Mastering Formal and Informal Interviews


So you submitted a resume to the company at which you applied, and you finally received a phone call or email asking if you’d be available to come in for an interview. Congratulations! You’re doing something right! A company is considering hiring you and wants to move forward in the process!


Informal Interview
Before having a formal interview, there may be an informal interview process. The informal interview is quickly becoming an important part of a company’s hiring process. In some cases, it’s the prelude to a formal, businesslike interview – merely an additional part of a company’s screening. In others, companies are doing away altogether with the strict atmosphere with which formal interviews are often associated.

Informal interviews can range from a brief meet-and-greet at the local coffee shop, a phone screen, a Skype/Google Hangout or even coming into the company for a few minutes to check out how things work. It all depends on what the company wants to do.

Still, remember to study up on the company, the position for which you’re interviewing and how you see yourself as a fit in the long-term scheme of things. Prepare yourself with smart, thought-out questions for the interviewer as well. Remember this is still a first impression. The interviewer might not expect you to show up in full business attire. But you should still look sharp, well groomed and present yourself in a positive and professional manner.


Acing that Formal Interview
Showing up to an interview, dressing the part and engaging in thoughtful, professional discussions with your interviewers is critical to ensuring you get the job over the rest of the competition. Here are some more tips to make the best impression possible:

  1. Practice your people skills. You need to be likable in order to land a job. Work on your eye contact, smiling, engagement skills and hone your body posture. Practice your interview skills with some commonly asked interview questions (look some up online). Do so in front of a mirror, friends/family or on camera. Learn from your mistakes, and try to build upon a solid impression.
  2. Do your research. You want to know everything possible about the company and position to which you are applying. Nothing says a lack of preparation more than going into an interview unprepared. Look at the company’s website. Learn what the company does, what its mission statement is and where the company is heading. Figure out how you are a best fit for the position based on what the company is seeking. You’ll likely be asked a question as to why you want to work for Company X.
  3. Don't be late.  Show up for your interview at least 10 to 15 minutes early. Walking in the door right at your interview time isn’t a good idea, and being late will almost guarantee you won’t get the job. You also shouldn’t show up any earlier than 15 minutes. Doing so shows you don’t value the employer’s time. 
  4. Greet the interviewer properly. Make sure you look the interviewer(s) directly in the eye when you greet him/her/them. Give a firm, confident handshake and try to remember names.
  5. Answer questions thoughtfully and honestly.  Be honest with your answers. Think clearly about what it is you want to say, and stick to your answers. You’ll want to be clear and concise with what you say. Never lie during an interview, and never speak badly about a previous employer or boss even if your experience was terrible. Back up your answers with relevant examples. If you’re asked, “What is your biggest strength,” be sure to state what it is and how you demonstrated it during previous employment. You may be asked negatively based questions like, “What is your biggest weakness?” Don’t answer with “I don’t have any,” or “I tend to work too hard.” Most importantly, spin your weakness into a positive by saying how you’re improving yourself in this area in some fashion or another.  Remember, an interview is a sales pitch for you. Each answer should incorporate a response describing why you would be a great fit for the position or how your skills match those for which the employer is looking. 
  6. Ask questions and thank your interviewers. Most interviews end with the interviewer(s) asking if you have any questions or anything else to say. You should always answer with “yes.” This is your moment to ask questions demonstrating your interest and seriousness. Questions like - “How does your company strive to meet its mission statement in the course of day-to-day operations?” or What are some common attributes of your best employees?”.  And, lastly, be sure to thank your interviewers for the opportunity with a firm handshake and a statement like, “It was a pleasure meeting with you, [Name].” You remembered the interviewer’s name, right?
  7. Consider following up after the interview. Consider contacting the company a day or so after the interview and see how the process is going. And be sure to pass along your thanks to those who interviewed you. It shows continued dedication and interest.


Common Interview Questions
But preparing for that interview is just as crucial. You may not know exactly what questions your interviewer will ask when you sit across from each other face to face. Yet there’s a good chance many of those questions are ones for which you can prepare right now.

"Tell me a little about yourself"
Consider this your “opening statement” on how you’re the best fit for the position.  Start off with your work history, especially the parts directly related to the interviewing company. You might want to work in some education if it helps.

"Why do you want to work here?
The pay might be nice, as may be the benefits and perks. But those aren’t reasons you want to give in an interview. Instead, try to identify some aspects about the company you appreciate or enjoy. Maybe the company specializes in a product or service you’re passionate about. Or maybe you love the field in which the company is excelling.

This is the moment where you can show off how much you researched the company before the interview.

"What is your No.1 strength?"
If the interviewer asks for your best strength, give him or her your best strength. Back them up with relevant examples. If you feel you’re a hard worker, describe an instance where you demonstrated such in the workplace.

"What is your No.1 weakness?"
Find a true weakness you have. But the key is to turn it into a positive. That’s what the interviewer is looking for. Maybe you struggle with time management. But instead of just leaving your answer as such, describe your efforts in improving how you balance your time-management skills.

"Why did you leave your last position?"
One thing you’ll never want to do is talk poorly about a previous employer, boss or coworker. Even if you were fired from a last position, spin it into a positive and describe how it was a valuable learning experience for you.

And if you left your last position on a good note, be sure to describe that as well!

"Describe a confrontation you had with a coworker and tell me how you handled it"
Again, never talk badly about a previous boss or coworker. But you’ll want to draw on your experience and highlight an instance relevant to the question. Maybe you and a coworker didn’t see eye to eye on how to complete a project. Don’t just leave it like that though. Break down how you might have come to some sort of agreement with your coworker to ensure you were able to complete your tasks amicably.

"Do You have any questions for me?"
This is a question probably 90 percent of interviewees get wrong. Almost every interview will end in a question like this. And almost every interviewee will simply answer “no.” If you have questions about the company, ask them. Be thoughtful though. Consider asking questions like, “What are some traits of your best-performing employees?” or “What do you like most about working for Company X?”.

And if you don’t have questions, at least answer this question with a thank you of some sort. Remember, the interviewer took time out of his or her schedule to meet with you. Be thoughtful and consider telling, one last time, why you’d love the opportunity to work for the company.