Interviewing 101: How to Navigate the Process from Start to Finish
Everything you need to know about making it through the interview process.
Interviews are one of the most nerve-wracking parts of the hiring process. Whether it’s a phone interview or the final stages of the hiring process, knowing that your chances of getting a job hinges on your ability to convey yourself in the best light is stressful. To help you get through this stage in your job search, we’ve prepared a comprehensive guide on how to prepare for each stage of the interview process, perform well in the interview, and send a great follow-up that can further increase your chances of getting the job. For specifics on interviewing for a technical position or a sales role, check out our technical interview guide and our guide to interviewing for a sales role.
Before Any Interview
Research the company
Before you talk with a hiring manager or anyone else from the company, be sure you do your due diligence on the company. When going into any interview, you should know the following about the company:
- The role you’re applying for
- What the company does
- The size of the company
- The company’s core values and mission statement
- The company’s current clients or partners
- Recent company news or important news within the industry
- Some background on your interviewer
You’re unlikely to be quizzed on all of the above, but having context on the company before you enter the conversation gives you the chance to ask intelligent questions instead of using your time to ask about the background of the company. Plus, knowing what the company does and what they value helps you answer the common interview question: “Why are you interested in working for this company?”
For more on researching companies, check out our full article: “6 Things You Should Know About a Company Before Your Job Interview”
Get familiar with common interview questions
There’s no way to know beforehand what an interviewer will ask you. However, understanding and preparing for different categories of questions can help you feel more at ease during the interview and keep you from drawing a blank.
Below are some common interview questions you might come across. For a full list, check out our article here. The best way to approach your interview preparation is to ask yourself these questions and prepare some specific examples and stories you can have on hand during an interview.
- “Tell me a little about yourself.”
- “How did you hear about this opportunity?”
- “How did you get into XX field?”
- “When did you realize you wanted to go into XX field?”
To prepare for introductory questions, you might find it helpful to craft a one-minute description of yourself that encompasses where you’re from, what you studied, your core interests, and what you’re hoping to do next. It’s also useful to review your resume and identify which projects or experiences you might want to bring up during the interview, especially the things that interested you in your current career path.
Behavioral interviews are also common in many fields. Interviewers ask behavioral questions to determine if your traits, habits, and past accomplishments would make you a good fit for the role. These questions tend to be similar throughout industries and can cover anything from your values to work ethic. To secure an offer, it’s important to be prepared to answer these kinds of questions when they come up.
Some general behavioral questions include:
- “What’s an accomplishment you’re proud of, and why?”
- “Tell me about a time you failed.”
- “Have you ever had a disagreement with a coworker in the workplace? How did you make it work?”
- “How do you handle confrontation?”
- “Do you work better independently, or collaboratively? Why?”
- “What kind of manager have you worked best with?”
- “Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond to achieve a goal.”
- “Tell me about a challenge you've faced and how you worked through it.”
- “Describe a time when you took initiative.”
To prepare for behavioral questions, recall some experiences from past jobs, internships, or collaborative projects that showcase your work ethic or ability to problem-solve. Then, practice answering one of the above questions using the STAR method, which stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result.
Example: “Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond to succeed.”
First, describe the context of the Situation you were in (was it a job, internship, etc.)
Then, describe your role in the situation, or the Task you were faced with.
Next, describe the Action(s) you took to complete the task.
Finally, describe the Result that came from your actions.
It can be hard to tell a story without rambling, but using the STAR technique can help you structure your answers concisely.
- “What stands out about XX company and/or XX position?”
- “Why do you want to work here, as opposed to another company?”
- “Why should we hire you?”
- “What could you bring to the table as an employee here?”
- “What do you know about our company, and why does it stand out to you?”
- “What is your desired salary?”
Your research on the company and industry will come in handy for any other questions. As for the questions on why you’re interested in the position, be sure to do some self-reflection and come up with a good answer before showing up to the interview.
Prepare some questions you want to ask in advance
While you may think of some questions to ask on the spot based on the conversation between you and your interviewer, it’s always good to have some questions prepared in advance. At the end of your interview, the person interviewing you will ask if you have any questions. Take advantage of this and use the time to ask thoughtful questions about the role and company life. If you’re unsure of which questions you should ask, below are some questions that should work regardless of the role you’re applying for. Check out our full article here for more examples!
- Why did you join the company?
- What is your favorite part about working here?
- How would you describe the culture in the office?
- What challenges is the business currently facing?
- What are the near/mid/long term goals of the company?
- What traits or things have people that have been successful in the position demonstrated?
- What would you expect someone in my position to accomplish in the first few months on the job?
- What are the opportunities for professional development within the company?
