How to Ace an Interview: A Step-by-Step Process


how to ace an interview

Ultimately, landing the job you want is going to come down to how well you do in a job interview.

And that can be good and bad.

It’s bad in that many people hate interviewing and get nervous about the  process.

But it’s good because there is often a pretty low bar for delivering a good interview.

And because so many people don’t like and don’t properly prepare for interviews, if you just get the basics right, it can go a long way.

So within this article, I’m going to share my process and best practices for how to ace an interview. 

5 Tips for a Successful Interview

1. Know Your Message

job interview

The place that I recommend that you start when preparing for your interview is to have a well formulated message that you want to deliver as to why you are the right person for the job.

I’ve been in far too many interviews where the interviewee bounces all over the place, answering questions with no intentionality or cohesive message in mind. They respond to your questions, yes, but their answers do not tell a story of why their background uniquely positions them to succeed in the role.

So formulate your overall message in advance so that you come prepared to steer the conversation in such a way to highlight your unique strengths relative to the role. 

To help you think through what that might look like, here are a couple of examples of jobs with a relevant message that you could have for each, along with sample stories to support the message:

Job Title #1Entry-level Business Development Representative
Type of JobSales
ResponsibilitiesBook sales meetings for more senior sales representatives
Your BackgroundRecent college graduate with limited work experience
Your Message For Why You Would Be a Great FitEven though you don’t have formal work experience, you’ve demonstrated that that you can sell in a non work context
A Story Supporting Your MessageIn college, I was the recruiting chair for my fraternity. In that role, I was responsible for finding and convincing other students why joining the fraternity would be a great experience for that. In fact, I helped to recruit one of my fraternity’s bigger classes, and we brought in over twenty guys to join the house.
Job Title #2Content Marketing Manager
Type of JobMarketing
ResponsibilitiesWriting blog posts, writing guides, and editing marketing content
Your BackgroundCommunity college creative writing professor
Your Message For Why You Would Be a Great FitYou are an excellent writer that teaches how to write well for a living
A Story Supporting Your MessageWhile I don’t have a background in marketing, specifically, I have an excellent background in writing and story-telling. I’ve written numerous short stories over the years, and have taught hundreds of students how to write well. That story-telling ability can help bring your marketing content to life, and make it a fun and compelling read for your audience.

While the examples above are pretty short and high-level, the point is that you’ll want to take the time to craft an overall theme and story as to why you’re a great fit for the role that fits the context of the job description and your own personal background.

2. Do Your Research


The next thing that you need to do to be ready to ace an interview is to research the company, and who you’re talking to, in advance of an interview.

In my experience, you are highly likely to be asked some sort of question regarding what you know about the company. And more than trying to assess your actual knowledge about the company or the industry, the interviewer is looking to understand if you took the time to do your research to prepare for the meeting.

So if you want to ace an interview, you better have done your research.

Here are some big things that you’ll want to know coming into the interview:

  • What The Company Does: The most important thing to have researched going into an interview is what the company actually does. Now, you don’t need to understand this in detail, but you do need be able to articulate at a high-level the services that the company offers.
  • Some Facts About The Company History: Understanding some details about the company history is how to demonstrate the next level of preparation. What I mean here is the more that you know and can reference details like who the CEO is, how long the company has been in business, and things of that nature, the more goodwill you can engender.
  • Some Details The Competition: Understanding the competition is the cherry on top, and it may even be overkill in some cases, but I’ve known hiring managers to whom this was very important. You may not be specifically asked about the company’s competition, but if you bring it up on your own, I promise you that level of preparation will not go unnoticed.
  • Who You’re Talking To: It’s key to take a little bit of time to use LinkedIn to research who is interviewing you. Knowing some facts about them that you can chat about will help you to build rapport. It will also help to know more about their role and what they might care about and/or ask you about during the interview.

3. Be Prepared for Common Questions


In order to ace an interview, you need to be prepared for the most common questions that you’re likely to face in the process.

To do that, the first step is knowing what questions to expect. To that end, here is a link to a good post with a robust list of questions that you’re likely to be asked in an interview.

From there, you’ll want to think about and prepare your answers to each of those questions. To help you with that, we built out a section of this article that provides suggested answers for a smaller subset of the most common ones that I’ve seen in my own experience. You can see suggestions for how to answer those interview questions here.

