I've been asked by lots of people to cover this topic after my video and article in Entrepreneur magazine on how to hire top performers as I know a thing or two about interviews. When training as a doctor I always got my first choice job and I ranked in the top 1% at interviews for one of the most competitive medical specialties trauma and orthopaedic surgery. In fact I was so good at interviews prior to founding Virti I built and scaled an award-winning interview company that coached thousands of people just like you through interviews. Oh and I've also interviewed lots of people for multiple roles as a founder and CEO so I've got a lot of data points and experiences to draw from and share with you.
I'm going to break this article down into three parts each with three interview hacks and with a bonus hack at the end. I'm going to cover preparation and everything before the interview in Part 1; in Part 2 I'm going to look at what you can do the night before and on the day of the interview and in Part 3 I'm going to look at interview technique so make sure you stick around till the end of the post for some advanced interview hacks you can incorporate right away.
Part 1: Interview Preparation and Everything Before The Interview
As soon as you get an interview it's time to start preparing and having reviewed thousands of interviews preparation is really what separates high performers from the rest. Solid prep and practise will also help you to feel more confident on the day and be at your best so let's look at three ways to prepare effectively.
#1 Research The Company, The Interviewers and How You Will Add Value
While 99% of people will do some basic research about the company they're applying to high-performers stand out as they go into granular detail. I've interviewed people who have downloaded and memorised company materials and have audited areas of the business so they can provide detailed and insightful conversation at the interview. So my tip to stand out is go the extra mile and deeply understand the needs of company and role to which you are applying and how you can add value. This also applies to the people interviewing you. You might not always be told who'll be interviewing you but it is worth asking and then researching them via a google search and on LinkedIn. This will help you get a feel for their interests and if they see you've viewed their profile this let's them know you have done your research.
#2 Understand The Interview Process
My next tip on preparation is to make sure you deeply understand the interview process which includes how you will be scored and the format of the interview. If possible connect with people who have been through the process before to get some insider knowledge or look through interview summaries for the company on websites like Glassdoor or failing that ask the recruitment lead what to expect. This will help you get a feel for what interviewers are looking for and will help you with your preparation. It is also good to confirm specifics with the recruiter if things aren't obvious. Confirm the time, date and format, how many people will be interviewing you, who will be interviewing you, what to wear and when you can expect to hear back. This will mean you have all the information to succeed and will help to reduce last-minute nerves. Finally make sure you understand the location of the interview and plan travel. If a venue is far away you'll probably want to travel the day before and always plan for the worst. I've interviewed during a snowstorm and a train strike but got to the interviews on time by planning to get there early.
#3 Prepare and Practise Common Questions Ahead of Time
My final tip on preparation is to prepare answers to commonly asked interview questions and to practise these ahead of time in a realistic environment. If you have spoken to someone who has been through the process or the recruiter has indicated what types of questions will be asked that will help you to focus your preparation but I would highly recommend spending time preparing answers to commonly asked interview questions such as "Tell me about yourself", "What are your weaknesses" and prepare some concise stories that illustrate how you have demonstrated your strengths and that demonstrate your aptitude for the role. There are lots of lists of common interview questions available online and most fall into certain categories such as your motivation for applying, your suitability for the role and questions asking you to give examples of specific things like leadership, communication and overcoming difficulties. When I ranked in the top 1% for surgery interviews I wrote out a script for some answers I knew were going to come up and for everything else I used spider diagrams with concepts like leadership at the center and then some examples and phrases expanding out. I cover preparation and how to answer questions in detail in other videos and articles so be sure to subscribe to get notified about these.
Now we know how to prepare let's look at what to do the night before and on the day and make sure you stick around to the end for some practical tips on interview technique that will help you score highly.
Part 2: The Night Before and On The Day
Part two of this breakdown is really about handling your nerves on the night before your interview and on the day. Everyone gets nervous before an interview, even me. Nerves are natural and should help focus you but I've also seen people make silly mistakes due to overthinking and letting their nerves get the better of them. Feel free to use this section as a reminder to yourself if you are nervous before your interview.
#4 What To Do The Night Before An Interview
The first tip in part two of this post is based on a survey my previous company did of that showed that people who performed the best at interviews and tests stopped preparing the day before and focused on their nerves and relaxed. Thing of it like marathon training, you should have done adequate preparation and now it's time to rest before the event itself so you're not tired and you perform at your best. If you are doing an in-person interview get out what you are going to wear the night before and pack your bag and portfolio and any documents you need ahead of time to reduce rushing on the day. If you are doing an online interview be sure to check your microphone and speakers and set up your interview space and backdrop. I will usually triple check timings of any trains or transport I'm using and have a final look over the interview format and scoring system visualising in my head how I'm going to answer key questions.
#5 How To Relax Before An Interview
Switching off your racing mind can be tough the day and night before an interview. My advice here is to head to the gym and exercise the day before or on the day of the interview. Plan your sleep wind-down routine for the night before just like in my video on sleep. Put on a movie, read a book or practise mindfulness to get you relaxed before bed and take a shower or bath with some music on in the background. When I do interviews I always remind myself that there is very little benefit trying to practise the night before and I try to catch myself and be mindful if any thoughts pop into my head as I'm going to sleep. Be confident that you have put in the preparation, that you've watched this video and read this post, and know key interview tips and focus on getting some rest.
