How to Ace Your Job Interview: 88 Surefire Tips and Tricks


So, you’re a recent graduate of one of the best online paralegal programs or the top online criminal justice programs? Looking for work? You and thousands of others. What can you offer that they can’t? Well, hopefully you know that or will learn as you search. Your job search is a project in itself, with various stages. Here are some tips to get you to your goal of a great first job.

Keep building your skills.

  1. Practice your writing skills. In today’s Internet-oriented world, good communication skills are crucial. Technical writing and documentation seems to be a weak point for many new grads.
  2. Stay updated. Read and subscribe to relevant blogs and industry news sources. Use web feed subscription tools like Bloglines or Newsgator Online Edition.
  3. Take refresher courses. You may not get a job in your first interview round. Consider some refresher courses before you rewrite your resume.
  4. Start a blog. Demonstrate your knowledge of a topic related to a field you’d like to be employed in by writing a blog and mentioning it in your resume.
  5. Do some volunteer work. Find something you like doing and volunteer. It shows depth of character on your resume.
  6. Learn networking skills. Finding the ideal job usually means knowing the right person at the right time.
  7. Take a MOOC. Massive Open Online Courses are huge right now and free. There are plenty of MOOC providers like EdX, Coursera, and Udacity that will allow you to take a course that focuses on whatever career choice you’re working in or toward.

Tools and Miscellaneous

These are some tools that you might need for your job search, and other expenditures.

  1. Computer. Whether you buy or borrow, you’ll need a computer for typing your resume, cover letter, and references page.
  2. Internet access. Your job search will likely take you online. As an alumnus, you probably have access at your college (or local library).
  3. Briefcase or portfolio. Perfect for protecting your materials against the elements when attending job fairs or going to interviews.
  4. Cell phone. If you’re pounding the pavement looking for work, you’ll want to make it easy to be reached for additional interviews or changed schedules.

Resume

  1. The average headhunter will tell you that their clients usually spend thirty seconds on most resumes, while culling the stack. Make yours stand out, and defensible.
  2. Don’t lie on your resume. It’s not a novel. Mention skills you’re capable of. Say “learning such and such” for everything else.
  3. Be relevant. Don’t list your parents’ names and birthdays or your dog’s breed.
  4. Customize your resume. You may qualify to work in various industries. Tailor your resume accordingly for each.
  5. Follow standard format. There are a variety of resume formats and you can probably follow any of them. New grads should emphasize education and grades first.
  6. Make it easy to read. Even while following standard format, there are a number of ways you can make your resume easy to read including using bullet points or tables.
  7. Be brief. One page for a recent college graduate is sufficient.
  8. Use the right terminology. Do use industry terms but don’t be too academic with lingo.
  9. Promote yourself. Your resume has to sell you. Write it using action words but without bragging. Be factual, with concrete details.
  10. Have references ready. Have two or three references printed on a separate sheet of paper and only provide them when asked for. Professors that know you well might be ideal candidates.
  11. Indicate your interests. Depth of character is something interviewers look for.
  12. Stick to the file format. If a company asks for your resume in a specific format and/or provided by a particular method of delivery, then comply.
  13. Use a cover letter. These are specific to the job and company that you are applying to, so use a different one for each application. They should summarize in a few paragraphs your objective, strengths, and relevant interests.
  14. Proofread. Don’t waste your entire effort by sending out resumes and cover letters only to find that it appears a monkey wrote them. Use a spell checker and grammar checker.
  15. Print quality. Use quality white or light tan paper for printed resumes and cover letters. Don’t use gimmicks like colored or scented paper. Stapling is not recommended, but at least keep your cover letter separate.

Finding a Job and Interview Preparation

Before you can get an interview, you obviously have to find a job to apply for.

