Kathy waits in the lobby for her interview. Her hands are sticky and wet, her heart is beating faster than usual, and her mouth feels like cotton. The interviewer approaches, and Kathy has to wipe her hand on his pant leg before shaking hands.

This is a familiar scenario in company lobbies throughout the world. The job interview can be very stressful for most people. Since one of our top fears is rejection and one of our top needs is acceptance, it is not surprising that interviews make people sweat.

The interview can cause panic attacks if the fear is strong enough. Preconditioning will do wonders for this type of anxiety. One of the best techniques to handle stress is through breathing. Take deliberate shallow breaths. Take air in through the nostrils and exhale, quietly, through the mouth. You should practice this technique for relaxing before the interview.

Questions most ask during an Interview

Tell me about yourself

Write Your “Story Statement”
Though most interviews start with the same prompt (“tell me about yourself”), we blow it off with boring answers like:

I studied [major X] because I really care about making a difference in [industry Y] as you can see through my last job at [company Z]… This answer is like tearing out the first 200 pages of your autobiography. You leave out everything that gives meaning to why you want this job in the first place. What was your moment of epiphany? How did your childhood influence you? Why does this job move you? Most people don’t answer these questions. They start and end with their professional experience, leaving little to inspire the interviewer.

Use what is called a “Story Statement,” which is a Cliff Notes of your autobiography.

Example:

I grew up in California and Arizona after immigrating to the United States when I was four years old. Since neither of my parents went to college, I relied on my high school teachers to help me apply to top universities. With their support, I was able to attend the University of Pennsylvania. Then I spent a summer at a Washington DC law firm, which represented low-income students and helped me realize that my passion lay within creating educational opportunities for all.

I decided to become a teacher because I see myself so deeply reflected in the stories of so many students in your schools – and that’s why I’m so excited about the opportunity to interview with you today. Like my teachers did for me, I want to impact the next generation of students by supporting them and understanding the experiences they’re facing.

A Story Statement shows that you’re a person, not just a professional. It also makes it easy for your interviewer to predict the next chapter of your story. For Kareli, Teach For America is a logical next step. Of course, if she interviewed the Postal Service, she may change her Story Statement to include an early experience with her first time taking the mail from the mailbox with her dad. Chances are, we’ve all had experiences we can connect to where we’re trying to go. It’s just a matter of selecting the right ones to tell our story.

Why do employers ask this question? Primarily employers are trying to find out more about you and what you might be like if they hire you. They want to know whether you’re one of those difficult employees whom are hard to manage, or whether you’re a flake that can’t stick to a job for more than two minutes. They need to know whether your demise was due to your bad attitude or whether you’re reasons for leaving are more positive, such as for personal development or a new challenge. Whatever your reasons; preparing an answer that shows you in the best light is going to be essential.

Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?

There are few interview questions that strike fear into the heart of an interviewee as much as the dreaded “why did you leave your last job”? Whether you were fired because of incompetence or had a boss that made Cruella de Vil look like a sweetheart, the only job that matters now is putting your prospective employer’s mind at ease.

What if you were fired? First and foremost you’re going to need to be honest.

Most hiring managers will want to hear from your previous boss and lying about your situation won’t do you any favors. Rather than hiding your head in the sand, talk to your previous boss to agree what they will say when approached for a reference. This will help you to plan your answer and overcome any sticking points.

The key to coming out on top is going to involve explaining what you’ve learned from the experience and to showcase how you’ve dealt with it in a positive manner. Whatever you do, avoid bad mouthing your previous employer as that is a certain road to nowhere.

Remain positive and explain how and why the position wasn’t a good fit for you. Give some concrete examples and show how you are working on those shortcomings. If you’re lucky you may even impress the potential employer with your self-awareness and commitment to professional development.

Prepare for the “What’s Your Weakness?” Question

Most people over think this question and give a canned answer like “I’m too much of a perfectionist!” Others give a genuine answer but still fall short of what this question is really asking. It’s not about admitting your weaknesses. It’s about showing how you overcome them. What systems have you put in place? What progress have you made? Include those thoughts to strengthen your answer.

Example:
  • Weak: “My weakness is that I struggle to run efficient meetings…”
  • Strong: “I sometimes struggle to run efficient meetings. But I’ve worked to improve by drafting an agenda before every meeting, sending it to all participants, and then following up with a recap and clear action items so everyone knows what to do moving forward.”

Why are you thinking of leaving your current job?

If you’re employed and are considering leaving your current employer the important thing is that you explain why in a positive way. Essentially an employer wants to know that:
  • You’re not a serial job hopper (loyalty is important to employers)
  • You’re not the type to badmouth your previous employer
  • You have a clear career vision
If you’re leaving your current job because you hate your boss, remain positive and show why your previous job wasn’t a good fit. Keep your answer short and sweet and if you feel yourself waffling, stop! The longer you talk, the more chance you have of digging a hole that you can’t get out of.

If on the other hand you’ll be leaving your previous employer on good terms for purely positive reasons, show what they are and leave it at that. If the employer wants you to elaborate any further they’ll ask.

To ensure you finish your answer on a high, tell them why you want to work for them. An employer wants to know why you are interested in their role, why you think you’ll be a good fit and more importantly why they should you hire you over someone else. Give them concrete examples of why you think you’ll be the best candidate for the job and back those reasons up with some evidence from previous roles.

