How to get the job: Resume & interview essentials

What's the best way to nail an interview? What is HR thinking when they meet new candidates? What content and actions go over effectively with HR departments and the organization more broadly and which are viewed negatively?

A first-order factor that many people miss is looking the part. We (in HR and other interviewers) always notice how people are dressed and evaluate the appropriateness of what they have on and overall neatness and “packaging” as a critical piece of their ability to do the job. If you miss that piece of your broader offering, we perceive that you’re not taking the role and the opportunity seriously.

If you’re heading into a business organization, you should be wearing a jacket or traditional suit or dress that’s business-focused—even when the environment is business-casual or just plain casual. While we see a lot of folks moving away from professional dress, we think looking the part–especially during an interview—is still critically important. More specifically, you have to get that right before they’ll listen to anything you have to say. If you fail this first-order factor, you can still overcome the disconnect and win the job, but why put an unnecessary barrier in the way of something you want?

For your resume, ensure your messaging speaks exactly to what the job calls for. Carefully study the words in the job description. The people who created the position description spent a great deal of time choosing the wording that’s featured, being mindful of the role and what they want to fulfill. Make sure you use the same words and even play them back verbatim to ensure you convey a keen understanding of what they want and need. The hard reality is that you have only a few minutes to get the attention of your potential employer(s) and build credibility around the fact that you understand what’s needed to be successful in the role. Moreover, matching the language in your resume with the job description is something you can control and provides valuable, effective short-cuts for HR and others who will interview, connecting the dots in a literal way and letting them know you that you’re worth considering further.

As part of your resume and image development, be sure to check your social media presence because potential employers definitely will. Even though HR will have your resume, a few of the stakeholders you’ll be meeting with may not, so make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date and reflects the resume you sent over. When it comes to Instagram, Facebook, etc., eliminate anything that won’t do you any favors on the professional image front.  If reviewing all of your accounts and giving everything a complete scrub seems too stressful and time-consuming, you can always set them to private/friends-only, giving you more time to scrub. Also, if you really can't decide whether a particular post or photo passes the smell test, that probably means it stinks. When in doubt, press delete. :) 

Once you’ve nailed your resume and outfit, the final piece is your communication style. For interviews, it’s important to be confident and articulate. Be ready to demonstrate that you can communicate effectively in general and with a range of stakeholders who might be part of a particular role. Show your ability to listen and understand what’s being asked while focusing on answering succinctly and convincingly. As you’re speaking, the interviewers are evaluating whether you can successfully represent the company or organization.

There are so many people who are smart and qualified, but their communication style ends up being a deal breaker—i.e., they’re not succinct, they lack focus, they talk too long or too much, they appear insecure by having too many fillers (like umms, likes, I means, nervous laughter). Your voice is core to your presence and your overall communication effectiveness. And your communication effectiveness is core to your success or failure in the organization, whether people are willing to work with you, whether you can influence people to get things done. This might sound superficial, but poor communication really is a deal breaker when we're interviewing candidates because we know it will prevent them from being effective with others in the organization and/or customers. If that’s standing in their way, we know they won’t be successful in the role.

So what’s the best way to hone your communication style? This might feel a bit goofy or awkward, but consider recording videos of yourself doing a presentation. Give five-minute pitches—they can be on any topic really. Convince someone of why goat cheese is better than gouda. Tell a story about something crazy that happened last Saturday night. Elaborate on a travel adventure. You can even practice answering questions you anticipate your interviewer will ask.

As you review the videos, carefully study each one and evaluate your facial expressions and gesticulations. Consider your voice and how it projects. If you have fillers, relentlessly focus on eliminating them. Practice being clear and saying more with less. Consider your physical presence—posture, eye contact, and overall projection. Compile the videos as a collection and evaluate them like football coaches study game tape—break them down, stop and start, work on those things that need improvement.

Main takeaways  

  • Always look the part. In an interview, there are so many factors that are out of your control. Your outfit is one of the few things you can. 

  • Tailor your resume to the job. Make sure your messaging speaks to what the role calls for.  

  • Cultivate your communication style. Before a big interview, record videos of yourself and study them. Keep what works and weed out what doesn’t.

About Alexis


Alexis Harding is Women at Work’s resident HR expert. A long-time HR professional based in the Boston area, Alexis has rich experience in the HR departments of several large institutions over nearly two decades. She is here to engage with your questions about a range of topics that might be impacting your career and your overall success.


About Christina


Christina Van Houten is the founder of Women at Work. Based in Boston with her husband and two teenage sons, she has spent the last 20 years of her career as a senior executive in the enterprise technology sector. Prior to evolving into tech, Christina founded a women's athletic apparel brand and served in several public interest roles focused on community and economic development. She started working at age thirteen and hasn't stopped since. She’s eager to help women find their way to the best possible life they can achieve.

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