October 22nd, 2014

How to Ace a Job Interview: 15 Tips

How to Ace a Job Interview: 15 Tips | Sara du Jour

Chances are, sooner or later you’re going to go to a job interview. You’re probably going to go to a lot of job interviews in your lifetime, whether it’s straight out of college, or later on in your career. I’ve been to tons of interviews, especially over the last couple of weeks while I was job hunting. So much so that I can practically do it in my sleep now. I’ve been on the other side of things, too – interviewing potential candidates for a job. So if you want to know how to ace a job interview, here are 15 tips for making a great impression and hopefully, getting the job.


Tip 1: Do your research.

It’s understandable that while job hunting, you’re probably mass applying to a lot of places. But once you get an interview, you need to crack down and do your homework, Hermione-style. Learn everything you can about the company you’re interviewing at. Scour their website. If it’s a creative company, find out what projects they’ve done, and mentally pick one you like, with reasons why, so you can throw that in later. Has the company won any awards? Find out.

Try to get a sense of what their company culture is, too. Are they very stiff and corporate? Are they relaxed and quirky? This will help you adjust your behaviour accordingly and dress for the interview.

Tip 2: Go in with the right state of mind.

It’s perfectly natural to be nervous before a job interview. You want them to like you, and usually, you really want the job. But if you go in as a high-strung bundle of nerves, things probably won’t go in your favour. You want to appear cool, calm, and collected, but most importantly: confident. Do whatever you need to do to get your head in the game (to quote High School Musical).

Sometimes I listen to great songs on my way to the interview that make me feel strong and powerful (Beyonce is good for this), but if I’m really in panic mode, that’s when I’ll phone a friend. My best friends and I have a sort of “emergency pep-talk” system in place. I’ll phone them and tell them I’m about to go in and I’m freaking out, and they’ll spend five minutes telling me I’m going to slay it, because I’m talented and smart and just the bees’ knees. It feels great and it can really help remind you that you’re competent and can do this.

Tip 3: Get there early.

Job interviews are important and a chance to make a good first impression. But you only make a first impression once, so make sure you plan ahead. Usually you’re going to a location you’ve never been before, so figure out how to get there and how long it will take, then tack on about half an hour. It’s always better to be early than late, and you need to account for things like bad traffic, subway/bus delays, getting lost, etc.

Aim to arrive for your interview 10-15 minutes early. It’s early enough to show that you value their time and are punctual, but it’s not too early. Too early shows that either you’re bad with schedules or simply don’t respect their time. If you do arrive too early, don’t go in yet. Sit in a coffee shop nearby, walk around the block, or phone a friend. I’ve once sat on a bench for 30 minutes because I came too early. I’m sure I don’t have to say this, but DON’T BE LATE.

Tip 4: Pre-stalk your interviewer(s).

Sometimes, an HR or talent acquisition person will give you the names of who you will be interviewing with. Look them up! Find their profiles on LinkedIn. I find it’s helpful to see little photos of them on there, so you can visualize your interview with them a bit better. Plus, once you know what they look like, when you see them in the office and they start to approach you for your interview, you’re prepared and not clueless. LinkedIn profiles can also give you a sense of their tone of voice, and which of their accomplishments they’re most proud of, as well as what skills they most value. All of this is good information. Absorb as much as you can. If they’ve written a book (as some company owners have), read the summary. Know the title.

The fact is, people like people who are similar to them. The more information you know about them, the better you can mirror them. So put on your Sherlock cap and really investigate these people.

Tip 5: Be hungry.

Studies have shown that people who go into job interviews hungry tend to think they deserve more, and are less likely to settle when low-balled. Personally I like going into an interview on an empty stomach because I feel lighter on my feet, and my thoughts are clearer. (Make sure to have a mint beforehand though, so your breath doesn’t stink!)

A quick note on coffee: I read an article recently about how coffee affects introverts and extroverts differently. Basically: if you’re extroverted, have a coffee beforehand, it’ll make you more alert. If you’re introverted, skip it, you’re already over-stimulated.

Tip 6: Be extra nice to everyone in a 1 mile radius.

I mean, be nice to everyone all the time. But when stressed out about an interview, sometimes we’re not paying much attention to the people around us. Make an extra effort to smile at the people you pass, hold doors open for people, apologize if you bump into someone, etc. You are in the neighbourhood of the company you’re interviewing at, and you never know if the people around are employees out to lunch or on break.

One time I got on an elevator in a building that housed several companies, one of which I was interviewing at. The doors were closing, but I saw a guy rushing to make it from some distance. Luckily I had the sense to delay the elevator and hold the door for him, for which he was grateful. Turns out we were going to the same place, and he helped notify the person I was interviewing with that I had arrived. (I got the job!)

