If you’ve been reading my posts (like I know you have😉), I always like to infuse them with personal anecdotes and experiences. So this post is an infusion of my own experiences with job interviews and advice from professionals in the tech industry (including recruiters).
Now, referring back to my friend who thought she’d royally stuffed up her interview, I’m here to tell you that she actually got the job! So, I want you to know from me (because I’ve been there, too): no matter how badly you think your interview went, (a) you probably did better than you thought (because we are inherently self-critical), and (b) even if your interview doesn’t go as planned, you can 100% learn something from it and try again the next time, better prepared.
But let’s do everything in our power today to make sure you have a GOOD interview, even if you don’t necessarily get the job (I’ll explain why later).
Job Interview Preparation Tips
Picture this: It was my second interview in Germany for a pretty big health company. It was the land before time when COVID-19 didn’t exist, which meant I had to get dressed up, travel a good hour on trains, and then sit in an in-person interview with three (very intimidating-looking) people. That day was a series of unfortunate events, but only unfortunate because of my mistakes. First, I wore a dress that was falling apart; second, I was hit with a task IN THE INTERVIEW that I didn’t expect, so I panicked; and three (worst mistake of all), I didn’t ask questions, even though I’d spent some good time researching the company.
But as I said before, there are always lessons to be learnt, and I aced my next interview (I mean, hey, I’m working for StudySmarter now 😉).
Be a Shining STAR: Magical (First) Job Interview Tips from the Pros
Because I really want you to succeed, dear reader, I spent some time asking professionals, including recruiters, to give you their best advice on how to approach your future job interviews. Here are six steps to success, whether this is your first or your tenth job interview. (PS I’m sorry if you don’t get the Harry Potter references 😅).
The Room of Requirements: Read the Job Description Carefully
Before you even get the interview, you (obvs!) need to apply for the job. And it’s more than likely that the job you’re applying for comes with a description. It’s time to get out that magnifying glass and READ that job description before you even think about applying.
Sam Horrocks, one of our wonderful talent acquisition managers at StudySmarter, advises you to read the job requirements, making sure you hit each one. If, for example, the job requires you to speak fluent German and English, guess what? You have to be fluent in BOTH languages, no ifs or buts!
Take a look at one of StudySmarter’s job descriptions for a people manager on LinkedIn. Read it carefully: Some points are requirements, and others are advantageous, which means that you don’t necessarily need to have this specific skill or experience, but it will boost your application if you do. But look at what you MUST have to apply: Two+ years of experience in HR, experience in German HR management AND international HR management, and proficiency in German AND English. If you don’t have these and lie on your application, you will be caught out, which brings us to our next point.
PS Because remote work is so common nowadays, it’s important to be a little tech-savvy (i.e. knowing how to use Google Drive, Slack, project management software, etc.).
‘I Must Not Tell Lies’: Do Not Lie in Your Application
As Sam warns, you will be caught out if you lie on your CV. And what we mean by lies are things like saying you’re fluent in English, French, and Spanish, but you don’t even know what comment ça va means. Or saying that you’re well versed in Microsoft Excel, but you don’t know the first thing about Excel formulae. Or saying you have a Bachelor of Sciences degree, but you didn’t go to university. Even if you lie about something ‘small’, like telling the recruiter that you can use X software, you will be found out within the first week of starting the job. Plus, lying on your CV is a criminal offence, so don’t do it!
If you see the jobs you want require you to have knowledge about certain software programs; there are plenty of courses online you can do to get you that knowledge quickly. Check out Udemy, Coursera, and LinkedIn Learning for affordable courses.
A Bit of Light Reading: Prepare and Do Your Research
In Harry Potter, Hermione Granger says, ‘I checked this out weeks ago for a bit of light reading.’
And you should follow her advice! Going back to our talent acquisition manager Sam, he says you must always, without fail, do a bit of background research on the company and its values. And you don’t need to spend days doing this research – just take half an hour or so to check out the company’s website, its mission and values, and any social media presence they have. You can also read the company’s blog or check Google to see if they’ve been in the news. Content here could give you interesting talking points, and it shows the interviewer that you’ve done your homework and are enthusiastic about applying.
Luke Talbot, Chief Product Officer at a software company in Munich, suggests that you check out the interviewer/s on LinkedIn (but obviously, don’t be creepy about it😉). This will give you some insight into their role at the company as well as their interests.
Another big thing to keep in mind is the company and country’s culture. For example, if you’re applying for a job in Germany, it’s likely that your interviewers won’t be overly chatty or do the whole small-talk thing. You need to be mindful of cultural differences and customs, being aware of what’s deemed acceptable and what’s not.