Find an outfit you feel confident and comfortable in
The interview is about you and your skills, not what you look like. However, dressing appropriately for an interview is an important part of presenting yourself professionally. Above all, you should choose an interview outfit that you feel comfortable in – but there are some specific things you can keep in mind when choosing an outfit.
- Dress for the role you’re applying for – dress nicely for finance and consulting roles, or for companies that are a little more buttoned up. For tech companies, startups, media companies, or marketing firms, let your creativity show through a little more when you’re choosing a business casual outfit.
- Choose an outfit you know you won’t fiddle with. Additionally, if you’re prone to messing with your watch or jewelry when you’re nervous, leave those off for the interview.
- Opt for a darker outfit if you’re worried you’ll get a stain between the time you get dressed and make it to the interview. Even if you’re careful, wearing a light-colored outfit and avoiding anything spillable can end up adding more stress to your day.
Unless you’re specifically interviewing for a role in fashion, don’t worry too much about your interview outfit. As long as you’re dressed professionally and you feel polished, confident, and comfortable, you can’t go too wrong.
If it’s a video interview, ensure the technology is ready to go
If your interview is going to take place via video, be sure you prepare beforehand to ensure a smooth interview free of any technical issues. Here are some important things to do:
- Find a quiet place that will be free of interruptions. Be sure that the place you choose has enough light, as well as a professional background. If you’re planning on doing your interview at home, be sure to warn any roommates so you can avoid any awkward interruptions.
- Check your internet speed. Use an online speed test to determine whether your internet can support a video call.
- Test your audio and visual settings beforehand. Have a friend or family member call you on your laptop to test your video settings and ensure an interviewer can hear and see you on the day of the interview.
While a technical glitch isn’t the end of the world, you don’t want to be unnecessarily stressed during an interview if things go awry. For more information on how to prevent technical issues, check out our article, “9 Ways to Minimize Technical Difficulties During a Video Interview.”
During the Interview
Before you get an offer, you’ll likely go through several interviews ranging from an initial screening interview to an in-person interview, as well as an assessment of your skills. (If you’re applying for a job in software development or engineering, you’ll have to go through a technical interview – Read our entire article on how to navigate your first technical interview here.)
The initial screening is to find out more about your background and gauge if you could be a good fit for the position. The in-person interview will dive deeper into your skill set, values, work ethic, and personality. Depending on the company, you might have multiple rounds of the interview process, as well as interviews with different members of the team. You will also likely need to complete a skills assessment, which can take place after your screening interview or your in-person interview. The type of assessment you’ll receive depends completely on the job you’re applying for and the industry you’re in, so be sure to check with your interviewer about any kinds of skills assessments you might need to complete before moving forward.
If you research the company thoroughly and get familiar with common interview questions and how to answer them, your interview experience should run a lot smoother. However, preparation and practice can’t always ensure a perfect interview process. Here are some things to be aware of during the interview.
The Screening Interview
Before the “big” interview you will likely have a short phone or video screen, which allows a recruiter or hiring manager to find out more about you and if you could be a good fit for the position. Nailing the screening interview is key, as it’s the only way to advance to the next interview stage. Much of your success will be dependent on your preparation, so be sure to follow the aforementioned advice to enter this interview well-informed – but keep these tips in mind as well.
- Be ready for your interview at least 10 minutes before its scheduled time and make sure you answer your phone or video chat when the recruiter calls. You don’t want missed calls to cut into your time, and it doesn’t create a great impression if you aren’t prepared to talk.
- Leave a 15 minute buffer scheduled at the end of your interview. If a recruiter is running late, you want to be able to continue the conversation without giving them a hard cutoff.
- If you’re asked to give a brief introduction, keep it brief. If you’re worried you’re not providing enough information, offer to expand on anything you mentioned.
- In a screen, you’ll be asked about your previous experience, especially if you’re changing industries or positions. If the role you’re applying for is different from the roles you’ve held previously, avoid bashing previous internships or jobs. Instead, focus on what you gained from the role and how it informed your decision to switch roles or industries.
- Avoid asking questions about salary or benefits in a phone screen. However, come prepared with your salary expectations, as many recruiters ask about pay expectations during the screen. You should be able to find benchmarks online to form your expectations – find out more about how to find out what pay you deserve here.
- In the interview, you should ask about things like long-term trajectory of the position, key skills required in the position, as well as any next steps in the interview process.
For more tips on acing the phone screen, check out our full article on the topic here.
