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5 tips to ace your next interview

I love interviewing people. I love learning about what makes them tick, why they made the career decisions they did and what they are passionate about. It’s the same reason that I love coaching now (though the two skillsets are markedly different!).

I was an in-house recruiter for many years and have conducted hundreds of interviews. Through a client engagement, I recently had the opportunity to interview several candidates. This experience reminded me just how important it is for candidates to invest the time and resources needed to prepare for an interview. It still amazes me that despite all of the articles, videos and webinars available on the internet, candidates still struggle to get the basics right.

This is CRITICAL. Remember that as a candidate, you only get 30 or 45 minutes to impress a potential employer. And you only get one chance. There is no do over. Why wouldn’t you do everything you can to prepare as much as possible for that opportunity?

Remember that as a candidate, you only get 30 or 45 minutes to impress a potential employer. And you only get one chance. There is no do over.

Here are 5 things I’ve seen candidates do during my recent interviews, along with some helpful tips to turn around these bad behaviors.

1) Using a stand-up desk

If you have access to a stand-up desk (or can just prop up your laptop on a bookshelf or dresser), I highly recommend standing up during your interviews. Standing up can make you feel more confident, help you to project your voice and ensure that you’ve got good posture (just don’t lean on your desk!).

However, there are some potential pitfalls to avoid. I recently interviewed a candidate who was standing up and swayed back and forth during the whole interview. It was so distracting! I was focused more on her movements than what she was saying. It also showed that she was nervous, which is not what you want to convey during an interview.

♠ How to ace it next time ♠

1) Make sure this isn’t the very first time you are standing up during a video call. Have a few practice calls with friends or family first so you can get more comfortable.

2) Plant your feet firmly on the ground! Try not to move around during the call. If your chair is nearby, move it out of range so you don’t prop your feet up on it or be tempted to touch it.

3) Ensure your camera is at the right height and you are standing the appropriate distance away from your desk so you are fully in frame. You don’t want to cut off the top of your head or be too far away so the interviewer can’t see you clearly.

2) Tech snafus

I recently interviewed a candidate who was late to the interview because she couldn’t log into Zoom. Once she managed to log-in, her wi-fi was really slow so she had to turn off her video. Even then, her connection was too choppy so we had to move to a Whatsapp call. Her Whatsapp video call also had a poor connection (with both video on and video off), so we finally had to revert to a regular phone call (sans video). By this time, 15 minutes had gone by! This was 15 minutes that the candidate could not get back. I was unable to extend the length of the interview because I had other meetings. This candidate wasted 1/3 of her 45-minute interview time on technical snafus. I was not impressed.

It’s been said time and time again. If you have a virtual interview, test out all of your tech in advance. There is no shortage of articles out there with recommendations on how to prepare for a virtual interview.

♠ How to ace it next time ♠

1) Make sure you have the log-in details from the person who arranged the interview. You can try logging in as much as one day in advance. Do you need a password? Do you need to download an app or log-into an account? Check it out in advance, but AT MINIMUM, at least 15 minutes before the interview is scheduled to begin.

2) If you know your wi-fi connection is bad, find another place to do the interview. Many co-work spaces rent meeting rooms at inexpensive rates.

3) Always have a back-up. I recommend logging into video interviews on your computer because the connection tends to be more stable and the video is larger. However, you should always have your phone at your fingertips in case things go wrong.

3) Nail your elevator pitch

Recently, I started an interview by asking a candidate, “Tell me a little bit about your background.” Ten minutes later, he was still talking! I couldn’t believe it. Normally, I interrupt candidates who go on and on answering this question, but for some reason, I just wanted to see when he would run out of steam. Needless to say, I stopped listening to him around minute four.

“Tell me about yourself” or “Walk me through your resume” are the most common questions asked at the start of any interview. If you don’t have your answer ready for these questions, you have no one to blame but yourself!

Like many things in interviewing, there is a simple structure to follow for answering this all-important question. Here is a 3-step framework you can use to prep for your next interview:

1) Who you are: In one sentence, introduce yourself professionally. Say the title of your current role or an overarching statement of the kind of professional you are.

EX: “I have been in the renewable energy industry for 7 years, and am currently the Customer Success Manger at ABC company.”

2) Your highlight reel: 2-4 points that make you stand out based on the role you are interviewing for, with more emphasis on recent accomplishments.

