Four steps to a better job interview

Job interviews can be intimidating and bewildering. These four steps will help ensure you have a better job interview.

Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters/File
A job seeker (L) attends an interview at an employment fair in Seoul, South Korea, September 23, 2015.

Losing out on a job after you’ve gone all the way through the interview process can be discouraging. But instead of focusing on what went wrong, take the opportunity to ask: How can you improve next time?

For instance, many recent grads don’t realize that, just as they studied for tests, they need to prepare thoroughly for an interview, says Mercy Eyadiel of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

“Sometimes they underestimate how competitive the landscape is,” says Eyadiel, the university’s associate vice president of career development and corporate engagement. “The person that actually does the homework really stands out.”

There are lots of ways to demonstrate you’re an ideal candidate. Keep these tips in mind to wow your potential future employer at your next job interview.

1. Research the company.

Before your interview, learn everything you can about the company. Read up on its mission, executive team and new products or initiatives. Take a look at its Facebook page and Twitter feed.

If you know who will be interviewing you, look up their profiles on the company site or on LinkedIn and note where they’ve worked. If an element of their backgrounds relates to a topic you’re discussing, bringing it up will demonstrate that you took the job opportunity seriously.

For instance, if you’re applying for a job as a product manager, and the interviewer worked in that role previously, you could say: “I read in your bio that you have a background in product management. What do you think it takes to be successful in this position?”

2. Ask questions of your own.

An interview is a chance to ask questions, not just answer them. While there’s nothing wrong with coming prepared to showcase your skills, don’t let your enthusiasm keep you from learning everything you can about the position and company.

It’s is a good time to ask about company culture, Eyadiel says, as well as about specific projects you’d be working on and what it takes to be successful in the role — anything that’s not clear in the job posting. She recommends thinking of an interview this way: “‘It’s a conversation I’m having about an opportunity,’ versus: ‘I’m being evaluated and I need to make sure I’m getting everything out that I want to say to convince them.’”

Forgetting to ask reflective questions — and giving long-winded, rambling responses — are common ways grads trip up in interviews. So be sure to slow down, and keep answers concise and directly related to the role you’re interviewing for. Rehearse answers to common questions. Prepare questions to ask your interviewer, but leave room for spontaneous ones, too.

3. Relate your experience to the position.

Karen Evans, director of career development at Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania, says there’s a common reason employers tell her that candidates failed interviews: “‘They couldn’t relate what they’ve done to what I need.’”

To avoid that trap, make references to how you’d apply your skills or experiences to the role.

Say you worked as the community service chair of your sorority, and you’re applying for a job in sales. You could tell your interviewer: “I planned day-long volunteering projects at animal shelters. I developed sales-related skills by persuading students to volunteer, promoting the events on social media and building trusted relationships with our partner organizations. At your company, I’d use these skills to bring on new accounts and strengthen existing ones.”

4. Send a thank-you email.

Following up after the interview shows you’re still interested in the position and appreciate the opportunity.

Lay the groundwork for following up before you’ve even left the room. Evans advises ending the interview by letting your interviewer know you’re hoping to advance to the next round.

“The student can simply express enthusiasm for the position,” she says, suggesting the applicant say, “‘I really like how this position sounds, and I’m looking forward to the next step in this process.’”

Send a well-written thank-you email, ideally within a day or two. In your email, incorporate a couple of details you learned about the job and stress how much you’d like to join the company.

You could say, “I really enjoyed hearing about the sales team’s new account acquisition strategy. I’m eager to contribute the marketing and communications skills I developed during my internships to help make the initiative successful.”

A good interview takes preparation and a lot of confidence. But your skills improve with each one, Evans says.

“The more you say things, the more you practice, the smoother you become.”

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published at USA Today.

Brianna McGurran is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email:bmcgurran@nerdwallet.com.

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