Nailing an interview feels like a big win after a long journey. Particularly in a competitive, saturated job market, making it to the next round in the application process keeps our confidence sharp. However, it also raises the pressure and can create some intense anxiety, causing us to stumble through the conversation.
Your goal should always ensure hiring managers remember you in a positive light. It’s better to leave a ‘fine’ impression than a bad one since it’s easy enough for these decision-makers to move on to the next candidate.
Here, career experts explain the vibes you’re giving off during an interview, and how to leave them stunned… in a good way.
Good impression: You did your homework
It’s probably been a while since you were in a traditional school setting with exams and finals. One way to think about the interviewing process is to think of it through the same lens. As a career expert and the CEO of Brokers International, Mark Williams explains, a candidate who has studied up on the company, the leadership team, and the latest news speaks volumes about their character. “Spend time researching the C-level staff and where they come from. Understand the markets the company is in and where their sales come from,” he continues. “The more knowledge a candidate has and can demonstrate where they will fit in and how they will add value to the company, the better the impression they will leave on a hiring manager.”
Bad impression: You played the ‘victim’ card
We have all had difficult bosses. Some of us may have experienced an unnecessary lay-off due to a toxic office. There are plenty of reasons to feel like you’ve been dealt with negative cards throughout your career, but an interview isn’t a place to voice these worries. This can be seen as ‘playing the victim,’ and it doesn’t leave the kind of impression that results in an offer. “These are individuals who have lots of bad luck over the years, put off a bad vibe, and it makes the hiring leader question what managing them would be like and the maturity of their emotional intelligence,” Williams adds.
Never use the limited you face-to-face time you have in front of an interviewer to gossip or complain about your previous employer. This is the time to be your best advocate and put every impressive trait on the table.
Good impression: You tried to connect with them personally
While at the most basic level, hiring managers are determining if you have the skills necessary to complete the job, likeability is a major factor in why they will remember you. This doesn’t mean you need to agree with everything he or she says, but that you put forth the effort to connect, according to Steven Starks, the senior manager of career counseling programs and operations at the University of Phoenix. This means injecting some personality into the process and expressing genuine interest in what they are saying by actively listening. “This all starts with researching the hiring manager by reviewing their LinkedIn profile and looking for common interests or interesting aspects of their background you may want to ask about. This helps with generating meaningful small talk and asking thoughtful questions aimed at getting to know your future boss,” he adds.
Bad impression: You only talked about your needs
Sure, when it’s down to two opportunities you know you would be equally happy in, salary and benefits become a factor. But at the beginning of the interviewing process, it’s unprofessional (and a bit self-centered) to only talk about your needs, expectations and preferences with a hiring manager. Starks says these candidates premature ask about perks, paychecks and other aspects, rather than learning more about the job they’re signing up for. “They fail to ask questions about how they can help the hiring manager – the challenges the company faces and the problems the team needs help solving. They’re not interested in how they can help because they are too focused on getting what they want,” he explains.
As a candidate, Starks says you should always ask thoughtful questions that will help you determine if an opportunity is right for you but be tactful and balanced in your approach.
Good impression: You were excited and positive.
Have you ever been around someone who, well, seemed out of it? They had no energy behind their eyes, they couldn’t muster up a smile, and generally, you felt like they’d rather be anywhere but than sitting with you. If you have this disposition during an interview, a hiring manager will wonder about your motivations. However, if you arrive excited, eager, and enthusiastic to explore the job opportunity, those good vibes will continue long after the conversation ended. “They show attentive body posture, a warm smile, eye contact, and positive facial expressions throughout the interaction,” Stark describes.
Don’t let nerves get the best of you, since that’s typically when candidates give off negative impressions. “If you’re nervous, instead of telling yourself to calm down tell yourself that you’re excited! Your enthusiasm makes you memorable,” he adds.
Bad impression: You were a know-it-all
While Starks says confidence is a desirable trait in candidates, too much of it will leave a negative impression. Hiring managers will often ask you to detail your strengths and provide concrete examples of when you helped a former company or client achieve their goals. It’s recommended to sing your praises, but in a way that comes across as educated rather than aggressive. “If you harshly criticize the company, turn a topic into a debate about who’s right and wrong, or act as you could easily solve a complex issue the company is facing, you’ll be remembered as an arrogant jerk, not a desirable candidate,” Starks warns.
Good impression: You communicated efficiently
While the resume will help you get your foot in the door, it is how you explain your career history that lands you the job. Eleesha Martin, the recruiting manager for G&A Partners says communication is a top priority for all hiring managers, and it starts by describing your skillset. “The hiring manager wants to know that the candidate can effectively communicate his or her thoughts, feelings, ideas, and so on,” she continues. “In most cases, the candidate will communicate not only with other employees internally but with clients as well. That’s why it’s important to prove to the hiring manager that you, as a candidate, can converse with others effectively.”
Bad impression: You were down on yourself
Just like coming across as boastful or defensive will leave a bad taste in a hiring manager’s mouth, talking down about yourself will do the same. As career expert for SoFi Ashley Stahl explains, there’s a fine line between addressing a hiring manager’s concern and shining a spotlight on a weakness. “If you’ve lost a job, or have a gap on your resume, rehearse how you plan to address the topic,” she recommends. One tactic she recommends is being honest about the time away from work and quickly move on to the next topic. A sample phrase may be: “I took time away to work on my health and am now excited to get back to work and commit my time to the projects we discussed.”
Good impression: You share your vision and solutions
Stahl says one of the best ways to stand out in an interview is painting a vision of what’s possible for your role, and the problems you can solve for them. This requires some detective work into who had your role before you if it’s a new role and the issues you predict they could be facing. When you can take the opportunity and provide clear direction, hiring managers will have a good impression, but they’ll be impressed. “Have a couple of bullet points on projects you see making a huge impact for them, and an explanation for how your past experience or skills align with that vision,” she continues. “An employer is making an investment in you, so be able to show them what they can expect to receive as a return.”