And finally, once you know how you want to answer those common questions, you’ll want to practice your answers out loud. The simple step of actually going through the process of taking what is in your head and in your notes and articulating them out loud will work wonders.

4. Prepare Your Questions for the Interviewers

business meeting

In pretty much every interview, you’re going to get the chance to ask the interviewers questions. And if you don’t get that opportunity, that’s probably a sign that you didn’t get the job.

Asking your interviewers questions is actually a critically important part of the process, because this provides a chance for you to learn more about the company, role, and team. It also provides another chance to show your level of preparation and thoughtfulness by asking good questions.

So, here are some high-level recommendations about preparing your questions to ace an interview:

Good Questions to Ask:

  • What do you expect a typical day will look like for this role?
    This is a pretty basic question, but an important one. In general, job descriptions are fairly broad and open ended, and it can be difficult to truly understand the specifics of what you’ll be doing from the job description alone. So to make sure the position is a fit for you, I think you’ll want to learn as many specifics as possible about the role and this question is a good place to start.

  • If you were to look back in one year, and say that this was a great hire, what would have happened?
    This is my favorite question to ask of an interviewer. It is great for a variety of reasons. First, from your perspective, it provides wonderful insight into the most important things that you need to deliver on as a part of this role. Out of the interview team’s answers emerge their most important measurements of success, the highest priority roles and responsibilities, and the way that they would want you to operate within the team.

    In addition, you’ll see if they envision this role evolving into something broader over time, and where they’d ideally like to see it go.

    Lastly, if you’re interviewing with multiple individuals at a company, and you ask all of them this question, you can get a sense of if there is alignment on this role. If you receive multiple different answers here, there could be a red flag that there’s not clarity on what the company expects out of this role. 

  • What are your favorite and least favorite things about working here?
    Similar to the first question, this one is also pretty basic, but it helps to get some insight into the company culture. On this one, pay close attention to what people are saying and not saying and the energy and enthusiasm with which they answer the question.

Questions to Avoid:

There are two high-level things that I would recommend that you avoid in asking your questions — first, questions about the extent to which the company will accommodate your personal work preferences and, second, anything that’s off the wall.

Regarding the first point on questions about the company accommodating you, I generally recommend holding on questions about flex work schedule, remote work (if it’s a local company), and things of that nature until the job offer/negotiation process.

In general, it’s important to remember that your goal is to convince the company why you’re a good fit. Yes, you want to ensure that the company is a good fit for you too, but you don’t want to approach it in such a way that the company feels like it has to accommodate you to a larger extent than other candidates…particularly early in the interview process.

Secondly, avoid any unusual or off the wall questions. I was once part of a group interview where we were all asked what our spirit animal was. That person did not get the job and we still joke about how odd that was to this day.

5. Send a Thank You Note

thank you note

My last piece of advice to help you ace an interview is send a thank you note to everyone that you interviewed within 24 hours of the interview. Personalize your thank you note to each person and make it relevant based upon what you discussed, including any personal commonalities that you shared.

And remember, this is your last opportunity to sell yourself, so reiterate why you would be a good fit for the role.

As far as the thank you note format, I think an email is actually the best way to go. Job offer and advancement decisions can be made pretty quickly, and you don’t want to risk a thank you note not arriving by snail mail before that discussion takes place.

3 Interview Mistakes to Avoid

1. Not Dressing Professionally

unprofessional hair style

I’ve seen a lack of professional attire become more of an issue in a remote work context. For some reason, folks think that just because an interview is remote, they don’t have to dress or present themselves professionally.

In any interview context, whether it’s in person or remote, you need to have a clean, professional looking appearance.

Now, the standards are a bit different for in person vs. remote. For example, as a male, you may want to wear a tie to an in person interview. For remote, that’s probably overkill and you can get away with a nice button up.

In either case, the point is, you need to dress professionally for an interview.

This article from Workpac provides a good deeper dive into what you should wear to a job interview.

2. Not Showing Up on Time


Interviews are places where you’re expected to be on your best behavior and present yourself as well as possible. And all of the details matter.

To that end, showing up late to an interview is a major mistake to avoid.

