26 Realistic Tips for the Traditional Interview

It’s 8 A.M. on a Tuesday morning and adrenaline is coursing through your veins as you “sing” along with SZA to the chorus of Kendrick Lamar’s “All the Stars” in the bathroom mirror: “This may be the night that my dreams might let me know, all the stars are closer, all the stars are closer, all the stars closer…”

No, you’re not working on your own soundtrack with Kendrick. You aren’t the new Aaron Burr understudy in “Hamilton.” You’re not about to compete in the World Cup. You’re getting ready for a job interview.

You’ve probably read interview guides written by folks who expect you to go through all the robotic motions – “show up early but not too early,” or “give a firm handshake!” as if any one or two actions will completely make or break your chances at landing a job. We’ve included some of those here, but generally, we’re not wasting time on clichés you can find everywhere else.

Preparation & Nutrition

 The Night Before…

  1. Let’s quickly discuss the sloppy elephant in the room – hangovers. I’m not going to tell you not to drink the night before your interview. Let’s be realistic: You can probably have an IPA or finish off that Trader Joe’s Rosé or even drink a nice tequila sunrise and be just fine, you know yourself – just don’t overdo it.
  2. But, no matter what you do, try to get 7+ hours of sleep. Maybe you got away with 4-5 for your last interview, but there’s no use feeling (and possibly looking) like Droopy Dog.

Breakfast

  1. (If you did go out last night, take two Advil and thank me later). Consuming too much caffeine and sugar is a bad mix when you’re already feeling nervous. Skip the coffee and Nutella pancakes, and go for protein and lighter carbs. I recommend a combination of toast with marmalade, cantaloupe slices, one egg, and Canadian bacon. Trust in your adrenaline.

Lunch

  1. Let’s assume you’ll be going to lunch as part of, or in between, interview sessions. Continue to give your undivided attention to the folks treating you, and settle into a classy, moderately-priced lunch special that won’t distract from the higher purpose of landing the job. Oh, they ordered a bunch of appetizers? Don’t avoid them, just don’t Joey Chestnut yourself into a food coma.

Snacks (and don’t forget water)

  1. Power bars, protein bars, Nutri-Grain bars. Sneak one into your purse or handbag and chow it down if you get a break. Don’t eat a Snickers (even if you’re not acting like yourself).

Before the Interview

Preparation – on your own terms

A lot of guides suggest that you “visualize” the process of the interview in order to mentally attune yourself to “winning” the interview. Of course, you should have a roadmap in your mind of how you want things to go, but don’t take this too literally. Ultimately, you aren’t exactly sure what to expect, and that’s OKAY. You can only maximize what’s under your control:

  1. Don’t obsess too much over what to wear – this is time you could spend learning more about the company and preparing talking points and questions. Remember, they are looking for you to dress professionally, not audition for Zoolander  Even if the company has a laidback culture, be careful about passing up formal attire. If you’re not sure, it’s perfectly fine to ask!
  2. Study the company as if you already work there. No, they won’t hand you a multiple-choice test on the company’s history, but the interviewer will know within minutes if you’ve done your homework. Don't be – as my grandma would say – a wise ass.
  3. As you study the company, prepare questions and talking points to take with you to the interview. They will work in tandem and help drive the conversation. I like to prepare two different categories of questions: A) broad questions about the company’s culture, direction, etc. and B) specific questions pertaining to your job. Have a mix! Prepare all these in the same notebook you will take to the interview, so you’ll have it as a reference.
  4. Look up the compensation range for your specific job. Hey, what a coincidence, this website you’re on right now is more qualified than any other company in the world to give you that information.

Trust the Process

According to some interview guides, the hiring manager will judge you in the first 30 seconds. I’d like to see the data on this. Here’s the truth: people will judge you at different rates of time depending on their organization, other candidates, rounds in the interview, etc. Don’t sweat any of it. If you’ve made it past an initial screening or phone interview, you already have momentum. Outside of doing or saying something really awkward, obnoxious, cocky, or stupid, there’s not one action prior to the interview itself that’s going to destroy you.

