Top 10 tips for an in-person job interview

Ken Pelczarski | TLT Career Coach July 2021

Even through the COVID-19 pandemic, many interview tips remain the same.

In-person interviewing remains the predominant way in which employers make hiring decisions, even after video interviewing increased dramatically when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020.

Most employers have become proficient at video interviewing, especially out of necessity and extra precaution during the pandemic. Some employers are still doing virtual hiring, although many are utilizing video interviews as just another step in the hiring process in addition to in-person interviews.

As long as doing business in person continues to be preferred over other methods, interviewing in person will be the biggest determining factor in a hiring decision.

Below are my 10 favorite tips for making the most of an in-person interview.

1. Research the company. According to my April 2016 lubricant industry survey, the biggest pet peeve of hiring managers in the interview process is lack of preparation by candidates.

In-depth research of the company will provide you with (1.) a solid basis for interview discussions, (2.) ideas for questions to ask, (3.) confidence in the potential long-term fit between you and the employer and (4.) enthusiasm for the opportunity. When researching a company, you will be looking at the history of an organization as well as where they are now and where they are going in the future. You will be researching company ownership, management, the job description and the interview team.

Items to evaluate when doing your research include:
The interview team
Upper management style and structure
Revenue and profitability
Financial stability
Buyout risk
Growth plans
Standing among competitors
Industry reputation
Promotion policy
Employee turnover
Work environment and culture
Typical profile of professional hires
Company history.

Possible sources of information include:
Company website
Job description
Human resources
Hiring team
Current and past employees
Annual reports
Dunn & Bradstreet reports
Industry articles
STLE/technical societies
Industry colleagues
Current and past co-workers
Academic professionals
Google/search engines
Facebook and Twitter
Independent recruiters

2. Prepare documentation. I am an advocate of bringing documents to an in-person interview that you can show the employer when context of the discussion dictates. Having a variety of written information available will display your organization, preparation, interest in the job and company, career focus, confidence and self-knowledge.

Consider bringing documentation of the following to the interview:
Resume (always bring)
Cover letter
Education and certifications
College transcripts
List of accomplishments
Work samples
Entrepreneurial successes
Business and sales/marketing plans
Publications, presentations and patents
Trade association memberships
Volunteer activities
Military history
Performance reviews
Reference list
Recommendation letters
Salary history (only if requested)
Reasons for leaving jobs
Non-compete and confidentiality agreements.

Be sure to update your resume to include virtual leadership responsibilities and your cover letter to emphasize accomplishments during these pandemic times.

3. Make a great first impression. A LinkedIn study from several years ago indicated that 33% of employers know in the first 90 seconds of a job interview if they are likely to pursue hiring that candidate, while 48% of employers know in the first five minutes. Your personality, attitude and motivation will largely surface in the first few minutes of a job interview. Although it is difficult to quickly prove your ability to do the job, the employer will be able to evaluate how likeable and professional you are during the first few minutes of the interview.

The following actions and preparation should result in making a great first impression:
Adhere to COVID-19 safety protocol.
Wear proper attire.
Appear well-groomed.
Be punctual.
Greet with a smile.
Offer firm handshake (not during COVID-19).
Come prepared.
Maintain good eye contact.
Demonstrate good posture.
Display a positive attitude.
Show interest and enthusiasm.
Exude confidence.
Be yourself.

My April 2016 survey of lubricant industry hiring managers showed the importance of first impressions. Six of the nine biggest pet peeves of employers are related to the first impression stage of the interview.
Lack of preparation
Poor attitude
Late for interview
Poorly dressed and/or not well-groomed
Unable to maintain eye contact
Apathy/lack of enthusiasm.

4. Ask good questions. Although you will obtain good information from company research, asking insightful questions during the interview will likely provide you with the most valuable information to determine your long-term fit with the employer. The employer also will be evaluating you by the questions you ask.