In fact, you should be showing up at least 10 minutes early to in person interviews.

For remote, you should be testing the video call tool beforehand to ensure that you’re able to log in successfully. You should also always aim to be on the call first so you’re there waiting when the other person logs in.

3. Not Practicing Your Answers

customer meeting

It is amazing how many people go into an interview and the first time that they’ve spoken their answer to a question out loud is during that interview.

Taking the time to practice your answers to common questions that you expect to receive during an interview goes a long way to enabling you to come across as polished, poised, and articulate during an interview.

How to Answer the Most Common Interview Questions

Included below are high level recommendations for how to answer some of the most common and important interview questions.

For a broader list of common interview questions, you can check out this this article here..

How to Answer Tell Me About Yourself


Tell me about yourself is the question that you’re most likely to be asked in any interview so you need to be ready for it.

And while many people get really nervous for this question in particular, it’s a great opportunity because it’s an open ended question that provides you with a chance to make your pitch about why you’re the right fit for the role.

To answer this question effectively, you’ll want to leverage the work that you did in the “know your message” portion of your preparation, and consolidate it down into a tight summary that can be used to answer this question.

You should come into the interview with a story about yourself and your background that builds the narrative of why you’re a great fit for the role. Your answer to this question represents your best chance to present that story so make sure you come ready.

Oh, and I want to emphasize that this should not be an overall narrative about all of your personal and professional background. Keep it tight and focused on your message. I once interviewed someone who took a half hour to answer this question…and our interview was a half hour. We did not hire him.

How to Answer Walk Me Through Your Resume


This question is a variation of “tell me about yourself” and some people will ask it in place of that question.

My guidance for how to effectively answer this question is very similar to how to answer tell me about yourself — you need to be able walk through your professional background, including brief comments on each role that you’ve listed on your resume, and craft those experiences together into a tight narrative about why that positions you as a great candidate for the role to which you’re applying.

How to Answer Why Do You Want to Leave Your Job?

feel like quitting my job everyday

“Why do you want to leave your job” is another question that you’re extremely likely to hear and, even if your real answer is because you hate your boss, work in a toxic environment, etc., I recommend that you keep your answer focused on why you’re applying for the role that you’re interviewing for, specifically.

There are a couple of reasons for that recommendation.

First, even if you do truly work in a toxic environment, the people that are interviewing you are not going to have the context to understand you or the environment that you’re in. Thus, the question will emerge — is the environment toxic, or is the interviewee actually the one who is toxic? Unfortunately, I’ve seen many cases where a difficult individual will blame their environment, when it really is them that is difficult.

Secondly, a company will want to hear that you’re excited about the role that you’re interviewing for. So keep it focused on that, and the specifics of what attracted you to that position, specifically.

For additional recommendations on how to answer “why do you want to leave your job,” check out our complete article on the topic.

How to Answer Why Is There a Gap in Your Resume?


If you have a gap in your resume between work experience, you’ll need to come prepared to address that. My best advice here is to answer honestly. If you were laid off or fired, explain what happened, take accountability for your role in that, discuss what you learned, and how it makes you better for this opportunity.

How to Answer What Interested You In This Role?


If you “know your message,” this question provides another good open ended opportunity to communicate why you would be a fit for the role. Here, I’d recommend that you get into specifics as much as possible. Come ready to discuss specific job responsibilities that excite you, and speak to your experience in those areas and how that experience sets you up for success here. Additionally, this is a good opportunity to show that you’ve done your homework and speak to some of the unique and special things that attracted you to the company.

How to Answer What Are You Looking for in a Team and Culture?

For this question, you can go in a lot of different directions, and I definitely recommend answering honestly as to the type of culture that you enjoy and thrive in the most (autonomous, collaborative, creative, etc.).

However, two big pieces of advice here — first, is to do some homework to see if you can understand the company’s stated values in advance of the call. In many cases, they’ll list them on the about section of the site. If you go through them in advance, you can find the ones that resonate with you the most and highlight those in your answers. That will help you to communicate the aspects of a culture that are important to you, but also align with things that you need are important to the company.

Secondly, I recommend avoiding topics like flexible work schedules, remote work (if it’s a local company), etc. as responses in early stage interviews. If those are important to you, you’ll eventually want to discuss them, but that comes in the offer negotiation phase.

