Communication is key during your job search, and it's especially important during the interview process. So here are several tips to help you better communicate with potential employers before, during, and after your interviews.
Scheduling the Interview
Dealing with schedules can be stressful for anyone. If a potential employer suggests an interview time that doesn’t work for you, you may feel nervous telling them you can’t make it work. Of course, being flexible and able to fit things in is a plus, but if a proposed interview time doesn’t work for you, it’s not the end of your chances. Simply reply with a polite “Unfortunately I’m busy at that time”—there's no need for excuses—and propose two to three alternative dates and times. This will show that you do have availability and establish that you are capable of setting professional boundaries.
When You Get to the Interview
Many people show up to interviews early to make sure nothing happens to make them late. This is a responsible move but can result in awkwardness sitting in a lobby. If possible, it’s best to walk into the building no more than five to 10 minutes before the interview. This eliminates an awkwardly long waiting time but still shows punctuality.
When you arrive, it’s important to be polite to everyone you encounter. You never know what someone’s role is in the company, and being polite to everyone shows basic human decency. It also ensures that no one with a say in your application will have a story about you being rude to them.
As you walk in, approach the front desk or the nearest person and state that you’re there for an interview. Don’t stand around waiting for someone to find you. The person nearest the entrance should at least know what direction to point you in or be able to call someone who does know. Taking the initiative to figure out exactly where you need to be will prevent people from wondering why you’re standing around and will help make sure you’re in the right place for when the interview actually starts.
If the Interview Is Remote
If your interview is remote, you won’t have to worry about awkward downtime or needing to leave a positive first impression with employees who aren’t in the interview. But there are still important communication steps to take. The first is to do everything you can to make sure your technology is set up right. When the interview is scheduled, confirm that the correct phone number or chat client is established. If the interview is through a phone call, confirm who is calling whom. Clarifying these details will show that you know how to prepare.
Before the interview, test any equipment and programs that you will be using. Make sure your phone or computer is fully charged. If you’re doing a video chat, make sure you have a phone handy as a backup should technology fail. In the case of video, make sure your environment is not distracting.
If technology fails on either end, try not to show too much frustration. Suggest an alternative method of communication, such as phone or email, and if necessary, suggest a couple of times you’re available for a follow-up or alternate interview time.
If You Can’t Answer a Question
Interviewers often expect candidates to struggle with a question. So feel free to say, “I need a minute to think,” and take some time to compose an answer. If you can’t come up with an answer to the question, there are some options for responses:
- “I’m having trouble coming up with a clear answer. Could you offer more context so I can think of how I would address this on the job?”
- “I haven’t worked with that exact scenario before, but it reminds me of (insert a brief related incident that you feel at least partially addresses the subject)”
- “That’s something I hadn’t really considered. How has your company dealt with that in the past?”
A good employer won’t expect a potential employee to have all the answers right away. The important thing is that you show willingness to consider the subject seriously and take steps to solve unforeseen problems. A question you don’t know the answer to isn’t a failure; it’s an opportunity to showcase your problem-solving skills, and problem solving is one of the top traits that hiring managers are looking for.
Asking Questions of Your Own
We all know it’s important to ask questions of the interviewers to show that interviewing is not a one-sided process; you are interviewing the company as much as they are interviewing you. Interviewers often provide basic information about the company and job as part of the screening process in order to provide you with enough context to give informed answers to their questions. This can make it difficult to determine questions of your own, as you don’t always know what you don’t know. But here are some general options for questions you can ask.
- “What are challenges that people in this position have faced in the past?”
- “How will success/failure be measured for this position?”
- “Are solid productivity metrics in place so you can gauge your progress?”
- “Once initial pain points are met, what will be the ongoing role for this position in the company?”
At the end of the interview, it’s important to ask what the next steps will be. The interviewers should give you a timeline of when you can expect to hear from them next. If you come up with any more questions, you can send a short follow-up email thanking them for the interview and asking for clarification on certain points. Otherwise, wait until the day they specified for next contact.
If it passes, send a brief email thanking them for the interview and asking if you need to provide any more information for them to make a decision. Ask if they know what their current timeline is looking like. If you don’t get a response, a final follow up a week later will not be out of place. If they give you a new deadline, follow suit. If filling the position keeps getting delayed, you can keep following up, but if you feel like you’re not getting anywhere, it could be best to move on. Remember, your job search isn’t over until you’ve made a formal agreement with a company. Until then, it’s always best to keep your options open and your eyes searching for new opportunities.
This piece is part of a series on business communication etiquette. See part one for tips on contacting an employer for the first time.
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