Below is a list of excellent questions to consider asking during a job interview:
Why is the position open?
How long have you been searching?
How does this position fit into the organizational structure?
Describe a typical week in this role.
What are main position objectives in the first year?
What are the biggest challenges in the role?
How will performance be measured?
What are the expectations for this position to change and grow?
What skills and attributes are required to be successful?
What is the company culture and management style?
Do you see me fitting into the company culture?
How does the company promote morale and unity?
What is the company mission statement?
What is the orientation program length and structure?
What is the average length of employment for this role?
How does the company perform against competition?
How has the company managed during COVID-19?
How is revenue and profitability during COVID-19?
What are the company strengths?
What are the company weaknesses?
What is the company’s reputation in its field?
What are company goals for the next three to five years?
Describe the company business plan to achieve its goals.
Do you support STLE/technical society participation?
What types of education programs does the company support?
What are the main reasons to join this company?
What is the company philosophy on compensation?
Do I lack any key qualifications for the job?
How do I rank among candidates?
How can I prove that I am the best candidate?
What is the next step in the interview process?
How soon is a hiring decision planned?

5. Be ready to answer tough questions. Below are a dozen common tough questions you may be asked in a job interview. Your answers will say a lot about you and can be pivotal in whether you receive a job offer. Company research and other preparation should enable you to handle these questions with ease.
Tell me about yourself.
What is your biggest weakness?
What are your strengths?
What is your proudest career success?
What is your most disappointing career failure?
What are three words that best describe you?
What are your career goals in three to five years?
What year were you born?
Would you lie to secure business?
What salary do you desire?
Why are you interested in this position?
Why should we hire you?

Consult with industry colleagues to learn acceptable ways to answer these questions. Practice giving your answers with a colleague, friend or family member to the point where you do not sound rehearsed.

6. Emphasize relevant skill set, experience and accomplishments.
Use time wisely in an interview by focusing on the specific benefit and value you bring to the employer. Research the company culture, study the job description and learn about the hiring manager’s background in advance of the interview to determine what talents and experience you want to emphasize to the employer.

Present your skill set as it relates to the open position, and be ready to give examples of how each strength has helped you succeed in a specific job situation. Quantify accomplishments whenever possible.

Make your strongest impression by presenting a success story in which you were a key contributor involving (1.) a difficult project, (2.) saving or making the company money and/or (3.) positioning your employer for success and profitability. Document and quantify career successes regularly so you can easily choose ones to which an employer will relate.

In today’s pandemic environment, many employers will look closely at your ability to lead remotely. If the position calls for this kind of leadership, emphasize your ability to (1.) manage and motivate subordinates remotely, (2.) promote high goals and common vision virtually, (3.) conduct virtual meetings and (4.) enhance professional relationships and/or develop new business virtually. In addition, promote new learning you acquired during COVID-19.

7. Express interest in the job and the company. I have always believed that 50% of the battle in an interview is proving your interest, motivation and goals to the employer, and 50% of the battle is proving your related experience, capabilities and skill set. Employers need to hear that you “want to do the job,” not just that you “can do the job.”

Emphasize the reasons you are interested in the position when compared to your current job in areas such as (1.) increased responsibility, (2.) greater challenge, (3.) a more satisfying or meaningful role, (4.) a step up into management, (5.) new areas of learning, (6.) more customer interaction, (7.) more visibility, (8.) greater growth potential and (9.) joining a more stable and/or progressive company.

Convey to the employer that the position is a logical and good step for your career. Impress upon the employer that you can envision yourself being challenged and enjoying the role. Stress your motivation to sink your teeth into this role and be a top performer. Express your strong interest in both the company and the position and that you are likely to stay with the employer for a long time. Finally, point out that you rank this opportunity above all others currently, and you want to get started on this new career path as soon as possible.

8. Do not bring up salary. Be prepared to discuss salary only when an employer inquires. Keep salary discussions brief at early stages of the interview, and focus on proving your value and benefit to the employer.

This is a delicate issue for which serious discussions should be reserved until late in the interview process. Provide a brief, professional response giving the employer a general feel for thoughts on your current compensation (ideally not your exact salary), without stating a specific salary figure or range desired. If you know you are underpaid, express this point and state that you hope to prove you are worth an above average salary increase.

Below are a few of many possible responses to the salary question:
“Money is important, but the company, position and opportunity are more important, so let’s talk first about my ability to perform the job and accomplish company objectives, as well as my fit into the company culture.”
“I am a top performer in my field and hope to prove to you that I am worth near the top of your ideal salary range.”
“I cannot give you a specific figure because it is dependent upon the overall compensation package as well as the overall opportunity.”
“I do not have a specific figure in mind and would expect to be paid according to the level of job responsibility, my experience, my expected contribution and my past successes.”
“Similar positions in the industry are paying in the range of $100,000-$120,000, and you will receive every penny of value if I am paid at the top of that range.”
“The job opportunity is outstanding, and I would definitely consider your best competitive job offer.”

