Here's how to ace the job interview

Published Dec. 15, 2016

The last quarter of the year is when many companies interview experienced candidates to fill vacant positions, prior to the holidays and before the end of the year.

Whether you're interviewing for the first time or fifth time, or you haven't interviewed for a position in quite some time, there are a number of things to remember to be sure you nail your next interview.

Do your homework: Once you've been selected for an interview, the first step is to research the company thoroughly. Company annual reports and articles can be found easily for most companies online. The company's website can also provide a wealth of information about its products, services and important initiatives. Also speak with current and former company employees who can share information about the company's culture, successes, challenges and, if you're lucky, their interview process. These conversations will help you gain valuable insight before the interview.

Once you know the name of the interviewer, research them via LinkedIn or an online search. Learning more about the interviewer's position, career path, length of time with the company and other interests will help facilitate building a rapport with them. Panel interviews, where more than one person interviews the candidate, are very common. Inquire about the interview format and with whom you'll be interviewing.

Ask about the interview format: Generally an interview will start with a few traditional interview questions, such as "tell me about yourself," or "walk me through your resume." Your response should summarize four to five key points that describe your education, relevant experience and why you're interested in the industry, company and position. Traditional interview questions allow the interviewer to get to know the candidate and put the candidate at ease before moving to more challenging questions.

These are usually followed by a series of behavioral interview questions, which are based upon the premise that past performance is the best predictor of future performance. Examples of these questions include "tell me about a time when you worked as part of a team," or "tell me about a time when you dealt with a difficult customer."

Use the SAR format (situation, action, result) to tell your story in a concise and compelling manner that makes it easy for the interviewer to see that you're a good fit. Be sure to describe and quantify the end result of your achievements. Where did you increase revenue, decrease costs, or improve customer satisfaction?

Review the job description carefully to help prepare your answers and develop SAR stories for each of the qualifications the employer seeks in an ideal candidate. Examples should highlight relevant work experience, education and volunteer work.

Case interview questions are most commonly used by companies in the consulting, marketing, and finance fields, although case interview questions aren't restricted to these industries. Candidates are presented with a case and asked to share their approach in solving the problem and come up with a solution. Case interviews allow the interviewer to see the candidate's thought process in action and steps they'd take to solve the problem. Candidates are evaluated on whether their approach is comprehensive, logical and thorough. If you've never participated in a case interview before, be sure to consult print and online resources to help you prepare.

Let your passion shine through: The interview is your chance to learn more about the position and persuade the employer you're a good fit Make sure your passion for the opportunity shines through. Lean forward slightly and smile throughout the interview. Communicate what it is about the job or company that you find most interesting and how that aligns with your passion, experience and values. Listen carefully to the interviewer and ask questions for clarification or additional information about the scope of the job and company culture.

Close the deal and follow up: As the interview comes to a close, summarize and reiterate why you're a good fit for the job and the value you'll contribute to the company. Ask about next steps — will there be a second interview, reference check, etc.? Thank the interviewer(s) for their time and, if appropriate, request business cards from those you spoke with during the interview. Follow up with a brief thank-you email. A handwritten thank-you note referencing a topic discussed during the interview can go a long way in leaving a lasting impression.

Advance planning and preparation and letting your passion shine through will you help you nail your next interview.