Things to do at an interview to get hired

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In our Building a Successful Job Search Strategy webcast, someone posed the question “When there are many candidates applying for one position, how do you stand out in an interview?”  That’s a great question, and we’re glad you posed it.  When your average Manager is interviewing 10+ candidates for each opening, candidates need to strategize on their ‘Differentiation Tactics’ throughout the process!


You’ve landed an interview, now what?  The candidate pool is full of highly skilled candidates, so here are our recommendations and top areas of consideration to put your best foot forward and stand out amongst the “competition” (other candidates interviewing for same position).


  • It’s imperative that you are early to your interview.  Make sure you know the address, especially if it’s a large campus or a company with multiple buildings in the same area.  It’s a good idea to have a practice run and see how long it takes you to get there and specifically where you’re going.  Ideally you are doing this during the same time as the interview, but if you know your interview is during rush hour, leave extra time to account for that!  We recommend being at least 15 minutes early as you want time to park, walk into the building, check in, freshen up and/or review your notes/talking points if necessary.

Your interview starts at the door

  • Never underestimate the importance of the security guard and/or administrative assistant.  Be kind, friendly and show gratitude and appreciation to everyone you meet.  These individuals know everyone and are often very vocal, so a positive interaction can go a long way!  We always tell candidates that your interview begins as soon as you drive into the parking lot.  A high-level VP at one of our clients immediately goes to the receptionist after each interview to ask “what did you think?” to get a gauge of how polite they were to her and others she saw them interact with! 

First impressions are everything

  • Remember your interviewer makes an initial impression within the first 30-120 seconds, so start strong and positively.  On that note, never underestimate the importance of body language, eye contact, posture, and a firm handshake. This is one of the main areas in candidates’ control, yet it’s often a top reason they’re ruled out.  Sure, interviews are intimidating, but a little preparation goes a long way.  If you haven’t interviewed in a while or know you have anxiety when it comes interviewing, we strongly encourage doing a mock interview with a trusted recruiter, mentor, co-worker, spouse, etc.  Have them evaluate your body language, eye contact, etc.  Don’t have anyone to do this with?  Practice in front of a mirror and respond out loud!  This is a great way to gauge your level of interaction and help prepare you for the big day.  On a side note, nothing is worse than a limp handshake.  It’s an immediate turn off, demonstrating qualities like lack of confidence or professionalism.  Shake your interviewer’s hand firmly, communicating you’re confident, professional and excited to be there.  And don’t worry if it’s a little sweaty, that’s normal!

Dress appropriately

  • If you’re working with a recruiter or an HR representative, ask them what the appropriate dress is.  We know a client that discourages candidates from coming in a suit because they are super casual and they prefer candidates to come in jeans and a nice top.  While this is unusual, they want candidates that represent their “brand” so it’s important for candidates interviewing at this client to follow that protocol.  But when in doubt, dress business professional.

Establish a connection and show gratitude

  • We mentioned this earlier – don’t disregard anyone you meet and display gratitude throughout the whole process.  Additionally, it’s important to establish a personal connection as soon as possible.  There is typically room for small talk at the beginning of every interview.  This is your first opportunity to see if you have a common interest.  It may be as simple as both of your kids play soccer or maybe you’re both a member of the same user group.  Either way, as soon as you realize there is a connection, make sure to recognize and address it!  Strive for a “Me too” moment during the interview!  This is a great chance for you to show a bit of your personality and take the edge off the pressure of interviewing.

Elevator pitch

  • We guarantee that most interviews are going to include a “tell us about yourself,” “why should we hire you” or “what makes you a fit for this position” question at some point.  You want to ensure you’re prepared and ready to rattle off the top items that set you apart.  Not sure what those are?  Think about your brand, any focus areas, contributions, or achievements you’re especially proud of.  What are your technical competencies?  What have been your primary areas of concentration over the last few years?  Your elevator pitch should be 30 seconds and give a quick summary of who you are and what you represent.  Practice, practice, practice before your interview so that it comes out naturally and confidently!

Address skills gap/s effectively

  • There are always going to be areas you may be light in or potentially have no experience at all with.  This is fine, but ensure you’re prepared with your plan of attack.  Research any areas of the job description you’re not familiar with and have a game plan of how you’ll obtain those technologies, concepts, etc.  After doing research, maybe it’s a technology that’s like something you have extensive experience with, so it’s important to relay that during the interview.

Express interest

  • This is an area that pains us because we’ve seen so many highly skilled candidates get ruled out because they showed no interest or excitement for the job at hand!  Don’t assume that your attendance at the interview displays your interest.  You must make your excitement for the role, company, project, etc. known.  A good best practice it to write down the reasons you’re interested prior to going into the interview, and be sure to reiterate/share your interest as part of the interview wrap up!

Share relevant successes

  • Prior to each interview, look at the job description and outline a few key projects/successes you’ve had that are relevant! To avoid rambling, follow the PAR format when telling stories / successes.  PAR = Problem, Action, Result.  The more concise you’re able to keep it, the better.  And ensure you’re highlighting the role you played, any significant contributions, and the outcome of those.  Capitalizing on any relevant experience you have is a great way to reiterate your qualifications and overall candidacy!

At least 3 strong question that show you did your homework and you’re interested in the position long term

  • One of the areas we address most frequently, yet still see it as a reason that disqualifies candidates or moves them to the bottom of the list, is that having no questions is one of the easiest ways to be disqualified. It’s important to spend some time researching the company, checking out their social media profiles, and coming up with a few questions that reflect your knowledge and interest in the organization.  Maybe it’s around their corporate social responsibility initiatives, their technical roadmap, or the expectations of the role you’re interviewing for over the next 3 months, 6 months or 1 year.  Choose areas that are important to you and ones that you’re curious for the answers on.

Closing the interview

  • We know so many candidates that wished they’d done a better job of closing the interview.  You’re going to pick up on items throughout the interview, maybe potential pain points from the interviewer, and it’s important that you circle back to those areas, if applicable, and discuss how you’d be able to add value and again, why you’re a good fit.  If there’s anything they seemed concerned about, make sure you address that again if you feel there was any question to your knowledge, experience, or willingness to learn that item.  Make sure to offer additional “sales ammo” or “candidate marketing materials” if necessary!  This can include samples of your work/code, personal website, GitHub profile, portfolio, LinkedIn recommendations, etc.

Write a memorable and thoughtful thank you card

  • We know of several instances where managers had 2-3 solid candidates they were interested in, and they went with the candidate that wrote a memorable thank you card.  It’s one of those simple ways to go above and beyond.  We have more information about thank you notes here:  Composing a Strong Post Interview Thank You Letter
Next Steps

The candidate landscape is extremely competitive these days, and we understand how stressful the whole interview process can be.  In addition to the recommendations noted above, here are some extra items you can focus on to ensure you’re at the top of your game and to demonstrate to the Manager/s that “you’re the one” for their team/opening:

  • Visualize success!  Prior to your interview, remind yourself why you’re a great fit for this role.  Write down why you’re qualified and interested against the job description. 
  • Reflect on your last positive interview experience.  Close your eyes and re-visualize the entire experience. 
  • Have paper copies of your resume and a notepad to take notes.
  • Identify 1-2+ pieces of “candidate marketing materials,” such as your relevant LinkedIn recommendations or code samples to bring and provide.

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About the author
MSSQLTips author Cate Murray Cate Murray is responsible for managing the nationally-based talent acquisition strategies of the Apex Systems PMO and Business Analysis Practice and holds her PMP certification from PMI.

This author pledges the content of this article is based on professional experience and not AI generated.

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