Your Guide to Nailing Interviews

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Published on October 27, 2020
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Interviews are a crucial part of the hiring process, enabling employers to confirm the skills and attributes from a candidate's resume and cover letter and discern whether the applicant fits the company's culture. However, it's important to remember that an interview is a two-way conversation where you reaffirm your interest in the position and determine whether the company can support your long-term career goals.

In a 2017 report, Glassdoor noted that recruiters value difficult interviews because they yield more skilled and passionate employees. Accordingly, employers create interview scenarios and processes that challenge applicants. But with proper research and preparation, you can effectively navigate different interview scenarios. Practice also contributes to success, which means you should go easy on yourself if the first couple of interviews do not go as planned.

Additional Career Resources

Interview length and structure differ by employer. Some companies prefer one-on-one settings while others like to conduct group interviews. As you advance in your career and apply for high-ranking positions, you should expect multiple rounds of interviews. This guide provides extensive information on interview types and common questions. You will also gain valuable insight into preparation and follow-up strategies.

Types of Interviews

Common interview types include traditional meetings, phone conversations, and video conferences using platforms like Skype and Spark Hire. Employers pick formats that reflect their organizational values and enable them to test candidates for preferred skills and characteristics. Fortunately, companies usually disclose the interview format beforehand, allowing you to prepare and succeed.

Email Interviews

Email interviews are less common because they do not allow employers and candidates to engage in real-time conversation. Employers may use an email exchange as a preliminary interview before asking you to meet in person or via phone or video conference. You may receive an email interview request in reference to a remote position. Completing an email interview is similar to crafting a cover letter for a position. Be sure to expound on the qualifications on your resume while responding specifically to the potential employer's questions.

Phone Interviews

A phone interview offers recruiters and HR staff a convenient way to narrow down the applicant pool before inviting candidates to in-person meetings. You should review the position and research the company beforehand to ensure you can succinctly relate your skills and experience to the requirements. Preparation also enables you to converse in ways that demonstrate a good fit with the company's culture.

Video Interviews

Video conferencing software allows employers to conduct inexpensive remote interviews to get an accurate read of an applicant's professional qualifications and personal characteristics. You may receive a request for a live interview or a recorded video. In either case, you should dress appropriately, maintain eye contact with the camera, and present yourself with enthusiasm. For camera-shy individuals, practice is key to controlling nervous energy. The interview space should have adequate lighting without visual or auditory background distractions. High-speed internet is a must for the best-quality video stream.

Project-Based Interviews

Project-based interviews generally occur in the later stages of the hiring process, when companies need to decide among the remaining applicants. Like the name states, a project-based interview comprises an assignment or task that shows your skills in action. Projects differ by industry, but companies usually want to assess your creativity, turnaround speed, communication/presentation style, and deliverable quality. Before you dive into the project, be sure you fully understand the instructions and ask clarifying questions as necessary. Your work should demonstrate the initiative to deliver beyond the bare minimum to complete the project.

In-Person Interviews

As the most popular interview type, in-person meetings occur during the final stages of the hiring process. You should be prepared for any format including one-on-one, group (with multiple applicants), or panel (with multiple interviewers).

In addition to making sure you're dressed appropriately and empowered with knowledge about the company and role, you must be ready to relay quantifiable career achievements and relevant anecdotes. During the conversation, demonstrate enthusiasm (without going overboard), acknowledge nonverbal cues, and engage the interviewer regarding their work as well as the position for which you are interviewing. While it is crucial to provide details about your career, you shouldn't oversell accomplishments or speak negatively about previous employers.

Preparing for an Interview

Interviews can be wide-ranging and multifaceted. Accordingly, you should spend more time in preparation than initially seems necessary. Candidates who adequately research and practice their talking points demonstrate to employers that they possess a solid work ethic and a passion for the industry. Preparation also alleviates pre-interview anxiety, allowing you to appear calm and confident. If you arrive at an interview ill-prepared, you will perform poorly and leave a lasting negative impression. This section delves into the steps you must take to properly prepare for an interview.

Do Your Research

Prior to the day of the interview, spend time reviewing the organization's website and social media accounts. Focus on the products, services, and qualities that the company emphasizes in differentiating itself from competitors. By understanding what the employer hopes to achieve, you can better relate your skill set and accomplishments to the company's objectives. For each qualification and responsibility in the job listing, develop 3-5 demonstrable/quantifiable examples of how your prior challenges and successes match the position.

Dress Appropriately

Proper attire demonstrates preparedness and professionalism to recruiters and HR staff. You may be able to discern the best outfit for an interview by exploring the company's website and social media profiles. You may also contact the human resource department and inquire about any dress code.

In general, corporate positions require business-formal attire that includes a suit jacket, slacks, and tie for men and a blazer and dress pants for women. In a business-casual environment, men can do without the jacket. Startups often have a more informal work setting, with employees wearing khakis or even dark-wash jeans.

Be On Time

Punctuality is a cornerstone of professionalism that demonstrates you take the position and the recruiter seriously. By arriving late, candidates show that they are careless and untrustworthy. You should strive to arrive 10-15 minutes before the scheduled meeting. Showing up earlier may catch HR staff off guard and lead them to believe you cannot follow instructions.

