You decide that you want a job. You send in your brilliant (and mostly accurate) résumé, ask for an outrageous salary (with full benefits, perks, and a generous signing bonus), and get a letter one week later saying that you're hired.

Congratulations! You are officially living in Fantasyland. Today, a résumé only functions as a entrance test to snag an interview. It's during the interview where a company decides if it wants to hire you.

We'll be even more direct: the job interview is the single most important part of getting a job. It's your chance to show your future bosses that you are smart, funny, quick on your toes, able to communicate, and relatively unlikely to go postal. Because of the importance of the job interview, you might be worried about cracking under the pressure. That is a concern… for the people that didn't read this SYW; once you've absorbed our sage advice, you'll up your chances of getting hired. Then you'll be stealing office supplies in no time.

Before we proceed, we should make an important disclaimer: every job has different required elements for the interview. For instance, prospective consultants have a particular interview regiment unique to that industry. Our tips, however, will consist of the stuff that can apply to virtually any interview.


Before you show up on the steps of your future employer's business place, you must recognize an important element of a job interview: the wooing. You must impress the interviewer with your knowledge about the company and the industry. After all, they'll have loads of information about you, so don't you think you should even the score?

Gather as much information on the company as you can

First and foremost, check out the company's website. This will give you a good overview of the company's philosophy, earning power and the big guys/gals around the office. While you're online, take a little time to search a few major newspaper sites (such as the New York Times) to see how the company is faring in the media. Jot down some stand-out points about the company from both their website and these articles. Another fine website to pull up is The Vault. This insider site was created specifically for job applicants to learn the "insider" knowledge about companies and industries. It may give you some tips that'll really impress your interviewer, such as changes in management or recent business deals. Write everything down.

However, you MUST be careful; if you are going to say something about what's happening in the company you are interviewing with, make sure you have it right. You will make yourself look like an idiot if you accidentally compliment the company's competitor.

Learn about the person interviewing you

As important as it is to know lots about the company, you also need to find information about the person who will be interviewing you; after all, the interviewer holds the key to the executive washroom or straight back to your parent's basement.

You don't have to know the interviewer's shoe size, but it's especially important to know:

  • The names and job titles of the people you will be speaking to.

  • How to spell and pronounce the interviewers' names. It's really impressive when you pronounce tough names correctly.

To find these names, positions, and pronunciations, ask the company's recruiter or ask whoever set up the interview. And if it's accessible, try to find out some personal information about your interviewer (though remember that most states have stalking laws). If you know that your interviewer played a sport that you play, then you'll have a conversation ice-breaker. To find such information, many company websites have biographical information about staff.

Compile your information

As good as your research is, it isn't going to do you much good unless you retain it. So take all of your notes and write them neatly on a piece of paper - this will be a great cheat-sheet for the morning of your interview. Look that the sheet the morning of the interview as you leave the house or as you sit, waiting to be interviewed. You'll feel confident that you can tell the interviewer a thing or two about his/her place of employment. And as you'll find out later, confidence is incredibly important.


There's a really cheesy saying that nonetheless holds true about how to dress for a job interview: dress to impress. If you walk into your interview in dirty khakis and a wrinkled shirt, you've already lost the job. But if you walk in looking like a million dollars, it'll send a message to the interviewer that you're professional. Depending on what type of job you are going for, there are different dress codes that apply. No matter what the job is though, when you look in the mirror, two words need to come to mind: neat and clean. Check out "SYW dress better? (for women)" and "SYW buy a men's suit?" for some hints to steer you towards fashion success.

There are two general routes that you could go when dressing for a job interview, depending on what the position is:

  • If you are applying for any corporate job, think conservative. Your only good choice is a black or navy blue suit (in a skirt version for the ladies). Traditional, traditional, traditional. Even going out on a limb with a light suit is a bad idea. Corporations want to know you are going to respect them. Period.

  • If you are going for a more creative job (film, publishing, the arts) you have a little more leeway. While you still want to look well-kept, you can feel comfortable. You can forego traditional black/brown for some brighter colors. But don't get carried away - that short little green number you picked up last weekend isn't going to fit the bill. Ladies can strut their stuff in a sweater and pants or a long skirt, for example. As for the gentlemen, you can forego the tie, but nice pants and a dress shirt are still your best bet for impressing the big bad interviewer.


