Wish you could skip the interview part of a position and fast-forward to actually doing the work and getting paid? Sadly, that probably won’t happen. That’s why even the most confident, seasoned candidates can benefit from a periodic interview tune-up.
Fellow freelancers, this applies to us, too. Working independently involves interviewing for new gigs throughout the year. And if you’re not landing as many jobs as you’d like, chances are you need to polish your interviewing skills.
In my two decades as a freelancer, I’ve gone on countless interviews myself. I’ve also researched and written dozens of articles on the topic, picking up a number of tips along the way. Here are 10 of my top interviewing suggestions, whether you work for an employer, freelance or do some of each.
- Get the details.
If the person scheduling the interview doesn’t tell you who you’ll be meeting with and what the interview format will be, ask. You don’t want to waltz into an office thinking you’re there for a 30-minute meeting with one person when you’re in for a daylong interview loop, a panel interview or a group interview with other candidates. Nor do you want to be surprised by the fact that your interviewers are expecting you to give a PowerPoint or whiteboard presentation on a topic of their choosing.
In short, know what to expect so you can better prepare.
- Write and rehearse your selling points.
Interviewers need proof that you’d be an asset to their team. Planning to talk about your career highlights is essential. Of course, you can’t know exactly what questions interviewers will ask. But surely they’ll want to hear about any unique talents you possess and specifics of any projects you aced in recent positions, along with what tools and techniques you used to pull off those assignments.
Use bullet points to recap these details for yourself — whether you’re describing a training program you designed and led or a revenue-boosting campaign you contributed to — and practice delivering them until you can do so confidently, conversationally and succinctly. Test-driving your points on a friend you trust to give honest feedback can be a big help. Same goes for audio- or video-recording yourself until you’re happy with your delivery.
- Get comfortable with self-promotion.
Conveying your accomplishments to interviewers doesn’t have to be an exercise in grandstanding. The language you use to describe your achievements makes all the difference. For example, saying you earned your degree at Harvard is stating a fact, whereas saying you went to one of the world’s leading institutions of higher education is more of a boast.
That you generated 350 sales leads in your last position when 200 was the team average is also a fact. You’re simply delivering the specifics that can help sway an employer in your direction. Likewise, if you’re loathe to say, “I’m great at juggling half a dozen high-priority clients at once,” try saying, “I’ve been told by colleagues that I’m skilled at juggling half a dozen high-priority clients at once.”
- Make sure your claims match your online persona.
If you regularly update your resume and are honest in interviews, there shouldn’t be any discrepancies between the two. Social media accounts and personal websites are another story. Many of us have multiple online presences, from LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter profiles to personal blogs and websites. With all these digital homes, it’s easy for some to fall out of date.
To ensure your interview answers sync with your internet persona, schedule a morning every three to four months to update your LinkedIn profile, social media bios and website or blog descriptions to ensure they’re consistent with your current resume and interview rap.
- Stand up for phone interviews.
Phone screenings are every bit as important as face-to-face interviews. If you fail to impress the recruiter or other gatekeeper by phone, that’s it — you’re out of the running.
Years ago a mentor suggested I stand up during these interviews and make a concentrated effort to smile throughout the call. It was a great suggestion. Standing for the conversation boosts your energy, confidence and sense of feeling in control. Smiling adds warmth and friendliness to your voice and helps reduce your nervousness. Try it during your next phone interview. Chances are you’ll feel noticeably better about how you did.
- When meeting in person, pay attention to body language.
The idea is to project a sense of ease and confidence. Learn to give a good, firm handshake. Look people in the eye when speaking with them. Don't slouch or fold up your body, and don’t fidget or play with your buttons, jewelry, tie or hair.
Research shows that adopting a more open posture makes you look and feel more confident. If you need to, practice these moves in front of a mirror. It helps!
- Finalize logistics at least a day before.
Don’t wait until the morning of the interview to iron your shirt, gas up your car or update your portfolio. Pad travel time to account for sitting in traffic, getting lost, finding parking and hitting the restroom before the interview. You don't want to arrive harried or without those business cards you meant to bring. It will rattle your confidence. Also be sure to travel with a water bottle, snacks and anything else you’ll need to stay at your best.
- Do your research.
Use LinkedIn, Wikipedia and credible business publications and websites to research the company and interviewers ahead of time. Take note of any alma maters, employers, cities lived in or hobbies you share with your interviewers. Don’t be afraid to work one or two of these into the conversation at the start or end of the interview. Doing so helps build rapport. It may even spur a question for you to ask at the end of the interview. For example: “I saw on LinkedIn that you worked at Corportately.com around the same time I did, though we never crossed paths. What’s the biggest difference between that company’s culture and this one?”
- Know when to stop talking.
You can’t prepare for every possible question, but you can work on keeping your answers concise and on topic, which will come across as more confident and convincing than giving long, meandering responses. Use a timer to practice answering curveball questions lobbed by a friend in 90 seconds or less. Work on eliminating "ummm," "like," "I just," "sorry" and other wishy-washy verbal tics.
Practice serving up short and sweet answers in response to final interview questions about salary and terms of employment, too. At first it may feel uncomfortable to throw out a figure, shut up and let the number hang in the air. But the more you practice, the easier it gets.
- Practice positive self-talk.
If you’re prone to self-doubt or pessimistic thinking, try propping yourself up in the days and hours leading to the interview. Thoughts like "I'm qualified for this position, and I’ve got the credentials to prove it" and "I've done the leg work for this interview — I’ve got this" will get you much further than “I don’t even know why I’m going to this interview. I’m probably not going to get the job.”
If making like Stuart Smalley isn’t your thing, turn to your past accomplishments for a confidence boost. Think work products, grateful emails from colleagues and LinkedIn recommendations from past supervisors. In other words, bask in the evidence of all you’ve accomplished. Then go share it with your future employer.