8 interview tips you’ve (probably) never heard before

When you’re looking for a job, sometimes it seems that everyone wants to tell you the same basic things – write a great cover letter, tailor your resume to the job, reach out to your network, all repeated over and over.

Instead of the same old advice, here are eight pieces of job search advice that might not have heard before. (Unless you have wise friends or know a lot of hiring managers, in which case we can’t make any promises!)

1. Read what your interviewers read. You’ve probably seen plenty of articles offering interviewing tips to job-seekers – but have you ever read the advice for the interviewers on the other side of the table? By reading instructions and advice to interviewers, you can get a lot of insight into what they’re trained to look for in you, and why they might ask certain questions. Related to this…

2. Role-play with a friend – but you play the interviewer. Experienced hiring managers who have interviewed many candidates will often say they don’t get nervous at their own job interviews anymore – because they’ve done so many interviews from the other side and understand how an interviewer’s mind works. You can get a bit of this benefit for yourself by playing the interviewer yourself. If you have a job-searching friend, suggest that you practice together – taking turns playing the part of the interviewer.
You might be surprised by how much more comfortable it makes you both feel.

3. Figure out what questions you’re most nervous about. If there’s a specific area of questioning that you’re especially nervous about – like salary or why you left your last job – don’t just hope that you won’t be asked or that you’ll figure out a good answer in the moment. Instead, assume you’ll be asked and practice your answer over and over again – even rehearsing it out loud. That way you won’t have the anxiety of hoping the topic doesn’t come up, and you’ll have a polished answer if it does.

4. Try to get your interview scheduled in the morning if you can. Otherwise, if you’re like most people, the appointment will be hanging over you all day, with your nerves increasing as each hour passes. Schedule it for the morning and get it out of the way before your nerves eat away at your calmness and your confidence.

5. Ask in advance who you’ll be meeting with. It’s absolutely fine to ask when scheduling the interview, “Could you please let me know who I’ll be meeting with?” By finding out ahead of time, you won’t be blindsided if you walk in to the interview expecting to meet with one person and discover that it’s actually going to be a panel interview in front of five people. Plus, you can research your interviewers ahead of time to get a feel for who you’ll be talking with.

6. Don’t walk in early. Most interviewers are annoyed if candidates show up more than five or ten minutes early, since they may then feel obligated to interrupt what they’re doing and go out to greet you. You should absolutely get to the interview location early, because you want to leave yourself a buffer in case you hit traffic or other delays – but don’t walk into the company where you’re interviewing until it’s five minutes before your scheduled time.

7. Skip the letters of recommendation. You might think you’re strengthening your application by gathering recommendation letters from past managers, but at best you’re wasting their time and yours. When hiring managers get to the point that they want to talk to your references, they want to speak with them — on the phone, where they can ask their own questions and probe for what might otherwise get unsaid. Plus, employers know that no one puts critical information in these letters, so they’re of virtually no value to a conscientious reference-checker. Skip the letters, and wait to be asked for reference contact information.

8. After the interview, put the job out of your mind. Too many job-seekers drive themselves crazy by agonizing after interviews – wondering how it went, second-guessing their answers, and trying to predict when they’ll hear back from the employer. A better bet is to put it out of your mind and move on mentally. You can make a note on your calendar to follow up if you haven’t heard back in two weeks, but until then? You’re far better off not dwelling on it.

I originally published this column at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 49 comments… read them below }

  1. Bea W*

    I think #4 will really depend on the person. Not everyone is plagued by the dark cloud of uncontrollable pre-interview jitters, and some of us are slow movers in the morning and are more relaxed if given more time rather than less.

    For instance, I am not a morning person, and scheduling later gives me plenty of time to prepare, review information, think about how I might answer certain questions, double check my route, double check my bag to be sure I have copies of my resume and any information I might need to fill out additional paperwork, check traffic, have a good meal (IMPORTANT! Don’t go in hungry!), and get my outfit and make-up just so. I function best when unhurried, and first thing in the morning with limited time to ratchet up my functionalness is what gives me nerves. If I am hurried I am more likely to forget something important even if I have prepared well the night before. I don’t get that heavy cloud of nerves sitting over me in anticipation of an interview later in the day. So that is not an issue.