It makes logical sense: if you look like you can handle yourself, you are also telling your employers you can handle their companies. That is why it is crucial to pay attention to the details on interview day. For starters, leave more than plenty of time to get everything organized and to get where you are going. It is amazing how much better things will go if you don't feel rushed or frazzled when you walk in the office door, and you can never predict a freeway jam, broken elevator, or overturned truck of wild midgets. Better to get there an hour early than even five minutes late.

Bring a well-stocked professional case

You know that LL Bean backpack covered with iron-on patches of Grateful Dead bears? Leave it at home and opt instead for a professional-looking messenger bag, briefcase or portfolio folder. If you don't have one, borrow your mom's or dad's. Within the carrying case, you should bring:

  • Extra copies of your résumé (printed on résumé paper)

  • Copies of your letters of reference

  • Breath mints (for use before - not during - the interview)

  • A pad of paper and two pens to take notes

Ten tested tricks to acing the interview and landing the job

In high-pressured situations, you can easily forget to do obvious things-like speak. So to really ace an interview, remember these ten tips:

  1. Offer up your firmest handshake. Dry off those palms and land a strong one right in your interviewer's hand. This shows confidence and grace under pressure. Don't try to crush the interviewer's hand, but no matter what, it's important to be FIRM.

  2. Make eye contact. Looking your interviewer straight in the eye shows that you are confident and honest. This will impress them and make you appear capable. Continue making eye contact throughout the entire interview. An obvious addendum to this tip is to not let your eyes wander. When your interviewer looks down at your cover letter, he/she should not look up and find your eyes wandering around the room, out the window, or on the desk trying to read the latest company report. Wandering eyes indicate lack of interest, nosiness, or (even worse) that you are bored by the interviewer.

  3. Smile. Shining your pearly whites show you are easygoing and relaxed. Smiles scream team player. And there is nothing interviewers want more than team players.

  4. If they offer you a drink, take one. Everyone in an interview is so quick to say, "no thanks" when they are offered coffee, juice or water. Go ahead and take it. You can take sips while you think about your answers… it will buy you time.

  5. Sit up straight. Just ask Mom. It works every time.

  6. Speak up - but never interrupt. There's nothing worse than an interviewee who doesn't speak unless spoken to, or, even worse, responds simply with a sedate "yes" or "no." Remember that you're selling yourself, so it's okay to appear enthusiastic. The key is to elaborate without being an ultra-chatty motor-mouth. If you interrupt your interviewer in mid-sentence, you may miss the point. Even if you think you have something genius to contribute, wait until he/she finishes.

  7. Nod. A simple bob of the head demonstrates your interest in what your interviewers are facing, and that you are paying attention.

  8. Shove in comments about how nice the neighborhood, office, and area is. Make sure to offer up some compliments about the surroundings. Say: "I got here early and I was walking around, I really love…" This shows off your interpersonal skills (not to mention your punctuality). It also shows that you're not a whiner.

  9. Laugh - if at all possible. Think about it: wouldn't you want to hire someone with an easygoing personality?

  10. Breathe. Inhaling and exhaling will keep you calm and more prepared for whatever is thrown at you. Plus, if you don't breathe, you'll die-which means they'll have to give the job to someone else.

Don't freak out if you make a mistake

Especially at the beginning of the interview, you may feel a little nervous… which might translate into you saying the wrong thing. The best way to handle any gaffe is to remain calm-what the interviewer will remember more is how you react to your mistake. If you stumble in answering a question, just say, "I'm sorry. I'm a little nervous. I am really interested in this position and want to do well in this interview. I'll start again." Don't struggle or cry; be confident, even if you have to fake it.


The best thing you can do for your interviewers is make his/her job easier. If interviewers walk out after talking to you feeling like they carried the weight of the conversation, that is a strike against you. But if your exchange leaves them with a feeling of, "Hey, I enjoyed that," that could move you that much closer to hearing that you got the job.

Be prepared for common questions

There is no way to predict every question your interviewers are going to deem worth asking, so don't worry if something comes at you that you didn't see coming. In fact, acknowledging that you aren't going to be ready for every little thing puts you ahead of the game.

Across every job type, you can expect a couple of typical questions to come up.

  1. First is the trap question, which comes up in almost every interview. The trap question is some variation on "What is the area you need most improvement in?" or "What is your area of weakness?" The real answer may be that you have are lousy to attention detail or that you are incredibly shy. Whatever you do, DON'T SHARE your personal weaknesses. Instead, try to find something to say that isn't a real weakness, but a slightly less-than-ideal characteristic. For example:
    "I prefer to see a project through from start to finish rather than working on a single component and never seeing the finished product. I sometimes find it a bit frustrating to work without that overall context."