Prepare Questions to Ask

In addition to providing exceptional responses to a recruiter's questions and prompts, you should prepare a list of your own questions. You may feel tempted to use questions to further elaborate on your qualifications, but it's important that your inquiries engage the recruiter authentically. Effective questioning will also help you gain information on the job and whether the position suits your skills and goals. Check out the list of sample questions below.

  • What does a typical day/week in the position look like?
  • What is the biggest challenge the person in this position will face?
  • What do you expect the person in this position to achieve in the first six months and/or the first year?
  • How will the company evaluate the person in this position?
  • How would you describe the company culture? (Or what do you like about working here?)

Practice, Practice, Practice!

Practice answering common interview questions by rehearsing with a friend, family member, or mentor. Over multiple practice rounds, you can develop the most effective answers and soothe pre-interview nerves. Practicing in front of another person can also help you garner valuable feedback.

30 Common Interview Questions

Even within the same industry, employers operate under different hiring priorities. However, certain interview questions remain standard. This section covers six major question categories and provides strategies on how to effectively answer these inquiries. Through analyzing a company's website, especially its press releases and annual reports, you may get a feel for other questions you might be asked during an interview.


Interviewers want to get to know applicants as people who possess both positive attributes and -- of course -- some flaws. Questions about character dig into what motivates you and how you relate to others.

This open-ended question allows you to reiterate your cover letter. The interviewer wants to know why you believe you are the perfect person for the position.
This question tests your honesty and integrity. Your best response acknowledges mistakes but emphasizes the desire to improve (and preferably relays scenarios when you successfully overcame relevant challenges).
The most effective answers are honest and specific. Use terms like "team building" and "persuasive communication" instead of a vague statement about people skills. Be sure to stay relevant by targeting your strengths for the particular role.
Like the "greatest weakness" question, this inquiry allows you to admit your failings. Relay scenarios where you came up short, maintained composure, and learned from your mistakes.
Companies want to hire employees who are well-rounded people with lives outside the company. You should answer this question honestly and in detail. If possible, connect your passion to personal strengths.

Skills and Qualifications

Employers want to know that candidates possess the necessary skills and qualifications to perform their job exceptionally well. These questions will allow you to elaborate on the information in your resume and cover letter.

This preliminary question asks you to highlight your most significant qualifications. Be sure to provide concrete details and explain how your skills translate to the position description.
This question examines your knowledge of the industry and company. With proper research, you can detail how your qualifications and goals make you the perfect fit for the job.
This question is another way of asking, "Why should we hire you?" To best answer this question, explain how you can perform the required duties, deliver value and results, and fit into the company's culture.
This question asks you to contextualize your qualifications. You should provide anecdotal details of a particularly important accomplishment, supported by data and other forms of quantifiable information.
Interviewers want to know that candidates possess a firm understanding of current industry trends. Answer this question by not only identifying competing companies, products, and services but also delving into relevant market strategies.

Work History

Knowledge and skills are meaningless if you cannot successfully apply them in relevant work settings. Questions about work history allow employers to see your qualifications in action.

To answer this common interview question, you should provide details of your past duties, how you met the responsibilities, and how this experience will help you succeed in a new role. Be honest, but do not speak negatively of previous employers.
Interviewers want to know if you added to the value of your previous employers. Focus on quantifiable achievements and how you will translate these successes into assets for your potential employer.
Beware: this question acts as a booby trap, luring you into relaying negative thoughts and feelings about your current employer. Always emphasize that you hold no ill will but simply value your career and want to move on to a better opportunity.
This difficult question requires you to explain events succinctly and honestly. The most effective response emphasizes that you have learned from any mistakes and now stand ready to deliver results to future employers.
This question allows interviewers to see whether you are serious about advancing in the industry. Be sure to answer honestly and note common characteristics between the positions you have inquired about.

Work and Management Style

When vetting potential managers and directors, interviewers want to know if a candidate's leadership style aligns with best practices and fits into the company culture. These questions examine your ability to work with supervisors and colleagues.

Good managers are strong but flexible, willing to adjust strategies to support multidisciplinary teams and tackle diverse challenges. Your answer should define management within an industry context and provide detailed examples from your work history.
Interviewers ask this broad question to gauge your motivations and goals. To provide an effective response, you should examine the company's websites and social media platforms. Align your objectives with the organization's mission and how the company is positioned in relation to competitors.
As with any other behavioral question, you should provide examples supported by details, preferably quantifiable information. You must connect this moment of leadership to the skills and requirements found in the job description.
To successfully answer this tricky question, focus on your supervisor's positive attributes. You should acknowledge any difficulties but emphasize how you and your former supervisor worked together to overcome the challenge.
Similar to the question above, this inquiry evaluates interpersonal communication and teamwork skills. Be sure to demonstrate how your management style has resolved conflict and helped improve an employee's performance.

Career Trajectory and Growth Potential

Employers want to confirm that the candidate, if hired, will stick around to help the company grow. These questions analyze your career goals for alignment with the employer's long-term objectives.