  1. Ask friends and family. This is not nepotism. You are merely asking around about opportunities where they work.
  2. Ask in social settings. Someone in your church or other social organization may have leads.
  3. Ask on campus. Your professors or the university might have work available.
  4. Check with former classmates. Some companies pay employees referral fees for finding new candidates, so a former classmate might have leads.
  5. Try networking. Career networking websites such as LinkedIn or JibberJobber can go a long way toward helping you find a job.
  6. Use a job search engine. Job search engines like Jobster, Dice, Indeed, and Simplyhired can narrow down your search. Some let you post your profile and resume.
  7. Attend career fairs. Career fairs are sometimes ideal for finding a job. Dress as you would for a one-on-one interview, and you might find yourself in one. Take a clipboard, copies of your resume, and a general cover letter.
  8. Be selective. Don’t apply to jobs that you know you won’t like or are not qualified for. But you may want to give it a shot anyway.
  9. Practice being interviewed. Have a friend help you out, setup a video camera, then review your answers and body language. If possible, have two friends interview you “firing-line” style.
  10. Beef up your skills. Missing a skill? Can you learn it fast? Say on your resume that you are learning it, then do so before an interview.
  11. Know your strengths. You’ll likely be asked, in an interview, what you think your strengths are, and possibly your weaknesses and what you’re doing about them. Make a list of both.
  12. Research potential employers. Visit their Web sites and search for recent articles about them. Try Topix, which lets you search for news from a certain date backwards.
  13. Prepare a list of questions. Not all job descriptions are clear. Be ready to ask for clarification in an interview.
  14. Don’t overreach. It’s good to be positive, but as a new grad, you have to be realistic about what work you are qualified for.
  15. Be patient. Work might be hard to come by in some industries. Keep trying. If you are willing to wait, then stay on top of industry news.
  16. Look elsewhere. New grads can simultaneously combine their adventuresome spirit and the need for a job by working abroad.

Offbeat and Appearance

General tips about preparing when you’ve already secured an interview.

  1. Practice. Practice in front of the mirror the night before. Check your facial expressions.
  2. Have your clothes ready. (Reduce your stress.) This includes ironing clothes and buffing shoes.
  3. Dress professionally. Part of being professional is dressing professionally. For men, a tie isn’t always necessary later in life. But wear at least a suit jacket and slacks. Women should dress appropriately. Phone in and ask if necessary. Err on the side of conservative.
  4. Makeover. Don’t spend a fortune, but have clothes you can wear to an interview and the job afterwards. Maybe you need new shoes and a haircut or styling.
  5. Use your judgment. Facial jewelry, colored/ spiky hair, and tattoos are relatively new fashion “accessories” and companies differ in their acceptance. Most look past it nowadays. Being yourself is best. Call reception and ask for suggestions, if you’re concerned.
  6. Groom yourself. Brush your teeth and shower. Men, eliminate stubble.
  7. Get enough sleep. Don’t go in with bloodshot eyes.

Pre-Interview

On the day of your interview, prep yourself.

  1. Be prepared. Know where you’re supposed to go. Check their Web site, and call in if you have to.
  2. Know why. You’ll likely be asked why you want to work there: it’s small, it’s big, cool research, cool job, highly recommended, whatever.
  3. Arrive early. But not too early. Five to 10 minutes early is okay. If you’re earlier, wait somewhere else first.
  4. Be friendly. Greet the receptionist and anyone who talks to you before the interview. Thank them for any assistance.
  5. Don’t smoke. At least not on the premises. You don’t want to smell of smoke.
  6. Use the restroom beforehand. Better safe than having to go during the interview. Comb your hair, ditch your chewing gum, etc.
  7. Learn your interviewer’s name. If they have an unusual name, ask the receptionist for the proper pronunciation. Dale Carnegie, in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, wrote of a new American who cried when someone asked him how to pronounce his name, instead of simply pronouncing it incorrectly.
  8. Turn off your cell phone. And take out any Bluetooth earpiece you might be wearing.

The Interview

A lot of what gains you points in an interview is your behavior. They already have your resume. They want to know about you.

Interview Opener

  1. Wait for the handshake. The rules of a handshake have changed as more women have entered the workforce. Normally, two men should shake firmly. Beyond that, you’ll have to use your judgment. Don’t crush a person’s hand. Practice with male and female friends.
  2. Remain standing. Don’t sit until you are directed to. There may be other people participating in the interview and it’s best to show that you are “open to direction.”
  3. Make a good first impression and maintain it. Mirroring is a powerful technique if used subtly, no matter the interviewer’s mood.

