It’s interview time for a job you really want. You’re rehearsed and ready—you even researched the company dress code so you’d wear the right outfit. But beyond the obvious marks you need to hit to be a viable job candidate, there are also some lesser-known factors that impress hiring managers and may boost your success in the interview.
Conventional wisdom says that you should arrive on time, but it’s more specific than that. Ryan Miller, research associate at recruiting firm JMJPhilllip Executive Search, likes to see candidates arrive roughly 15 to 20 minutes early. That’s enough time to show you’re punctual and you’ve allowed a window to avoid being late, but not so early that the hiring manager will feel the pressure of you sitting out in the lobby for a half hour or more.
One 2012 study from the University of California found that people consistently prefer the choice they’re offered first—they liked the first team they could potentially join better than the second and the first salesperson better than the next. So, consider opting for early interview times to get in the door first. Another 2011 study from the University of Pennsylvania found that MBA candidate interviewers who had already recommended three candidates highly on a given day might be reluctant to recommend a fourth.
Dan Black, Americas director of recruiting at professional services giant EY, will ask you about your resume, and if you’ve stretched the truth, it’s a red flag. He says it’s rare someone outright lies, but he does see people take liberties with titles and job responsibilities. That’s usually obvious when they start discussing the role. “If you’re stretching [the truth] in the interview, that’s a leading indicator of what I can expect when you’re here working at the firm,” he says.
It’s great that you checked out the firm’s website, but if everything you recite can be found on the home page, that’s not impressive, Black says. Search for industry articles and learn about some of the company’s new initiatives. Look on social media like Twitter and LinkedIn to get an idea of who the thought leaders are and what kind of content the company is posting. Dig a little deeper and your hiring manager will notice, he says.
If you’ve done that homework, you’ll be able to ask great questions—another hallmark of a great employee, Black says. What questions would impress? Asking about how the company’s mission statement translates into the day-to-day workplace comes to mind, he says. Asking contextual questions about the firm and the industry would be another winner. For example, in the highly regulated world of accounting, what does EY do to make sure that employees are comfortable being compliant and transparent? That shows in-depth research and real thought about what it’s like to work in the firm, he says.
Kathryn Minshew, CEO of the job and career information website The Muse, looks for a strong, positive phone voice when she calls a candidate. “Do they answer the phone with confidence? Do they sound excited to learn more about the company? Do they answer your questions head-on with detail, with composure, without a lot of hesitation?” she asks. Those are all good signs, she says.
Those tricky hiring managers may also put directions in the job ad or in their follow-up to see if you actually do follow them. The Muse posted job ads that requested cover letters and stated why they were important, yet some people didn’t write them. Minshew says they missed out on the opportunity to show more about their personalities—and also failed the first test they were given.
Your interview may start before you even realize it. It’s not uncommon for recruiters to ask assistants, receptionists, and junior recruiters about their experiences with a candidate. Being courteous and professional with the receptionist isn’t just the right thing to do—it could give you a leg up.
When it comes to that dreaded question about your weaknesses, don’t go for the pat answers about caring too much or taking your work too seriously. Instead, show some vulnerability, Miller says. We all have weaknesses. Illustrate a challenge you have and how you’re working on it—it’s refreshing and shows you have the confidence to discuss your imperfections and how you’re improving, he says.
How you discuss your past is an important clue about what you’ll be like to work with, Black says. There’s no place for bad-mouthing, even if you did have a bad experience. Frame the past as best you can in terms of what you learned from the experience, and discuss how those lessons will make you a better employee in the future.