How to Get a Great Job: In-Person Interviews

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The key to a successful in-person interview is preparation. That includes doing your research on the company and industry, and thoroughly practicing interviews. Part of your practice should include:

  •  Researching, brainstorming, and asking professional friends to come up with likely topics that will be covered, such as your strengths and weaknesses, your ideal day at the job, etc.—and then decide how you want to answer those. “But don't try to guess interview questions and then memorize answers,” warns Kao. “It’s not going to sound like you.”

  • Come up with real anecdotes, examples, results, and challenges from your previous work that you would like to mention. Then write them down and/or say them out loud a few times. Memorize any percentages, years, etc. you’d like to include. “Practice telling your stories beforehand,” urges Kao. “Make sure each one illustrates a skill. You can practice short speeches very casually, by telling a friend.”

  • In order to conquer nervousness, ask a friend to hold a practice interview with you. “Practice each interview as if your life depends on it. Then treat the real interview as if it's another practice,” advises Kao. “It’s fine to be nervous when you’re interviewing—but practicing will help with this. You have to practice over and over in order to gain confidence.”

  • You can also try rehearsing your stories, anecdotes, etc. in front of a mirror, or even videotape yourself. Check your body language: do you look engaged, interested, and vital? Try leaning forward, keeping an open expression on your face, and uncrossing your arms.


What to Wear

These days, company dress codes range from business suits to blue jeans, making it difficult to know what to wear to a job interview. Jill Silman, SPHR, vice-president at Meador Staffing Services and a spokesperson for the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM), offers a good guide:

“Dress for the job. The whole interview is to prove you fit in; you want your clothes to help send this subconscious message to your interviewer. If you have to, stalk the company and see how people are dressed as they come out for lunch. If they all look like an ad for the Gap, you don’t want to wear a suit, hose, and heels to your interview.”

Silman says its OK to call the company’s human resources before the interview to ask about the dress code for employees. “And if you’re in doubt, you should dress up, not down.”

Kao adds some good advice: No matter what you plan to wear, “Get used to your interview outfit,” she says. “Practice wearing the whole outfit while standing, walking, and sitting. Never wear the outfit for the first time to an interview unless you want to look like a robot.”


What to Ask, Answer and Say

A lot of people have trouble talking about themselves and their accomplishments. Some have trouble simply talking when under pressure. That’s why it’s important to practice interviewing: what you’d like to say, how you’ll respond to questions on the fly, and what you want to ask.

Kao coaches job hunters at her library every day, and based on her extensive experience, she says, “Don’t mumble. Take your time while talking, and pause… Pauses are a way to turn an interview into a relaxed conversation. They encourage dialogue instead of a lecture.” Another tip: “Talk for two minutes at a time—no more. Let them ask for more information if they want it.”


Take Control of the Interview


Part of your preparation for an interview should be self-introspection. That means considering and knowing your greatest strengths and how they match up to the open position, your personality, your style of work, and your work values.

Try to get the interviewee to talk first—even if it’s just a brief overview of the open position. The more she tells you about the position, department, and organization, the better you can tailor your own comments to demonstrate what a great fit you are.

If the interviewee jumps right in by asking you to talk about yourself, lob the ball back into his court with a request like, “If you don’t mind, can you first tell me a little about the position, so that I can better describe how my experience might fit here?” Then you can launch into your concise description of your experience, skills, and qualifications. This question offers a golden opportunity to highlight what you had planned to say to sell yourself—so do some planning and practicing, and be ready for it!


Tell a Story

Kao is a proponent of job hunters being proactive while interviewing. This entails planning and practicing specific “stories” to tell while you’re being interviewed. Formulate these stories based on the research you’ve done on the organization and the open position, to highlight areas that fit well with what you’ve learned. Your stories might include


  • A specific accomplishment from your most recent job: how you cut your department’s budget by 23% last year; how you upgraded the customer service software system; or how you wooed a new corporation into becoming the company’s largest customer.
  • An enthusiastic description of recent learning: the workshop you attended on a new industry-specific software package; the book you just finished on teamwork.
  • An event that demonstrates a personal skill: how you handled an unexpected challenge; how you successfully managed a team of colleagues; how you juggled two jobs while your manager was on maternity leave.
  • An anecdote that showcases your work values: how you mentored a new employee; how you volunteer in your professional association.


“Think of ways to communicate your value, how you can help your future employer,” says Kao.


Show Off Your Research


“Never say ‘I don’t know.’ Instead, say something like, ‘I’m not too familiar with this subject, but let me tell you about…’ and go on to relate a story about how you mastered a new skill, or how your experience fits with the overall subject.”
— Bernice Kao, job/career specialist and job service outreach librarian at Fresno County (California) Public Library

You did the hard work of researching the hiring organization and industry—don’t forget to let your interviewers know!

Find a way to work your knowledge of the company and of the latest industry news into the conversation. Better yet, share your personal insights and opinions on that news. “They want to find out what you know that they don’t even know yet,” says Kao. “So talk about news items, industry trends, new technology as it relates to their business. You want to be the person who can tell them something that none of the other candidates can.”

Read Real-life Interview Questions

Visit to read information posted about companies by actual interviewees, including real-life interview questions. You can find specific companies by profession/industry. Individuals post how they were initially approached by a company, what their interview process was like, and one or two examples of interview questions they were asked.

Ask Questions

“It’s all right to ask, ‘How did I do?’ You can even ask ‘What else do you want to know about me in order to choose me for this position?’” — Bernice Kao, job/career specialist and job service outreach librarian at Fresno County (California) Public Library

Any job interview should be a two-way conversation. That means not only should you reply to questions, but ask some of your own. This demonstrates that you’re curious about the open position and the company, that you understand the industry, work, structure, etc., and that you have a unique mind!

  • Ask questions to clarify details you find unclear.
  • Ask questions that demonstrate your own values and work culture: does teamwork play a big part in the work style here? Do you value independence in your staff?
  • Interview the interviewer: why does he like working there, or why has he been there so long? What does he see as the department’s strengths or weaknesses?
  • Don’t pretend to understand something you don’t! Ask for definitions or explanations.


Two Interview Musts

Unless you decide that you really don’t want the job you’re interviewing for, there are two things you should use to close every interview:

  1. Let them know you want the job. State clearly and directly that you want the position.
  2. Find out what the interview process is. It is perfectly acceptable to ask questions to clarify the next step and when you should expect to hear from them. You can also ask how many candidates they’re interviewing.


The Last Word

Interviewing for a job can be a nerve-wracking experience—especially for a job-hunter who is eager to be employed and put all the hard work of the search behind him. But try to relax and enjoy the interview portion of your search. Not only will it make you a better interviewee, it will allow you to take a close and objective look at your potential employer while you’re on the premises, and get a good feel for what it would be like to work there.



book cover: How to Get a Great Job: A Library How-To HandbookThis article is adapted from the book How to Get a Great Job: A Library How-To Handbook by Editors of the American Library Association published by ALA Editions.




Image credit:

Business Meeting by thetaxhaven.


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