5 Tips for Your First Job Interview

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Whether you’re just finishing your studies or entering the workforce later in life, landing your first job interview is a huge deal—so, congratulations! When you consider the sheer number of candidates who may be vying for the same position, you realize how much of a feat it is to be selected for an interview. Now it is time to prepare for the interview, which could shape your entire career trajectory.

Job interviews can be both exciting and nerve-racking, even if it’s not your first time, especially in the days leading up to the meeting. Rest assured it’s perfectly normal to be stressed by the prospects of starting something new and the anticipation of the results. Even veteran professionals with tons of job interviews under their belts are likely to experience these feelings as an interview approaches. That said, you can’t let your nerves get the upper hand on the big day, which is why it’s crucial to be well-prepared.

When you’re ready to face the interviewer, you’ll feel more confident and capable of handling any questions they may throw your way. Confidence is always valuable in an interview as it will give the interviewer a positive impression of you—in some ways, this can matter even more than your professional skills or experience. 

Since you’re pursuing your first job and many of the most common questions are about job history, the interviewer will likely focus on your goals, expectations, and interests, asking why you chose this particular field or industry. As these are questions about yourself, you should obviously know the answers, but putting together well-thought-out responses that paint you in a positive light still requires practice. If you can present insightful and well-articulated answers with confidence, you can give yourself a significant leg up in the race. 

If you’re feeling especially nervous about answering difficult questions pertaining to your future, set up a mock interview with a professional who will give you constructive feedback and help you practice. Armed with advice tailored to you, your goals, and the specific position you’re applying for, you’ll also be able to build up your confidence and make a strong first impression on the interviewer.

So, what should you keep in mind before your first job interview? 

1. Record yourself rehearsing 

An excellent way to prepare for your interview is to record yourself practicing, whether you’re doing it by yourself or with a friend or running a mock interview with an expert. Playing back the recording will allow you to see whether you’re speaking too fast, rambling, giving out unnecessary information, or being too casual. You’ll also be able to analyze your body language, posture, and vocabulary so you can correct distracting behaviors such as unconscious tics or crutch words. Don’t be tempted to skip the recording part just because you’re working with a friend or a mock interview expert—it’s important that you see for yourself how you look as it may not match the image in your head.

However, there’s also such a thing as over-preparing, which can make your answers feel unnatural and scripted. If they sound robotic and rehearsed, the interviewer may question your truthfulness. You always want to present as honest and transparent, so don’t push it too far—aim to be yourself on the day of the interview. Practice and rehearse, but focus more on the overall delivery than the precise wording of your answers.

2. Choose your outfit early

The clothes you wear can also play a decisive role in whether you get the job as they shape the impression you leave on others. Although this can depend on the industry and the specific company, as a general rule, looking and smelling clean and dressing in business casual attire in neutral colors is the way to go for a job interview. 

Make sure your clothes are appropriate and free of any distracting colors or patterns. The key is to wear an outfit that complements your professional demeanor rather than distracts from it. Regardless of the style you go with, don’t put on something you feel awkward in because if you’re uncomfortable, the interviewer is likely to sense that, and your confidence will probably suffer as well. Besides, the last thing you want is to be itching or tugging at your clothes or wondering if that top hat was too much. (Hint: It is.) In fact, keep all your accessories to a minimum. 

We also suggest trying the full ensemble on the day before the interview for a kind of dress rehearsal so you can see what it looks like on camera and, more importantly, assess how you feel in it. Do you feel like yourself? Do you feel empowered? Do you feel comfortable? The last thing on your mind during the interview should be your wardrobe, so spend a little time getting it right beforehand. If you’re unsure whether your clothes are suitable for this kind of meeting, start preparing way in advance so you can pick out or buy another outfit in case you don’t like the one you’ve already selected.

3. Plan ahead 

It’s crucial to plan ahead and figure out the logistics for the day of the interview. If it’s an in-person meeting, think of how to get there early. A good rule of thumb is to aim to be 15 minutes early—this will show the employer that you’re careful and punctual but not obsessive. If you’re driving, consider gas and parking, and if you’re biking, walking, or using public transport, figure out the best route and schedule. It’s a good idea to travel to the location a day or two before your interview so you can familiarize yourself with the route and be prepared to handle any challenges that may arise.

If your interview is online, there’s still a lot of prep work to do even if you won’t be leaving your house. Check your video and sound quality, make sure your device will have enough battery power for the duration of the interview, and verify that your internet connection is stable enough for a smooth call. Clean up your space, ensure there’s good lighting, and find somewhere comfortable enough to sit so that you’re not fidgeting. As the interview approaches, make sure you’re all set up in advance, just in case your computer decides to install some updates or another surprise development occurs as you’re about to log in.

Whether you’re traveling to the company’s site or doing a remote job interview from your home, you want to be ready well in advance so you can be certain that no unexpected setbacks will have you rushing to join at the last minute. 

4. Be yourself

On the day of the interview, don’t forget to relax and just be yourself. This might sound like the kind of advice your mom would give you before the first day of school, but there’s a good reason why it’s a cliché. 

The purpose of a job interview is to get a job, which is usually a long-term commitment, and you don’t want to be faking it for years, so be yourself from day one to avoid any issues or preventable incompatibilities further down the line. If, for whatever reason, your personality isn’t right for this workplace, then you’re not going to be happy working there anyway, and you’d be better off waiting for an opportunity that suits you.

Besides, interviewers know how to spot authenticity. Unless you’re extremely skilled at pretending, you likely won’t come off as authentic if you’re putting on an act, so instead of trying to be someone else, just lean into your own strengths.

5. Be present and engaging

During the interview, stay present and engage with the interviewer, answering their questions honestly and clarifying anything you’re not entirely sure about. Remember that it’s better to take your time and answer a question thoughtfully than rush to fill a moment of silence with the first thing that pops into your head. If you’re not immediately sure how to respond, it’s fine to say, “Give me a moment to think about that.” Of course, you need to say it in a confident manner, but this signals to the employer that you’re careful, deliberate, and unafraid to admit you’re not perfect—all of these are positive attributes.

Paying close attention to the interviewer will not only help you give the best answers but can also trigger more questions for you to ask them at the end of the interview. Even though the main point of the job interview is for you to answer questions, asking questions of your own demonstrates interest and enthusiasm (assuming the questions are about the company or the job itself, not the salary or benefits), so it’s a good idea to always have a few ready to fire off. 

Although we strongly encourage you to prepare some questions in advance, if you pay close attention, you might think of something that didn’t occur to you when you researched the company. If you ask questions that build on things mentioned during the interview, you also highlight your engagement in the conversation.

If your nerves are still frayed, remind yourself that job interviews are simply conversations between two people assessing their compatibility and that you also have some power in this situation. Be confident in yourself, and don’t be afraid to show your enthusiasm for the role—in fact, that’s exactly what you should do, as long as you don’t go overboard. After the interview, don’t forget to send the interviewer a follow-up letter to reinforce your professionalism and stand out from the crowd. Some hiring managers even reject candidates who fail to send a thank-you note, so make sure you don’t skip this often overlooked step.

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