9. Close the interview strong. As a job interview moves along, develop a strategy to leave a positive and lasting impression that conveys your interest and qualifications. The last thing you want to do at the end of an interview is let up. Assuming you have made a good first impression and had good interview discussions, it is critical to finish strong and ask directly for the job at some point.

My recommended strategies to employ as the interview winds down are divided into two categories: (1.) obtain feedback and (2.) sell yourself. Below are suggested questions and comments to bring up at interview closing, ideally starting with obtaining feedback, and then selling yourself based upon this feedback.

Obtain feedback:
Confirm you are being considered for the position.
Learn where your experience may fall short of expectations.
Find out where you stand among candidates.
Discuss next steps in the process.
Ask when you will hear something further.
Ask when the final hiring decision will be made.

Sell yourself:
Summarize your main qualifications.
Express strong interest in the company and position.
Stress your motivation to perform at a high level.
Tell the employer this is an excellent step for your career path.
Emphasize you can see working there for many years to come.
Address employer concerns.
Inform the employer if you have other job offers.
Invite the employer to check references.
Ask for the job.

10. Follow up.
Many job candidates have been dropped from consideration, at least partially because of inadequate follow up. When two candidates are equally qualified, an employer typically gives an edge to the person who follows up regularly, provides new information and conveys interest in the position and company. It is important to follow up, especially when you detect that the employer is on the fence about considering you further.

The general rule is to send a thank you note within one to two days after an interview, although circumstances may dictate you wait a little longer. It may make sense to delay your thank you note when you expect interview feedback shortly that could influence what you write. Rather than rushing to send what may be an ineffective note, take the time to say things exactly how you want to say them. On the other hand, you may want to send a thank you note quickly if a hiring decision is imminent.

E-mail a thank you note to each interview participant. Ideally find something different to say to each recipient, although it is acceptable to send a copy of the same letter to each person. The standard format of a thank you letter includes (1.) a thank you, (2.) the primary reasons you are interested, (3.) the main benefit and skill set you bring to the table and (4.) a closing statement with a request to move to the next step. Keep the letter simple if everything is proceeding smoothly and you are expecting to advance to the next stage.

After sending a thank you note, continue to follow up because interest can easily fade over time for one or both parties due to lack of communication. Try to avoid contacting the employer just to see if the position is still open. Instead, make each contact a meaningful one in which you enhance your standing as a top candidate. Ideally, maintain communication with the hiring manager, and attempt to schedule time for follow-up discussions at pivotal points in the hiring process.

There are numerous strategies to employ in your follow up. Besides emphasizing your interest and strengths in the thank you letter, here are strong reasons to follow up by e-mail, text or telephone at regular intervals.
Employer requested that you follow up.
Update availability to be interviewed further.
Employer invited follow-up questions.
Employer requested additional information.
Volunteer important information.
Keep updated on your candidate status.
Confront employer concerns.
Provide list of references.
Provide employment status changes/updates.
Inform employer of a new time element or another job offer.
Offer to make a presentation or write a business plan.
Propose consulting arrangement.
Distinguish yourself from competition.
Forward industry news and information.
Officially withdraw as a candidate.

Even though the pandemic has significantly changed the world in which we live, most of my interview tips have remained the same. Besides proving the ability to lead remotely in a pandemic environment, the other substantially different aspect of in-person job interviews today is safety protocols in place due to COVID-19. Be sure to learn an employer’s safety procedures in advance of meeting with them in person. There could be a special building entry process, a mask or social distancing requirement, temperature taking or even a mandatory rapid COVID-19 test for state-to-state travel.

I have written many articles over the last 10 years in TLT about improving interview performance and hope that the summary of my favorite tips in this article is useful and has provided you with action items.
Ken Pelczarski is owner and founder of Pelichem Associates, a Chicago-based search firm established in 1985 and specializing in the lubricants industry. You can reach Ken at (630) 960-1940 or at