At this stage, bringing up that you want a flexible work schedule as one of your most important things could bring up red flags that your priority is finding a role that suits your specific desires, rather than balancing that with service of the organization.

How to Answer Why Are You a Good Fit For This Role?

If you know your message going into the interview, you should be ready to nail this question.

How To Answer Tell Me About Your Experience with X?

professional experience

If an interviewer asks you this question, that will tell you one of two things — that it’s an important skill for the job and/or that it’s a skill you’ll need as a part of the job that they don’t see on your resume. As you’re preparing for the interview, you’ll want to be able to speak to your experience with all of the major job requirements.

If you don’t have experience in a specific area, you’ll obviously need to be honest about that, but you’ll want to be ready to speak to how related experience will enable you to learn that skill quickly.

One other hint as you’re prepping to talk about specific skills and experience — skill and experience requirements are typically listed in hierarchical order on a job description. The time that you put into preparing for how to answer questions about specific skills can roughly be based upon that priority.

How to Answer Tell Me About X on Your Resume?

what does not retained mean

Similar to the last question, your interviewer may ask you about a specific line item on your resume and want more detail. Going into the interview, it probably goes without saying that you need to know your resume well and be able to speak in more detail to everything you have on there.

How to Answer Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?

career path

This can be a tough one to answer, because many people may not know. Or, if you do know, it may not necessarily be the type of answer that a company wants to hear. For example, maybe you’d like to have kids and be a stay at home parent in five years. Great for you, but probably not a helpful answer for the purposes of getting the job.

My high-level guidance here would be to answer honestly, but in a way that is going to position you well for the job. Typical things that a company will want to hear is that you’d be looking to grow into a manager, or continue to focus on work that is aligned with the job description.

How to Answer How Do You Like to be Managed?

Generally, you’ll be asked this question by the hiring manager and they’ll be looking to understand if the way you like to work is a good fit with their management style. While all managers have different styles, I can tell you that pretty much every manager will appreciate somebody who is proactive, takes ownership of their role, is able to take direction and operate autonomously from there, and works diligently to achieve their goals. Craft your answer accordingly.

How to Answer What Do You Like to Do Outside of Work?


This is a fun question that enables an interviewer or interview team to get to know you a bit personally. Answer this one honestly, but there are two things that I would avoid here — any interests you have that some may consider controversial, and any answers that may make it seem like you don’t have any interests or hobbies.

Regarding potentially controversial interests, in general I’d say avoid sharing things that are the center of any level of political debate around them (i.e., shooting guns, advocating for political issues), or things may be illegal in some places.

For my latter point, my biggest advice is to avoid saying things like “I don’t know, I watch a lot of Netflix.” That may be true, and it’s a perfectly fine thing to do, but it’s not interesting, and you may be perceived as a couch potato, which is not ideal when looking for a job. Share a unique interest or hobby and you’ll be fine here.

How to Answer What Are Your Salary Expectations?


This is always an awkward one and, personally, my least favorite part of the interview. My high level guidance is to do some research for typically salary ranges for the position, make sure it’s in line with what you’re looking for, and then  share a number on the high end of that range. There will be a salary negotiation process when you get an offer, and let me say that you shouldn’t expect the company to give you an offer above the number you share…so start high and then you can decide if you’re willing to accept an offer lower than that when the time comes.

For a more detailed recommendation on how to negotiate your salary, take a look at this article.

Frequently Asked Questions


This section provides links to deeper dive articles that answer frequently asked questions for around how to ace an interview:


Interviews can be stressful and, frankly, the interview process is one that many people don’t enjoy. But with the right level of preparation you can come ready to ace your next interview. Start from the foundation of knowing your message for why you’re a great fit from the role. From there, have that message cascade down into how you’re answering the different questions to paint a picture as to why you’re a fit. Practice your answers, research who is interviewing you, and come ready with good questions, and you’ll be well prepared to ace an interview.

About the author

Dan Slocum

Dan is the founder of Best Fit Work and is a business professional with over 10 years of experience. He has been a hiring and people manager on multiple occasions, and has also gone through the hiring process himself at a variety of different companies. Dan writes to share content, tools, and resources to help people discover and thrive in their own best fit work.

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