The In-Person Interview
You made it through the screening interview and you’re headed to your in-person interview. While some companies have multiple rounds of interviews, an in-person interview means you’re advancing through the process and getting closer to an offer. By now, you should have a good grasp on the company and what they do, so you can focus on letting your personality and credentials shine through. To make the most of your interview, do your research and follow this advice:
- Arrive 15 minutes before the start of the interview and check in with the front desk no more than 10 minutes before your interview. Showing up late starts the interview off on the wrong foot and might even cost you the job.
- Shake the interviewer’s hand firmly and make eye contact when you first introduce yourself.
- Avoid fidgeting throughout the interview, such as playing with your hair, watch, or clothing.
- When asked a question, take a few seconds to think about the answer. It’s better to give a concise and well-thought out answer rather than blurting out the first thing that comes to mind.
- Don’t ramble. It’s easy to continue talking when you’re nervous, but it doesn’t reflect well on your ability to communicate. Answer the question posed to you, and stop talking once you’ve answered it. As long as you’re not giving one-word answers, this is a much more effective way to answer questions.
- If you’re interviewing in a public place like the office lobby or a coffee shop, try to stay focused on the interview even if there’s activity going on in the background. Stay focused and show that you can work even when there are distractions all around you.
- It sounds cliche, but be yourself during the interview. At the end of the day, you want to work somewhere that appreciates who you are and what you bring to the table. Answer questions honestly instead of providing an answer you think the interviewer wants to hear. If you don’t show off your personality, it can be harder for an interviewer to get a sense of who you really are and how you’ll contribute to the team.
- While you may feel like the person interviewing you has all the power, be aware that they have a set of guidelines they are expected to follow in the hiring process, which includes not asking you any interview questions that can be used as a discrimination tool. If you are ever made uncomfortable by an interview question, remember that you are not obligated to answer. Read our full article on illegal interview questions so you're prepared if you're faced with a question you shouldn't have to answer.
After the Interview
You made it through the interview process! While most of the hard work is done, you can still increase your chances of getting an offer by sending a quality follow-up email. Failing to send a thank you email after the interview implies you don’t value the interviewer’s time, and can negatively affect you in the process.
In your email, thank your interviewer for their time and reiterate your interest in the role. You may want to reference something specific you talked about during your interview and how it made you even more excited about the role or the company. Finally, if your interviewer didn’t tell you at the end of the interview, ask about any next steps or assessments you should complete. If the interview went well, your interviewer will likely you ask you for professional references or ask you to complete an assignment to test your skills before asking for any references.
If you’re unsure of who would make a good professional reference, check out our full article here, or see below for a quick rundown of the questions you should ask yourself when choosing a professional reference:
- Is this reference willing to be a reference for you? Be sure to ask them before giving their contact information to an employer.
- Does this reference actually know you? A reference should be able to speak to your work ethic. The CEO of the company you worked for might sound impressive, but unless they can talk about you in detail, a direct supervisor would be better.
- What is your relationship to the reference? Family members, friends, and significant others should be off-limits.
- Can you count on this reference to give you a great recommendation? Be sure to ask them. If they hesitate, choose a different reference.
- Will this reference be able to answer specific questions about your strengths, work ethic and work style? The best reference is someone who has seen how you work and can speak in detail about your abilities.
What to Do If You Don’t Get the Job
It’s incredibly disappointing to leave an interview confident you’ll move to the next round or receive an offer only to be faced with rejection. Here’s how to cope if you if you receive an email that starts with, “We’re sorry to inform you…”
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
As long as you did your best, there’s no sense in replaying what you said in your mind and obsessing over how things could have been different. It’s OK to be disappointed and feel sad that the opportunity didn’t work out, but don’t dwell on the interview and lose confidence in yourself and your abilities.
Learn From It
Maybe you recognize that there were a few shaky areas in the interview. Take the opportunity to review what you didn’t feel confident about, and practice those areas before your next interview. You also might be able to get some feedback from the interviewer on areas where you can improve. After you receive the rejection email or phone call, you can respectfully ask if there are any areas you can improve while you continue your job search. Be warned though: your interviewer may not respond or may not be honest with you about their reasons for rejecting you. It’s best to recognize any areas where you didn’t feel confident and learn from it, or accept that you weren’t the right fit for the role.
Chances are if an employer rejects you, you likely wouldn’t have been happy in the role anyways. Continue your search and find an employer that values what you bring to the table. The more you interview, the more comfortable you’ll be going through the process. Learn from each interview you go through, and put your best foot forward for each one.
What to Do If You Get the Offer
You made it through the interview process, your references had great things to say about you, and now you’ve got a job offer in hand.
To navigate negotiating for higher pay, weighing the pros and cons of an offer, and killing it in your first few months on the job, check out our guide to your first job here.
Are you a student looking for awesome entry-level jobs and internships? Sign up for a RippleMatch account here and get matched with exciting opportunities from top companies.