By Susannah Snider

U.S. News, October 9, 2018 —

Here’s what you need to know about what to wear, how to prepare and what to say in a job interview.

When embarking on a job interview, job seekers have lots of questions: What do I bring to a job interview? How do I dress for an interview? What do I say? How do I know whether the interview went well?

Unfortunately, the answer to many of these questions is: It depends. But take heart. There are still lots of ways job seekers can prepare to do well in an interview. Here are some crucial job interview tips to know before kicking off your job search process.

Follow these expert tips to make a solid first impression and ace that interview. (Dan Dalton/Getty Images)

How to Prepare for an Interview

How you perform in a job interview is directly related to how well you prepare. “As soon as you know you have an interview coming – in fact, as soon as you apply – put on the Google News alert [for that company],” says Liz Wessel, CEO and co-founder of WayUp, a job marketplace for students and recent grads.

Wessel suggests conducting additional research in three categories: the role you’re applying to, the company and the person interviewing you. “People love talking about themselves and knowing someone has researched them,” she says.

What to wear to a job interview.

In today’s more casual office environment, the age-old idea that a suit is always appropriate no longer holds water.

In fact, when interviewing at some companies, sporting that classic suit-and-tie combo may make you look hopelessly un-hip or out-of-touch. Instead, “you want to dress professionally but reflective of the company’s culture,” says Glassdoor community expert Scott Dobroski.

For example, if you’re interviewing at a creative, young startup company, consider wearing a pair of clean slacks and a polished button-down shirt. Women may also be able to get away with a professional dress or other business-casual wear. If you’re interviewing on Wall Street, where the traditional business clothing is more common, then a suit and tie may be entirely appropriate and even expected.

Fortunately, interviewees don’t have to go into an interview blindly guessing about the company’s work culture and dress code. Try searching the company’s Facebook page or website for pictures of the office and employees at work. Or if you’re working with a recruiter, ask her what the dress code is, says Joe Weinlick, senior vice president of marketing at Nexxt, a Pennsylvania-based recruitment media company.

Think about dressing a level above the position you’re applying for, says Cheryl Hyatt, CEO and partner at Hyatt-Fennell, an executive recruiting firm based in Pennsylvania. “If you’re applying to be the president, look like a board member,” she says.

Of course, no matter how casual the office is, showing up looking sloppy, ripped, unshaved, dirty or decked out for the nightclub won’t win you any fans on the hiring team. Your ability to dress appropriately lets potential employers know that you exercise solid judgment and will represent the company well in future interactions with clients and customers.

What to bring to an interview.

Job seekers should not show up to an interview empty-handed. Keep your papers and other items in a clean, professional purse, briefcase or zippered binder, experts say.

Consider bringing these items to an interview:

Copies of your resume
Copies of your cover letter
Copies of your professional portfolio or clips if the job requires them
Bottle of water
Notebook and pen to take notes

While it’s wise to bring application and reference items, there are certain aspects of your life that you should leave at home, experts say. Those better-left-at-home items include your mom, your children and your dog, no matter how cute he is. Also, don’t bring snacks or gum, Dobroski says. Freshen your breath by taking care not to eat anything too overpowering – think garlic, strong coffee, onions – and brushing your teeth or popping a breath mint before you head into the interview.

Be careful, also, to not eat anything too rich that may disagree with your stomach. And don’t guzzle a gallon of coffee minutes before heading into the interview. It would be a shame to have your grumbling gut or frequent bathroom breaks overpower your credentials during the job interview, experts say.

Tips for When You’re in the Interview

After doing your research and preparing your physical and mental self for the interview, it’s time to wow the hiring manager and other interviewers. Read on for the best job interview tips.

How to act in an interview.

Don’t forget that looking polished doesn’t stop at dressing appropriately. Your behavior should also be polished and professional. Behaving well at an interview means shaking the interviewer’s hand, speaking clearly and looking the interviewer in the eye when you speak. “Your body language is very important,” Hyatt says. “Be professional, yet show your humanism.”

Acting correctly in an interview also means avoiding swear words, skipping the raunchy stories about your Saturday night and not calling your female interviewer “sweetheart” or “cutie.” Remember to practice your interview questions before the interview and prepare anecdotes to illustrate your strengths and weaknesses (in a flattering light). The right preparation, paired with good manners and a charming personality, should help increase your chances of acing the interview – and scoring the job.

When to arrive at an interview.

The last thing you want to do is show up for an interview late. But you also don’t want to show up too early, experts say. “Ideally, you want to show up 10 to 15 minutes early, comfortable and ready to go,” Dobroski says.

One way to ensure that you arrive early – but not too early – is to give yourself an extra half hour or so to accommodate rush hour traffic or transit delays. If you do arrive early, practice your interview responses in your car or at a nearby park until 10 or 15 minutes before the interview is scheduled to start. Only then is it OK to check in with the reception desk.

