Over the past year or so, I have dipped my toes into the interviewing process at my employer. Yep, I’m the actual real interviewer referenced in the headline. And I want to get real with you about my experience being on the other side of the table.
It’s been an eye opening experience, to say the least. I would approach interviews in a completely different way than I would have previously. And I have 10 tips I want to offer to help you knock it out of the park in your next interview.
Before I give my advice and observations, note that I work at a desk job for a Fortune 500 company – for a frame of reference. I do think that most of these tips will work for any job field, but the importance of each will vary. If it sounds relevant, use it. If it doesn’t, don’t. With that, here are my 10 best interview tips, given my experience:
1. Your Personality is FAR More Important than your Resume
Your resume might get you through the recruiters, but once you get to the interview stage, it takes a back seat to how you actually bond with each individual interviewer. Don’t bring a fake extroverted persona to an interview if it is not your personality – it will be apparent. Be genuine. That’s what an interviewer wants to see – the real you.
The thing is, if the real you is not good enough to get the job, then maybe that job wasn’t a good fit for you to start with. If you have to fake your way into a job, odds are you won’t be in that job for long. Do yourself and the company a service by being genuine.
Highlight experiences that show the real you – whether it highlights a positive trait or a big mistake that you learned from.
The thing is, half an hour is never enough time to get to know someone. What you want to be able to do is leave the interviewer feeling like they know YOU better than the other candidates. Us interviewers are all human – we want to bond with, connect, and like those we are interviewing because we want to have that same feeling if we were to start working with you.
2. The Detail in your Answers is Secondary to how you Answer
It’s impossible for an interviewer to recall every detail of how you answered a question, particularly when they’ve interviewed a number of different candidates. What is more important is that you:
- make a strong effort to answer the question vs. throwing in the towel or being too short and blunt.
- ask intelligent questions if you are not sure exactly what the interviewer would like to know.
- take time and jot down notes, particularly when asked a cognitive question. Talk the interviewer through your thoughts (unless they are about you wanting to pee your pants). I have asked really tough cognitive questions that require math, and after giving the answer a number of people will ask me “was I close?” or “did I get it right?”, to which my reply is always “there is no right or wrong answer” and theirs is “really? Oh….”.
- be confident in your answer. No second guessing, no filler words. Just answer without rambling – there is seldom times a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer.
3. You Are Genuinely Enthusiastic About the Job – but Not Desperate
You’ve got to want the job. If you don’t, you’re not interviewing for the right job. It’s easy to spot fake enthusiasm.
One word of caution: don’t drool over the job and rain praise on the company itself. You don’t want to make it sound like you don’t deserve the job or would feel very lucky to get it. Desperation is never a defining characteristic that you want tied to you. For example:
- bad enthusiasm: “Thank you so much for giving me the chance to interview. Company XYZ is obviously well respected and I’d really love the opportunity to work here.”
- good enthusiasm: “I really like that this job would give me the opportunity to…”
4. Ask Smart Questions that Aren’t Scripted
Whether it’s during the interview or at the end, ask smart questions. NEVER ask about salary/benefits. The trick here is that your answers are not scripted. If they are, you you have missed a great opportunity to show off your personality and bond with the interviewer.
“What do you like/dislike the most about this job?” is amateur-league and 75% of interviewees ask it. Come up with something a little more interesting and unique than that. And if you can make it specific to the interviewer, you get bonus points for trying to connect. For example, “if you left your job tomorrow, what is the one experience at company XYZ that you will have the fondest memory of?”. Now that’s a great question!
5. Show your Adaptability
In today’s corporate world, there is perhaps no other characteristic that is more desired by employers than adaptability. Change is a constant in today’s fast paced economy. For example, I’d much rather see someone who went from one role to another role in 4 years at the same company vs. someone who was in the same role the entire time. That shows me you are adaptable to change and want to learn new things. If you’ve shifted roles, highlight it and explain why if it’s to your advantage.
6. Highlight Relevant Personal Extra-Curriculars
Even if it didn’t make the resume cut, bring up personal non-work activities that make you stand out. For example, one interviewee told me that he does open mic night at a local comedy club to push himself to become a better public speaker and to explore his creative side. Boom! Winner! That one little sentence tells me that this guy:
a. understands where he can improve on his skills
b. is not afraid of a scary challenge
c. is probably a better public speaker than most
d. will be able to crack a good joke or two!
Little defining moments like that in an interview stick with the interviewee. If you volunteer with a non-profit, by all means, bring it up! If you’ve created some sort of side business or web venture, bring it up! Interviewees want to know that you are more than a soul-less corporate minion. They want to know you are human!
7. Push Yourself
This advice is more relevant for interviews down the road. Experience is King, when competition is fierce. A new college grad who had a breadth of different challenging internships each summer is always going to win out over a grad with zero internships or internships with the same employer each year – all else being equal.
Challenge yourself to take on new experiences with your current employer. This is closely tied to adaptability, but slightly different in that it tells me you have a breadth of knowledge and experience and aren’t afraid to take on a new challenge.
8. The Interviewer is Not Out to Get You – Remember That!
There may be exceptions to this rule – big egos on a power trip – but personally speaking, I am not out to get you. I walk into every interview wanting the person to knock it out of the park. That makes my job easy. I don’t like to see someone fail at an interview and I REALLY don’t like to walk out of an interview with a feeling of indifference. I am sure many interviewers feel the same way. Take that little bit of optimism and confidence into your next interview.
9. Eye Contact & Smile Throughout
These things are a pre-requisite for me. If you can’t look me in the eye when you talk or smile periodically at appropriate moments, I’m not going to walk out of the interview feeling too positive about you. I want to feel comfortable with you, and in order to feel that, you have to be comfortable with me.
10. Stand Up and Handshake at the Start & End of the Interview
When I enter the room, I want to see eye contact and a warm smile, and I also want you to get up out of your seat and a firm handshake. I want the same thing at the end of the interview too. That may sound old-school, or like tired advice, but it’s very important. It’s a sign of warmth and respect and if you can’t do it with me, how can I expect you would do it with a key client or my boss?
Good luck – and let me know how it goes!
If you are also an interviewer, which of these tips do you agree with and do you have additional advice to share?