When I first entered the workforce, I didn’t have a lot of acquired skill or experience to offer a prospective employer. I had abruptly zagged from pursuing an exciting (but inconsistent) gig in music to the stability of corporate work so while I wouldn’t say that I was entirely without innate skills to leverage, I will admit that at my first job as a marketing manager I spent several months with my phone stealthfully held under the conference table, frantically googling the acronyms I was hearing so I could understand what I was being tasked with each day. (ROI? EMS? WYSIWIG?)
So while I may not have been truly qualified for the myriad of jobs that I’ve held in the intervening years since then, each time a new opportunity came along I was able to talk myself into the job, not because I wowed them with my impressive resume, but because I became excellent at interviewing.
And with each new job came the opportunity to learn new things and grow into the position that I’d been hired for. Call it “on the job training” if you like, but this pattern, repeated over time, has led to me having an actually useful set of skills that now constitute what some might call a real career that I truly enjoy.
If you’re reading this post, it’s fairly safe to assume that you are interested in interviewing well – that is the title after all. There is an abundance of discussion on the internet offering tips for how to do this – smile, have a good handshake, make eye contact, dress for the job, use mirroring body language, etc, etc.
I’ve read a lot of these posts and the tips that they offer are invaluable, but over the course of a dozen or so interviews in as many years, there are a handful of things that I’ve learned which seldom make the standard lists – what follows is a selection of atypical suggestions for nailing your next interview.
- Read all those blogs – I know this is about my atypical tips, but you need to actually do all those other things because they’re the foundation of our social construct and if you can’t manage those basics, you’re definitely not getting the job.
- Don’t “try” to get the job – It sounds counterintuitive, especially given my introduction about how I was never qualified for any of the jobs I got, but the truth is…desperation has a smell, usually only metaphorically, but recruiters and interviewers can spot it a mile away. At the end of the day, they just want the right person for the job and they need someone who is going to be invested in the success of the team they’re building. So be invested enough upfront to recognize when you’re not the right person and be willing to walk away if you can see that you’re not the one for the job.
- Keep your resume simple – I used to think that a very impressive, graphically designed resume was a great way to stand out, but unless you’re a graphic designer, it’s not. More likely, you won’t be taken seriously because you thought it was and showed up with some multi-color flow chart monstrosity. Trust me on this one – just find a basic clean template and fill in your info. Or do what I did and ask a successful friend for a copy of his resume and then use it as a guide to create your own.
- Stalk your interviewer – In today’s internet age, virtually everyone has a digital footprint. Ask for the name of the person(s) you’ll be interviewing with and then research every possible thing you can about them. Read their LinkedIn page, browse their Facebook, if there’s a video of them on YouTube speaking at an event, watch it multiple times. Listen to how they talk, learn what they value and how they present themselves. Not only will this give you great insight into how to relate to them, but it also frees up precious neurological resources that would otherwise be spent trying to read them for the first time when you sit down to interview.
- Be honest, to a fault – This could really be a subpoint from #2, but we all try to put on our best face for an interview and that can easily cross the line into exaggeration, overstating your successes or skills, and sometimes worse transgressions. Very likely, the person interviewing you is further along in their career than you and have been where you are now. So they can tell when you’re embellishing things and ultimately they value your willingness to learn more than your “impressive” history so just being honest is really your best bet anyway.
Anecdote: I once interviewed for a position at a fundraising company and was asked if I personally gave to charity – setting aside the fact that the question itself was semi-inappropriate, I could have been tempted to say “yes” and manufacture some benevolence to impress them. But at the time, I wasn’t in a position to do so, so I told him as much, unapologetically and without squirming. After the interview, the company CEO who just happened to overhear the exchange pulled me aside to apologize for the inappropriate question but thank me for my unflinching honesty. Even though I didn’t get that particular job, I made an impression on that CEO that lasted, which leads me to my next point…
- Always be networking – By this, I do not mean, “go to networking events.” Not that they’re bad, but I’ve personally never had any actual work come from them. By networking I mean, conduct yourself in a way that makes a good impression – do great work, always be gracious, treat everyone with respect and consider every person you work with as a potential future connection to be cultivated, because there’s a decent chance they are exactly that and you never know where your next great opportunity will come from.
- Tell them you want the job, and follow up with them IRL – This one is probably in the blogs I suggested in #1. Always finish an interview by thanking them and letting them know you want the job (if you do). It may seem obvious, but remember, you’re interviewing them too and they want someone who wants to be there – but they can’t know that unless you tell them. And as over the top as it seems, following up with a handwritten note has gotten me more than one job. Granted, that gesture needs to be used in the appropriate context but excluding a scenario where the interviewer clearly wouldn’t appreciate it (you’ll have to judge that for yourself), this one gesture can really make you stand out. Do this immediately though, because mail is slow and it loses impact if there’s a big delay.
- End well – This harks back to #6 and should be obvious, but how you leave a job makes an impression and repeated over time, creates a reputation. This will follow you and sets the stage for either glowing endorsement, or ambivalence (or worse) when your name comes up. 100% of my current work as a consultant came from previous connections in my corporate career, it’s just the way things work.
At the end of the day, I could probably summarize this whole post into a few simple principles – demonstrate good character, prepare well, and don’t misrepresent yourself (too much). Creating the chances to put these principles into action is up to you – so be bold, put in that application, ask for the interview, and then don’t be afraid to jump headlong into the next opportunity, even if you can’t tell what’s on the other side of that big leap – because the truth is, none of us ever can.