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19 steps to ace any job interview and stand out

A new job can unlock a whole world of possibilities, but the pressure to favorably present your skills, experience, and your ability to make a good first impression can make any job search an intimidating endeavor.

how to ace an interview

Although the interview process can be daunting, preparation is the key to building your confidence and proving that you’re the best candidate. Learn how to ace an interview with 19 steps that will help you stand out and succeed.

Table of contents

Before the interview

1. Research the company
2. Reread the job description
3. Prepare for the typical job interview questions
4. Get your backstory right
5. Prepare smart questions in advance
6. Is your interview remote? Check your equipment and find a quiet place
7. Practice your job interview

The day of the interview

8. Be on time
9. Bring resumes, reference letters and your notepad
10. Dress well
11. Relax, you came prepared

During the interview

12. Smile and be nice
13. Be honest
14. Show interest and passion
15. Demonstrate your expertise
16. Take notes

After the interview

17. Follow up to say thank you
18. Deal with any take-home assignment in a timely manner
19. Follow up on eventual questions that were asked during the interview

Before the interview

1. Research the company

Educating yourself on the company you’re interviewing for serves two important purposes. First, it helps ensure that the company’s mission and culture align with your own interests, career goals, and values. Second, the ability to authentically incorporate this knowledge into an interview shows that you are thoughtful, well-prepared, and truly interested in becoming a member of their team.

Prepare yourself by reading the website thoroughly, following their social media feeds, checking any interesting or relevant results on Google, searching reviews on GlassDoor, and reviewing the LinkedIn profiles of anyone participating in the interview. Take notes to help you formulate questions that demonstrate a genuine interest in the company and what they do.

2. Reread the job description

Take the time to read the job description again carefully prior to your interview. Make a list of the skills, experience, or qualifications you have that prove that you’re a viable candidate, using specific examples or quantifiable metrics as often as possible.

Also, pay attention to the specific adjectives used when they describe the type of candidate they’re seeking in the job listing; look for opportunities to include those words (or synonyms) into your interview answers or relay anecdotes that exhibit those qualities when you’re asked behavioral questions.

3. Prepare for the typical job interview questions

The number-one way to learn how to ace an interview is to come prepared with strong answers to interview questions. While you won’t know exactly what will be asked, you can increase your odds of doing well by researching common job interview questions and coming up with 50- to 100-word answers. Be prepared to answer questions like:

  • Why should we hire you?
  • What’s your biggest weakness?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  • If I call your current/previous employer, what would he/she say about you?
  • Tell me about a challenge you overcame

4. Get your backstory right

Despite being the most knowledgeable party about your own work history, there’s something about being asked to summarize your experience at the beginning of a call that can cause your thoughts to come to a screeching halt.

Take some time before the interview to write down a short outline that sums up your professional life, making sure to highlight any positions or experience that seem particularly relevant to the job. Then practice saying it out loud in a way that feels friendly, natural, and confident — it’s important that you don’t sound like you’re reading or reciting from a list.

5. Prepare smart questions in advance

Remember how you reviewed the job description and researched the company? That particular prep work is about to help prove that you’re interested in this specific position for this exact company — not just someone who stumbled in on a random and indiscriminate job hunt.

At some point during the interview, you’ll most likely be invited to ask your own questions and this is an opportunity that you shouldn’t pass up. Demonstrate that you’re eager to learn, interested in the position and the company, and have a general understanding of what they need and what they do through a series of thoughtful questions. Consider questions like:

  • What would a typical day in this position look like?
  • What challenges could this position help solve?
  • Can you share some examples of the types of projects this position would work on?
  • What metrics or KPIs would help quantify the success of this role?
  • Are there any specific products or goals that the company is currently focused on?

6. Is your interview remote? Check your equipment and find a quiet place

Phone or video interviews often precede in-person interviews lately. Although everyone is familiar with the frustration of technical difficulties, a bad connection, dim lighting, or a noisy background can distract from the great impression you’re hoping to make.

Ace an interview (even from a distance) with the following remote interview tips:

  • Find a clean, uncluttered background.
  • Either set up a ring light or face a source of natural light.
  • Make sure your webcam is at eye level.
  • Try to make sure you’re in a quiet space. If it’s a phone interview, make sure you’re in a spot with good reception.
  • Do a practice run with a friend via video to make sure everything goes as planned.

7. Practice your job interview

Confidence is key to crushing an interview. It may feel silly at first, but the best way to work on your interview skills is by rehearsing. Ask a friend or family member to play the role of interviewer or hiring manager and set up a video call or meeting.

Introduce yourself, summarize your work history, answer the questions they ask, and practice asking your own questions.

Work on not only what you say, but also how you say it. Do you sound nervous? What message is your body language conveying?

