into my door.

* Breathe. Think before you speak. Be calm. Don't speak too fast or you'll say the wrong thing or mumble. I do judge you on how you present yourself in a professional manner.

* For god's sake, dress well. Even in a casual work atmosphere, we expect you to wear clothes appropriate for an interview. Another interviewee came in with an extremely low cut shirt with her breasts exploding out of it like watermelons. WTF? I'm not hiring a pole dancer!

* Ask us questions. Really. It shows us that you're willing to know more about us, our company, our environment.

* Please, no TMI. I don't need to know your drama going on outside your life. I'm interviewing for your skills and ability to perform a job. I do NOT need to know your children's trials and tribulations, how sick you were over the winter, or that you are in the middle of a nasty divorce.

* Firm handshake, a hello with a direct look at my eyes speaks volumes.

* Don't talk too much. My bullshit detector is on high alert at interviews.

Good luck.
posted by HeyAllie at 9:21 AM on April 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

A tip that has helped me: Pause before you speak. This helps you avoid eagerly blurting out your answer and then being carried by the momentum into more blurting and then... The interviewers won't even notice the pause but it will help you collect your thoughts and speak calmly.
posted by PatoPata at 9:22 AM on April 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

i find that i can keep myself from being nervous by having material prepared for the interview. that way, i can control the content thereof, and i don't need to be reactive to the interviewer. i can anticipate what they're going to ask, and have prepared answers.

things like:
*highlighting three particularly strengths that i've derived from my experience that will be directly applicable to the job i'm interviewing for.
*preparing a list of questions about the organization and the position (who will i be reporting to? how will i be working with the people i'll be working with?

good luck.
posted by entropone at 9:24 AM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

juicedigital is spot on.

In many ways, interviewing for work is even more like dating than real dating. You've got untold numbers of flake applicants, but there's also LOTS of flake companies or flake teams out there that you really, really don't need to work for. You're also basically making a snap decision on whether or not to share 1/3 of your life for the next few months/years/decades with people you just met. Vetting significant others is both more thorough and moves more slowly, in comparison.

Also, sometimes the HR boilerplate really does apply - many times people aren't brought on just because it isn't a good fit. That's not a reflection on your abilities or talents.

Best of luck!
posted by NoRelationToLea at 9:33 AM on April 3, 2008

I've been on the interviewer side of a lot of interviews lately. The people who made the best impression treated it like a conversation. Their tone was conversational, they were calm and engaged, and they asked smart questions. Their answers seemed honest and unscripted. Being excited is good; let it show. But don't psych yourself into thinking that this job is the be all end all b/c that will screw with your head.

Go into the interview thinking critically about the job to try to keep some of the pressure off yourself. I don't mean critical as in negative but as in--Do I like the people who interviewed me? Would I enjoy working with them? Do the job duties seem to be as advertised? Did I get to meet my supervisor, and if so, did I like her? Did the people who worked there seem happy? If you try to internally deflect the pressure outward, as if you are interviewing them, it might help you stay calm and conversational.

A couple of people above said to be able to tell stories--this is immensely helpful to the interviewer in getting a sense of what kind of employee you would be and will put you miles ahead of people who just say, I can do x, or I have y quality.

Pause before speaking and think about what you're saying to avoid rattling on.

Firm handshake and eye contact are also great.
posted by Mavri at 9:44 AM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I tend to freak out before interviews, too. Wearing a suit seemed unnatural to me and made me feel like a fraud, I approached my interviewers as though they were judges figuring out whether to give me the death penalty, and going through all the pantyhose-and-nice-paper formalities always makes me feel like I'm being watched on every little thing and someone is just waiting for me to slip up.

I'm not sure if that's how you feel too, but if it is, it helps to look at yourself in the mirror, with your suit on, and tell yourself (silently or aloud), "Wow. I look good in this, and it's comfortable. I look exactly like one of those guys that wears a suit every day." Your interviewers have no idea that you'd much rather be wearing cutoffs and flip-flops. (If your interview suit is not comfortable or good-looking, get it tailored or get a new one. Just being physically comfortable makes a huge difference.)

Another cheesy trick that helps me immensely is thinking, "These people interviewing me could be my new friends." Not in the sense that you're going to show up tomorrow and trade Pokemon for half an hour, but these are people you will be working with and getting to know should you get the job. And they do already like you some, if they're giving you an interview. Think of them in that context rather than as mysterious interview judges that could make or break you. They're trying to determine whether you'd be good to work with, and if you're intimidated by them that might not show through.

Make sure you can answer the standard interview questions (what is your biggest strength/weakness, what you see yourself doing in X years, what you liked and didn't like about each job on your resume and why you left, name a time where you took initiative and solved a problem) as well as any technical questions that may come up. I bombed an interview with Google because I spent the evening before thinking of my biggest strengths and weaknesses and so on, but the interview was entirely technical questions that I hadn't even thought about. Think of a few questions to ask in advance (who will I be working with? what's a typical day here like? what type of people do well here? what do you [the interviewer] like about this company/job?), but it helps if you think of a question or two that you've tailored to the company, or something in the job description that you're curious about. It's totally okay to say "I have a question about that" right after they tell you the job description rather than waiting till the end of the interview.

Okay, that's a lot longer than I planned, and I'm not sure how much of it is helpful. But I hope some of it is. You can do it!
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:24 AM on April 3, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I have interviewed before and here are my top tips (in addition to some excellent advice above):

BE SPECIFIC - There is nothing more annoying that someone answering all my questions with hypotheticals. If they ask you a situation question ("What would you do if you had to work with a difficult person?") make your answer as concrete as possible from direct experience. I don't care what you would do, I want to know what you actually did.