If you arrive at a company with a receptionist, be polite and friendly towards them. Put a smile on, say ‘hi, how are you?” and then say that you have a 2:00 appointment with so-and-so, but you’ve arrived a bit early and are happy to wait.

Some companies have tricks in place to see how you react while you think they’re not watching. Be on your best behaviour, and at all costs, don’t be rude to anyone no matter the circumstances.


Tip 7: Dress the part.

Think of it like a really professional first date. You want to look like yourself, but the best version of yourself possible. The shiny, I-have-it-all-together version of yourself.

This goes back to the first tip, about doing your research on the company. If you’re going in for a corporate job, dress in professional business wear. Crisp dress shirts, dress pants or pencil skirts, blazers, etc. If you’re going in for a creative-type job, you’re allowed to have a little more fun with it. If in doubt, always err on the side of dressing too professionally rather than too casually.

Once you get to the offices, have a look around and note what other people are wearing. That way, you can adjust your attire should they call you in for a second interview.

Tip 8: Handshake like a pro.

I really don’t know why so many people give such weaksauce handshakes. I mean, shaking hands is not a difficult thing. Your hand should not feel like a limp, dead fish in someone else’s. This is what you do.

Smile, make eye contact. As you’re saying hello and introducing yourself, extend your hand. “Hi, I’m Sara. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Keep your fingers together and your hand firm. Hold eye contact and continue to smile as you shake their hands one or two times. Don’t crush their fingers. Don’t whiplash their arms around. After one or two quick, small pumps, break contact and carry on with your life.

I like to do two handshakes with an interviewer. Once going in, and once as I leave. It’s pretty much the same thing both times. On my way out I like to say something like, “Thanks for making the time, I look forward to hearing from you”. Peoples’ handshakes say a lot about them, and many interviewers will make assumptions about your confidence level and personality based on it. Get yours down – practice with friends if you have to.

Tip 9: Know your resume inside out.

It’s your resume. (Sometimes called CV.) You should know what it says. You’ve made claims on it about your skill set and your experiences. You should always be able to back up those claims.

If you claim to be a social media expert, you better have a good reason for saying so, beyond “I’ve used twitter”. So has the Pope, but I guarantee “social media pro” isn’t on his CV. In a nutshell: read and re-read your resume until it’s nearly committed to memory. There should be no surprises when someone brings up something you’ve written on there.

Side note – always arrive at an interview with at least 3 extra printed copies of your CV. Give them to your interviewers if you see they don’t already have it with them. It shows that you’re prepared and organized.

Tip 10: Be prepared.

A good interviewer will grill you on your resume to make sure you’re not full of it. Be ready to talk about what your responsibilities were in previous roles, what your greatest strengths are, and what your weaknesses are. (That last one’s a trick question. You need to pick a weakness that’s actually a positive, like “I can be a perfectionist, I need to learn when to stop and step back” or “Sometimes I take on too many extra tasks, I need to learn how to say no once in a while.” If you can get away with it in a more relaxed setting, make a joke. Someone once asked me “What are you bad at?” at a job interview, and without missing a beat, I said, “going to sleep at a reasonable hour”.)

Also be prepared to answer basic questions like “tell me about yourself”, “what are you most passionate about?” (for the love of God, say something that you can tie into the position you’re applying for), and “why do you want to work at this company?”.

Hence the extensive research. This is where you get to impress them with your knowledge. Mention any awards they’ve won, work they’ve done that you like, and their company culture. Never, ever say you want to work there because of the money, location, or perks. Wine and dine ’em, make ’em feel like the most special company on Earth.

As much as you can, give actual evidence to show your accomplishments. Don’t just say you’re good at X, say that through using your X skills, you were able to yield Y results for your previous company. Proof like that is impressive to potential employers and will raise your value in their eyes.

Some people like to have memorized answers to various questions, but I think that tends to always seem rehearsed and unnatural. If you can think on your feet, do so. Sure, have an idea of your answers, but you don’t need to memorize them word for word.

If they ask you, for example, “Give me an example of a challenging project you had, and how you dealt with it” – it’s okay to take a breath, pause for a few seconds, and think. They are not expecting you to be a robot with prepared answers for every question. It’s actually in your interest to seem like a human who is recalling an actual memory. A good trick I use is to say “that’s a good question” to buy yourself a few moments to think. Plus, everyone likes to think they ask good questions. I constantly fall for this trick when it’s used on me!

Tip 11: Know who you’re talking to.

There’s a big difference between being interviewed by the owner of a company, a potential manager, and the person who would be your colleague. Adjust your personality accordingly.