  1. Leave your abode early and post up in a nearby coffee shop. Arrive at the office 10-15 minutes before your interview.
  2. Bathroom strategies: If the company you’re interviewing for is located within a larger office, you can just use the lobby bathroom before you sign in with the receptionist. If the company has a standalone office, you’ll have to hit the toilets after you check in.
  3. As you are waiting to meet the hiring manager, stay off your phone. Don’t be that millennial who has to text their friends: “Haha about to go in, my armpits are already sweating from adulating so hard, wish me luck squad.” Flip through your notebook to review talking points and questions. Or, if you are ready to rock, just sit up straight and smile, you’re in the corporate world now!
  4. Give a firm handshake (yeah, yeah, it’s important).
  5. Small talk makes me want to slam my head against a refrigerator, but embrace it at first:

Hiring manager: “Hi, nice to meet you! Thanks so much for coming out to see us!”

You: “Nice to meet you too, thanks so much for inviting me!”

Hiring manager: “How was the commute? I hope it wasn’t too far out to Waltham!”

You: “Haha, no no, just fine, I live in Brookline so it’s not, uh, not too bad!”

Hiring manager: “Well good, good. And this weather lately, I mean can you beat this?”

You: “Oh my gosh it’s been so nice lately, I was telling my parents back in Florida that it’s finally getting warm here!”

During the Interview

At this point, there’s no secret elixir. Just take a deep breath and be yourself. No, really. Smile, be confident, be enthusiastic, but never be disingenuous. You can’t lie or charm your way into a job that isn’t meant for you, and if you do, you and the company will both regret it in the long run.

Sell your skills, not your soul!

  1. Follow the hiring manager’s lead at first. If they want to keep talking about the weather a little longer, talk about the damn weather.
  2. Dudes: if you’re sitting down, unbutton your suit jacket. When you stand back up, one button again.
  3. Eye contact – consistently – when you are talking or listening.
  4. Based on your quality research and social skills (which you have!), you should be able to stimulate a conversation where you are integrating your talking points and questions organically. This will show the hiring manager(s) that you’ve: A) done your homework on the company, B) can respond directly to their specific questions, and C) are actively curious and invested in the potential of the job and company.
  5. Be wary of what I call the Hermione Granger dilemma – taking too many notes. Unless they specifically instruct you one way or the other, use your best judgment. It absolutely cannot be a distraction. Making eye contact and having a great discussion is more important than writing anything down.
  6. “Do you have any questions?” -- Most likely, you’ve already asked some of your questions as part of wider talking points. Now’s a great time for both follow-up questions and anything else you want to cover…well, almost anything else.

Compensation

  1. Do not ask about compensation in the first phone screening. But if they bring it up, don’t be afraid: thanks to your preparation using Salary.com, you have a good idea of what you should expect to make. Don’t put an exact number on it – give a range. For instance, if your job makes an average of $55,000, give a range of $50,000-$60,000. This way, you don’t sell yourself too low or high. If you are worried the company will not be aligned with your compensation requirements, it is okay to inquire about the salary range before agreeing to an in-person interview. If the salary range the company has budgeted for this role is not even close to what you’re looking for (perhaps you didn’t realize the role was more entry-level, etc), it’s better to know before an in-person interview to not waste your, or the company’s, time.
  2. Alternatively, they may ask about your salary history. Be watchful – there are some cities and states that have banned this question, so keep in mind it might be within your legal rights not to answer.

After the Interview

Congratulations, it’s over! Breathe, kick off those uncomfortable shoes, and make another tequila sunrise. No matter how well or horribly it went, the world’s still spinning.

The Follow-Up Email

  1. The next morning, email the primary hiring manager or HR professional and thank them (and everyone else) for their time and the opportunity. Do this regardless of how you feel about the job or how confident you are that you’ll get it. Under no circumstances is “well screw them anyway” an attitude worth having – not out loud, I mean.
  2. If they ask you to come in for another interview, say yes. Even if you were a little turned off by something at the first visit, it’s probably worth your time to give them another chance, especially if you’ll be meeting someone new. And, even if it really isn’t a fit, it’s always good practice to take as many interviews as you can to get better at the process.

Don’t Dwell

  1. If you don’t get the job, try not to play the what-if game. It wasn’t a weak handshake or not showing up exactly 10-15 minutes early that burned you. Most likely, they simply felt that another candidate fit their culture and job expectations better. It happens to everyone. Unless you really were auditioning for the part of Aaron Burr, there are similar jobs out there!

Putting Yourself First

  1. If you get the job – congratulations! Everything you’ve done up to this point was to impress the company. Now – really think, do you want to accept the offer? Your financial situation may be prodding you to take it, but as much as you are able, consider your long-term happiness. Is this place right for you? You interviewed them just as much as they just interviewed you – take time to reflect and make the correct choice.

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