CLOSE THE LOOP - When you finish talking about your situational experience, don't forget the conclusion. Regardless of the outcome, show that you somehow learned from it.

I also want to repeat the thing about thinking about your answer. Silences can feel awkward, but interviewers totally understand. Ask for a minute to think, take a drink of water, and answer concisely. You really don't want to ramble and forget the point you were trying to make.

Finally, a GREAT closing question my friend told me,
"After this interview, are there any concerns you have about me filling this role that I can address?" Worst case scenario is that they say they can't think of anything and is that so bad? If they say something you can either clear it up with them or at least take it with you to learn and go away with a feel for how you did without the agony of waiting by the phone.
posted by like_neon at 10:26 AM on April 3, 2008 [4 favorites]

There's a lot of excellent advice in this thread. I can only add that if you are interviewing for a big company remember that they may have fixed easy questions, particularly to kick off the interview, that they ask to every candidate for the sake of fairness.

Say you have a PhD in X, and the next candidate has nil experience. Instead of getting asked directly about your PhD, you both get the same benign question: "Tell me about your experience of X". That's your cue to talk up your PhD, and point out why it's relevant to the job. You have to be ready to turn all these patsy questions to your advantage, and really really sell your skills and strengths.

My first few interviews I didn't understand this. I would get the patsy question, and just use it to restate my CV, and then sit there like a sucker waiting for the tough questions. If you can establish some rapport within the first few questions, you'll relax, and then you can handle the "unpreparable" questions better.
posted by roofus at 10:35 AM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Pasting my response from a previous thread. (some of it won't help with tomorrow's interview, but still could be helpful in the future.)

I was a terrible interviewer straight out of college. I recommend going to as many throw-away interviews as possible, to get in some practice. The more I did this, the more comfortable I got in the interview environment, plus when I finally did get to an interview for a job I actually really wanted, my answers came naturally, because I was so used to going through the routine.

During the whole process, I was getting pretty discouraged, however, and my stepdad gave me the book, 48 Days to the Work You Love. I highly recommend this book--it doesn't focus entirely on interviews, but it does have very helpful chapters on interviewing and follow-up. There is a list of questions that you should ask at the end of the interview, as well as practice questions so that you can have your answers somewhat prepared.

During our job searches, my husband and I both got into the habit of reading the interview chapter the morning of an interview, and we both agree that the advice in the book helped a lot. We both landed jobs, shortly after, btw.

In addition, I can't stress how important follow-up is. Even if you do a great job in your interview, but they never hear from you again, you might get lost in the shuffle. When I was interviewing for my job, after the first interview I immediately sent a handwritten thank you card stressing my interest in the job to both people I interviewed with. (There are also examples of thank you cards/letters in the book I linked.) A couple of days later, I remembered some job experience I had forgotten to mention in the interview that directly corresponded with a task in the job description, so I sent off a short (but carefully proofed) email starting off like this:

"Dear Mr. Interviewer,

I want to thank you again for taking the time to meet with me last week to discuss the Whatever position. After thinking more about the position and all that it entails, I realized that I had forgotten to mention some experience that I gained..."

I then had a second interview with a different person, to whom I also sent a handwritten thank you card. About a week later (after not hearing anything) I sent out the following email:

"Dear Mr. Interviewer,

I just wanted to reiterate that I am extremely interested in working as a Whatever for Company. If there is anything else I could offer to let you know that I am the right person for the job, please feel free to contact me.

Thank you again for your time.


I got an email back asking for my references, and a few days later they called me back in and offered me the job.

Now, after listing all of that out, I know it kind of sounds like overkill, but I think, especially in a long interview process, it is important to keep your name fresh in the interviewer's mind, and that is what contacting them every so often does. It's important that they know you really want the job, and this also establishes that. I guess you probably have to be careful about not bugging the crap out of them, but I think if you spread it out and don't call or write every day, you'll be fine.

Ha, that may have been way more than you were asking for, but I am fresh from that desperate job-seeking place in my life, and I remember how frustrating it can be. Hope this helps.
posted by saucy at 11:23 AM on April 3, 2008 [4 favorites]

Best answer: The best piece of interviewing advice I received: To avoid flabbergastation think of 3 main points you want to get across in your interview. Doing so will give you a goal, something to work with, something to focus on so conversation stays on track.
posted by nemoorange at 2:18 PM on April 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've been doing a lot of interviewing the last few months, and it's teaching me a lot about the other side of the interview process.

like_neon's advice is good, especially about giving specific answers. My employer is very particular about behavioral interviewing, so I ask a lot of "tell me about a time when..." questions, and it really turns me off if a candidate can't give any specific answers.

I also agree with Mavri, that the best interviews feel like a conversation. Anything you can do to get away from the question-answer-question-answer pattern helps.

The thing that always strikes me the most is if a person is really excited about a particular area. For example, if I bring up online help and the person says "I was just reading about new opportunities for XML in online help," that's a big plus for me. I want to work with people who care about what they do! Just avoid trying to out-smart the interviewer; I've had people say things like "it sounds like you're looking for someone to take you to the next level," and that's a total turn-off. That might work if you're interviewing for a manager position or something, but when you're talking to the person who's going to have to hold your hand for the first six months while you learn the ropes, it's pretty annoying.
posted by korres at 4:25 PM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all for the help! I may have gone overboard with "Best Answers," but the ones I didn't mark were more because I was getting sick of clicking the button. ;)

I'm still quite nervous, but you guys (and gals) have given me a lot of excellent advice for tomorrow. Thanks!
posted by fogster at 6:39 PM on April 3, 2008

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