    "Sometimes I have a hard time saying no to people, and I end up taking on more than my share of work."
    If you really can't think of anything to say, you can always go with this time-tested (albeit clichéd) comeback: "I'm a perfectionist. I need to improve on not being so hard on myself and making sure I get everything right."

  2. Be on the lookout for questions about why you left your old company and why you are interested in the new one. These questions (or their offspring) are designed to make sure your interest in the new company is sincere and not due to you being fired and/or having serious problems at your former place of employment. If the interviewer throws at you is "why were you fired?" keep the answer simple and brief. "It was a hostile environment in which many people were let go," is a good way to handle it. Quick, easy, to the point.

  3. Have answers ready for these popular interview questions:

    • Tell me a little about yourself.

    • What interests you most about this position?

    • Where do you see yourself in 5, 10, 20 years?

    • What is your ultimate career goal?

    • Tell me about a project that had a tough problem that you solved.

    • What are your greatest strengths?

    • What did you like about your last job?

    • What separates you from other candidates?

    • How does your previous experience/academic preparation/college activities relate to this work?
  4. Most importantly, sell yourself as a problem-solver. Think about the work you have done, the job you had in college, volunteer work you did, or the club that you founded. Then proceed to illustrate how you solved a particular problem by breaking that experience into three parts: 1)The problem you encountered, 2) How you analyzed it, and 3) The solution you implemented.

If you prepare careful answers to these questions in advance, you'll be ahead of the game. In each of your answers, try to convey your enthusiasm and ability to be a team player. And remember to answer every question in a timely manner. Long answers make it seem like you are struggling to find something intelligent to say.

Have questions of your own

Toward the end of interview, the interviewer is going to lean into you and say, "Do you have any questions for me?" You MUST have questions. First, don't rush into your answer. Look as if you are thinking about whether you have any questions and then ask an appropriate one from the list you've thought about beforehand. Here's a handful of potential questions:

  • How would you describe a typical workday?

  • What is the best part of working at this company for you?

  • Are there significant opportunities to take seminars, classes, etc. to learn more about the different facets of the company?

  • Why did you join the company?

Interviewers LOVE to talk about themselves, so these questions will win 'em over every time.

One last great tip about the actual interview: ALWAYS end the interview with, "I am very interested in the position. What are the next steps to take?" Boy, are you eager. They'd be lucky to have you!


You may think the interview is over when you walk out the door. Fool. The interview is over when someone (hopefully you) has the job. If you handle the follow-up correctly, the chances of that someone being you will increase dramatically.

Send a thank-you letter

The very day of the interview - not the next day or the day after that - send out a thank you letter to your interviewer. The letter should be a simple note thanking that person for taking the time to meet you, saying how much you enjoyed your discussion, and how much you'd like to join the team. It doesn't hurt to add a personalized sentence such as: Your explanation of the company's _________ increased my interest in the position. Whatever your own personal style may be, make sure to say, "thanks for meeting with me and imparting your wisdom." And make sure to have it in the mail ASAP so it is sitting on your interviewer's desk when he/she sits down to make a decision. Also, remember to send a note to everyone who gave you a formal interview, not just to one person. A group of people that want you can hold sway.

While tech-heads and tree-huggers will make a case for sending an email or e-card in place of a snail mail letter, we suggest that you send it the old-fashioned way. A tangible letter will appear more personal, and - especially if your interviewer has a cluttered desk - will serve as a constant reminder that you're there and waiting. With an email, the probability is high that it will be glanced at and forgotten. Or, if it's really pathetically written, forwarded to all the interviewer's friends with the following subject line: "Get a load of this lame-ass thank you note I got."

Make a follow-up phone call

If you haven't heard anything after a week, CALL THEM. No one wants to be a nuisance, but a little perseverance never hurt anyone either. A friendly phone call after a week tells the employer that you are truly interested. The call will serve to remind the company about the incredible interviewee they don't want to let go. You can also ask (in a polite fashion) in about how long they'll be making their decision. If that date passes and you still haven't heard anything, call again. It's not being pushy, it's being persistant. Pushiness is bad, but persistence is good.

We've given you many tips on what you should do to blow that employer out of the water. But for a funny example of what you shouldn't do, check out the article at How To Ace Your First Job Interview.