One of the benefits of starting your own companies is that you don’t have to interview for jobs. It’s probably been 30 years since I last did so.
But my choice of career has put me on the other side of that firing line plenty. I’ve seen every possible interview style you can imagine. I’ve seen great, I’ve seen terrible, and I’ve seen everything in between.
Having sat through hundreds - if not thousands - of interviews, I’ve identified a few patterns; small, often quite simple things that ensure a candidate has made the best possible impression.
So with graduation season in full swing - and approximately 5 million newly minted graduates hitting the job market - I thought I would share my top 10 tips to crushing your next job interview. Here goes:
1) Be prompt.
Being on time counts. The very first screen for candidates applying for jobs at an Apple Store is simply who shows up on time for the informational seminar.
LiveOps, a virtual call-center company that uses complex algorithms to determine the most qualified independent agents to receive calls, determined that being on time for one’s shift was the single most important predictor of every other aspect of their performance.
Being on time is easy. Do it. Or even better, follow my playbook which simply says: “if you're only on time, you’re late”
2) Be prepared.
In baseball, players in the field often “back up” a base, so that if a throw goes wide, or over someone’s head, someone is there to clean up the mess. In High School, I played second base, and from where I usually stood during a game, it was a run of about 100 feet to get to the point behind the first baseman where you could intercept a bad throw. I did that run around thirty times every game. And almost every time I made that run, it was a complete waste of time. Because usually, the first baseman would catch the ball. Or it wouldn’t get thrown to him at all. Weeks could go by between the times I touched an overthrown ball.
But that’s not the point. The point is that I was willing to do that run 150 times when it wasn’t needed, just so that I would be there the one time it was.
The point of that story? Since you don’t know what your interviewer is going to ask, you need to prepare for everything. Make a list of every possible question. Come up with good answers. And practice. And practice some more. You’re not going to know if that ball is going to come to you. . . but you’ll be ready if it does.
3) Don’t just prepare answers – prepare questions.
Remember in point #2 when I said that you can’t know what your interviewer is going to ask? That’s not exactly true. There is one question I guarantee you will be asked: “Do you have any questions?”
This is your chance to demonstrate that you’ve done your homework. That you’re thoughtful about the company, its products, its competitors, your potential role, or almost anything else that demonstrates you are taking this interview seriously. There’s simply no excuse for not hitting this one out of the park.
4) Go your own way.
Several years ago, I shared a stage at a seminar with the governor of a small state. During the closing Q&A session, when a question came my way, I did my best to answer thoughtfully and accurately. But when she was given a question, it was like watching a kung-fu master avoid a round-house kick. “That’s a great question”, she would start out, “but what I think is actually more important …”, she would continue, before heading off in an entirely new direction. You can do the same.
5) Don’t humblebrag.
What’s your biggest weakness? I know, I know. it’s that you work too hard, care too much, etc. Gag me.
6) Tell me a story.
As humans, we’re hard-wired to respond to storytelling. It’s been that way since we were Neanderthals around the fire sharing stories about the day’s mastodon hunt. So every opportunity you have to respond with a story – rather than a one-sentence answer - is an opportunity to truly capture someone’s imagination. Do you have something amazing that you accomplished in your past? Rather than just saying it, figure out a way to tell it.
7) Shut up and listen.
There’s a time to talk, and there’s a time to listen. Know the difference.
8) Be gracious.
At highly selective colleges, the admissions office can fill the entering class several times over with all triple-800-SAT-scoring valedictorians. It’s not that much different for a hiring manager. When faced with scores of candidates with essentially identical qualifications, the decision often falls to seemingly random or superficial things. With that in mind, one thing you can do is be unfailingly gracious – up and down. (It’s one of the Randolph rules of success). And I’ve never failed to be impressed by a great thank you note. It’s so simple, but I estimate that I get a thank you note from less than 20% of my interviews. I get a handwritten note from less than 2%. You can guess which candidates are the ones that I remember.
9) Don’t give up.
It’s a long story (and the subject of a future blog post) but one of the most powerful attributes you can cultivate is to never take “no” for an answer. I’m not talking about stalker behavior; I’m referring to the circumstances where the “no” you receive is not categorical; where it’s only a way to make the first cut of a crowded field, or where it’s based on a less than full understanding of who you are or what you have to offer. It sounds pushy, but there are ways to politely, gently, but firmly make it clear that you are not willing to accept the first no that you get. It’s amazing how many jobs - like sales, business development, etc - are actually based on being able to turn a no into yes. Demonstrating that you have that attitude when it comes to selling yourself is a powerful tool.
Relax. Be yourself. Have fun. No interviewer wants to spend time with someone who sweats through their shirt and looks like they are being interrogated for murder. If you’re prepared, you’ve done all you can do. You deserve this job, but if you don’t get it, it’s their loss. There’s always another one.
And if all else fails, well you can consider doing what I do: just start your own company.
Good luck. I’m rooting for you.