Once you’ve gotten an invitation to interview, you can be fairly certain that you have already impressed the potential employer—at least on paper. Here's what to do to ensure that you make a good impression during your in-person interview:
- Plan to articulate how you meet your potential employer’s needs
- Four ways to get ready for the big day
- Put together your interview toolkit
- Be your most authentic and professional self
- Review our other interview dos and don’ts
Articulate how you meet the employer’s needs
You probably spent plenty of time pouring over the job description before submitting your application materials. Now that you’ve landed an interview, you’ll want to refer back to the original description, paying close attention to job qualifications and duties. Consider these to a list of the employer’s needs.
For each qualification or duty, identify what skill the employer is asking for. For example, if the job duty is “recruit volunteers,” related skills may include:
- Communication and research: Ability to spearhead your own fact-finding and discovery in order to identify an organizational need for volunteers
- Writing and marketing: Ability to draft an engaging volunteer position descriptions
- Relationship building: Ability to connect with potential volunteers in a professional way
- Decision making: Ability to screen and select volunteers from your applicant pool
Your task, as an interviewee, is to prepare anecdotes about specific situations in which you used each of these skills. You may want to use a simple format recommended by Pam Rechel at Brave Heart Consulting: start by naming the skill, then identify a specific time you used it, and finally explain how the skill will be useful in the role for which you are applying.
Four ways to get ready for the big day
1. Research the organization
You'll want to do plenty of pre-interview research to help you paint the most complete picture of the organization and it's culture. What is their mission? How does it distinguish itself from others working on similar issues or with similar clientele? What is the geographic scope of the organization? How is it funded? What buzz words do you notice when you read the organization’s website?
2. Type up talking points
For example, the anecdotes that illustrate your most salient skills. It’s fine to bring in notes to the interview with you. You can bring along any notes you have along with additional copies of your resume (not always necessary in today's digital age, but still good to have on hand), and work samples to leave behind in a neat padfolio.
3. Figure out how to answer common interview questions
Here are a few:
- "Tell me about yourself."
- "What are your strengths and weaknesses?"
- "Can you tell us about a time you used the skills necessary in this position?"
- "Where do you see yourself in five years?"
- "Why did you leave your last job?"
- "How did you hear about this position?"
4. Prepare your own questions
Just like a limp handshake, a one-sided interview is no fun! The hiring team wants to hear your questions and see that you’re actively engaged and interested in learning more about the organization and position.
- When you research the organization and position, write down any outstanding questions that you may have to bring along to your interview.
- Get more details on the context and history of the particular position for which you're interviewing. Why are they hiring? How is the position managed? What does the rest of the hiring process look like? Just be sure that you're not asking anything that is already clearly stated on the job description or the organization website.
- Plan to ask the most important questions—like how does the open position help the organization fulfill its mission—as early as possible during the interview. And during the proceeding rounds of the interview process, avoid asking questions that cast doubt on your understanding of the position.
Put together your interview toolkit
Don’t leave bag-packing to the last minute. Prepare your interview toolkit the night before the big day:
- Tissues or a handkerchief
- Copies of your resume and work samples
- Breath mints (not gum)
- Bottle of water
- Directions including address, parking information, suite or office number, floor number, and contact information including name and phone number (but keep your phone on silent during the interview, or better yet, just turn it off!)
- Notes (talking points, anecdotes, questions)
- Note paper and pen to take notes (it's always helpful to let an interviewer know that if it's okay with them, you'd like to take notes during your meeting)
Be your most authentic professional self
This will allow for you and the hiring team to more accurately assess whether you're mutually compatible.
Pay attention to the signals that your body language and eye contact send to the hiring team. It’s okay to be a little nervous (and even to show it—it means you care!). But try to relax and be yourself. Let your personality shine so that the hiring team can see a bit of the "real you." If you have a sense of humor, use it to chuckle (appropriately, of course) or express an idea occasionally.
A hiring manager may ask questions that seem trivial—for example, questions about a foreign country mentioned on your resume, or about pets. In fact, this may be an attempt to get to know you on a personal level in order to find out whether you will be someone they’d like to see in the office everyday.
Other interview dos and don’ts
- DO arrive a few minutes early
- DO remember the names of the hiring team (and conduct a bit of research on each of them in advance of the interview)
- DO ask for clarification if you don’t understand a question
- DO answer the questions you’re asked as best you can, and ask whether you answered sufficiently if you’re unsure
- DO pause if you need time to think
- DO send a thank-you note or email as soon as possible that addresses specific and relevant issues you discussed during the interview
- DON’T assume the hiring team remembers your resume
- DON’T talk incessantly
- DON’T discuss salary and benefits if you can avoid it (till you get the job offer)
- DON’T beg for the job
- DON’T wear strong scents
- DON’T dress or behave too casually
As the Associate Director of Editorial and Career Content at Idealist and a lifelong nonprofit professional, Alexis offers job seekers, game changers, and do gooders actionable tips, career resources, and social-impact advice.