Colleen is an administrative assistant/office worker who is always working on bettering their skills to snag a better career in the field.
I remember my first in-person interview like it was yesterday. Except, it wasn't. It was back in 2012, when I was a fresh graduate, realizing for the first time that I had to lower my standards of what I wanted in a job. I became desperate because I wasn't getting called back. Then I got a call from Toys R Us for a Sales Floor position. Needless to say, I wasn't prepared on how to handle an interview. When pressed with the question, "What do you hope to bring to this job?" I replied stupidly, "I hope to bring the same amount of service other employees have given me when I shop here."
Bzzzt. Wrong answer.
Plus, I was incredibly nervous. It was a group interview, so I wasn't the only person there. There were about 10 to 15 people at that interview, and I waited for my turn to go into the office to speak with the manager. I was shaking, my heart was racing, and I wanted to run away.
I didn't get the job because of my lack of experience in retail. However, I learned something that day: I needed to be more confident in an interview. But how do I do that? The answer is practice. But that little bit didn't come right away, it took time to build that skill. It took a few years before I would be able to fully say I was cured of nervousness.
Usually, in interviews, I would find myself fidgeting, and I didn't know if it was obvious to the interviewer. One time at an interview through my staffing agency for a temp-to-hire position, I scratched my hand and made a scab because I was so nervous about what to say.
I didn't get that job either, but not because of that. The reason was that I seemed shy to the interviewer.
Needless to say, I tried to break that bubble because I was sick of being called shy and wanted to do something about it.
Time to Take Action
It was time to break that mold and become outgoing. In 2015, I worked for a temporary position where I worked alone unless I needed clarification on the project. We were indexing boxes full of records, and one day the assignment ended after 3 months because we finished the work that was needed to be done. When I said goodbye to people, I was told: "I didn't know you talked, you're always shy."
To me that was the breaking point, I didn't want to be labeled as shy anymore. I wanted to be free of that, so I did all I could in the next assignments I worked at to be outgoing. Needless to say, I succeeded because I didn't recognize myself anymore.
Interviews became easier, but that's because I stopped taking them so seriously to the point of thinking I couldn't handle it. I could handle interactions with co-workers, so I figured I could handle interviews.
It takes practice, however. The easiest way is to just rehearse an interview, go over points, draft out answers, and think to yourself how confident you can be. I recently had an interview this year in May in front of six people, and I can honestly say that after that scenario I can pretty much handle anything.
I recently had an interview today that went so smoothly, I am almost questioning it. I don't know what exactly happened to make it easier. Maybe my relationships at each assignment, the communication I do, and the fact that I've come out of my shell. Maybe it's because I know the formula for the interview process.
I'd like to share it with you so that you can be prepared too.
Tools for Success for an Interview
So since I've become more accustomed to handling interviews—on the phone and in-person—I want to share some wisdom with you, so that fears and nerves can be a thing of the past. It's important to understand that this isn't something that you can work at right away, it will be a process that you can work at. Also, there's no hurry to be great at it. You may walk away from an interview and think you could do better. Let me be honest with you. That's totally okay. I still feel that way too, and get ideas that come to me post-interview that I wish I could have said. But you know what? That makes the next interview even easier. You can use that knowledge for next time, jot it down, and improve.
Tips for Interview Success
- Listen carefully. The interview always starts off with talking about the position. Take it in. Don't interrupt. Listen and nod. Then when prompted, bring to the table what you can bring to the job. Back up your resources, experience, and list of times when you did a similar role.
- Nod and lean forward. This makes you seem interested, and body language is key. If it's one thing I've learned from various career sites, body language is important. What's the one advantage of an interview in person versus on phone? The ability to see their body language. You can see how they react to your words, interject, and exchange with you. Be attentive. Don't look bored. Smile, nod, and agree/disagree.
- At the end, ask a question. If you don't have a question about the position, say politely, "Well, you answered most of my questions about the position through the interview, but I do want to ask about what your favorite part about working here is? What do you enjoy?" The best way to create a bond with an interviewer? Ask them about their experiences! Get them to talk about what they love, because you can show them how interested you are in the role. This is a huge bonus if they have a lot to say!
- Address weaknesses and improvements. Weaknesses in interviews? They aren't always easy to talk about, are they? You don't want to necessarily downgrade yourself, but you don't want to sound perfect, because no one is! So, what do you say to this? Mention your weakness, but say how you are working to improve on it! This shows that while you have a weakness, you are aware of the steps to take to become better at it! This shows that 1) you're not a perfect person, and 2) you can take the steps to recognize an error and fix it.
- Treat your interview like any other job. I know this may be a little taboo, but I always picture an interview as a friendly business venture with a friend I've never met. Except you're entirely professional. It makes it easier to treat it as such, because you find casual professionalism which relaxes the situation. Interviews don't have to be scary. They can be a great opportunity to learn about the job, and learn whether it's right for you. Treat it like any other job, except you're not getting paid for it! (Yet!)
Honestly, the reason I became so relaxed at an interview was that I rarely got any. Then once I started getting more and more, I became more invested in doing the best I could to stand out. Because I wanted a job, I wanted to progress. I wanted to fight hard to show them why I was right for it.
Another tip is to follow career coach websites. Ever since I started following those, I became well-versed in how to handle interviews, correspondence, and working with co-workers. The best way to learn is to learn from those who have been there!
You know the best way to close out an interview? A handshake! The best way to show an interviewer you're invested is to reach for the handshake before they do. Show initiative, and be assertive. I've done this multiple times, because I want them to see how serious I am about the position. I also want to show friendliness. No one wants to hire someone who is closed off, and inattentive. The best way to greet someone you don't know is a handshake. Always use a firm handshake, also!
And when you're done with that interview? Don't overthink it! Go home, or wherever your agenda takes you next, relax and think "I did a great job." Don't think about what you could have done, should do, or regret anything. You did your best, that's all that matters. If you don't get the job? That's fine, you did the best you could and tried. Sometimes it isn't about your performance, but other people are the better fit with the company. Don't beat yourself up. There are plenty of opportunities to try again. You'd be surprised how fast life can change and you can get an interview out of nowhere.
The best way to approach the end of an interview is to think about what you can carry over to your next interview. What questions did you answer that you could repeat? What could you subtract and answer differently? What would you say next time?
But don't overthink your approach. Just take deep breaths, relax, and know you tried your hardest. This will get easier each time, and before you know it, you won't feel so shy and nervous! You'll be a pro in no time!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.