Similarly, what’s expected of you in an interview will be different for different companies. If you’re applying for a position in a big corporate company, you might need to know some important data or KPIs. This may not be as important in a small start-up, for example. Sam says you should look on LinkedIn and company insights platforms like Crunchbase and Kununu (German) to get good insights into everything about the company, from culture and info on the founders to benefits and salaries.
To sum up this point, here’s some advice from Kim Hatchuel, a recruiter in South Africa:
‘Success in a job interview starts with a solid foundation of knowledge on your part. The more research you conduct, the more you’ll understand the employer, and the better you’ll be able to answer interview questions.’
When in Doubt, Go to the Library: Practise Time
OK, you don’t have to go to the library for this, but you should go on the internet to research common interview questions. And then, you should practise answering these questions, be it in front of a mirror or by doing a mock interview with family or friends.
Luke Talbot suggests learning and practising the STAR interview technique. STAR stands for situation, task, action, and result, and this method gives you a structured, well-thought-out way to answer a behavioural-based interview question (a behavioural-based question usually looks like, ‘Give an example of a time when you …’ or ‘Tell me about a situation where you …’).
For example, how would you answer this question:
‘Tell me about a time when you had to work under enormous time pressure. How did you handle the challenge?’
In this fantastic video, EPM shows you how to answer this question using the STAR method. Watch it carefully; it’s got really valuable info!
The STAR method is a fantastic way to keep you from rambling and going off track, and it’s also helpful if you’re an introvert. Being put on the spot with a question is not nice for anyone, especially if you’re more introverted. Using the STAR method and practising some common interview questions will give you some stability in the actual interview.
PS How would you answer this question from one of our talent acquisition managers at StudySmarter:
‘If you have a team of 12 people with low morale, how would you boost the morale?’
Here’s a top tip from Luke about the STAR method:
‘You assume that everyone interviewing you is experienced, but you might be their first-ever interview. So they might not ask you questions in the STAR format. If that’s the case, then exceed their expectations, answer them in the STAR format, and go from a candidate to a contender! 🚀’
To sum up this point, here are some generic questions from Kim Hatchuel that could arise (in some form) in your interview:
- Tell us about yourself (the interviewer wants to get to know you and your personality!).
- What’s the most interesting thing about you that’s not on your CV?
- What is your understanding of this role, and why does it appeal to you?
- What will you bring to this role and the company?
The Magic of Words (And Questions): Always Ask Questions!
‘Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic …’ – Albus Dumbledore
Please don’t ever be like me and not ask any questions in the interview! Consider asking questions as your magic wand. It’ll show that you are genuinely interested in the job and the company. Also, keep in mind that you are interviewing the company just as much as they’re interviewing you! Maybe your questions and their answers will reveal that you don’t particularly want to work for this company.
So be sure to prepare some insightful questions in the days leading up to the interview. Our talent acquisition manager, Sam, particularly loves the question, ‘What do you like about working for this company?’
And just to throw in my unsolicited experience, in my interview for StudySmarter, I asked the editing team how they go about assessing each other’s work. It wasn’t addressed in the actual interview, so I made a point of asking it, demonstrating that a) I care about the quality of work I produce and b) I value feedback, whether it’s given or taken.
‘Time is Galleons’: Salary Expectations 💸
Ugh, for me personally, I loathe this question, but it is likely to come up in your interview (but if it doesn’t, DON’T ask about it in the very first interview). Once again, do your research by checking out the average salary for your position in the city you’re living in (Glassdoor gives a pretty good salary estimator).
Sam advises that you shouldn’t give a specific number for your salary – rather give a range, starting with the minimum you’re willing to work for, and then say that you’re open to negotiation.
During a Job Interview Tips: You’re a Wizard, You’ve Got This!
OK, now that we’ve got the preparation tips out the way, let’s look at what you should do in the actual interview.
Best Job Interview Tips for In-Person Interviews
I must admit, my last in-person interview was a little weird (no, it wasn’t for StudySmarter 😉). I was first interviewed in the company’s kitchen (?) and then in this really tiny, stuffy room (cupboard-under-the stairs vibes). Anyways, I hope this doesn’t happen to you, and honestly, that interview should have been a red flag for me! As I said, you’re also interviewing the company to see if you want to work there! But I kept it professional that day, and so should you with these tips:
The Cloak of Invisibility: Dress for Success
OK, as much as it would be great to throw on a cool cloak with minimal effort, you absolutely cannot do this in a job interview, whether in-person or virtual.
Take this advice from Kim:
‘Plan a wardrobe that fits the organisation and its culture, striving for the most professional appearance you can accomplish. Remember that it’s always better to be overdressed than under – and to wear clothing that fits and is clean and ironed.’
We’ve also got a post dedicated to what you can wear in your interview, so check it out: Job Interview Appearance – Rock Your Next Application.
