Career coaches share the 10 things you should always do in a first-round interview

From researching the company to using a brand strategy, here are 10 answers to the questions, “What are the most effective things job seekers must do in every first-round interview, and why are they important?”

  • Prepare by Doing Discovery on the Company
  • Make Preparations for Your Trip
  • Ask for Direction and Feedback
  • Clarify Next Steps
  • Ensure Company Culture Aligns With Your Values
  • Question the Questioners
  • Focus on Positively Worded Responses
  • Be Present and Engaged
  • Use the Power of Intention
  • Allow Brand Strategy to Assist You

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Prepare by Doing Discovery on the Company

If you spend hours of your life somewhere, you should know about the environment. Play detective and discover everything you can about the organization. 

For example, some folks don’t realize you can look up government OSHA/Food Safety/DOL reports. Look up the leaders of the organization and how they show up online and on social media. 

Does the company have a good rating on sites like Glassdoor and LinkedIn? What do employees and past employees say about the company? What do customers think about the company? How do they make their money? Are they connected to the community or have any political/religious affiliations? Are they known for being inclusive? 

Don’t put yourself in a position to be surprised during the interview. If it is important to you that your workplace is inclusive, environmentally focused, progressive, or whatever, verify BEFORE the interview. If they don’t match your morals, ethics, and values, don’t do it!

Leslie Egiziano, Human Resources Business Partner, Paychex

Make Preparations for Your Trip

Plan out how and when you will get there for your interview. Plan your route and give yourself plenty of extra time to account for delays caused by traffic. A fantastic method to show your punctuality to the interviewer is to arrive early. 

If you anticipate heavy traffic, plan to depart earlier. Always have the location’s address if you need to refer to it. Keep your interviewer’s number and email address on hand if you need to contact them to inform them about a last-minute change in plan. Visit the neighborhood around the interview site ahead of time to get a feel for parking and traffic so you know what to expect on the interview day. This is especially important if the interview is taking place in a location that is not near you.

Samantha Odo, Real Estate Expert & Chief Operating Officer, Precondo

Ask for Direction and Feedback

During interviews, candidates always struggle to come up with interesting questions to ask. This one question will help you close the loop at the end of your conversation and better gauge where you stand in the eyes of the interviewer: “Do you have any hesitation about moving me forward in this process? If so, I’d love to clear up any questions or concerns you have before we hang up.” This straightforward approach welcomes feedback and gives you the opportunity to better sell yourself.

Kelli Anderson, Career Coach, Resume Seed

Clarify Next Steps

Job seekers in first interviews should always ask the interviewer what the next steps are and the likely timing of those. Many interviewers will provide vague answers. They’ll say something like, “I don’t know how long it will take for us to get back to you, but we’ll definitely let you know if you’ll be moving forward.” 

The reality is that they do know the timing, at least approximately. When people say they don’t know what the timing for an event will be, what they almost always mean is that they don’t know the exact timing. 

A great strategy to overcome this is to provide them with a couple of reasonable guesses and one unreasonable one and then ask them to pick. Respond with a question such as, “That makes sense, but are you thinking it will be within the next week? Two weeks? Two months?” The response will probably be something like, “Oh, there’s no way it will be two months. I would say two to three weeks.

Steven Rothberg, Founder & Chief Visionary Officer, College Recruiter

Ensure Company Culture Aligns With Your Values

Your first interview is a great opportunity to gain insight into your potential employer. Making sure the company is the right fit for you starts with being clear on your values. Is it autonomy, personal growth, excellence, or something else? 

Ask questions that will provide insight into the company’s culture to understand if what they have aligns with your values. By doing so, you’ll be able to decide if this is a long-term opportunity or not.

Melissa Chapman, Co-Founder, The GLO Group

Question the Questioners

Far too often, potential hires treat first interviews as a gauntlet; they want to get to the interview and get through with it like it is a dentist appointment. The most significant lost opportunity potential employees make is not asking questions of those conducting the interview. Remember, you are interviewing this company as much as they are interviewing you; you want to make sure you are the right fit. 

