While landing a job interview is exciting, preparing for it can be stressful. To make the process smoother, we talked to tech and business professionals — from software engineers to recruiters — who shared insider tips on what to do before, during and after a job interview. Who knows? Their advice may just help you land your dream job.
Job Interview Tips
- Research the company
- Rehearse your interview answers
- Practice active listening
- Ask the interviewer questions
- Send a timely thank-you email
- Stay positive no matter the results
Before the Job Interview
1. Research the Company and the Position
Before your interview, look for information on the company’s products, services, values, mission, management team, board members and recent company announcements. Those can be found on company blogs, white papers, news articles and podcasts.
“If you spend an hour or two reading these, it gives you an idea of who we are and it goes a long way to show you’re interested in us,” Dermot Williams, senior director of engineering at cybersecurity firm BeyondTrust, told Built In.
Reading company reviews on Glassdoor is another way to prepare for a job interview. That may offer information on what prospective and current employees have to say about job interview questions the company may ask.
Review a company’s website and social media posts. That may give you ideas of how you fit in or add to the company’s culture, team, core values, product or services direction, Leena Macwan, a principal recruiter at Zynga, told Built In.
2. Learn About Your Interviewer’s Background
If you know who is interviewing you, look up their LinkedIn profile, read their blogs and social media posts.
“Use that information as an ice breaker to start the conversation when you meet them,” senior Amazon AWS in-house recruiter Zafar Choudhury told Built In. “You can say, ‘I read you did a TED talk last year or I saw you did a cybersecurity presentation.’ Hiring managers love it because it shows you’ve done your due diligence and homework.”
Tap current or former employees of the company you’ll be interviewing with who are also your college alumni, advised Santina Pitcher, associate director of counseling and programs at the University of California at Berkeley. Ask to pick their brain for a few minutes to learn more about the company culture and what it’s like to work there. They also may be familiar with the people you will be interviewing with and can provide you with some insight to make a good impression.
3. Match the Job Description and Company’s Core Values to Your Skills and Traits
“You literally memorize a couple of bullet points from the job description and match that to your experience, where you can connect it to a strong example that demonstrates that skill,” Rachel Amos, director of career services and employer relations at Carnegie Mellon University, told Built In.
For example, a startup notes in its job description it’s looking for a software engineer who is comfortable working in an ambiguous environment with a lot of demanding deadlines. Let’s say you worked in that type of environment in your previous job and thrived. Point that out to the interviewer and provide data or information to back it up, such as you consistently turned in projects a day or two ahead of schedule as the scope of work evolved on a weekly basis.
4. Practice the Required Hard Skills
LeetCode and HackerRank were among the tools Bill Bruschi used to prepare for his job interview at Amazon, where he was hired as an AWS software development engineer. He said the examples used were very accurate to what they found in the coding tests he took.
“It’s important to think out loud so the interviewer can hear your thought process and you’re encouraged to ask questions,” Bruschi added. “You’re really working with the interviewer to solve the issue at hand.”
Zynga’s Macwan said it’s important to brush up on the fundamentals required for the specific position you seek and be able to demonstrate the depth and breadth of your skillset when solving coding questions.
5. Consume Relevant Resources
Amazon’s technical questions were mostly around algorithms and data structures, such as arrays, trees, string manipulation and graphs, according to Puneeth Nettekere Rangaswamy, who snagged a job at Amazon AWS as a software development engineer on his second attempt after upping his preparation efforts
“I had not done extensive preparation the first time I applied at Amazon,” he added. “But this time around, I specifically focused on data structures and algorithms and being able to apply them appropriately during the interviews.”
6. Rehearse Your Interview Answers
Find a friend, family member or colleague to do a mock job interview and rehearse answering questions on why a company should hire you. And although it may not replicate the feeling of a real job interview, it’s better than nothing. “It’s good to have questions thrown at you and it forces you to quickly come up with an answer,” Amos said.
Conducting a mock job interview provides an opportunity to receive feedback on your body language when answering questions, Pitcher said. Do you fold your arms across your chest, or avoid eye contact in an in-person mock interview? Or are you constantly looking down in a virtual mock interview, rather than looking into the camera at the interviewer?
7. Find a Distraction-Free Environment
If your interview is virtual, scope out a location that is quiet and without distractions. And test your microphone, webcam and internet connection before the interview to ensure all are in working order.
8. Make Copies of Your Resume
Print two or three extra copies of your resume to bring to the interview if you’re going in person.
“I’ve seen this happen on multiple occasions where the interviewer may suddenly want to loop in someone else for a second opinion,” Choudhury said. “Wouldn’t it make you look more professional to pull a second resume from your folder and give it to us? That makes you look prepared and ahead of the game. These are leadership things we look for.”
9. Select Your Interview Outfit the Night Before
In-person interviews call for a neat and clean appearance that is business casual and not a three-piece suit, nor blue jeans and a T-shirt, Amos said.
A similar wardrobe should also be planned for a Zoom interview, as well, she added.
During the Job Interview
10. Practice Active Listening and Watch Your Body Language
Engage in active listening when responding to an interviewer’s questions.