    Even so, I have scheduled first thing in the morning, just because it’s usually been easier to come into work a few hours late than leave early. If I have scheduled an interview for a time when I have a full day off, later is much more calming for me. Of course, with interviews that typically last 4 hours, that still means I’m starting not later than noon or 1 PM. It’s not like I’m hanging around until 3 or 4 PM stewing about an interview.

    The upside to scheduling in the morning is that you get a preview to the morning commute, but if you schedule late enough that you get out at evening rush, you get the same benefit but without the stress of traffic on top of the pre-interview anxiety.

    1. Bea W*

      #6 – If you find yourself arriving too early, it’s a great time to scope out the area to get a feel of what’s there – coffee shops, restaurants, places to enjoy a break. You can also use the time to site someplace and review important information about the position and company, mentally practice how you would respond to the potential questions that are toughest for you and think of questions to ask your interviewer which you can jot down in a notebook to refer to later so you don’t forget.

      # 8 is the hardest for me if I come out of the interview wanting the job and am anxious to hear back. Waiting is hard!

    2. llamathatducks*

      Yes this is me as well. It takes me a while to wake up in the morning, and I really like having time to do some extra prep and relaxing.

      1. Anna*

        Yeah, #8 struck me as the least likely to happen. Even when you try to put it out of your mind, your mind tends to wander there. Luckily for me with my last interview they offered the job to me the very next day so I didn’t have to think too much about it.

        1. Natalie*

          I imagine the typical advice for anyone trying to put something out of their mind (breakup, impending layoff, whatever) is probably helpful. Stay busy, and when the thing you’re trying not to think about pops into your head, acknowledge the thought but don’t ruminate.

  2. Me*

    I really like #5. I went to an interview and thought that it was going to be one person and it turned out to be a panel of 6. I was already somewhat under qualified for that job, so with that added surprise/pressure, I BOMBED that interview.

    1. urban adventurer*

      Ooh, I’ve done that too. My worst interview ever was a panel when I was expecting 1 person, and that plus the slew of “Tell us about a time when…” questions that I wasn’t prepared for guaranteed that I would fail the interview!

      On the plus side, having had that Awful Interview Experience has totally calmed me down for every interview since. I had an unexpected panel interview last week and was able to take it in my slide. I think they were more nervous than I was!

  3. Anonymous*

    It might be slightly controversial but are there tips on interviewing with women versus men? How about race/cultural/nationality differences? Age?

    1. HR Competent*

      I’ve interviewed with a pretty diverse group over the years, can’t say I’d change up anything. An interviewer may be a different color, sex, or religion but if or how that factors in to their hiring decision an applicant would have no way of knowing.

      Now if you going to interview in Korea, India or Florida, that may change things up.

    2. annie*

      The only difference I’ve ever noticed is sometimes a woman will compliment my bag or necklace – I can not imagine a man doing that.

      Honestly I am not the fashion plate at all (both items were fairly boring/standard items from Target!) In both cases it was an older woman and the compliment was given as they walked me out after the interview – I suspect were trying to be kind and put me at ease during the awkward post-interview walk to the elevator. To be honest, I thought it was just nice of them.

      1. McGuest*

        Same here. The biggest difference is that women interviewers are more likely to compliment my computer bag/tote or some piece of my outfit, while men either don’t notice or don’t say anything.

        Otherwise, there’s no overt difference when interviewing someone Not Like Me, whether they were older, male, different race, etc. (This is probably coming from a place of privilege, in that being white, I don’t really have to think about whether the person interviewing me is a racist cracker or not.)

        Oh wait. There is/was one other exception. I once interviewed at a place that was mostly Mormon, including all of the leadership, and there was some discussion on whether I would be comfortable with that. (An incredibly awkward discussion, but at least the elephant in the room was acknowledged.)

