Landing a Job – What Matters? Part 3 – Interview Better

Congratulations! You’ve landed an interview! It’s likely that you’ve gotten this far because you’ve paid attention and followed the rules the company has set forth for applying for the job. You’ve also put together a cover letter and resume that was appealing to someone at the company. (Or maybe you’re just following this thread to see if I finally say something intriguing.) Now that you’re preparing for an actual interview, I’d like to share a few thoughts to help you become stronger in the interview process. While this isn’t a comprehensive list of the things you need to know and do in an interview, it’s certainly a list of things that matter to me and many others who are in a position to hire you.

job interview

Tip #1 – Bring 2 Copies

Don’t come empty handed and don’t assume that the person interviewing you is well prepared. For any number of reasons, the person interviewing you may have failed to make sure he/she has a copy handy – so save the day for them and have an extra one with you. And make sure you have one for yourself in case you need to reference something.

Tip #2 – Bring a Notebook

There’s a good chance you won’t write anything in it, but have a notebook with you in case you need to write anything down. Very often I have referenced a technology that the applicant was unfamiliar with. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but not showing interest in learning about it is bad. Write it down and let the interviewer know that you’re going to learn more about it when you get home. There may be any number of other things that get referenced that are worth jotting down. (This should probably go without saying, but bring your own pen, as well.)

Tip #3 – Dress Appropriately

Nothing elaborate here, but coming under-dressed is bad, while coming over-dressed isn’t. The Internet is filled with stories from hiring managers regarding people who missed this critical detail. A little thoughtful consideration of your interview outfit will help to support the positive impression you’ve already created thus far in the process.

Tip #4 – Job/Work History

It is perfectly reasonable for the interviewer to ask you to step through your work history. You should be able to do this with near perfection. This will require that you practice giving it. I would keep it under 10 minutes. If job history is short, keep it to 5 minutes. If it goes longer it should be because the interviewer is asking questions. Make sure it matches your resume. Along the way you should give a reasonable explanation of why you moved from one company to the next.

Tip #5 – Don’t Criticize Past Employers

This can be hard to do. You may very well have moved on because a prior employer was unethical, dishonest, or just treated employees poorly. I am only going to hear your side and if I don’t know much about you, I will assume that there is another side to the story. Keep it as positive as you can. It would be better to state that you no longer enjoyed going to work and you could see that your attitude was going to start impacting your performance. If I ask for details, you can begin elaborating some, but you still need to be cautious.

Why? I will likely assume that one day you will talk poorly about our company.

Tip #6 – Know the Company

Know as much about the company as you can. This is where research into a company can really help you. If you come in without having researched our company, I assume you just want a paycheck. You won’t have any emotional attachment or commitment to what we do. You won’t get hired.

On the other hand, sharing what you know and have learned is viewed as a compliment. Who doesn’t like a compliment?

ask the right questions

Tip #7 – Use “I Don’t Know” Effectively

Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.” Most interviewers will recognize when a candidate has ventured outside of their scope of knowledge. If the first interviewer doesn’t see it, almost certainly the second interviewer will catch it. I think that “I don’t know” can be used effectively by following up with questions that demonstrate interest. There are different ways to say, “I don’t know,” such as “I don’t have experience using that technology. How is it being used here and how is it helping?”  By getting a little more information, you might find that you have knowledge of a similar technology or service that you can share about.

Tip #8 – Memorable Follow-up

Following up with a letter, note, or email is required. Please do not think that this is optional. At the minimum you should thank the interviewer and state that you are excited about the possibility. Some of the best follow-ups I’ve received included new information learned by digging in deeper on something that came up during the interview. Very often I’ll ask questions that demonstrate the candidate’s problem-solving abilities. One of my favorite is borrowed from an article on Microsoft from many years ago. Using only pen and paper or the whiteboard (no smartphone allowed), I ask the candidate to step me through their thinking in coming up with a estimate of the number of gas stations in the United States. Some struggle, some shine. I learn all sorts of interesting things along the way as the candidate talks it out. One of my favorite follow-ups was a woman’s additional thoughts on the exercise — and this follow-up is what landed her the job.

Whether you’re interviewing here at LT or at another company, the points I’ve made above (as well as in the previous two posts – Pay Attention & Resume Details) will help you to find a position that’s a good fit for you as well as helping an employer discover a great employee. But don’t take my word for it. Spend a little time online researching other articles on this subject and you’ll find plenty of terrific advice on this topic. If you can follow the process as I’ve outlined it here, I’m convinced that these tips will improve your chances of getting an offer. The rest is up to you!