“I’ve had cases where I asked a question and the candidate will go on to a whole other place I didn’t ask about,” Pitcher said. “In my head, I’m thinking maybe they just pivoted because they had no idea how to answer the question or, on the flip side, they weren’t listening.”
Choudhury suggested mirroring your interviewer’s body language and tone to make them more comfortable. If an interviewer has a high energy level, ramp up yours. If an interviewer leans back when talking, do the same. Mimicking their behavior makes you more appealing as a candidate and is also an effective communication tool.
11. Have Answers Ready for Difficult Interview Questions
When it comes to questions you will be asked during your job interview, these five questions tend to carry a lot of weight:
- What are you most curious about?
- Could you share a recent project you accomplished with your team?
- How do you usually react to setbacks?
- How do you manage and prioritize your day?
- In your last project, what was the one thing that you were most proud of, and what was the biggest challenge?
“We want to understand how a candidate works and if their style aligns with our values and principles,” Bryan Powell, senior vice president of talent acquisition for Twilio, told Built In. “Questions that get to the heart of their ability to be an owner, their curiosity, and how they approach building and problem solving are important to us.”
12. Remember How to Answer “What’s Your Greatest Weakness?”
Questions around your weaknesses are not meant to uncover your shortcomings, but rather to learn what you are doing to overcome them, or ways your prospective employer can support you to address them.
So, rather than give a response that clearly is not meant as a weakness, such as, ‘I work too hard’ or ‘I have a hard time saying no,’ be forthright with the interviewer but offer perspective.
Pitcher, for example, considers herself an introvert and previously viewed it as a negative trait. However, she has since learned to present it as a positive trait. “I’ve found in my previous job it was really helpful because I worked with teams and was able to be a really good listener,” she said.
13. Avoid Bad-Mouthing Former Employers
“Never throw people under the bus and always compliment your team,” Choudhury said. “If you blame your team members or colleagues that you had to pick up the slack because they were late, I don’t care how technical you are or how senior your title is, your interview will go south so fast it’ll make your head spin.”
Prospective employers fear that if you’re willing to cast blame on your current or former teammates, what will you say about them should they hire you.
14. Ask the Interviewer Questions
“When a candidate has no questions, I’m done. They may seem great on paper and have even had great conversations, but if they have no questions — and I’ve seen this many times — it says they’re not curious,” Marvin Lopez, director of student programs for the University of California at Berkeley’s engineering student services department, told Built in. “It tells me they haven’t thought about the organization, haven’t thought about the position, they’re just going to come in and do what they’re told.”
Below are a few good questions to ask the interviewer:
- What are the day-to-day responsibilities of this role?
- What are some traits that a candidate needs in order to be successful on this team?
- Can you tell me about the team’s culture?
- Can you tell me about this specific company value?
- How do employees live these values at work?
- How does the company recognize these values?
15. End the Interview by Asking for Next Steps
Ask the interviewer how soon the company anticipates hiring for the position, rather than putting them on the spot by asking “What’s the next step?” Choudhury said.
Also, never ask the hiring manager or interviewer “So, how’d I do?” Lopez said. “They likely won’t answer that question and you don’t want to put them in an uncomfortable position.”
After the Job Interview
16. Send a Thank-You Email Within 24 Hours
The thank you note or email should include specific information about the topics you discussed in the interview, such as system design or data structures, Choudhury said.
“Instead of a general thank you note like ‘Thank you for your time, I appreciated it,’ talk specifics,” he said. “That will have more psychological impact towards the decision they are about to make.”
17. Follow Up If You Don’t Hear Back
After a week or two has passed since your interview and still no word on your status, follow up with the company’s recruiter or the person who arranged the interviews, Macwan said.
You can forward an article or industry-related report in the thank you email, noting you thought they might enjoy reading the materials and inquire about the timing when the company expected to fill the position, Choudhury said.
Career experts say it’s usually fine to follow up two or three times on your status, but after three follow-up attempts it’s better to move on.
18. Ask What You Can Do Better Next Time
If you receive a formal letter stating you were not selected for the position and you really want to work at this company in the future, inquire about ways you can improve your candidacy the next time around.
That will likely get you further than asking questions about why you weren’t selected. Companies hesitate to respond to such questions because of liability concerns.
There are exceptions, of course.
“If you follow up with the recruiter, they might be able to share some high-level feedback,” Macwan said. “For candidates who are further along in the process and have established communication with the recruiter, we are open with them on where they stand throughout the process and why they might not be a fit for the role.”
19. Keep a Positive Attitude
Rebounding after losing the position to someone else is never easy but it’s good to keep a positive attitude, nonetheless.
“Sometimes the rejection reasons might not be related to the candidates’ competency,” Macwan said. “For example, there might be a role mismatch, two strong candidates for one role, the position may get closed. In such cases, the candidate can work with the recruiter to identify other roles.”
Frequently Asked Questions
What are tips for a successful interview?
A few tips for a successful interview include conducting thorough research on a company before the interview, asking the interviewer thoughtful questions and sending a thank-you email within 24 hours after the interview.
What are the five C's of interviewing?
The five C’s of interviewing are competence, character, communication skills, culture fit and career direction.