You might have heard it all before: be prepared and professional, but also be yourself. Focus on your skills and achievements, but not too much. Overcome your own doubts, while conveying confidence and capability to the hiring manager.
Sounds simple, right?
If you’re someone who hasn’t been through a hiring process in a while, statements like the ones above can be frustrating, vague and ineffective at actually preparing you for an interview.
After more than a few Google searches in preparation for this piece, I observed a lack of practical and tangible resources available for people re-entering the workforce or attending a job interview for the first time in years.
As someone who interviews and meets candidates as part of my role at August, I am determined to try and make things better in this space.
The people I interview who haven’t interviewed in a while often have some common traits: some positive, and some that have room for polish and improvement.
Whether you’re a parent returning to work, someone who’s taken a break from a previous role, or a candidate changing jobs after tenure, I hope this article provides you with something actionable you can apply to your next interview.
Just to be clear, this article focuses on interview techniques. I’m assuming your application was already awesome to get you to interview stage. If you’re after some tips on working at a digital company, or smashing out an application, try reading this article first.
1. Listen (or, tell the voice in your head to be quiet for a little while).
The order of this list isn’t arbitrary: this tip is numero uno for a reason. If there’s only one thing you action from this article, make it this. I’m confident it will improve your interviewing behaviour, regardless of the questions that are thrown your way.
Listening, and listening well, seems simple enough. Especially in an interview. But when you’re walking into an unfamiliar environment, meeting a decision maker for the first time, and taking in the sights, sounds and smells of your potential new workplace—your senses are in overdrive.
It’s hard to know how best to engage when you’re overwhelmed or nervous.
In my opinion, the interview begins as soon as you step into the workplace. Whether you like it or not. From that moment, take the time to listen and focus. If a receptionist or member of the team greets you, learn their name and repeat it back to them. You’re instantly building a rapport with someone. This is something you can control, and it might make someone’s day.
During the interview, practice active listening. This is a listening technique that forces you to be present in the conversation. It is often characterised by the listener nodding in acknowledgement of what is being said, requesting clarification of a statement or question, or summarising what has just been said to ensure understanding.
You can do all these things in an interview setting.
As the candidate, active listening is a powerful tool. It means you can repeat the question back to the interviewer, which buys you some time in formulating an answer. It also means you can clarify the question you are answering.
Active listening is your number one ally. Instead of telling someone you’re a good listener, show them through your actions during the conversation.
Then there are the benefits of active listening to quieten your mind. By focusing on what the interviewer is asking you to talk about, you can turn back the dial on your inner monologue and zone in on the task at hand.
If that voice starts reminding you of things to say or starts questioning the quality of your response, take a moment to pause and refocus on the interviewer.
While it’s okay to be nervous, listening intently during an interview demonstrates that you can handle the situation. It tells the interviewer that you can go with the flow between questions and answers, while remaining responsive and present.
2. Stay on topic.
This tip may seem obvious, but between nerves and meeting someone new—staying on topic can be difficult to nail. Active listening is a huge help in getting this right, but there are other tactics you can try to make sure you keep the conversation, and your responses, on track.
Sometimes, I will meet with a senior candidate who hasn’t been interviewed for a while. It’s awesome to watch an expert in their field listen intently, ponder all possible responses, and articulate a succinct and considered response that communicates their skills in context.
Find your inner calm and assume the wisdom of an expert.
While these types of responses are excellent, they are also rare.
If someone is rejected during our hiring process, and asks for feedback, staying on topic is something I often raise openly. Sometimes candidates want to communicate as much of their experience as possible—but diverging off topic isn’t the way to achieve this. If you ever find yourself about to ask, “what was the question again?” after you’ve been talking for a while, it’s a clear signal that you’ve gone rogue. Or rambled. A lengthy answer isn’t necessarily a strong one.
Try to avoid having too much ‘mono’ in your monologues; good candidacy meetings are typically two-way streets, with even contribution from all participants.
So aside from active listening, how else can you stay on topic?
- Speak slowly. Interviews are nerve wracking (including for the interviewers!). One way you can control your responses and convey authority is by taking a moment to centre yourself and slow things down.
- Practice speaking slowly the next time you catch up with a friend. Observe how the conversation changes—it’s an awesome skill to continually develop.
- Pause after each sentence. I don’t mean a blank or vacant pause (deer in headlights style). I mean a deliberate pause—you’re still in command of the space in that moment. Build on the momentum by continuing your next sentence with a response that stays on topic.
- Use a notebook and pen to help illustrate your response as you articulate it. Drawing a diagram as you respond to a question or scribbling something visual gives you an opportunity to organise your thoughts in a way that stays on track. It also ensures that if you’re about to go off on a tangent you can catch yourself before it happens.
Staying on topic takes skill because it shows self-awareness and presence during an interview. It communicates that—regardless of what you hoped to present or prepared ahead of time—you can acknowledge the purpose and nature of the question at hand.
One final note on this tip: if you’re senior in your role, you may feel a need to say more rather than less during your interview. Whether it’s a list of all the brands, companies or countries you’ve worked with, on, or within—it’s important to remember the interviewer asked you to meet with you based on your established skills. Walk into the interview with humble confidence, you already have a seat at the table.
3. Take pride in your presentation.
Your presentation is your full presence, which means it includes things like body language, word choice, small talk and dress sense. Your presentation is anything that contributes to the interviewer’s perception of who you are, and what makes you memorable.
I’ve previously written about researching the company you’re applying to work for. When you’re getting ready for an interview, it’s important to carry your knowledge of the organisation with you.