There are different ‘rules’ for different companies. Sam Horrocks suggests that you take a look at the company’s people/team page on their website and see what they’re wearing – that will give you a good indication of how you can dress for the interview. If you’re going for a corporate job, you’re likely looking at ties, pencil skirts or slacks, and comfortable heels.
Plan your outfit the night before so that you’re not rushing to find something right before your interview. Some other general appearance guidelines you should adhere to:
- Don’t chew gum during the interview.
- Don’t arrive smelling of alcohol or smoke because you partied too hard the night before!
- Wear shoes you can walk in – nothing like walking like a camel because your heels don’t fit properly (been there, done that). 🐪
- Don’t over-perfume or over-cologne yourself! I once sprayed too much perfume before a doctor’s appointment, and my doctor kept sneezing because it was too strong.
‘Mysterious thing, Time. Powerful.’ – Be Punctual!
I think this one goes without saying (and I’m not going to give you the whole spiel about planning your public transport/route and taking traffic into account – you know this). BUT, here’s a little advice from Luke Talbot: Be punctual but not TOO punctual. Wait, what?!
Hear me out. If your interview is at 9am, you should aim to head in about 10 to 15 minutes before. Don’t overdo it by heading in at 8am. The interviewers won’t be ready for you, and you’ll probably mill about doing nothing. If you arrive super early, wait in your car or head to a coffee shop nearby.
Also, don’t arrive at 9am. Use the ten minutes before to fill in admin and then wait for the interviewer to fetch you.
‘There is no excuse for ever arriving late for an interview – other than some sort of disaster. If you have a suspicion that you will be late, call at least an hour before your scheduled interview time. Please don’t call at the exact time of your interview because it will be cancelled, and you may not get a second chance.’ – Kim Hatchuel
Looking into the Mirror of Erised: First Impressions
‘If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.’ – Sirius Black
Before you even step into the interview, you should be making good first impressions on everyone you meet – and I mean genuinely. Don’t fake friendliness or niceness; that’s not cool. If there’s a security guard at the door, greet them. If you see someone cleaning the floors, say hi. You are absolutely never above anyone else; never forget that.
According to Luke, the first 180 seconds of your interview are the most crucial. When you walk in, smile, make eye contact, and shake everyone’s hands firmly (Coronavirus permitting, of course). And even if you’re an introvert, have some confidence! As Luke says, ‘You got the interview, so you must have impressed them already. Now’s your chance to show them they were right to shortlist you!’ So lean in and reach out with your hand before you even think of sitting down!
Accio Water! A little extra note for you from Luke:
‘ASK FOR A GLASS OF WATER. Even if you’re not offered one, ask for one. This is important because it gives you the opportunity to pause if you get stuck for an answer. Drinking water calms your breathing and gives you valuable seconds to compose yourself and think of a good answer.’
Time to Show Them Your Magic
Now it’s time to cast your spells and bedazzle your interviewers with your charm, enthusiasm, passion, and skills. Here are some top tips from Kim:
- Remember your three Cs: Be confident, candid, concise. Show your enthusiasm for the position and company, be concise with your answers (remembering the STAR method for behavioural-type questions), and be authentic with your responses. Remember, do not lie; otherwise, I’ll send Dolores Umbridge your way. Make sure your answers showcase your experience and skills and don’t give irrelevant information.
- Your interviewers are intuitive – they’ll know if you’re just looking for any job or want this specific job. So, if you want this position, you need to sell it!
- Never badmouth your previous company. No matter how south things went with a former manager, don’t say anything compromising in your interview. You’re there to showcase your skills and why you’re a good fit for the job, nothing else.
- Pay attention to your body language. You might be talking, but so is your body. Remember to smile, make eye contact, sit up straight, listen actively, and pay attention. Try your best not to fidget. If you need the company to assist you in any way (such as wheelchair access), notify them beforehand.
- Interrup – no, no, no. Always wait for your interviewer to finish asking their question before you answer.
- Sorry, could you please repeat that? It’s TOTALLY OK if you don’t understand or hear a question. Ask the interviewer to kindly repeat themselves or explain more about what they want from you.
- Don’t forget to ask your questions! This is also a crucial part of your interview, so make sure you ask what you need to.
- Say thank you, shake hands, and wait for them to contact you in a few days.
Virtual (or Phone) Job Interview Tips
With the world (thankfully) switching to a more remote set-up, you’ll likely find yourself having virtual interviews. Everything I’ve mentioned above about in-person interviews applies to virtual interviews (and yes, you STILL need to dress appropriately!).
Another scenario for you: During her online interview, my friend (the one I mentioned two years ago at the beginning of this post) was thrown off by one of the interviewers using this one particular ‘clapping hands’ feature during the entire interview. Apparently, the interviewer was trying to express how impressed she was with my friend’s answers, but my friend kept thinking she was doing something wrong and would lose her train of thought. This brings me to point one:
- If you’re unsure about anything – be it a question, a weird sound, a strange interruption – ASK what’s happening.
