Despite a job market that looks and feels a bit like a roller coaster, many people are career cushioning and considering changing careers recently. If that's you, you might be thinking about the skills recruiters look for, potential job interview questions and how to ask about the salary. When it comes to salary, benefits, retirement, vacation and other negotiations, there's a long list of things HR people won't tell you. Still, before negotiating your compensation package, you must make a good impression—and that starts when you walk through the door or turn on your Zoom camera for an interview. We talked to experts to find out the most important things a job interviewer notices about you.
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It doesn't matter if the interview is on the phone, on video or in person, showing up on time is non-negotiable. If the interview is in person, arrive about 10 minutes early, and allow ample time for traffic, parking or public transportation delays. If your interview is over the phone or on a video chat, you should still take timing precautions.
"Check your cell phone service and ensure stable internet connectivity," says Matthew Burr, a human resources consultant. Whatever video platform you're using, practice connecting in advance and adjust your settings and microphone before you're on-screen with the interviewer. Trust us, they'll notice your Zoom etiquette.
Video call details
There are many ways video conferencing calls can go wrong, which means preparation is key. Even if the final interviews are in person, it's common nowadays for initial interviews to be on video. But keep in mind that despite all our technological advances, it's harder to connect on video than it is face-to-face. That means you must put in extra effort and pay close attention to the details to make a good impression.
"Make sure you have good lighting," says Celine Floyd, accredited industrial psychologist and VP at a global talent acquisition and management firm. "If you have your back to a window, you will likely be obscured. Instead, turn your desk so the light is shining on you. If you can't access a window, invest in a ring light—there are inexpensive models, and they work wonders on the clarity of your image." Something else to consider: your voice. Make sure you have a good microphone, as it's vital the interviewer can hear you clearly.
If you're on-screen, remember that your background is important. If your home office is in your bedroom, keep your bed out of the frame, quickly tidy up and don't have overflowing laundry baskets or an open closet behind you. You might consider temporarily rearranging furniture as well to make the background look and feel more professional. It might seem like extra work, but you'll thank yourself if you get hired.
"Your background will look better if it is reasonably clear of personal items, which can make things look cluttered," Floyd says. "Although, some points of interest can make for good conversation starters." And while you can't control things like sirens passing by, do your best to minimize sound and interruptions. If you've left your house for the interview, make sure you're going somewhere with minimal interference. A coffee shop with a distracting background, Burr says, isn't ideal.
They have your full attention
Stay focused in the minutes to hours leading up to your interview. Are you monotasking? Are you using a habit tracker for last-minute preparation? Has that focus followed you into the interview? While you can certainly take a sip of water during the call, you shouldn't be guzzling water or coffee. Make sure you're hydrated and have eaten in advance—you shouldn't be shoving last night's dinner in your mouth 10 minutes before the interview either.
"Drinking ample water in the preceding 24 hours has been proven to increase brain function, and nothing is worse than a rumbling tummy or feeling faint mid-interview," Floyd says. "Give yourself the best chance by looking after your physical self. Your mind will thank you later."
You've done research
Burr says that he can immediately tell how well prepared a candidate is for an interview, as well as how engaged they are in the process. "I've interviewed thousands of people, and my preferred style is stress interviewing," Burr says, which can include uncomfortable or intimidating questions that create an awkward or stressful environment. Examples of questions might include, "How do you feel this interview is going?" "How many other jobs are you applying for?" or "Tell me about a time when your work was criticized by a supervisor."
Stress interviewing lets the interviewer know how well you handle pressure, a top skill recruiters are looking for. "Every job has it, so you better know how to control pressure questions. If you cannot answer the questions or don't know anything about the organization, it more than likely isn't a fit."
How you present yourself
How you present yourself is your brand, says Bridget Lohrius, founder and CEO of career coaching company Sandwina. "It's what we wear, what we say, how we say it. All these things hang together and tell a story about our brand, and it's palpable," Lohrius says. The effect is immediate upon meeting, but you can set the stage for your brand before even saying hello to the interviewer. And here's a hiring secret the boss won't tell you: Companies are paying attention. "Be mindful of cultivating your brand online and offline. And ensure it's an authentic reflection of who you are and what you value."
Most progressive companies are less concerned about what people wear to interviews these days, but Lohrius says it's wise to balance authenticity and respect. Burr points out that what you wear to an interview should be determined by company culture. "A quick review of the organization's website or social media will shed light on this," he says. "However, business professional or business casual is my default recommendation for an interview."
Want to get noticed at work or in an interview? How you carry yourself says a lot. Interviewers are looking for poise, authenticity and confidence in what you offer (making them feel more confident about recommending you). "If you walk into that interview with confidence and conviction in yourself, you have a better shot at exuding power," Lohrius says. "Walking that fine line between confidence and arrogance is what we want to watch out for here."
Need some science-backed confidence boosters? Make a list of the things you're most proud of. Look them over and name those accomplishments out loud before you hop on the interview call. Or, Lohrius says, call a trusted friend or colleague and ask them what makes you stand out at work. "This provides a boost of self-love and pride as you get ready for the interview."
Interviewers want to feel like you're excited about the potential job opportunity, you're keeping a positive attitude and you're expressing that through your energy. They want to sense your curiosity and your willingness to learn, and they're less likely to be attracted to someone who appears bored or tired. That said, how we express our energy requires some level of awareness and practice.
"If a full-tooth grin isn't your thing, that's fine," Lohrius says. "But be aware of your energy level heading into any interview." If you tend to get nervous, she recommends setting aside 15 minutes before the interview to meditate, use a meditation app and free your mind from distractions. Part of preparing for an interview is taking care of yourself, and you should do what it takes to feel centered. That might mean going for a run, meditating or doing burpees to "Eye of the Tiger." Another idea: Visualize yourself accepting the job offer at a great salary to get your mind in a positive place, says Lohrius.
If you can sell your skills
The interview is your chance to sell yourself and the soft skills you have to offer. Floyd recommends asking former colleagues what they really valued about you. Write that down. Then, do a self-assessment and think about the key things that have helped you in your career so far. How have you built trust with your previous bosses? Built trust with co-workers? How have you succeeded at work? "Don't be afraid to talk passionately about these things," Floyd says. "You have to explain what's wonderful about you, and no one gets points for being overly humble in an interview."
And while it may be tempting, resist the urge to be overly corporate and professional during an interview. Authenticity is key. "Being too polished can prevent your true passions and energy from shining through, so just think of the interview as a conversation," Floyd says. "Be natural. Be friendly. Be warm. You can be credible and human."
Your ability to read the room
Interview basics appear simple—one person asks a series of questions and the other answers. But it's much more complex and nuanced than that. "An interview is the ultimate art of emotional intelligence," Floyd says.
Quality conversation includes two people who know how to listen properly. You know things to never say at work or in an interview, but can you read the conversation? "The interviewer is, of course, scrutinizing your behavior, but it's important you do the same back. When they start to look bored of your answer, finish quickly. When they look confused, elaborate, and when they look distracted, try to re-engage them with a different story, more animated body language or some humor."