A Recruiter Reveals 13 Essential Tips for Nailing a Job Interview

Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash

So you got the call! Or email, or text, basically some message from a hiring manager or talent recruiter letting you know that they’d like you to come in for an onsite interview. But your initial elation soon turns to dread as you fear you may make mistakes that will keep you from landing the job. First, let us soothe your anxiety by cluing you in on one important fact  – the business you applied to really really really wants to hire you.

Filling job openings is incredibly expensive for employers since each day the position remains vacant keeps them from reaching their goals and making more money. Also, every minute a team manager, director or vice president spends interviewing a candidate is less time they can devote to doing their actual job. The company wants nothing more than to fill the opening and get on with business. But it also needs the RIGHT person for the job, as hiring the wrong person is the most costly scenario of all.

Your resume and phone screening were impressive enough to get you the onsite meeting, now you just have to seal the deal. We talked to Daniel Carney, a seasoned talent recruiter here at Cluster, and he revealed 13 tips for nailing your interview. Some might seem super obvious, but he says that candidates regularly commit unforced errors that cost them job offers. We're here to help you put your best foot forward.

1. Research Your Employer

When you arrive at your onsite, you should know as much about the company as the people who work there. You’ve got the power of the internet at your fingertips, use it to understand the company backwards and forwards. Here’s an easy suggestion – if the business has a company blog, read through the articles and do your best to pick up as many valuable insights as you can. Also, learn how the business makes money and who their competitors are. It helps to research an employer's mission so you understand not just what they do, but why they do it.

2. Understand the Product or Service

If you’re interviewing at a large company then you’ll likely be working within a defined business segment and on a specific product or service. Ask the hiring manager before your onsite for details on what you’ll be working on as you may be unfamiliar with it. Even if you don’t have hands-on experience with the product or service, you can still go into the onsite well informed and impress your interviewers with your research. It’ll signal to them that you’re interested and committed enough to do some homework, scoring you high marks.

3. Ask Who You’ll Be Meeting With

You’re going to want to do some reconnaissance on the person or people you’ll be meeting. It’ll likely be someone on the team, someone you’ll report to, and other potential colleagues. The only way to know for sure is to ask your hiring manager or recruiter. Then look your interviewers up on Google and LinkedIn to learn about their background. You may be able to find some commonalities in your search to bring up during your chat.

4. Prepare For Your Presentation/Whiteboarding

Some roles may call for you to deliver a presentation or demonstrate your technical abilities to your interviewers on a whiteboard. Ask beforehand if this will be the case so you can properly prepare ahead of time and brush up on your technical skills.

5. Confirm the Interview Details

As shocking as it may seem, candidates often show up to interviews at the wrong time or arrive at the wrong place because they didn’t confirm basic info. So, make sure you get the right address, map out directions, ask about parking instructions, and confirm the time with your contact. It’s always better to get there early than late so prepare to arrive at least 15 minutes ahead of schedule. After all, you can always wait in your car or just hang out until it’s time to check in.

6. Bring All Your Materials

I can’t stress this enough, do your interviewers and yourself a favor by having multiple copies of your resume printed out on nice paper. That also goes for your portfolio work (if applicable). It’s a really bad idea to assume your interviewers will have your materials handy or even remember which candidate they’re seeing, as you may be one of a dozen. If they ask “can I see your resume/portfolio?” and you reply “I don’t have it with me,” it’ll be nearly impossible to recover from that fail.

7. Take Notes

In addition to your materials, bring along a pen and notepad so you can take copious notes during your interview. Yes, this can really set you apart from other candidates as it demonstrates to your interviewers that you’re interested in what they have to say about the company, role, product or service. You can also write down questions you may have. Plus, many onsite interviews consist of meetings with multiple people so as you continue making the rounds you can refer back to your notes in order to appear studious, methodical, and well-informed.

8. Ask Some Questions, But Not Too Many

You should definitely ask questions during your interview, just not too many, as you’re in the hot seat and there to reveal the value you can bring to the organization. Your questions should be relevant to the role rather than about compensation. I always suggest having 5-7 open ended questions regarding culture, the average workday, and performance expectations (goals). Feel free to inquire about salary, benefits, and vacation time when prompted, but let the hiring person bring it up first.

9. Speak Clearly and Kindly

Employers are looking for clear and specific answers to their questions. According to a Careerbuilder survey, 33% of hiring managers would not hire someone who didn’t give specific examples when answering questions. And never bad mouth your previous employer even if you had a negative experience. Half of surveyed hiring managers said they wouldn't hire someone who spoke negatively about past employers.

10. Smile!

Employers consider non-communication skills when evaluating candidates. The Careerbuilder survey revealed that not smiling was a huge issue for 44% of hiring managers. Remember – employers are also looking for company fit and will be hesitant to add someone to the team who comes across as abrasive, disinterested, or negative. So put on a happy face :)

11. Have A Salary Range In Mind

It’s likely that you’ve already chatted a little about salary in your phone screening, but it may come up again at some point during the interview. Understand what’s competitive for the role and region, and have a range in mind so you can inform the organization as to how much you’d like to be compensated for your talent. Do some research on the compensation packages (base salary, equity, benefits) employees typically receive, and if you can’t find the information online, ask your contact at the company before the onsite.  

12. Assess Your Potential Employer

While it’s a good idea to let the organization lead the interview, it’s actually a two-way process and you have to determine if the atmosphere and culture is right for you. It’s entirely possible that the idea of your “dream company” comes crashing down when you arrive at the onsite and discover that you wouldn’t feel comfortable within the work environment. On the other hand, you may take an interview with a company only as a backup plan, and during the interview discover that the place feels like home.

13. Send a Follow-Up Thank You Email

Candidates often ask, “Do I really need to send a thank you note?” I strongly recommend it as it shows hiring managers you’re considerate and helps you stand out. It takes only a few minutes to say thank you for your interviewers’ time. If the final decision comes down between you and an equally attractive candidate, this one action can tip the scales in your favor.

Communication is Key

If you haven’t noticed by the tips listed, an onsite interview really revolves around one concept – communication. Employers are looking for you to communicate (verbally and nonverbally) your skills, interest in their organization, and personality in order to gauge if you’re the right person for the job. Remember, the company already thinks you look good on paper, now it’s up to you to communicate your value in person. Go get ‘em!

Looking for an engineering job? Cluster is a professional development site that matches engineers and technicians to jobs and training. Register for your (always) free profile to connect with Daniel and our talent recruiters who can help take your career to the next level.