Remember, the outfit you choose provides a subtle opportunity to show you understand the team and culture. Is the environment more tailored suit, or Chuck Taylors?
Be mindful of your body language. Stay open in how you present yourself. This means being aware of answering questions with your arms uncrossed, having a confident handshake, and showing a warm and genuine smile. Don’t try to force this behaviour though. Try improving or changing just one element at a time.
Find out who will be interviewing you. Take the time to connect with them on LinkedIn and learn about their experience and work history. You can also try giving them a call just to introduce yourself in preparation for the interview.
You’ll feel more comfortable walking into a workplace where you’ve already spoken to the interviewer: you will know the sound of their voice and be able to gauge their mannerisms and motivations. You may even say something that makes them laugh and break the ice—awesome!
When it comes to physical presentation, consider the look you want to emulate, and the type of organisation you’re applying to. Try starting with your shoes: is your potential employer conservative or casual? Are dress shoes part of the job, or can you get by with a pair of your favourite sneakers?
Dress for success: take into consideration the organisation’s unique flair and flavour.
What matters most is that you’re comfortable and confident in your presentation, no matter how you choose to dress.
4. Remember your humour.
When I’m briefing our team members on an upcoming interview, I always remind them to dial up the humour. We want people to do well in our interviews, and we know that if we can share a laugh with someone (not at their expense!), we can make them feel at ease throughout the interview.
Before the formalities of an interview begin, there’s often an opportunity for conversational chit-chat. Try applying your personal brand of friendliness and humour if the moment calls for it. Yes, you’ll be nervous. But being able to make light of a situation can break the ice for everyone involved.
A little humour goes a long way. Who doesn’t want a potential teammate who can make work more fun?
I once had a candidate say to me that they hadn’t been interviewed recently and were hoping they didn’t blurt out anything they would later regret, like right now. We laughed at the comment, and my colleague mentioned that he hadn’t been involved in an interview for a while either and was hoping he’d remember to ask the right questions.
That small amount of banter made for an easygoing interview: one that flowed like any good conversation should, and one that allowed us all to feel a little more relaxed than when the candidate first walked in.
5. Be curious: ask questions.
Regardless of how experienced you are or how much you know about the industry—you don’t know the workplace you’re applying for. Blunt, but true. You may have held your previous role for the last twenty years, but that doesn’t necessarily prepare you for the exact nature of your next workplace.
Attend your interview with questions. Without them, you lose the opportunity to demonstrate interest in your potential role, as well as the interviewer’s perspective on the organisation.
Once you’ve got some questions down pat (ones that you’re genuinely interested in asking) it’s time to ask them in the best way possible. I can wholeheartedly empathise with the need to ask fundamental questions about work/life balance, flexible working hours, parental leave, and even parking. But don’t ask these first.
Use your questions to demonstrate your curiosity in contributing and becoming part of the team. Questions you ask during the interview may even convey to the interviewer that you’re more experienced and mature than your original application gives you credit for.
Useful topics to consider questioning are:
- How the company values form part of everyday life as a team member.
- Any challenges your interviewers have faced while working at the company, and how they’ve been supported to overcome them.
- The most memorable moments your interviewers have experienced, and on the flipside, what has kept them up at night.
- Levels of transparency in the company and how this is managed.
- Structure and process of the company on a day-to-day level.
Dig deep when it comes to asking questions: each one is an opportunity to give the interviewer insights into who you are and what you value.
Once you’ve covered off some questions that are focused towards the team and company, delve into some of the other benefits and logistical questions.
It will demonstrate you can ask well rounded questions across a spectrum of areas, and that you’re genuinely invested and curious about working at the company.
Pro tip: you don’t need to remember your questions by heart. Write them down and get your notebook out during the interview when asking them. It shows the interviewer that you’re prepared, and that your questions are crafted vs. off the cuff.
6. Practice makes you an overnight success.
I have mixed feelings about practicing interview questions with friends and family. Interviewers don’t all ask standard questions—each company is looking for specific experience and traits in people, especially within the design and technology space.
Additionally, it’s very difficult to simulate interview nerves with someone you’re already close to. That said, if this technique works for you and is your most comfortable approach with getting back into the interview game, then stick with it. My tips below are purely suggestions.
Try practicing interviewing with someone who makes you a little bit uncomfortable. Not someone who weirds you out. It could be someone you don’t know well enough to call them a close friend, but they’re more than an acquaintance. It could even be someone you consider a mentor or senior colleague.
Someone outside your inner circle has an opportunity to be less predictable, allowing you to embrace a lack of control. Interviews are a dance, and the more you can align your practice with the situation, the more prepared you’ll be to complete the routine with ease.
Finding your interview rhythm is always easier with a partner to practice with.
I’m aware that this suggestion goes against a whole range of resources that advocate for practicing with friends—as they can give you tips on how to improve your response. They know you best, they’ll give you honest feedback, and you’re practicing in a non-threatening environment.
However, nothing changes if you stay within your comfort zone. How can you expand your learning if you stay within the same circle? An outside perspective may pick up on traits you didn’t know you expressed when talking to someone new. They may also give you feedback that your friends or family may find difficult to say—frank feedback can help you refine your skills further.
That wraps up my six tips for getting back into the interview game. I hope these points have been useful for you, and if nothing else, provide you with something different to try or remember at your next interview.
Job hunting is hard. I wish you all the best in your search and hope you land a role that is challenging, inspiring, and pushes you to be a better person.