    3. rlm*

      I have heard that as an interviewer, you should be careful not to read too much into body language, because different cultures have different expectations for what is polite and appropriate (for example, making solid eye contact).

      1. Anonymous*

        I lived in Japan. Don’t ever blow your nose in public. It’s considered immeasurably rude and disgusting. As a consequence, the Japanese have developed self-control in dealing with mucous. So I imagine if you’re being interviewed by a Japanese and you happen to have the sniffles, you’re doomed if you pull out a hanky.

        1. Manda*

          Mental note: Never go to Japan (not that I wanted to anyway). I am constantly stuffed up. I’ve never been tested but I probably have a number of allergies. I keep kleenex and hand sanitizer with me at all times and I even keep a ziploc bag in my purse in case there’s no garbage can around.

          1. ChristineSW*

            Yup….need to make the same mental note for myself! (btw – great idea re: the ziploc bag in purse)

          2. Chinook*

            “Mental note: Never go to Japan (not that I wanted to anyway). I am constantly stuffed up”

            And here I thought that my stories about nude public bathing with coworkers would have been enought to turn someone off from that country. Nope. Turns out it is all about mucous control.

            1. Broke Philosopher*

              Can you explain this self-denial/control? When my nose is super runny, I would love to practice self-denial but I don’t know how to avoid making my nose run!

              1. Chinook*

                As you all are talking about this, I relaize that I never had a cold the 18 months I was in Japan. I don’t know if was the climate or the fact that people who were sick wore masks, but I only remember using my handkerchiefs to dab sweat off my face and to dry my hands in washrooms (where there was soap and water but no towels).

                1. Manda*

                  Ok, so there’s another reason for me not to go to Japan. (For the record, this isn’t Japan-specific. I just don’t like to travel much.) I also get pretty chapped hands so letting them drip dry all the time would be torture. Maybe you didn’t get sick because people aren’t blowing their noses in public and therefore aren’t getting their hands full of germs and then touching things.

  4. tango*

    Well once when I was invited to interview I was told my interview was with the department manager. Got to the interview and he did not interview me at all but instead two other managers did. No explanation given for the subsitution. And it threw me off my game enough that when I left the interview I did not feel my chances were strong. I learned of the subsitution when the two managers walked into the conference room and then started asking questions. I had a mini panic of did it mean the dept Manager preferred another candidate so passed the interview duty on to others since he didn’t want to waste his time or if I was a shoe in (due to a personal reference from one of his current employees) so did not feel he had to talk to me in person. And that was enough to throw me off my game and I knew I did not do well at the interview and ultimately did not get the job. So just because you’re supposed to interview with one person or five does not mean that you actually will once you arrive in person.

    1. ChristineSW*

      That would throw me off too. Yes, I understand things can happen at the last minute, but I think candidates are owed the courtesy of a brief explanation (although I imagine communicating that through the proper channels might be difficult with a larger employer).

    2. the gold digger*

      I would just assume the initial interviewer had something come up. I don’t think it would bother me except I would feel like I had wasted my time googling the initial interviewer.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      I’ve learned to ask about stuff like that–“Oh, hi, I thought I was scheduled to speak with X today; it’s nice to meet you.” That gives me a second to readjust, and them too if they accidentally went into the wrong conference room or something. If they feel like explaining that X had an emergency meeting or called in that morning with explosive diarrhea, they can do it then. If not, I just blow it off.

    4. Treece*

      Every time I’ve had a “replacement” interviewer (has happened 3 times I think) I have not gotten the job. I always felt that they had already found the one they wanted to hire and were just going through the motions with me.

    5. Judy*

      In all of my interviews, I’ve had a phone screen by a hiring manager, but then the HR dept is the one to call and set up the actual interview. I’ve always had at least 3 interview sessions, usually with a facilities tour with a prospective co-worker, plus many times a lunch with several prospective co-workers. So I might know that the HR person Ms. Jones is calling to set me up for an in person interview with Chocolate Teapots Inc, but it’s not always even been with the same department as the hiring manager who did the phone screen.