The Dos and Don'ts in an Interview

Interview Dos

  • Dress appropriately for the industry; err on the side of being conservative to show you take the interview seriously. Your personal grooming and cleanliness should be impeccable.
  • Know the exact time and location of your interview; know how long it takes to get there, park, find a rest room to freshen up, etc.
  • Arrive early; 10 minutes prior to the interview start time [or earlier if the event or employer instructs you to do so].
  • Treat other people you encounter with courtesy and respect. Their opinions of you might be solicited during hiring decisions.
  • Offer a firm handshake, make eye contact, and have a friendly expression when you are greeted by your interviewer.
  • Listen to be sure you understand your interviewer's name and the correct pronunciation.
  • Even when your interviewer gives you a first and last name, address your interviewer by title (Ms., Mr., Dr.) and last name, until invited to do otherwise.
  • Maintain good eye contact during the interview.
  • Sit still in your seat; avoid fidgeting and slouching.
  • Respond to questions and back up your statements about yourself with specific examples whenever possible.
  • Ask for clarification if you don't understand a question.
  • Be thorough in your responses, while being concise in your wording.
  • Be honest and be yourself — your best professional self. Dishonesty gets discovered and is grounds for withdrawing job offers and for firing. You want a good match between yourself and your employer. If you get hired by acting like someone other than yourself, you and your employer will both be unhappy.
  • Treat the interview seriously and as though you are truly interested in the employer and the opportunity presented.
  • Exhibit a positive attitude. The interviewer is evaluating you as a potential co-worker. Behave like someone you would want to work with.
  • Have intelligent questions prepared to ask the interviewer. Having done your research about the employer in advance, ask questions which you did not find answered in your research.
  • Evaluate the interviewer and the organization s/he represents. An interview is a two-way street. Conduct yourself cordially and respectfully, while thinking critically about the way you are treated and the values and priorities of the organization.
  • Do expect to be treated appropriately. If you believe you were treated inappropriately or asked questions that were inappropriate or made you uncomfortable, discuss this with a Career Services advisor or the director.
  • Make sure you understand the employer's next step in the hiring process; know when and from whom you should expect to hear next. Know what action you are expected to take next, if any.
  • When the interviewer concludes the interview, offer a firm handshake and make eye contact. Depart gracefully.
  • After the interview, make notes right away so you don't forget critical details.
  • Ask This Final Question This one takes guts… Before your interview ends, ask this one last question: “Have I said anything in this interview or given you any other reason to doubt that I am a good fit for the position?” It’s bold, but if delivered honestly, it displays true desire and confidence.

Interview DON'Ts

  • Don't make excuses. Take responsibility for your decisions and your actions.
  • Don't make negative comments about previous employers or professors (or others).
  • Don't falsify application materials or answers to interview questions.
  • Don't treat the interview casually, as if you are just shopping around or doing the interview for practice. This is an insult to the interviewer and to the organization.
  • Don't give the impression that you are only interested the job because of its location.
  • Don't give the impression you are only interested in salary; don't ask about salary and benefits issues until the subject is brought up by your interviewer.
  • Don't act as though you would take any job or are desperate for employment.
  • Don't make the interviewer guess what type of work you are interested in; it is not the interviewer's job to act as a career advisor to you.
  • Don't be unprepared for typical interview questions. You may not be asked all of them in every interview, but being unprepared will not help you.
  • A job search can be hard work and involve frustrations; don't exhibit frustrations or a negative attitude in an interview.
  • Don't go to extremes with your posture; don't slouch, and don't sit rigidly on the edge of your chair.
  • Don't assume that a female interviewer is "Mrs." or "Miss." Address her as "Ms." unless told otherwise. (If she has a Ph.D. or other doctoral degree or medical degree, use "Dr. [lastname]" just as you would with a male interviewer. Marital status of anyone, male or female, is irrelevant to the purpose of the interview.
  • Don't chew gum or smell like smoke.
  • Don't allow your cell phone to sound during the interview. (If it does, apologize quickly and ignore it.) Don't take a cell phone call. Don't look at a text message.
  • Don't take your parents, your pet (an assistance animal is not a pet in this circumstance), spouse, fiance, friends or enemies to an interview. If you are not grown up and independent enough to attend an interview alone, you're insufficiently grown up and independent for a job.

Finally

Email a personalized Thank you note
Email thank you notes have one clear advantage over their snail mail counterpart: They can put your name in front of the interviewer on the same day -- sometimes within hours -- of your interview. Interviewers have short memories. A thank-you letter is your final chance to make yourself stand apart from all of the others who want the same position.

Do you know that most applicants don’t send a post-interview thank-you letter? Your letter should reiterate your core strengths and emphasize the value you offer. You can even squelch any concerns the employer raised about your qualifications and add important information you didn’t get to discuss in the interview.

Thank your interviewer within 24 hours of finishing. It not only shows your gratitude, it also combats recency bias if you interviewed early. Not to mention, it opens the door for dialogue even if you don’t get that particular job. Sometimes, managers reach back out on the same email thread months later, mentioning new job opportunities.

Example:

Hi Anthony,

Thank you for meeting with me this morning to discuss the TYPE NAME position. I enjoyed our conversation, and I am very excited about the possibility of joining your team at the YOUR TOWN Post Office.

Recap some of the conversational highlights here, be brief and to the point. Mention how you will be a good fit.

Again, thank you for considering me for this exciting opportunity. CHANGE OR LEAVE OUT- As you requested, I’m enclosing a list of professional references. Please feel free to call or email me if you need additional information, have any questions or would like to offer me the job! Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

John Smith

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