Employers value professionals who keep abreast of emerging trends because this demonstrates insight that can propel company success. You can research industry developments by subscribing to newsletters, attending conferences, engaging with online networks, and setting up online alerts for news stories and reports.
This question seeks to determine whether your career development plan matches the employer's mission. With adequate research, you can speak to how you will add value to projects and the bottom line.
This question allows you to demonstrate you have seriously considered yourself in the position. A good response details your plan for achievable contributions. You can also use this opportunity to ask about expectations and resources.
The "five-year plan" question assesses your motivations. First, emphasize your desire to master the skills and responsibilities of the position. Then, express interest in career advancement opportunities within the company.
Employers want to hire passionate long-term thinkers whose career paths mesh with company's objectives. To create an effective answer, state a relevant goal, detail the necessary steps, and explain how the company can help you reach your fullest potential (and vice versa).


These inquiries test a professional's knowledge of industry standards, specifically the recommended pay scale for their level of skill and experience. This is one of the most difficult portions of a job interview. You need to answer any salary questions carefully.

Interviewers tend to lead into salary questions by asking about your views of professional success. As always, you should frame your answer in terms of mutual benefits and successes. Be sure to relay a clear sense of self-worth, backed by examples of prior accomplishments.
Employers begin this line of questioning by asking to review prior earnings. Respond honestly and accurately, taking into account your bonuses and nonmonetary benefits in addition to salary.
You should research the standard pay scale for the position, preferably localizing the projected salary to location and company size. Note that some states ban employers from asking directly about salary expectations.
After establishing expectations, interviewers may want to dive into salary negotiations. Resist accepting the first number presented to you and be sure the base salary and benefits generally match industry data.
To answer this tricky question, clearly state your views about salary standards versus anticipated job satisfaction. However, you should refrain from giving a definite "yes" or "no." Consider factors like the costs or stresses of changing industries, job hunt difficulty, quality of life/cost of living, more fulfilling work, and the benefits package.

Following Up After Your Interview

After every interview, you should follow up with the recruiter or HR staff to maintain a cordial relationship. Follow-up emails and letters will also allow you to clarify answers and mention important details you may have forgotten to mention in the interview. This section examines three purposes for follow-up correspondences and tips on how to navigate them.

Thank Your Interviewers

A handwritten thank-you note or email demonstrates your appreciation of the interviewer's time and expresses continued enthusiasm for the position. Remember to collect their business card to enable sending a personalized message.

Tips for Writing a Post-Interview Thank-You Note

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    Send a thank-you note/email within 24 hours after the interview.
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    Personalize the message by referring to anecdotes and points the interviewer discussed during the conversation.
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    Reaffirm interest by expressing enthusiasm and reiterating relevant accomplishments.
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    Invite the recruiter to ask additional questions.
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    Do not over-communicate. Two or three paragraphs is enough.

Check In

If you don't receive a response from the interviewer within two weeks, craft a concise check-in email. This message is a regular part of the hiring process that helps prove your diligence.

Tips for Following Up on a Job Application

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    Include the job title in the email subject line.
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    In one paragraph, affirm interest in the position and ask for an update.
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    Ask if the recruiter needs additional information.
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    If the interviewer mentioned a response timeline, do not send a check-in message until after that date.
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    Don't jump to conclusions. A company's hiring process typically includes different personnel and departments and may take a while.

Stay Connected

In the event you don't secure the position, you can still develop valuable connections by maintaining contact with the interviewer/recruiter. If possible, you should also keep in touch with the hiring manager. This person occupies a leadership position and can provide high-level mentorship.

Tips for Staying in Touch with Employers

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    In the first paragraph, relay appreciation for the meeting and express the desire for continued correspondence.
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    Keep the message short, including personal details that the interviewer or hiring manager previously shared.
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    Conclude the message by establishing a time frame for a phone call or meeting over coffee.
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    Keep their attention by occasionally sending articles relevant to your shared professional interests.
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    Add them on LinkedIn and follow the company's social media accounts.
Interview Dos and Don’ts
Do Don’t
✔ Conduct research on the position, the company, and common interview questions. ✘ Do not make excuses for or lie about work history.
✔ Give detailed answers that speak to professional achievements without boasting. ✘ Do not speak negatively of previous employers or take frustrations out on the interviewer.
✔ Sustain enthusiasm throughout the interview. Send follow-up messages to relay continued interest. ✘ When a question stumps you, do not give a misdirecting answer. Take the time to clarify and work through the question, giving the recruiter insight into critical thinking processes.


You can navigate any interview scenario by being prepared. Research the position, company, and industry thoroughly and connect organizational requirements and goals to your career experiences. On interview day, arrive 10-15 minutes before the meeting, ready to engage the interviewer enthusiastically. During the conversation, be ready to ask intelligent questions as well as provide thoughtful answers. After the interview, send thank-you messages to maintain the interviewer's interest. Although employers design interviews to challenge professionals, they ultimately want you to succeed because a win for you (your dream job) equals a win for them (a qualified and passionate employee). is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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