In my lifetime of interviewing candidates, there have been only a few who were truly memorable. Some of them were memorable for all the wrong reasons (hurled f-bombs, crying, inappropriate jokes, and I even had one take a call during my interview with them). There were a few others who did exceptionally well. Most of them, however, were a mixed bag. They did ok, but they didn’t make me excited to pass them on to the hiring manager. I’d end up waiting to see how others did before making a decision on them.
I think we all understand what we’re not supposed to do during an interview: don’t show up late, don’t talk poorly about current or past employers, don’t curse like a sailor, don’t dress like you’re going to the park or to the nightclub afterward, and don’t say your excited to work for ACME Inc. when you’re actually interviewing with Globex Corporation. You know, the basics.
But what makes an interview great?
Well, friend, you’re about to find out.
1. Look like you’re happy to be there.
Think about this: Your experience can get your foot in the door with an employer, but your attitude will get both your feet through the door.
I know interviews can be nerve-wracking, but it’s important to calm down and loosen up (without the assistance of a shot of whiskey). Give an enthusiastic handshake, smile and laugh (when appropriate), give good eye contact, be attentive, show genuine interest in the company, and ask insightful questions. These all demonstrate that you are truly glad to be there.
Think about the person on the other side of the table. How comfortable do you think they are with you if you scowl at them, are fidgety, or keep looking out the window while you’re answering a question. What if they try to tell you a joke and all you give them back is a half-smile or worse you’re so focused on what you’re going to say next that you don’t even hear the joke. Do you think they’ll be impressed?
Your answers to their questions are important, but equally important is to show them you are happy to be answering them.
2. Be a story-teller, not a job candidate.
During my years of recruiting, the best interviews have been with people who didn’t just tell me facts about their last jobs; they told me stories about what they did. You don’t have to give a hero’s journey for every question, but give the interviewer perspective on a few somewhat noteworthy things you did in previous roles. It could be it a problem you solved, a project you completed, or an experience from which you learned a valuable lesson. Describe the situation that led up to your story, what you did, and the result. Sprinkle in details about others involved, add some humor where appropriate, and voila, you have a great story.
While stories are great, try not to use any negative examples, unless you can turn it around with a positive ending. Otherwise, you’ll be irrevocably associated with negativity and your aim is to paint yourself into the most positive light possible.
3. Have the right frame of mind.
Enter interviews with optimism and confidence in your abilities. Forget about past interviews that didn’t go well. Put your previous mistakes behind you. Don’t let your emotions and the fear of “what if I don’t say the right thing” take over your thought processes. The moment you allow your worries in, you’ll inevitably tighten up and start to falter. It will spiral from there.
I know what you’re thinking right now. “That’s easier said than done, Brian.” True enough. But consider the following ways of thinking about your next interview. They might help you re-frame things a bit.
“History doesn’t repeat itself.”
I’m sure you’ve all heard the phrase that goes something like, “if you don’t learn from history, you’re doomed to repeat it.” There’s a grain of truth to it. You should definitely try to learn from past mistakes. But, given that we live in a world that is constantly changing, you’re never going to face a situation exactly like you’ve encountered before.
Even if you had a bad interview previously, this time around you have someone else interviewing you, it’s for a different job, the interview will have different questions, and the hiring manager will have a different set of criteria on what they are looking for. So, just because you bombed one interview, doesn’t mean it’s going to happen again.
“There are millions of idiots who have interviewed before and they all got jobs they wanted. I will, too.”
Just remember that one of the most popular book series ever published is “The Dummies Guide to…” This alone should tell you that there are plenty of dummies out there and almost all of them get interviewed at some point and end up with a job they applied for. Once you view things through this framework, you start to realize you can easily jump over this hurdle in life. If an idiot can do it, why can’t you?
“This isn’t the end all, be all.”
Life doesn’t hang in the balance of the results of this one interview. Even if you don’t get this job, you’ve applied to a lot of other ones, and at least one of those will pan out. Do your best at each interview, but stop stressing about it every time you walk into one. You’ll live to see another day and you’ll have another chance. In the grand scheme, this hour or so of your time is pretty inconsequential.
“I’ll get the job if it’s meant to be.”
Realize that there is only so much that is in your control. Do the best you can by researching the company and figuring out how you can be an asset to them. Practice what you’re going to say. Write down some questions that you want to ask them. That said, realize that no matter how ready you are, a lot of this is out of your hands.
Your success or failure is less a statement on you as it is a statement on what they need at the moment and how the other people that applied did in addressing those needs. Don’t take it personally if your combination of knowledge, skills, abilities, and experience didn’t match what they need. Move on. It wasn’t meant to be.
4. Remember, you’re interviewing them too.
One last thing, just because you’re interviewing with a company, doesn’t mean that you’ll want to work for them. I’ve been on plenty of job interviews when, after speaking with the manager, I quickly realized I didn’t want to work for them. I asked them some questions and once I heard their answers, it didn’t sound like a good fit. I thanked them for their time and left, knowing that if they offered me the job, I wasn’t going to take it.
What kinds of questions will help you decide if this is the right job and company for you? Ask about the type of work you’ll be doing. Ask them about their management style. Ask about the culture of the company and their core principles. Ask about the career path for someone in the position they are hiring. Ask about communication preferences. And so on.
Your goal is to make sure they are the right fit for you just as much as their goal is to make sure you’re the right fit for them.
Chances are pretty high that if you’ve been working for a while, you’re starting to understand what you don’t want in a job or company, write this list down, it will make your selection process a bit easier. Then write down what you do want. Once you find an opportunity that lacks everything on the “Don’t Want” list and has at least a few of the items on the “Do Want” list, you know it has potential.
And, if you did everything else I just wrote about, you’ll have plenty to pick from.