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Job Interview Tips

After doing the same job for the past few years, I’ve been starting to get the itch to branch out and try new things.  Trying to find new work means breaking out of my comfort zone, updating my resume, and getting ready for interviews again.  You know what they say, growth comes when you get the courage to leave the routine and try new things.

I’m not an expert, but I’ve been to quite a few interviews in my career due to work term offerings in Engineering school.  Obviously, my interview encounters might be slanted towards Engineering jobs. :)

From my experience, here are some interview tips that have served me well in the past:

  1. Show up 5-10 minutes early – Showing up too early almost shows desperation, but showing up late is a terrible first impression.  Personally, I like to show up 5-10 minutes before “go time” so that I can get mentally prepared.
  2. Dress to Impress – It never hurts to look your best during an interview as it shows that the interview is important to you.
  3. Firm handshake, eye contact and smile – When you first meet your interviewer, make sure to make eye contact, smile and give a firm handshake.  This is a big rule that you might hear over and over.  Why?  Because it works.  In this game, it’s all about first impressions.
  4. While speaking/listening, make eye contact. Good posture is also important –  Making eye contact while listening or speaking shows that you’re interested and honest.  Make sure to blink though, otherwise, it can get creepy.
  5. Be positive in all of your responses, no matter how negative the question – Interviewers are looking to see your responses to hard questions.  No matter what though, always put a positive light on your answers.
  6. Try to relate your experiences with what they are looking for – An employer is looking to fill a position within their company with as little “ramp up” time as possible so that they can start making money off you sooner.  The more experience you have that relates to the job, the better.  Even if you lack an abundance of relevant experience, you must have “some” relevant experience otherwise you wouldn’t be in the interview.
  7. Always have questions for the interviewer – Having questions during and/or after the interview is always a good thing as it shows interest and preparedness for the interview.  Note however, that questions about salary or benefits should be left until the offer is on the table.
  8. Bring a sheet of your references – This is a nice way to finish off the interview as it shows that you are prepared, serious about the position, and confident about what your past employers think of you.

In the next column about interviews, I will go over some common interview questions that I’ve gotten over the years.

What are your job interview tips?

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FT About the author: FT is the founder and editor of Million Dollar Journey (est. 2006). Through various financial strategies outlined on this site, he grew his net worth from $200,000 in 2006 to $1,000,000 by 2014. You can read more about him here.

{ 18 comments… add one }
  • blazespinnaker November 19, 2008, 8:33 am

    Research the job position very carefully. Usually easy to do with the web these a days.

    Not so you can suprise people with your information (that is kinda creepy), but so you understand what the interviewer wants to hear.

    It also helps to actually know whether or not you actually will want the job and that you actually want to tell the interviewer what they want to hear.

    Bringing along a portfolio helps of past accomplishments. This can be pictures of your enegineering work, org charts of your teams if you were a manager, etc etc.

    I always found that showed a lot of organizational and detail skills on the part of candidates when I interviewed them. It also gives you something to leave behind that makes an impression.

    These can be pretty cheap to print up at kinkos with a simple plastic binder.

    I bit more expensive, sure, ($5-10 per interview?) but it shows that you take the job seriously enough to make the investment.

  • Ramona November 19, 2008, 8:50 am

    Don’t talk too much. Let the interviewer interview. Pause. Reflect. Shut up.

    Addition to point 2 – dress well, but dress comfortably. If you’re wearing something that makes you itch, too tight, etc, you will be acutely aware of it the whole time.

    Pay attention to the culture of the office as you see it. The interview might go great, but you could pick up on subtle tips as to why you may NOT want to work there.

  • LL November 19, 2008, 9:33 am

    All good suggestions. Here are a few more:

    – Be prepared for the question around salary expectations – figure out how to answer it without totally evading it.

    – Be prepared for the standard questions around your strengths and weaknesses.

    – Follow up with a thank you email or snail mail.

    – Ask about next steps if they don’t mention them.

  • blazespinnaker November 19, 2008, 9:44 am

    I’ve always found emails/thanks you not particularly useful. They don’t contribute anything and they certainly don’t help make your case.

    Asking about next steps also, I think, shows that someone is being a bit presumptious. As the boss, I really don’t want my new employees (at least not until we have a good working relationship) prompting me.

    I also think the next steps are generally pretty obvious – don’t call us, we’ll call you.

    I agree strongly with the above, don’t talk that much, unless the position specifically is for someone who will do a lot of talking.

    Even still, make sure you only talk when you know you’re supposed to be ‘on stage’.

    That’s a big one, and one I always was weak at when I applied for jobs.

    As for dressing, dress one level above what the dress culture is probably at the interview. Showing up in a suit/tie at a casual dot com isn’t such a good idea.

  • blazespinnaker November 19, 2008, 9:53 am

    Also, make sure you interview for the jobs you least like the first. You’re going to be rusty at first (and the marketplace may have changed a bit), so make sure you re-tune your skills with jobs you don’t really want. This advice goes for any kind of negotiation in life.