Prepare a list of three to five questions you have about the organization. Questions like: 

  • “What will my ideal day look like?”
  • “Who will be my direct supervisor?” 
  • “Why is this position open‌?” 
  • “How would you describe the company culture?” 
  • and “How does this role fit into that culture?” 

There are many excellent resources to find brilliant questions to ask those interviewing you. Don’t leave empty-handed; question the questioners and get your most important questions about this role answered. This will look great to those conducting the interview!

Keith DeVore, Leadership Coach, Keith DeVore Coaching

Focus on Positively Worded Responses

In the first round interview, you want to ensure you continually tie your responses back to the job description using positive language. There’s no need to wing it or be surprised. You’ve already researched the company and the role, and before the interview, you want to practice delivering concise, focused responses. 

In the first round, you’re typically trying to get past the HR gatekeepers who are looking to send skills matches to the group manager (who will later vet your skills and determine if you’re a good fit for the team). Avoid negative wording (“I have never done that.” or “I don’t like it.”) and use the power of positivity to highlight achievements and results that mirror the responsibilities of the prospective job (“I always deliver on or early.” or “I always meet quotas, etc.”). 

You want to continually show that you have the skills and aptitudes to provide what the company is seeking; if you lack a direct skill, simply highlight a similar skill or accomplishment.

Ellen Nusbaum, Chief Content Officer, Springboard Content & Publishing, LLC

Be Present and Engaged

In a first-round interview, make a point to be truly present. For example, I believe job seekers put too much emphasis on not saying filler words like “um,” because they learned in their coursework and preparation that this word is taboo when speaking publicly. 

However, what we need to remember is that job interviews are not presentations or formalized speeches; they are dynamic and should be conversational because one question professionals are going to ask themselves is, “Would I want to work next to this person all day?” 

If you are too focused on not saying “um,” then you aren’t focused on the task at hand. Only by being present and engaged with the conversation will you be able to show who you really are and provide impactful answers.

Erin McGuinness, Career Coach, Finance & Economics, The University of Arizona – Eller College of Management

Use the Power of Intention

One of the most important things a job seeker can do in an initial interview is be very intentional with how they are showing up. It’s easy to think it’s just about looking professional and polished, but your body language and what you’re thinking about or worried about shows up more than you realize. 

Before your interview, take a few moments to ask yourself how you want to feel in the interview. Focus on an empowering mantra or reminder for yourself—something as simple as, “You’ve got this!” or “I’m powerful,” or even “I am valuable to this company”; examine your self-talk and make sure you’re not unconsciously telling yourself that you’re unqualified or unworthy of the role; and finally, make sure your body language is supporting a positive state of mind. 

Get out of your seat, stretch a little, maybe do a few quick jumping jacks or squats to get your blood flowing, then put your shoulders back, raise your chin, smile, and go present yourself in your best state.

Benah Parker, Ph.D., Executive Coach & Social Psychologist, Level 42 Consulting

Allow Brand Strategy to Assist You

Studies show that job seekers have a 26.24% probability of receiving a job offer after several applications and rounds of job interviews. In the job search process, as the job seeker, you are “the product” and you must be aware of how “the services” you offer stand out among the competition (other job seekers). 

The employers are “customers” and you must demonstrate that you are the ideal product they are seeking by developing a “game plan.” Just like a commercial; you must help potential employers “connect the dots.” 

Once you have reviewed the job description based on your findings, develop your brand story. Your brand story should distinctly connect with what the employers are looking for. Match your profile to keywords, attributes, and skills laid out in the employer’s job description. When you brand yourself this way, you are helping recruiters and interviewers to easily connect your skills and experiences to the responsibilities of the job role they are hiring for.

Dr. Alisa Whyte, CEO, Global Workforce & Business Strategist, Dr. Alisa Whyte