You can reduce your interview jitters by knowing what to expect at your next job or internship interview. Here are ten strategies that can help you be more prepared.
1. Show standard politeness and quiet confidence
When you’re greeted, smile warmly, shake hands firmly, and make eye contact. During the interview, show standard politeness such as using first names if invited to, and sitting down only after the interviewer does.
There is a fine line between selling yourself and sounding arrogant. Show that you believe in yourself without coming across so strong that you turn off the employer.
Related, talking too loudly can be irritating, but talking too softly indicates a lack of enthusiasm or confidence. If you talk too quickly, you can lose the interviewer, but talking too slowly is not good either. Practice voice projection and speech rate during interview prep.
2. Let the interviewer direct the session but ask questions when appropriate
After you’re greeted, anticipate that an employer will explain the position, discuss the company, or initiate conversation, followed by questions to gauge how well you might fit the position. During the interview, listen attentively and answer the questions posed to you. Ask for clarification if you are unclear. Watch for social cues that suggest you should elaborate or shorten responses.
Near the end of the interview, there is usually an opportunity to ask questions. You might have questions related to the interview itself. It is impressive if you have questions based on research you did ahead of time. It shows interest in the organization and job.
3. Don’t initiate discussion about salary or benefits
The employer might broach the topic, and if that happens, try to convey flexibility. Here are tips on discussing salary history and a tool to estimate salary. Typically, salary negotiation happens after an offer.
4. Be aware of nonverbal language and “fillers”
We communicate a lot nonverbally. The way that you sit in your chair can say more about you than you could verbalize during an entire interview. The most important nonverbal communication skill is eye contact because it suggests confidence, honesty, and maturity. You will have more success maintaining eye contact in the interview if you practice and prepare prior to the interview.
The words “um” and “like” are part of everyday speech, but they are not appealing during interviews. Then again, if you focus too much on them, your overall presentation could go downhill. Monitor your um’s and like’s during practice prior to the interview and put it out of mind on interview day.
5. Remember to organize your responses
Interviewers are evaluating you not only on what you say, but also on how clearly you say it. It may be clear in your head, but if what you say is not articulated in a coherent way, you can lose the interviewer.
Most people tend to be too short or vague with responses, so use some detail to make answers memorable. It is useful to think of response length in terms of detail — how much is too much, and how much is not enough. A good guide is to answer the question, provide explanation or examples to support and clarify your answer, and then end the response. Another approach is to try the STAR technique.
6. Keep the position in mind
When providing examples, consider how relevant your details are to the job you are interviewing for. You can think of some ahead of time, and if possible, remember to include them.
7. Be aware of interview hurdles
If you are overqualified for the position, have gaps in your employment, or have been either laid off or fired, decide ahead of time how you will answer if questions arise.
It is important to anticipate where an employer might be concerned and address that directly (e.g., your reason for wanting a particular job if you are overqualified). If you have a potentially damaging work history, it’s a good idea to acknowledge your circumstances but redirect to the positive.
When a criminal record is involved, acknowledge having made a mistake, but then focus on how your life has changed for the better (e.g., lessons learned). Focus on job skills and strengths versus dwelling on the past.
8. Be positive and be yourself
On interview day, be a “glass half-full,” positive, and optimistic person. This means avoid talking negatively about anything (e.g., employers). If you had a bad relationship with a co-worker, you are better off not bringing it up. You can say that you value hard work; stop before adding how it bothers you when others do not carry their own weight.
It is an exciting day, and some butterflies could help performance. But try not to worry about being perfect because there is no “right” answer. Instead, be yourself, smiling when it is natural for you to smile.
9. Set yourself up for follow-up
Before leaving, be sure to thank the interview. You should also make sure you’re clear on any next steps, such as another round of interviews or when s/he expects a hiring decision.
Create an opportunity to get permission for follow-up and build in the expectation that you will follow up before you leave. Read more tips on how to set the right expectation at the end of an interview.
10. Be nimble; there is no single interview format
It is a good idea to learn the agenda beforehand (e.g., who will be there, how many interviewers). Here are some possible interview scenarios you may face:
- Give a presentation
- Have several one-on-one interviews or speak with a panel of interviewers
- Have a group interview with other candidates in the same room at the same time
- A case interview (often used in consulting but not exclusively) — be sure to practice ahead of time so you know what to expect
There are interview guidelines available and some downloadable books on interviewing available through WetFeet and VAULT online career libraries. Be sure to check interview resources at the Penn State Career Services website.
Here are some additional resources if your interview is by phone or videoconference.
See also: how to prepare for your interview.