    Asking for feedback at jobs you know you won’t get / take is a good idea as well. Getting feedback is useful, but makes you look a little weak. So only do it when you don’t care if you’re going to get the job or not.

    Sometimes going to job interviews you don’t want/ know you can’t get is a good idea for a lot of reasons.

  • DividendMan November 19, 2008, 10:40 am

    I interview tons of people a year. Here are my tips:

    1. Answer the question – if you don’t know the answer SAY SO, don’t try to bullshit the interviewer

    2. Don’t lie on your resume – I’m in the tech industry and when someone lists programming language X, Y, Z, and technologies A, B, C, i’m going to ask about all of them, so you’d better be able to back that up!

    3. Don’t be nervous – this is a hard one, many people choke, talk fast or are visibly shaking in interviews and this makes it hard for the interviewer to not be distracted and find the actual value of the person

    4. Provide specific examples – when asked a question about your resume, provide a specific example of the skill and how it was used to benefit the previous company

    5. Be prepared to answer why you are looking for work or why you are leaving your current company, be prepared to explain gaps in resume timelines

  • nobleea November 19, 2008, 12:11 pm

    Having done a few myself, one of the most annoying things is not knowing much about the company they’re interviewing for, and not having any questions.

    I can agree that being positive in all the answers is a great thing, but having done co-op interviews where I’d have to interview 14 people in one day, you start to hear the same answers over and over again (almost word for word).

  • Kevin November 19, 2008, 2:29 pm

    Something that really helped me is to is fully understand behavioral questioning.

    Most companies with HR offices are moving from the old style of questioning (ie. What are you weaknesses/ strengths? What would you do in this situation? etc..) to behavior based questioning (ie. Tell us about a situation where you encountered adversity? How did or did not you overcome? What did you learn? etc..) This gives the company a good idea of how you react to certain situations. They get a better idea of your behaviour. What they really want to know is, as well as technically, but behaviourally are you right for this company. I for certain know the Government of Canada uses this quesioning.

    A good way to prepare is to write down about 5 or 6 situations that you encountered adversity. Think of what you did correct, and what you learned from it. Do not lie because this type of questioning will reveal the truth.

    Kevin

  • Gates VP November 19, 2008, 2:35 pm

    OK FT, you asked, so you know you’re going to get a Gates response here. :)

    Step #1: Don’t update your resume / CV because you’re looking for a job. Update it every 3-6 months as part of managing your career.

    It’s not difficult, you just set a recurring Calendar reminder every three months. If you’re only updating 3 months of work, you’re typically talking about 15 minutes (or less time than it takes to make a blog post).

    It also provides you with a “wake-up” call moment. If you look at your resume and honestly have nothing relevant to add after 3 months, make sure that you’ll have something at the end of 6 (especially if you’re under 30).

    You can take these 15 minutes, to grab some support documentation and metrics. Employers think in revenue numbers (not just “job descriptions”), find revenue numbers and have them in your files somewhere.

    Step #2: Apply first to those places you want to work, then to those who are hiring. If you never chase the job you want, you’re just hoping that it comes for you.

    Step #3: Know and research the industry.

    When you’re doing the interview, you don’t just want to know the company. You want to know the competition, you want to know how big the space, who the current and future customers are. Ask them “the elevator speech” about why they’re better than Company X, or what they plan to do be better. Ask them if the competition is hiring (or check the competitor’s website).

    Yes I know that you’re interviewing for a job, yes I know you may need the money, but there’s nothing like signing on with the losing team. People want to be winners, make it obvious that you’re looking to join a winner. Ask about revenues, gross profits, EBITDA, etc. For the company, for your prospective department, for last year and the upcoming year, etc. Know where the money comes from, many companies have more than one stream.

    If the interviewer can’t answer you, at least they’ll know that you’re serious about the job.

    Step #4: Prepare answers to the obvious questions.

    Tomorrow’s post will include some questions, but honestly, most interviews focus around the same style of “Behavioral” Questions. And good interviewers are going to ask you questions about the content of your resume (to keep you honest).

    On the resume side, your two-page resume cannot possibly contain all of the relevant information for detailed questioning. So make yourself a 6-page version with details for all of the bullet points. You can either try to remember all of the supporting evidence or you can write down notes and bring them in. This way, when somebody points to some obscure part of your resume, you have something you can check.

    On the interview side, you’re going to be asked several stock questions. You know that they’re going to ask about salary / benefits expectations, have an answer ready. Heck have 3 answers ready based on your initial estimates of the work, then you can pick one in the interview. And don’t be afraid to ask what they’re paying your peers.

    You will be asked about your previous salary, have an answer ready.
    You will be asked why you’re planning to leave your previous job (or did leave), have an answer ready.
    You will be asked about your previous qualifications, your previous boss, your previous co-workers, your education experience, your experience with specific customers.
    You will be asked to tell a story of work success and work failure.
    You will be asked about your strengths and weaknesses and you’ll be expected to provide both.
    You will be asked to describe your goals (short and long-term).
    You will be asked what you’ve done to work towards these goals and to improve these weaknesses.

