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3 tips for a smooth job interview from a hiring pro by Shanna Masdea (she/her)
Set yourself up for interview success: Advice from a hiring pro

You’ve crafted a killer resume, landed an interview, and meticulously prepared your answers—but you’re still feeling some pre-interview nerves.   

As a Search Consultant at On-Ramps with years of job coaching experience, Shanna Masdea has helped hundreds of candidates prepare for interviews and interviewed hundreds herself. Here’s her advice to candidates on the resources and tactics they can use to conquer pre-interview nerves and put their best foot forward:

1. Create a chart

Interviewing can be stressful. In the moment, it's easy to forget all of the groundwork you’ve laid and answers you’ve prepared. A technique I’ve found helpful—both when I’ve interviewed as a candidate and when working with jobseekers—is creating a chart that matches up my resume with the job description. You can do this on paper or on the computer, whichever you prefer. 

I start by splitting my paper into two columns. Then I go through the job description and write out everything they’re looking for on one side of my paper. Next, I go through my resume and match my experiences to each of the points they’re looking for, and write those out on the other side of my paper. 

Now, I have a nice, organized chart that I can use as a reference throughout the interview, so if they ask a question about any of the areas in the job description, I’ll have a specific example ready to go. 

2. Practice with people who know you well 

Writing out your talking points on paper is important, but just as important is actually practicing those responses with a real-life human. I suggest practicing your career story with someone who knows you well. This may be someone from your professional circle, like a former manager, or a family member, partner, or friend. 

The important thing is that this person knows you well and knows your accomplishments, so they’ll be able to tell you if there’s something that you’re underselling or overselling and how your story and responses land.

3. Know how to talk about your current or former employer

One of the stickiest parts of an interview is often talking about your former (or in some cases, current) employer. It’s fairly standard for an interviewer to ask you why you’re leaving or have left your current position. If your departure is amicable, this may be a fairly easy question. But, if you left under less-than-ideal circumstances, this may be a little trickier to answer. 

Depending on your specific situation, your response will likely be slightly different, but every response to this question should be clear and short. I’ve seen candidates go into too much detail and start to spiral. They often end up painting their former employer in a negative light, which can make the interviewer question their professional maturity. 

Instead, keep your response very high-level. For example, if you were laid off, you may say something along the lines of, “I enjoyed my time at the organization. I stayed there for X number of years. The organization was going through an organizational shift, and my team, unfortunately, was transitioned out. I appreciated my time there, and I'm looking forward to new opportunities.” 

Part of your reason for leaving may have been internal politics at the organization. There’s no need to explain this to the interviewer. Instead, trying saying something along the lines of “I was passionate about the work of the organization and really enjoyed my time there. And, as I think about the next steps in my career and my long-term journey, there is some misalignment between my own personal core values and the core values of the leadership. I appreciated the learning experience and look forward to the next opportunity.” 

Express appreciation for what they do and what you’ve learned, touch on why you left (either laid off or misaligned), and then close with appreciation for what you learned and excitement about your next steps. 

What you definitely don’t want to do is lie. I’ve seen candidates panic and say that they are still working at an organization because they’re afraid of how it will be perceived if the interviewer knows they were laid off. This just isn’t necessary. Many folks, especially in this economy and having gone through the pandemic, understand that people often have to move around to different organizations. 

4. Check your tech and your set up 

Remote interviews are becoming more and more common, even as some organizations are returning to the office. On-Ramps has previously written about remote interview best practices, so I won’t get too far into that here.

My big piece of advice is to give yourself time to check both your technical set up and your surroundings. Log in ten minutes early to make sure your link works, check your internet connection, and make sure that those around you know not to walk behind you during your call. And, remember, one of the advantages of Zoom is the ability to blur your background if it isn’t as polished as you’d like it to be.  

5. Use your recruiter as a resource

If your recruiter offers to be a resource, take them up on that. They’re usually working closely with the hiring manager, so they’ll likely have insight into the role’s priorities beyond what you can find in the job description, as well as the culture of the organization. 

And, don’t be afraid to ask them for feedback. You can ask them how you came across during your initial conversation, what you should emphasize more, and what you should dial back. 

Of course, not every recruiter will have the time to talk, and that’s okay too. I will say that at On-Ramps, we really try to make ourselves available, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.  

The Takeaway 

Interviews can be intimidating, but there’s a lot you can do to prepare and conquer your nerves. Set yourself up for success by using those around you as a resource, staying organized, and preparing for potentially challenging questions. And, don’t forget to finish strong by sending an effective post-interview thank you note.