The process of preparing for an in-person interview differs from person to person. For instance, I tend to tackle them by drawing on my journalism experience, and Molly keeps herself calm by going in with the mindset that it’s just another conversation. I’ll talk about both of these strategies more below (and explain why they both work), but let’s talk about the things everyone should do if they really want to nail the interview and get the position.
Do Some Research
When you confirm an in-person interview time (usually over email, sometimes at the end of a phone interview), you should do some research on the company you’re interviewing for. You should know their consumer base, their general company attitude (level of formality, mission statement, etc), and the details of the position you’re applying for—including where you fit in with the overall company fabric.
You don’t have to be an expert, but you should know enough about the company to show your interest and to have something to talk about.
Dress the Part
As annoying as it may be, the cliche about first impressions rings especially true in an in-person interview scenario, and your clothing plays a key part in this. Now, I could write a dissertation on the fact that clothing doesn’t define ability (nor do tattoos, piercings, or accents), or how dress codes are sexist and racist and all the other ists. But for the time being, where, as a society, we’re still expected to dress a certain way and maintain a certain level of professionalism, there are some rules to follow for interview apparel.
However, this doesn’t mean you have to be boring and soulless, nor does it mean you have to conform to strict gender norms or white-wash your culture. The way I think of it, interview attire really just means looking ready to show up at work for the company you’re interviewing with. Do some research on the company, see how casual or formal they are, and match or dress one level up from them.
For example, if you’re applying toBuzzfeed, you could probably wear some dark jeans, a nice shirt, and closed toed shoes for the interview. You look nice and put together, but you wouldn’t show up in a full three-piece suit because that would alienate you from the rest of the office. On the other hand, if you’re applying to a law firm, you’ll probably want to go more formal. Business slacks or a skirt, with a nice button down and a structured jacket or blazer, maybe a dress, dress shoes, the like. You want to impress the interviewer and show them, right off the bat, that you fit in with their culture.
Bring the Appropriate Materials
This is a little more simple than the worries of dressing “right.” Basically, you should print out and bring whatever materials you used to apply for the job. That could just be a resume, or it could be your resume, your cover letter, references, and a portfolio, or any combination of those things. At the very least, always bring your resume.
It can be good to bring two copies of everything (within reason, don’t run your printer dry), in case the interviewer didn’t print something, and so you can also be looking at the documents while you’re interviewing. Being able to directly reference your job positions while you’re answering questions shows them exactly how your experience relates to their job. Plus, you have something to look at without seeming like you’re just avoiding eye-contact, and can be a tool to jog your memory if you’re forgetting something you know how to do.
I also like to bring something I can take notes with, especially if it’s a position I have questions about or just want to look really diligent.
Arrive 5-10 Minutes Early
Now, when I say this, I mean arrive at the door of the office 5-10 minutes early. I don’t mean get to the address 5 minutes early and then realize it’ll take you 10 minutes to park and 5 to find the entry to the building and another 5 to wait for the elevator and get in the door. When you’re leaving, you should also plan on something making you late—as in, leave earlier than you need to to get there early. The world loves throwing things at you when it knows you’re stressed and late: a traffic jam, a delayed train, or walk signals that you’re always a second late for.
Just plan for it, and worst case, you get there very early and you get to stop for coffee, review the job posting, or look at the company website one more time.
Wipe Off Those Sweaty Palms
Usually, when you arrive for an interview (especially when you arrive early), a front desk person will tell you to take a seat in the waiting area, and you’ll have 10 minutes to stress out about the coming half hour. This usually means that, by the time the interviewer gets out to you, you’re a bit jittery and your palms are sweating. Natural, but also sort of gross.
When the interviewer walks in, wipe your hands on your thighs subtly as you stand up to greet them, and give them a firm handshake while making eye contact. Often this will happen as they say, “Hello, Ava?” and you confirm your name and begin making small talk.
During the In-Person Interview
First, prepare yourself for the dreaded, “tell me about yourself” question that every interviewer will ask, with this article.
And then, like I said above, there are infinite ways to handle the actual face-to-face part of an interview. I’m going to be going over my and Molly’s tactics. Take inspiration from them, try them out for yourself, but finding what works for you really just takes trial and error. No matter how much you prepare, you only get good at interviewing by going through the interview process.
So, I have journalism training (it’s part of my degree), and have just as much experience being the interviewer as being interviewed. As such, I tend to treat job interviews as journalistic story-telling opportunities.
What this means is, first and foremost, I prepare heavily. I obsess over the details of the position, company, and person I think I’ll be interviewing with. I try and predict what questions they’ll ask me, and prepare answers. In my mind, I map out the ways in which my past experience connects to the position I’m applying to, and how this position fits into my overarching career goals. It sounds like a lot, but by planning ahead of time, I feel like I’m more in control of the interview.
So too, all this planning means I can tell a story and connect better to the interviewer. I can make my answers engaging and complex, and guide the interviewer through the steps that got me to that table. And, by knowing about the person interviewing me (or at least the company), I can connect to shared experiences and make it more of a dialogue than a straight question/answer.
And finally, I ask questions at the end of the interview. We’ve already talked about why everyone should do this in this article, but coming up with questions ahead of time is especially important when I’m doing this journalism-based approach.
Molly, on the other hand, treats interviews like normal conversations. She does very little preparation (just the basics), and relies on her strong customer service background to make the interview feel as normal as possible.
This technique has a lot of strengths, including the fact that it’ll likely lower your stress levels as the one being interviewed, you’ll give the interviewer a better taste of your personality, and it likely means you won’t have to do so much of the talking. Of course, you’ll still be answering the questions in completion, but you’ll be engaging with the interviewer—asking them questions back throughout, letting the conversation go on tangents, and leaning into the charm you use in your day-to-day interactions.
And, just like it gives interviewers a chance to see your personality, you end up getting a good feel for the personality of the company. On that note, some interviewers will be more susceptible to this casual mode than others, because some companies are more formal than others. But it can still be good to lean into the idea that you shouldn’t be stressed: “It’s just an everyday conversation.”
Basically, Find What Works to make You Memorable
The common factor of these two situations is that Molly and I are both trying to make the interviewer remember us. Conversation, detailed questions, and overall engagement will do the trick, but you’ll have to find what works best for you. And that comes from actually doing it. If you’re really nervous about it, you can practice interviewing with a friend, or see if the career services center of your school offers a mock in-person interview. And check out our article on acing phone interviews to get a feel for some of the questions that may be asked of you.
You should thank the interviewer for their time at the end of the in-person interview, but you should also follow up with a thank you that night or the day after. If you’re really going the extra mile, you can handwrite a thank you card ahead of time, and then slip it into the company mailbox as you leave. But there’s also nothing wrong with sending a brief email. See our template below, which works for either option.
Dear [Interviewer’s Name],
Thank you so much for your time [today/yesterday]. I had a great time talking to you, and you answered all my questions surrounding [subject/company/position/etc]. I think the position would be a great next step for me.
I hope to hear from you soon. Have a great day, and please let me know if there’s anything else you need from me.
Now, You Got This
An in-person interview will almost always be an anxiety-inducing activity. But with the right preparation and practice, you’ll nail it every time, and get that dream position. And even if you don’t, remember that there will be more positions, that you’ll end up being an even better fit for.