No matter who you’re talking to, you want to come across as confident, competent, and likeable. Likability is the number one determining factor in whether they’ll recommend you to be hired, and that’s something that is determined within the very first few minutes of a job interview. So, pump up that charm and say everything with a smile. When they speak, maintain eye contact and nod. These are small things, but they make a difference.

If you’re talking to the owner of a company, I find it’s better to come across as gutsy, almost to the point of cocky, without quite reaching it. Company owners want their team to made up of superstars. Show that you are one, that you’re not afraid of a challenge or to toot your own horn. (If you don’t toot it, no one will. Sure, it’s awkward to talk about how great you are, but if you don’t, someone else will and they’ll get the job.)

If you’re talking to a potential manager, still be confident and likeable and all that, but also show enough deference to authority. You don’t want them feeling like you’ll be challenging them all the time or that you’re gunning for their role.

If you’re talking to a potential coworker, relax a bit more. Make yourself seem like someone they’d want to go to lunch with. After all, if you get the job you just might be. Don’t be afraid to joke a bit (while still maintaining professionalism, of course).

I’m not saying you should completely change your personality and become someone else. I’m just talking about shifting gears and playing up the most appropriate facet of your personality for the situation at hand. Speaking of personality…

Tip 12: Be the ideal job candidate and ask questions.

Be confident. Be friendly. Be charming. Be professional. Smile almost constantly, and mirror your interviewer as much as possible in tone and behaviour (unless they’re being rude).

Body language says a lot, so maintain good posture, lean in, and make a lot of eye contact. If you’re being interviewed by multiple people at once, be sure to make eye contact and direct your attention towards everyone in turn.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is playing it too cool. Employers want to know that you want the job. Convey enthusiasm and interest. Salary negotiations can only happen once they really like you, so make that your priority. Being excited for the job does not make you seem desperate, it strokes their ego because they’re thinking, “Our company is the best, you should want to work here.” They want employees who are passionate about their jobs, who will put in the care and effort to do them well. Aloof people don’t fit the bill.

At the end of the interview, expect to be asked if you have any questions. Take advantage of this! Some questions I tend to ask are:

  • What does a typical day here look like?
  • What is your typical interview process? Are there multiple rounds of interviews?
  • When should I expect to hear back from you? Will I be notified if the position is no longer available?
  • Why is this position open?
  • When would this position begin? (i.e. In two weeks, next month, etc. It’s good to know!)
  • Tell me about the company culture here. (This is a great trick that turns the tables. Suddenly, they’re trying to sell the company to you, rather than the other way around.)

…and my secret weapon question…

  • Do you have any concerns about me as a candidate? If so, I’d love to have the opportunity to try to talk you out of them.

Make sure you say it with a big smile, the second part almost like you’re joking. I’ve used it twice, and both times my interviewers were so impressed. Now I give it to you, my internet children.


Tip 13: Get their business card.

Always ask if they have a business card as you’re leaving. This is important so that you’ll be able to get in touch with them again (and not have to go through HR), and so that you can send them a thank-you email an hour or two after the interview ends.

Tip 14: Ask when you can expect to hear back.

This is a good one to ask during the question period, as mentioned. This information is important for you to have, so that you don’t panic prematurely. If they tell you it’ll be about two weeks, you don’t need to freak out when you don’t hear anything from them over the next few days. If they tell you you can expect to hear from them by the end of the week and you don’t, you should follow up with them the next Monday.

Tip 15: Follow up.

Always send a thank you note. They are busy, important people, and they’ve made the time to meet with you. Show gratitude and humility. Also, it leaves them with a good final impression of you, and reminds them of how great you are.

If you don’t hear anything from them in a week, follow up. Send them and HR/Talent Acquisition an email politely inquiring if the role is still available and what any next steps might be. It shows that you’re serous about the job, and if they’ve hired someone else already, at least you can stop holding your breath.


In closing, remember that interviewing is like anything else. You’ll get better at it with practice. It’s good to keep in mind that they want to like you. They’re not your enemy. If they seem tough, it’s just because they want to make sure they really get to know you so they hire the right person. They want to find a great candidate for the position.

Try to think about it from that angle: I’m the great candidate, I’m going to show up and solve their problem.

Like this post? Have any other job interview tips to add? Leave a comment! xx

– Sara

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  • Darcy

    how are you so good at life?

    • saradujour

      Well that’s very kind. I think we’re all good at some things, and can learn from each other. There are plenty of things I’m pretty clueless about, don’t worry! :)

      P.S. Is your name really Darcy, or has my cat learned to use a computer?

  • Sinikka

    Great advice!! I get so anxious about job interviews, but before my next ones I’ll make sure to come back and re-read this post :) thanks Sara!

    • saradujour

      Thanks for reading, Sinikka! x