      Although usually first thing when I arrive, I’ve been given a printout of the email that they sent around with the schedule for the day – 10:00-10:45 conf rm a with Wakeen, 10:45-11:45 facilities tour with Jane, 11:45-1 lunch with Mary and Tom, 1:00-2:00 conf rm c with Bob, etc. Several times from the email, I can tell HR has finalized the schedule in the afternoon before or even that morning.

  5. Sabrina*

    Re #5 I find this helpful also in case you or someone you know knows the person you’re interviewing with. So if you have a friend that works there or used to, you can ask about them, or find out more information on LinkedIn.

    Also, if you walk in and ask specifically for Mr. Jones or whatever, at least they know you are legit. Recently my father in law had an interview where he asked for the person he was told to ask for and that guy had no idea who my father in law was and had no idea that an interview had even been scheduled. But obviously my FIL didn’t make up the guy’s name out of the clear blue, so the screw up was on that end.

  6. Woodward*

    #2- Role play to be the interviewer

    I love this tip! I had a job a few years ago where I was responsible for interviewing and hiring teenagers for part time work. That experience dramatically changed how I feel about interviewing now; sitting on the other side of the table through a hundred interviews just changes things.

    Also, I can look back and realize that I was a terrible interviewer, so I’m a lot more understanding when I interview and the person asks strange questions.

  7. Former Recruiter*

    I was surprised by the advice to not follow up for 2 weeks. I can’t think of a single time when we didn’t give feedback sooner than that, even if it was just a quick “our times have been pushed back due to X and we now expect to have an update by Y.” Now that my husband is seriously job seeking himself, I have told him to send a brief email reiterating his interest and asking about their timeframe after a week. I never would have objected to that from a candidate. But is a week too soon?

  8. SB*

    #6 is hard in my town. Traffic is an unpredictable nightmare. On any other day, your drive to the interview site might take 30 minutes, but then it could take 15 or it could take an hour. Example, I take the same route to work everyday. I am almost never in the office at the same time on a day to day basis. This morning I wanted to get in a little early to get some things done without distractions. I left 20 minutes earlier than usual and ended up being 10 minutes late. There weren’t even any accidents on the route and it wasn’t raining. I always end up giving myself plenty (30 minutes) extra time to get to interviews. If I end up getting their early, I will either stop and get some tea at a coffee shop or will sit in my car and dink on my phone until it’s time to head in.

  9. Manda*

    I’ll pass on #4. I suppose if I was interviewing while still working, morning might be best, but if possible I’d go for mid to late morning and just work in the afternoon. If I’m free all day I’d much rather it be in the afternoon so I could sleep in a bit and take my time getting ready. That’s a much better alternative than dragging my ass out of bed in the middle of the night, then showing up groggy for an interview at 6:45 am. ;)

  10. TheNewRecruit*

    Hi Alison! I just want to thank you for your awesome blog! Im 21 years old and on the job market for the first time, and needless to say, I’m way out of my element. I’ve been reading your posts religiously through every step of the job search process and they’ve helped me tremendously. Also , thank you for answering my question (a couple of posts back). It’s really great to have someone who knows what they’re talking about give you advice in such a stressful and overwhelming time. You’re a life saver!

  11. EM*

    Hi Alison,
    For point # 1 : Do you have any websites read by interviewers that you can recommend for jobseekers to check out?
    Thank You!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The best thing I’d probably do to implement that advice is to check out a couple of books on hiring from the library — there are a ton and you’ll find loads of advice in one place … whereas if you go to blogs that target HR people and managers, you’ll get good stuff but it’ll be spread out and interspersed with lots of stuff that won’t be as relevant (benefits, compensation, blah blah).

      Although if you want to go a blog route, check out http://www.tlnt.com, SmartBrief on Workforce and Smartbrief on Leadership, and Inc.com (the Lead and the People sections).

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