    If you don’t know these answers, write them down. Share them with a spouse/SO/friend. If you’re not comfortable as a speaker, practice verbalizing with this person. Tell your stories until they sound right, until they sell right. Practice with a mirror or record yourself and watch your body language.

    Step #5: Know your hand

    If you don’t know what you’re worth to that company, then you’re not going to get the best deal for everyone involved. Your goal is to use all of the provided information to make yourself the obvious selection.

  • FT FrugalTrader November 19, 2008, 2:42 pm

    Great tips guys, thanks for contributing. GatesVP, I just had an interview with a public company and you are spot on with the questions. I should practice my interviews with you before my next one. :)

  • nancy (aka money coach) November 19, 2008, 4:00 pm

    @FrugalTrader Not much to add, except Good Luck :) I think it’s really smart to take the initiative. I’ve worked with a number of people who have been in the same job/company for years and years, and sometimes notice they can no longer conceive of working elsewhere, and then, frankly, both lose a measure of “edge” and in some cases “put up with” dreadful working conditions instead of moving on. All of which is to say, we all have something to gain simply from reminding ourselves that the world is big, and our current employer is just one among many (although that may change, in the current environment!)

  • Craig November 19, 2008, 4:01 pm

    Great tips, it’s all about first impression. A lot can be seen simply by body language and not even what you say. Another tip to add would be to sit large in the seat. Meaning make it appear you are more open and command the presence of the room.

    Craig
    http://www.budgetpulse.com

  • Tetsuo November 19, 2008, 5:04 pm

    Gates VP, spot on. Can’t wait to read your full post.

    There’s nothing more I hate when interviewing someone than a person who doesn’t ask me any questions.

  • cannon_fodder November 19, 2008, 7:54 pm

    One thing I try to do is to interview for almost any opportunity that could interest me. It is a good way to keep my “interviewee” skills fresh with nothing to lose.

    I just went for an interview today for a position that, as it turns out, doesn’t interest me. But, I will follow up again because I’m in a position of strength (I don’t need nor want to move) while the employer is in a position of weakness (my skill set and experience is rather rare). If nothing else, I make another senior contact that could come in handy in the future while keeping the rust off.

    Oh, and don’t ask a question like “If someone is caught stealing company goods, do you prosecute?”

  • Zix November 19, 2008, 10:10 pm

    If your interviewing with a public company a great way to get an inside track on whats important to them other than identifying key words in the posting check their Management discussion and analysis on SEDAR. Those are full of high points and low points for the company your interviewing with, and usually lists problems they might be having, area’s of focus, and how they plan to grow the business.

    Then you can fit some of your answers to areas you know are important to management, and experience that’s related to how they are trying to grow the company or current issue’s.

    The last interview I did with a small-medium sized company was with the VP of HR, and she informed me after that showing I knew what was important to them was the biggest factor in their offer.

  • Elaine November 20, 2008, 3:31 pm

    This is kinda related to the interview process – I have an interview Monday, and I’ve been asked to bring references.

    a) I haven’t indicated at my current job that I’m looking for a new one, since I want to find a better one before quitting. I can’t afford to quit and then be stuck without a job, or have to take the first one that comes along regardless of whether I like it, since that’s how I ended up at this job in the first place. So I’m kind of stuck… is it kosher to ask that they not call my current employer unless they’re relatively sure of offering me a job, or should I explain the whole situation to my boss?

    b) I’m currently at my first job out of university, so I don’t have very many references. One here, and one from a job that I had on campus for a few years. I don’t really know who else I could ask for a reference letter.

  • Dividend Growth Investor November 21, 2008, 6:56 pm

    Good luck on your interviewing FT. One tip that a recruiter has told me is to never bring keys/coins and put them in your pockets, because you might end up making jiggly noises :-)

    You might also think this is a silly tip, but also do not forget to turn off your cellphone..

  • cannon_fodder November 27, 2008, 10:01 pm

    Had an interview last night with a person I’d never met (nor spoken to) at a place I’d never been (nor heard of). I got there first and the gentleman didn’t have a way to contact me to tell me he was running late. He could have (but didn’t) called the restaurant to have them inform me.

    Fortunately, he was of a certain stature that his picture was available through Google images so I identified him easily when he came in.

    It was a good meeting since we were both candid about our concerns with our needs, the companies for which we work, and what we want to occur going forward. He asked many of the typical questions (“What are you most proud of in the past X years?”, “What decisions have you regretted in your career?”, “What successes are you directly responsible for?” (sic)).

    It was one of the most relaxing interviews to which I’d been. Why? Because I’m happy enough where I am and I wasn’t looking to move. Thus, this is a “free play”. It is a lot more nerve racking when you need to nail the interview.

    Ironically, my boss in the US contacted me yesterday morning to set up a meeting next week to discuss an exciting opportunity to expand my role. Translation: there is some work that no one wants to do and he’s delegating!

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