Interview Dos

  1. Maintain eye contact. Look the interviewer in the eye without staring. Not doing so is often perceived as shiftiness not shyness.
  2. Be succinct. Don’t be a Chatty Cathy; don’t tell your life story. Give a bit of detail instead of just “yes” and “no.”
  3. Nod your head. But don’t overdo it. It shows you are attentive and amenable to being managed. Women are more likely to nod than men, so men should practice more.
  4. Ask for clarification. You may be attentive, but if you don’t understand something, politely ask for clarification.
  5. Ask questions. Ask about the culture at the company and any general questions that an interviewer has not mentioned yet.
  6. Be flexible. Even dream jobs have uninteresting tasks that must get done. Don’t wrinkle your nose at a list of tasks. And say you’re willing to learn if you don’t know how to do something.
  7. Ask about your role. You could be interviewed for multiple positions, despite what the job description you applied to indicated. Ask what positions you’re being considered for.
  8. Ask about your team. Ask how many people you’d be working with and what they do. Ask if there’s anyone internally that is applying for the job.
  9. Ask about the last person. Ask why the last person left the position, or if it’s a new one. If the interviewer hesitates, back off. If they answer anyway, they’ll probably respect you for asking.
  10. Ask about future opportunities. Is there room for growth? Asking shows that you’re career-minded, and that you might stay long-term.

Interview Don’ts

  1. Don’t ask about salary benefits first. Let the interviewer bring it up. Typically, this is discussed towards the end, and usually if they’re interested in you.
  2. Don’t fidget. It’s often perceived as a sign of untrustworthiness.
  3. Don’t mumble. Speak clearly and enunciate your words. This should be part of your pre-interview practice with friends.
  4. Don’t be intimidated. Be confident without being arrogant.
  5. Don’t lie in the interview. A skilled interviewer can “read” an applicant.
  6. Don’t show off or overact. Just be yourself, but don’t be overly effusive.
  7. Don’t complain about someone. Be positive.
  8. Don’t seem needy. Sure, you need a job, but if you act like it, you probably won’t get it.

The Flip Side

  1. Remember what it’s about. Think “what’s in it for them,” not just “what’s in it for me.” Both parties have to benefit.
  2. Be prepared to be tested. You might be asked to prove, say, your computer programming skills with a small quiz on basic principles of coding. Interviews for other industries might include similar testing.

Closer and Post Interview

The end of the interview is just as crucial to getting a job, as is what you do afterwards.

  1. Know your availability. An interviewer may ask when you can start. Don’t be afraid to say that you have a vacation scheduled, etc., or that you can start immediately.
  2. Be flexible on salary. When asked what you’re expecting, a good answer for a new grad is that you’re hoping for at least fair entry level wages, with performance bonuses. You might even say that you’re willing to accept stock options, especially at a startup.
  3. Ask for the job. If the interview goes well and you think you want to work there, ask for the job. Say something like, “Well this sounds like a very interesting job and I’d love to work here.” Do this when they offer their handshake goodbye. If they like you, you’ll be asked back for a second interview, or you might get offered the job right there.
  4. Say thank you. Thank the interviewer and the receptionist, etc.
  5. Be patient, part 2. As you’re leaving, ask about the selection process and when you might hear back. If there’s more than one position, you might hear back sooner. You might get more than one interview, but that may require a sign-off from someone on vacation.
  6. Follow up on each interview. Experts offer differing opinions on this. If in doubt, call reception and ask their suggestions, especially if you haven’t heard back within two weeks.
  7. Keep an interview log. It’ll help you track the state of each application (sent application, pending interview, interview complete, followed up, rejected, etc.). Include dates.
  8. Keep learning. An advanced degree may help your career, but you can also learn without returning to school. Many large universities are offering their courses free online. Also check the Open Courseware Consortium.