By Marcelle Yeager
More often that not, job interviews give people the jitters. Your stomach may be tied in knots for a long time before the interview even starts – perhaps even days before it's scheduled. It's perfectly natural and common to have these feelings, and you can calm your nerves by reminding yourself that you already passed the first screening. This means the company wants to meet you, so give yourself some credit.
An interview will go well if you act like yourself and if you and the interviewers get along well. That said, be yourself. If you try to be someone or something you are not, it will likely be obvious and turn out poorly for you. If you present yourself honestly and you and the interviewer don't click, maybe it's not the right company for you. Don't sweat it.
While you can't change who you are or whether you're going to get along well with your interviewer, there are some ways to make yourself more comfortable when you meet your interviewer. These tricks will help you put your best foot forward to showcase your personality.
Make small talk. An interview is not social hour, so there shouldn't be too much nonprofessional small talk unless the interviewer initiates it. However, it's perfectly OK to ask your interviewer basic questions related to her work at the company right off the bat. First, make sure you tell her how it's a pleasure to meet and that you're excited about the job opportunity. If she doesn't launch directly into interview mode, feel free to ask a quick question to show your interest in her by asking something like, "how long have you worked for this company?"
Engage. The best interviews are those that are not completely one-sided. You want a back and forth in which you ask questions as they come to you. If you need to write down a reminder on your notepad as the interviewer is talking, that's fine. Don't interrupt her, but when she is done speaking, ask away. Another way to demonstrate your interest is to refer back to something she said earlier. You should only do this if something comes to you naturally. Otherwise, it will feel and look forced.
Inject personality. Show her your sense of humor, and let her see your smile or hear your laugh. These are all positive gestures that can enhance rapport between you two and thus the impression the interviewer has of you. Don't resort to jokes to show your humor, but if there is a place in the conversation where it feels appropriate to say something funny and politically correct, don't hold back.
Ask questions. While you should attempt to interact with the interviewer throughout the conversation, you absolutely must ask at least one question at the end. During the interview, ask for clarification on things you're not sure you understand. This is not a mark against you, but rather shows the interviewer you're listening and want to see the full picture. Asking follow-up questions during and at the end of the interview accomplishes both of these things. Make sure when you walk out the door you understand what the job entails and the company culture as best you can.
Show gratitude. Tell the interviewer how much you've enjoyed the conversation and that you hope to hear from her soon. Be sure to ask for her business card or email address if you don't already have one or the other. Write a thank-you email, and send a handwritten thank-you note in the mail the following day. Make them as meaningful as possible and different. Mention something from your conversation that sparked further interest in joining the company. You can say similar things in each note, but you'll need to paraphrase or use different information. Job seekers think thank-you notes – emailed and handwritten - don't matter. They do, and they can make all the difference in getting an offer or not.
You usually get invited for an interview if you fit some or all the job requirements. The interviewer already knows you can probably do the job. The question she's asking herself during the interview is, "do I want this person on our team?"
The interview is your chance to show your personality, which is something that cannot be gleaned from a written job application. Establishing good rapport with your interviewer will help you feel at ease during the interview and increase the likelihood that she will want to invite you back for a second round of interviews, or ultimately, for a job.
Marcelle Yeager is the president of Career Valet, which delivers personalized career navigation services. Her goal is to enable people to recognize skills and job possibilities they didn't know they had to make a career change or progress in their current career. She worked for more than 10 years as a strategic communications consultant, including four years overseas. Marcelle holds an MBA from the University of Maryland.