EX: “1. Promoted within two years 2. Built ticket management processes from scratch 3. Experienced both high volume requests and provided high touch support to power users.”

3) Why you’re here: One to two sentences about why the company and role is a compelling opportunity.

EX: “This opportunity caught my attention because what you’re building in the renewable energy space is exactly in line with my passion and my expertise. With my range of experience, I see this as a chance for me to make an impact quickly at the company, and I also see this as a major opportunity for my growth due to the scaling team.”

That’s it! Easy! By following this structure, you gain some quick wins.

♠ How to ace it next time ♠

1) You demonstrate to the interviewer that you are prepared, leaving a great first impression.

2) You’ve steered the interview in the direction you want it to go by talking about some of your achievements right away. There is a good chance your interviewer will ask you some follow-up questions about these achievements, meaning the questions will be geared toward topics you feel comfortable discussing and will showcase your accomplishments.

3) You’ve tied your experience back to the opportunity or job description. You are already demonstrating how you can solve their problems for them, just in the first two minutes of the interview.

The next step is to practice, practice, practice. You can do this by videotaping yourself or rehearsing with a friend. Your elevator pitch should be 90 seconds to 2 minutes long but do not memorize! You want to sound authentic, not robotic.  

4) Don’t have anything nice to say...?

At some point during the interview, I often ask “Why did you leave your last employer?” Recently, a candidate talked and talked for 5 minutes after I asked her this question. She told me all about the new General Manager that had joined her old company, everything that was wrong with that person and how they negatively impacted the office environment.

Under no circumstances should you badmouth your former employer.

This answer was WRONG IN EVERY WAY. It was incredibly unprofessional and I was surprised to hear it from a candidate with 15 years of experience. Under no circumstances should you badmouth your former employer. Sure, everyone has had a bad experience at a prior company. There is no such thing as a perfect career. But there is zero value in dredging up the past during an interview. It makes you look bad. If things went sour at your former employer, you can use any variation of the following examples to address it during an interview.

♠ How to ace it next time ♠

1) “I didn’t believe in the strategic direction of the new management and decided to resign.”

2) “There were organizational changes and I decided to leave.”

3) “I felt I had plateaued in my role and wanted to seek new opportunities elsewhere.”

5) Freelance work disappeared?

I recently interviewed a candidate for a full-time position who had been running his own business for several years. When I asked him why he was interested in leaving entrepreneurship and moving back into a full-time role, he told me that his consulting and freelance work had dried up due to the pandemic and that he would go back to being an entrepreneur once the economy recovered.

WHAT?!? If you are freelancing or an entrepreneur and have decided to look for a permanent role, think very carefully about your reasons for wanting to make that move! If it truly is because the freelance or consulting market has dried up, DON’T SAY THAT! No one will hire you!

Look, everyone has bills to pay and some freelancers or consultants are searching for a full-time role now because it is a financial necessity. That is fine. Potential employers are likely to accept this reality, but they also want to know that you are truly interested in their company and that you are committed to getting this job for the right reasons. Why would they waste any time talking to you if they thought you’d be out the door again the minute the economy picks up?

There are a number of other reasons that a freelancer or entrepreneur might be looking to move into a full-time position now. Here are a few examples of what you could say that might be a bit more palatable to a potential employer.

♠ How to ace it next time ♠

1) You miss being a part of a team or want to take on a team leadership opportunity.

2) You like the stability of a steady paycheck, benefits and defined working hours.

3) You want to work with just one client for a while.  

That’s it! Five tips to help you ace your next interview.

Please read and REREAD this article again before your next interview. Try a stand-up video interview and see how it feels. But make sure you test out all of your tech first! Nail your elevator pitch by using this 3-step framework and while you are at it, don’t say anything bad about your former employer! Finally, if you are a freelancer or consultant, make sure you have a very clear story about why you are looking for a full-time job.

I was an in-house recruiter for many years and have conducted hundreds of interviews. Now, I use this experience to give my individual clients insider tips and tricks during our 1:1 interview coaching sessions. I work with clients on perfecting their elevator pitch, using storytelling techniques, structuring answers to competency-based questions, strategies for managing nerves and much more. If you need help preparing for your interviews, feel free to reach out.

Happy interviewing!

✅ If you need help preparing for your upcoming interviews, please contact me.

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Renee Conklin is a career coach and HR Leader who writes about talent attraction, employee engagement and the future of work. Check out more of her articles on LinkedIn.

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