Are you talking too fast or rambling? Make sure your faux interviewer understands that critical feedback is essential to your success. Ask them open-ended questions about what went well and how you could improve.

The day of the interview

8. Be on time

There are a few aspects of the interview process that you have almost complete control over, and one of those is punctuality. Err on the side of being way too early, especially if it’s an in-person interview and traffic could become a factor — you never know when an accident or detour could become an obstacle.

If it’s a remote interview, be fully dressed and set up to test your equipment well before the interview starts.

9. Bring resumes, reference letters and your notepad

Don’t show up to your interview empty-handed. Even if you submitted your resume and reference letters via email, bring printed copies to your in-person interview — your interviewer may not have those items with them, they could get misplaced in an overloaded inbox, or you may want to refer to that information.

Also, bring a notepad and pen. It can help you write down any questions that may pop up during the interview and allows you to take notes to review later.

10. Dress well

Looking good contributes to feeling confident. Make a positive impression while boosting your self-esteem in clothes that are clean, fit well, and are appropriate for an interview setting.

Get honest opinions from friends and family members if you’re unsure about what to wear and try on your clothes and accessories the night before to eliminate the possibility of any last-minute wardrobe malfunctions.

11. Relax, you came prepared

You’ve done your research. You’ve practiced. You’ve come prepared. You’re early and well dressed. And chances are, you’re nervous. That’s normal. Take advantage of your early arrival and draw your shoulders back and down, unclench your jaw, and take several deep breaths.

Consider the fact that feeling nervous and being excited share a lot of the same physiological symptoms. Try to reframe anxiety as optimistic anticipation. Spend a few quiet moments reviewing any notes you’ve taken, remind yourself that you’ve prepared the best you can, and assume an air of confidence. After all, you’re as ready as you’ll ever be!

During the interview

12. Smile and be nice

No one goes into a job interview with the intent to be unpleasant, but sometimes being nervous makes it hard to act natural. Be the best version of yourself — a prospective employer wants to get to know the real you. Smile, make eye contact, and be personable.

A job interview is a professional occasion with a social slant, so be friendly with the interviewer, laugh if the opportunity arises, and show off your personality, but in a more polished way than you might with friends. Remember that they’re looking to fill a job and to form a relationship with a potential new team member.

13. Be honest

Behavioral interview questions can often feel like a trap. For instance, “Tell me about a time that you received critical feedback,” might seem like a question to evade but the reality is that they’re trying to get an idea about your level of self awareness or ability to handle constructive criticism.

Use prior experiences as a way to show that you’re a good fit for their company culture and provide anecdotes that show that you’re genuine and have good communication skills. Authenticity can help you stand out and ace the interview.

Also, if you don’t have an answer for something, it’s okay to say, “I don’t know off the top of my head, but I will follow up after the interview.” Don’t embellish or give superficial answers.

14. Show interest and passion

Enthusiastic people are interesting. Don’t hesitate to share your curiosity or excitement about a subject or project. If possible, provide examples of how the subject matter is relevant to your personal life or professional experience.

Explaining why something is interesting or important to you can make you more memorable.

15. Demonstrate your expertise

Look for opportunities to insert specific examples of your professional experience and expertise into the conversation. Did you improve a process or solve a problem at your current or previous job? Have you read books, attended conferences, or written blog posts that are relevant to the position?

Be humble but be confident about what you know and how it could benefit their company. Try to tack real-world examples onto as many questions as possible.

16. Take notes

Remember that notebook you brought with you? Be sure to put it to good use. Taking notes shows that you’re interested, that you’re listening, and that you care. As an added bonus, it can help ease the nervous urge to fidget and can give you a moment to think before answering. Write down the names of who you’ll be reporting to, answers to questions you have, and information you’d like to research or refer back to later.

After the interview

17. Follow up to say thank you

Good manners never go out of style. Take a moment after the interview to follow up with a thank-you note. Doing so shows that you appreciate their time and the opportunity, and helps you stand out from those who don’t send one.

Think of it as a pop-up notification to remind the hiring manager and interviewers that you’re interested, available, and appreciative.

18. Deal with any take-home assignment in a timely manner

If the interviewer asks you to submit a project after the interview, do your best work but do it quickly. Turning in an assignment promptly shows that you’re invested in the hiring process.

If you and another interviewee are both being seriously considered, submitting quality work with a quick turnaround time could help identify you as the ideal candidate for the job.

19. Follow up on questions asked during the interview

If there was a question that you couldn’t answer on the spot, don’t forget to follow up on your promise to provide an answer after the interview. It may be tempting to assume they’ll forget about it, and they might, but following up shows that you gave the question the consideration that it deserves and gives you an extra opportunity to remind them of your interest.

Looking for more information about how to ace an interview? Check out the questions interviewers might ask and how they evaluate answers.

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