- And once again, this goes without saying, make sure you have everything you need for the call:
- Do you have the app on your laptop (Zoom, Google Meet, Skype, etc.)?
- Do you have the link for the meeting?
- Is your internet connection stable?
- Are you in a quiet space where no one will interrupt you?
- Are your mic and video working on your laptop?
- Do you have a backup plan should your laptop play up? (My laptop loves to mess around with the audio quality at the most important moments.)
- Pay attention to your background! Sit somewhere that looks professional or clean. Having an online interview with a messy bed in the background or dialling in from a noisy coffee shop are a no-go! If you can, try not to use those virtual backgrounds – when you move, your head disappears, which always makes me giggle like a child.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s likely that someone will awkwardly freeze, or there’ll be a time delay of three seconds where you think the person hasn’t heard you, but they have. Don’t stress about it, and if you can, make a light-hearted joke about it!
Ridikkulus! Job Interview Tips for Nerves
I love the spell Ridikkulus in Harry Potter. It is used to turn something scary into something funny.
Now I’m not saying you should turn your interview into something laughable (not at all, please don’t!) or see your interviewers as boggarts (scary things), but I am saying that you shouldn’t see your interview as a frightening task or the be-all and end-all of everything!
I like Hermione’s quote about nerves: ‘Well, that’s a good sign; I never feel you perform as well in exams if you’re not a bit nervous.’ So yes, it’s good to have a few nerves because it shows you care about the job, but those nerves definitely shouldn’t overwhelm you to the point that you can’t get through the interview. Here are some tips to help you calm those nerves:
- Your preparation and research should keep you a little calmer. Practise mock interviews with family or friends and prepare some responses for generic questions. Extra tip: don’t over-prepare and don’t try and memorise your answers word for word – that will look unnatural.
- If you’re nervous that you’re not qualified enough for the position, don’t let that deter you! Bonnie Burton, another one of our awesome StudySmarter talent acquisition managers, says that if she has two candidates – one who is more qualified than the other – she will always go for the less-qualified candidate if they fit the company’s values and mission better!
- If you get hit with a question you don’t know the answer to right away, try using some stalling tactics. Take a sip of your water, and say, ‘That’s a good question. Could we come back to it later?’ or ‘Could I take a few moments to think?’ And heck, if you can’t give an answer at all, you can even just say, ‘That’s a good question that I’d need to research more on. Thank you for bringing my attention to it.’
- Breaaaathhhee! I will emphasise the importance of breathing in every single post I write if I have to!
- And remember Hagrid’s advice: ‘There’s things more importan’ than keepin’ a job.’ And what I mean by that is sure, your career should be important to you, and you should always give your absolute best in interviews. BUT I don’t want you to be down and out on yourself if a few of your interviews just don’t work out. You won’t get every job you apply for, and that’s OK! You WILL find something else, and remember to keep sight of all the other positives in your life if you’re feeling a bit down after your interview. If you want, and the interviewer is open to it, you can ask for feedback.
And the best thing is that the interviewers are muggles (aka humans) just like you are. They know you’re nervous (they’ve been through many interviews themselves in their lifetime). If you’re super jittery, just say straight up, ‘I’m a little nervous’ – it’s a nice ice-breaker, and the interviewer will guide you throughout the interview (and I’m not making this up, Sam said you should totally go ahead and do this if you want/need to!).
Oh, and just so you know: Your first interview will likely be a pre-screening or screening interview, so it is very unlikely that management will be in that interview. So really, don’t stress! HOWEVER, as Carin Neumeier, a senior talent acquisition manager at StudySmarter says, ‘Recruiters are usually the gatekeepers to further steps, so treat them with respect and take the first interview seriously. If you are not polite/nice to them, even if you are a professional fit, you lower your chances dramatically.’
Rise Like the Phoenix: Final Job Interview Tips
I’ve always loved the symbol of the phoenix (which is Dumbledore’s Patronus). As I said above, you’ll invariably have interviews where you don’t get the job – that’s part-and-parcel of job hunting (in fact, I think that’s why they call it hunting?! Sometimes you hit your targets and other times you don’t). But like the phoenix, you’ll come back stronger next time. Use each interview you have as a learning curve – over time, you’ll get used to the process, and you won’t be as nervous anymore.
However, I hope that you go into each job interview with confidence in yourself and your skills – the fact that you’ve been asked for an interview shows that the company sees potential in you!
You’ll have plenty of interviews throughout your career, so I’ll leave you with one more quote from Hagrid: ‘What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does.’
Good luck! You’ve got this!