#6 What To Do On The Day Of The Interview
One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given is that the interview starts as soon as you get up on the day. When booking transport for an in-person interview I will usually aim to arrive 15-30 minutes ahead of time to allow for any delays in transport so I'm not rushing and then I might listen to some music in a cafe near the interview venue. Be polite to everyone you interact with whether travelling or at the interview venue as you never know who might be on the plane or train with you or observe you at the venue. I remember a hiring manager telling me about a guy he saw being rude to another passenger on a flight and the rude guy turned out to be the candidate she was interviewing later that day. He did not get hired. So smile and charm everyone you meet on the day and treat every encounter like it's the actual interview. When you get to the venue greet other candidates if they are present but try to focus on your own performance rather than speaking to equally nervous people. One of the commonest reasons I've seen for people to mess up interviews is that they overthink things and put too much pressure on themselves and then make silly mistakes. My tip here is to appreciate that it's just an interview and not life or death. Feel excited that you get the opportunity to interview for a new role and visualise walking into the interview room smiling and telling the interviewers you are the person they want to hire.
So now we're prepared, relaxed and focused and the interview is about to start let's look at interview technique.
Part 3: Interview Technique
Interview technique is hugely important. The mindset to have with interviews is that they are an opportunity for you to tell some other humans just how good you are and to get excited for a potential new role. Think of interviews like a driving test. You're being assessed based on what you do under-pressure. Part three of this breakdown therefore assumes you have practised and prepared key answers and focuses on how to deliver these answers to score highly.
#7 Remember The Basics
Whether you like it or not first impressions count. You should be dressed appropriately, arrive on time and have your phone on silent or off which I'll assume because you've watched parts one and two of this breakdown. When you are invited into the interview room remember to walk confidently, acknowledge everyone present and respond to handshakes. If you are doing an online interview sit up straight, look at the camera and most importantly, whether in-person or online, smile. Smiling has been shown to increase perceived attractiveness and improve first impressions. Be quiet but alert and allow the interviewers to lead.
#8 Body Language
Sociolinguist Professor Albert Mehrabian studied the impact of three elements of a face-to-face encounter: Verbal, vocal, and nonverbal. His studies showed that 7% of our initial impact comes from our verbal message (ie. what we have to say). Another 38% of the impact comes from our vocal qualities (ie. tone, rate, inflection and how we say it). And a massive 55% comes from the visual element, which includes our facial expressions, body language and smile.
In terms of body language don't lean over the desk, sit up straight and adopt a neutral and open posture with your feet planted on the floor and legs uncrossed.
Eye contact has a huge impact on perception of confidence. At an in-person interview move eye contact to acknowledge all interviewers and for online interviews focus on the camera. If you are introverted and your eye contact is poor under pressure my hack here is to look at the person's eyebrows rather than at their eyes. You'll feel less nervous while the other person won't be able to differentiate and will think you are holding laser-focused eye contact. Try it out with a friend if you don't believe me just don't stare at the interviewers like a murderer and remember to blink.
#9 Delivering Your Answers and Vocal Tonality
When delivering your answers keep them short, concise and make sure you are answering the questions directly. Data from my previous company showed that the best candidates usually deliver answers lasting around 2-3 minutes and anything longer than this interviewers' attention fades. Interviewers also reported that candidates who went off-track or who didn't directly answer the question scored poorly.
Keep the content positive and use work-related, personal examples to build rapport and hold the interviewers' attention. We all have that friend who tells long non-specific boring stories and if you don't have that friend it's probably you. Be personal and specific with examples speaking from your own experience and remember to reflect outlining what you learned and why it makes you the perfect fit for the job.
As Professor Mehrabian's study showed, vocal qualities can help improve how we are perceived. To convey confidence when delivering your answers focus on your tonality, speed, clarity and inflection. I dive into this on my video on improving your confidence with speaking, but as an example "I want this job?" spoken quietly and with inflection at the end, sounds very different to "I want this job" which is borderline aggressive and sounds more passionate. A clear, affirmative tone without inflection helps your content sound positive and conveys confidence. If you are someone who speaks quickly when under pressure try to slow down and use pauses for effect to emphasize key points.
If you struggle with public speaking or mastering vocal tonality my best advice is to record some of your practise sessions and then play with how you are delivering your answers to train yourself to speak more confidently.
#10 BONUS TIP: Sell Yourself Using Data
As a bonus 10th tip for making it to the end of this post I want to focus on something that many people find awkward which is selling yourself. We naturally don't want to sound arrogant but we need to sell ourselves to interviewers to get hired. My top interview hack here is to sell how amazing the things you have achieved are rather than how amazing you are. This brings evidence and data into play and forces you to use specific examples to outline why you are the best choice for the role. Having interviewed and coached thousands of people everyone has done something amazing which can be used as an example so don't feel like you need to be modest, be proud of your achievements and be confident self-promoting during the interview.
Remember that interviewers are human too and will likely be interviewing lots and lots of candidates often in a row using the same questions. They want you to do well as they want to hire the best people and if you can win them over with a good first impression and build rapport with concise, positive answers and good eye contact they will likely reward you with a high score. When you finish the interview thank the interviewers for their time and have a single question to ask. Usually picking something that highlights your research into the company while also highlighting your value is a great way to end so something like "I'm really excited about the role and I really believe in the company mission. I noticed you've just launched a new employee wellness scheme, I was wondering whether you could tell me a little more about that as I was a huge advocate for employee well-being in my team at my last company." This shows research, genuine interest and offers value and leaves interviewers with a good feeling before they score you up.
I hope this article helps you to crush your interview. I have some deeper dives into sections covered in this article, so do have a look through my blog and YouTube channel for more tips.