10 Tips to Ace Your Interview

You’ve received that coveted return phone call after sending your resume out into the electronic unknown and now you have an interview on your calendar. This is your chance to land your dream job so now you need to make the very best first impression you can. How do you make that happen?

As legal recruiters, we give candidates advice each and every day on how to conduct themselves in an interview. In fact, at the upcoming Minority In-House Counsel Association (MIHCA) conference, we will be consulting with individuals about their career goals and how to reach them. In planning for this event, we wanted to share 10 tips to make a job interview successful:

  1. Get to know your interviewer.

Always read the bio of the person you are interviewing with beforehand. Learn the correct pronunciation of his/her name and find out all you can about him/her. You also want to find out as much as you can about the company. Having background knowledge and being well informed will set you apart from other candidates during an interview.

  1. Prepare, prepare, prepare.

Preparation is key. Make sure you have at least two copies of your résumé printed out on professional paper as well as a cover letter on hand even if you’ve already emailed your résumé — it’s just good practice. Also, bring with you all the requested items. A few days before your interview, it’s also a good idea to send a confirmation email.

  1. Practice.

There are some questions that you know will be asked—the six-month gap in your resume, your biggest accomplishment, the reason why you are leaving. Practice your answers to these ahead of time, especially if it is a difficult question for you. You should also write out at least five questions you want to ask during your interview, which will help you express your interest in the company and show you have put thought into this position.

  1. Be on time and ready.

Show up just a few minutes early — but not 20 minutes early — and be dressed for success. Even if it’s a casual environment, a suit goes a long way for a first impression. When you walk through the door, be prepared to immediately start your interview; your making an impression with everyone, including the receptionist. Turn off your electronics, finish your coffee and spit out your gum. Go in relaxed and confident with a smile on your face.

  1. Be your authentic self — but don’t overshare.

Being self-aware and knowing your abilities and what you stand for are extremely important characteristics. A lot of organizations rely on behavioral-based interviewing so you need to be able to answer with real scenarios that highlight your professional self. People often come into an interview with the notion that they need to put forth some sort of other self, but you should feel free to expose your personality. Personality and culture fit are just as important — if not more important— as checking all the boxes. It’s not possible to develop a positive rapport if you aren’t bringing you true self. That said, don’t overshare when it comes to family and personal situations. While this is useful information as you get further along in the process, upfront, it could color your situation and priorities in a way that you don’t want them to.

  1. Read your room.

Pay attention to your interviewer’s body language and reactions. If he/she frowns in response to one of your answers or is drumming his/her fingers on the desk, take these as signs you are not connecting and need to go another direction. Try to find something in common with the person you are interviewing with that is outside the job. Are you from the same state? Go to the same college? Try relating and making a more personal connection, though avoid talk of family and children at this stage.

  1. Be positive and professional.

People respond better to those who project a positive image. Your ability to remain upbeat and positive is paramount to the impression you leave. You never want to bad mouth a previous employer even if the situation was challenging; explain but choose your words wisely and always remain professional. As recruiters, we want to ensure you are representing yourself appropriately to a potential employer, so make sure you are maintaining your boundaries even when talking to us (your recruiters). We want you to position yourself in a way that opens you to as many opportunities as possible.

  1. Answer honestly.

You’re going to be asked a lot of questions as you know, so always answer questions truthfully, frankly and succinctly. If you’ve left a job, it’s important that you have a good, honest explanation why (though as mentioned above, keep it positive and professional). Never come across as something you’re not or give an answer because you think it’s what the interviewer wants to hear.

  1. Show you’re interested.

Have a good reason why you want the job, not just it looks like a fun company. Coming prepared with questions about the company and the role shows a level of engagement that’s really important to the interviewer. Also, when answering questions, don’t just answer with a simple “yes” or “no” — explain whenever possible, describing those things about yourself that relate to the situation.

  1. Use your manners.

Greet your interviewer with a firm handshake and a “pleased to meet you” introduction. Throughout the interview, avoid colloquialisms and slang; say “yes” instead of “yeah” and otherwise be highly professional in your language choice. You want to be seen as a good communicator as well as a good listener. Make sure you maintain eye contact (but don’t go as far as engaging in a staring contest). Use your body language to show you are interested — sit up straight, don’t cross your arms, lean in toward your interviewer.

In any interview, you need to strike a balance between your true situation and what you present. You can’t expect your resume to do all the talking, so come prepared. If you follow our tips, you will be well on your way to making that successful first impression.

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Heather Fine & Amanda Ziemann are members of Major, Lindsey & Africa’s Chicago office. Heather and Amanda work in the In-House Practice Group, which specializes in placing attorneys in corporate legal departments in a wide range of industries in a variety of locations.


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