Because traffic patterns vary depending on the time of day, you may also want to check on your route 24 hours before the interview is scheduled by plugging it into Google Maps or Waze, Dobroski says. Take note of what the traffic looks like at that time and whether there are any route delays.

Talking points: do’s and don’ts.

It’s always wise to bring up your accomplishments, experiences and professional goals as they relate to the position for which you’re applying. Aim to use metrics when detailing your previous professional wins, says Marc Cenedella, founder and CEO of Ladders Inc., a professional careers site. “Numbers are always better,” Cenedella says. “People don’t [understand] when you say, ‘I did really well at that’ or ‘I really increased it a lot.’ Always share numbers or percentages or dollars.”

On the other hand, steer clear of too much personal information or references to partying, drinking and other unprofessional behavior. “If you’re worried that it’s TMI,” Cenedella says, “it’s TMI.”

Note that you generally want to steer clear of addressing legally protected personal characteristics. Those are topics, commonly associated with “illegal interview questions,” such as inquiries about race, religion, sexual orientation, pregnancy status, age, citizenship and other factors. Because interviewers aren’t permitted to make hiring decisions based on these factors, it may make them uncomfortable or derail the conversation if you bring them up unsolicited.

Unless you’re working in a political or academic field that requires discussing it, aim to avoid addressing your thoughts on President Donald Trump, Cenedella says.

What to know about phone interviews.

The employer may opt to conduct a phone interview as an initial screening step or because you’re based in another city or state.Keep in mind that phone interviews present unique challenges, including the potential for technological difficulties.

“Phone interviews are much more difficult,” Hyatt says. “Sometimes the connection doesn’t work. You can’t read body language, and you feel like you’re [talking over] people.”

Before the interview starts, make sure that you have an understanding of all the technology involved. Confirm that you can get to a quiet room with good reception and low background noise.

During the interview itself, lock up pets, have your partner take the kids to the park and focus your attention on the interview. A hidden benefit to phone interviews: You can print notes, a copy of your resume, sample answers to common interview questions and any other materials that will help you ace the interview. Because the hiring manager can’t see you, it’s OK – and even expected – to have a cheat sheet.

What to know about video interviews.

If you’ll be calling the hiring manager on Skype or another video service like Google Hangouts, practice using the program with a friend or family member first. Make sure you know how to answer calls, work your headset, navigate the video controls, turn on your microphone and take care of any other tech problem that might crop up.

Take note of how the background appears behind you. You may even want to stage it with a few professional-looking items, experts say. And remember: Make eye contact with the camera, not at yourself or the interviewers on screen. Eyeing your own image makes it look like you’re staring down – not the most engaged look for the interviewers. Hyatt even recommends placing a Post-it note over the place where your image is on the screen, so you’re not tempted to stare at yourself.

How Did You Do?

Knowing how the interview went may give you some peace of mind in the following days or weeks as you wait for a response. While you wait, here are some hints that the interview was a success.

Recognize these signs that the interview went well.

It’s nearly impossible to know whether you’ll get the gig based on the interview, unless you’re offered the job on the spot. After all, the hiring manager may have seven interviews scheduled for the next day. There may be an internal applicant who’s a shoo-in, no matter how much the hiring manager likes you. But you can keep an eye out for some good signs.

“If [the hiring manger says] something like, ‘I really enjoyed speaking with you today. I look forward to next steps,'” that’s a good sign, Dobroski says.

Another good sign: If the interviewer starts introducing you to people on your way out the door. “If they start introducing you to other people, they have some interest,” Weinlick says.

You can also feel optimistic if the interview went long. For example, be encouraged if the hiring manager said that the interview would last one hour, but it went for 90 minutes, experts say. It’s certainly better than the alternative: The interviewer said to budget one hour but only chatted with you for 15 minutes. That may mean that the interviewer didn’t want to waste time with a soon-to-be-rejected candidate.

Can you ask for feedback on your interview?

Generally, hiring managers won’t want to answer this question and may worry that their response could get them into trouble. “No company with a decent HR department is going to give you feedback,” Cenedella says.

But if you’re daring, you can sneak solicitations for feedback into your interview. “Some candidates have the chutzpah to ask during an interview, ‘Is there anything about my background that concerns you, that makes you think I’m not the right fit for the role?'” Wessel says. That could spark some discussion about what you need to accomplish in your career to be a standout candidate and give you time to address concerns.

An alternative question could be: “Who’s your ideal candidate, and what would it take for me to develop in my career to where I’m the ideal candidate?” Cenedella says.

But while these may give a sense of what experience you might need to be a better fit for the role, the feedback will be limited. Wessel also suggests addressing any feedback or follow-up questions to the hiring manager, not a peer interviewer who is clearly not in a deciding role.

Send a thank-you note.

Make sure to round out your successful job interview with a polite thank-you note, experts say. Express gratitude for the time your interviewers took to tell you about the job and reaffirm your fit for the position.

Susannah Snider is the Personal Finance editor at U.S. News.