During a job interview, your nerves and adrenaline may be at an all-time high. That’s why it helps to be prepared.
Ideally, the actual experiences and skills that you share will help you stand out. But how you end the interview can leave a really critical last impression.
“If a candidate does a bad interview, nothing they can do at the end is going to save them,” said Daniel Space, a senior human resources business partner for large tech companies.
“I have seen a good interview get docked a little bit because of how badly the end went. … I have seen ‘medium’ interviews go really, really well if a candidate can make a last attempt [to stand out at the end].”
As the clock winds down to the end of your interview, there are key opportunities you can take to help solidify your position as a top finalist. Here’s what you need to remember to do:
1. DO come prepared with targeted questions that show you have done your research. But DON’T invite criticism.
After the hiring manager or panel asks you questions, there is usually a time toward the end of an interview where they will ask, “What questions do you have for me?”
Don’t say you have no questions and call it a day.
“I’ve had executive-level candidates sometimes, who at the end of the interview … they only ask one question,” said Laura Hunting, CEO of Found By Inc., a talent agency and executive search firm specializing in design. “That’s not a good sign. It signals a lack of interest, a lack of strategic ability, a lack of experience. So I think really coming prepared to interview with follow-up questions is important and can make or break the experience.”
The best questions to ask are those that come up after you do some reflection on what you want out of your next job and what you have heard from interviewers about the role.
Hunting recommends first getting crystal-clear about what core qualities you are looking for in your next job so that you leave an interview getting the information that you need to make a decision.
If you are job-hunting to escape uncommunicative, unhelpful bosses, for example, try asking questions about things that can be deal-breakers for you, such as, “How do you measure success? How will you know whether you hired the right person three months from now? What are the most successful team members doing differently from the average team member?”
If you are seeking more hands-on management, ask, “What does your onboarding process look like?”
“You learn right away whether you are going to be thrown to the wolves,” Watkins said.
If you want to make sure all the bases were covered in your interview, Hunting said you can ask, “Is there anything else that I can answer for you that would help you understand more about me and my skills and experience?”
“That really helps interviewers have one last chance to get a sign on anything that’s missing,” Watkins explained.
“Anytime that you can create as smooth an interview experience as possible … it makes that person on the other end feel that much better about how you can contribute.”
– Laura Hunting, CEO of a talent agency and executive search firm
Keep in mind that there are questions that can do more harm than good. Space warned against asking a question like “Do you have any reservations about me?” because he has seen firsthand how this question can backfire.
“What you are doing is asking this person to think about you in a negative light,” Space said. “And I’ve met so many managers who just feel incredibly awkward after being asked that. You are just going to get a boring basic answer: ‘I think you’ve answered all of my questions at this time.’ Is that really the impression you want to leave?”
2. DO thank people by name and make eye contact.
Thanking people for their time as you end the interview is one basic yet important way to show your professionalism. But if you want to go one step further, make a point to thank them by name.
“Most of the times when we are interviewing, we are so nervous, we are like ‘OK great, thanks,’” Space said, noting that for others, “There is a magic to hearing your name.”
Doing this can be as simple as saying the interviewer’s name and thanking them by title with language like, “‘As a VP of HR, I know you are really busy and I wanted to let you know I appreciate our conversation and I look forward to next steps,’” Space shared as an example. “Making sure you are leaving off with the best possible impression will do a lot of good for you when [interviewers] then go on to the debriefing.”
Hunting said candidates can forget the power of body language, such as eye contact, while thanking an interviewer and giving facial cues to show they are being an active listener. But she noted that these basic actions make job interviews, particularly remote video interviews, feel more organic and natural.
“For better or for worse, how people feel in an interview, it’s a bias,” Hunting said. “It’s going to skew them one way or the other. Anytime that you can create as smooth an interview experience as possible … it makes that person on the other end feel that much better about how you can contribute.”
3. DO clarify if a thank-you note is expected. And if yes, DO follow up with a personalized one to keep the conversation going.
Thanking people in a follow-up note can be helpful on a case-by-case basis. At some companies, interviewers may find it totally unnecessary for you to follow up, while at others, they may expect you to do so.
“There are so many managers that indicate they are a little bit uncomfortable with a thank-you note because they know they are getting a copy-and-pasted template that someone just looked for online, and they don’t know how to respond to it,” said Space, who finds a thank-you note to be an unnecessary administrative burden for job candidates.
When in doubt, Hunting recommends determining what the expectations may be regarding thank-you notes.
Watkins said if you are going to follow up by thanking those you spoke with, don’t just reply all; send individual messages. “If there are five people interviewing you, there are five opportunities to share something interesting, impactful after your interview,” Watkins said.
Make a point to ensure your message isn’t generic. Often, people write something like, “‘I really enjoyed talking to you about X/Y/Z position. If you have any questions about X position, let me know.’ Well, yeah, that’s obvious,” Watkins said. “What I would like to see people do is use that as an opportunity to sell themselves. You are your best marketer, regardless [of] what it is that you do.”
Watkins suggested that if you take notes during your interview, note key points each person has mentioned so you can personalize your thank-you messages.
“If you can tie that to a success that you have had … at some point in your career, the thank-you note is a great way to bring that up,” Watkins said.