Picture the scene. I have a job interview in two hours. It’s an important one with a big company, and I want this job.
But here I am, clueless about what I could do better and what I’m doing wrong. The truth is that how you act in that hour of your interview can change the trajectory of your life or mean the difference between staying unemployed for X more weeks or making thousands more dollars.
Most people don’t ever spend time practicing this overlooked skills, so you have an advantage if you do.
I did a previous post on skills you can improve to get better at job interviews in general — more secrets are in that article. Today, I’ll show you how to dominate a job interview. I’ll show you how to sound good in an interview, with lesser-known impressive interview tips including good interview answers you can use when you’re in the spotlight.
Here are some of the biggest things I haven’t mentioned yet to ace your job interview:
1. Understand the Bigger Picture Question
Realize that you are not just answering questions. You are answering the real question they are asking.
By doing this, you can respond perfectly to a question while other people fail by answering a question point blank.
Here are some examples:
If they ask “Tell me about yourself,“they’re not asking for your life story or a summary of your resume. Do not start rambling about your story from when you were born. They really want to know why they should even care to hire you.
When they ask: “What is your greatest weakness?”
The real question is: “Are you aware of your weaknesses and how are you addressing them?”
A great response would show that you acknowledge weaknesses and what you are doing to fix them. A bad response is what most people do: highlight a weakness that’s not really a weakness: “I work too hard.” or just blatantly state weaknesses: “I’m lazy and I suck.”
It’s OK to admit your weaknesses. Successful people are aware of their weaknesses and are humble enough to identify them to fix them. They also know they are great at things to still be highly valuable.
A great weakness would be: “I have only worked for one company so far.” because it is true and you can fix it over time. Quite frankly, many college graduates are in this situation naturally.
Don’t just say you have worked at one company and stop. A perfect answer goes into detail about how you’re fixing it and your other strengths.
“One of my weaknesses is that I’ve only worked at one company. This can limit my experience but it’s natural to be in a situation like this early in my career. I am working on this by exposing myself to new internships and freelancing in my free time. Of course, I have learned a variety of valuable skills during my time there. And I’m ready to hit the ground running and further my experience.”
If they ask: “Why did you drop out of medical school?”
They are really asking to see if you have perseverance. You can own this and explain why you left without making it a weakness if you just show that you have perseverance (if you really do) but just dropped out for other valid reasons.
Prepare ahead of time so you don’t come across defensive or like you are covering up. You can make it appear like a strength instead! More on this later.
If someone is asking about why you have been moving between jobs every year, an average person would just answer the question point blank and fail: “I didn’t like the past jobs.”
Realize that the bigger question is that they want to see if you have been moving around because you got fired, or because you are an employee that can’t make up his mind or will leave their own company very quickly. They don’t want to waste time and money training someone who will just leave soon or is not fit for the job.
By addressing the real question, you can really increase your chances of getting the job.
2. Show Specifically Why You’re Interested in That Company
This involves prepared research. It is important to show in your application and during the interview that the company you want to work for is not like “every other company out there.”
You better have a good answer for why you specifically want to work for them. What makes them stand out and how does that relate to your skills?
3. Show What Can You Do For Them
Most college graduates fail at applying to jobs because they’re only focused on what they want.
If you go into an interview only talking about what you want in a job like benefits, vacation time, and your passions, you have decreased your chances of getting the job drastically.
While it is important to understand that you can be a bit picky with what company fits you best, it is also important to understand that the company wants to know what YOU can do for THEM.
People are interested in what skills you can provide them. You will fall behind if you only talk about what you want while other people care about what they can do for the company.
Get specific. People get bored easier when you stay too high-level. Get very specific with your examples and stories to keep them engaged and interested.
4. Smile More!
Most people don’t smile enough. Occasionally, some females can smile too much and give off the wrong sexual impression, but usually, the problem is that some people are way too serious.
Smiling has a lot of psychology and human nature behind it. People have been shown to rate people more attractive and likable who smile more.
Humans naturally use their mirror neurons in their brain to mimic what they see and they will naturally smile if you genuinely smile. This will increase your chances in an interview.
5. Realize an Interview is About Likability, Not Just Skills
People want to work with people they like and want to hang around. Jessica Alba, one of the founders of The Honest Company, which has a 1 billion dollar valuation, said in a recent interview that she uses the Airport technique when hiring.
She imagines if she would like hanging around this person if they were stuck together at an airport for 5 hours.
The billionaire Richard Branson of Virgin, like Jessica Alba, still makes time to be there in person to hire for important jobs because it’s that important. He also said in his recent book, The Virgin Way, a culture fit with the company is just as important, if not more, than the required skills for the job.
Work on being likable and friendly. You can have all the right skills, but if you’re rude or unlikeable, you can get rejected.
6. Don’t Be Desperate. Show High Status.
People want people who are wanted. You have to value your skills. Even if you are feeling a bit desperate, don’t show it.
You have to start valuing yourself and your worth as a person. Other people will perceive that and view you as more of a valuable asset.
This doesn’t mean high status as in you’re better than then. It means showing higher level thinking and traits.
Along with showing body language of a confident, valuable candidate (good posture, smile, chest out, positive, etc), you should also have the mindset of a higher level thinker and show that.
Examples include asking questions on a higher level purpose of the company: “What are the big goals of the company? What is the higher mission?”
A high-level candidate knows it is a two-way street. He or she is not desperately begging to work at any company. He or she is also looking to see if this company is a good fit for him or her.
Don’t just go for “any job.” Have some standards.
Note: don’t go to the other extreme of being too arrogant or being too picky, especially if you’re just starting out of college. That’s a turn-off.
A person who takes this information and practices will do 10x better than one who just reads this.
The more you practice, the better you do.
The best way: simulate the interview as much as possible with a friend or friends. Video tape it and review the footage after.
Other ways: practice in front of a camera or mirror.
Make sure to practice answers to specific questions you know they will most likely ask like “Tell me about yourself?”, “Why the length of unemployment?”, or “What is your greatest weakness?”
I suggest writing at least 10 questions to prepare and practice for.
Other examples include “Why should we hire you?”, “Why do you want to work here?”, “Tell me about a time you used dealt with a rude customer”, and “Tell me about a time when you used your skills in Java effectively.”
8. Show Your Hunger
In an interview, especially if you’re young and just starting out, you want to utilize advantages that other people don’t have or have less of.
One of these is the amount that you are driven and hungry for a role. If you have this, show that you are very passionate and will work harder than anyone because you’re young in the interview. You should actually tell them verbally so it doesn’t go unnoticed.
9. Own Your Experiences Rather Than Answer Defensively
Many people downplay or respond defensively to questions about their past experience that they are embarrassed about because they don’t know any better.
Oftentimes, these things do not have to be presented as negative at all!
For example, if you are asked about a period of self-employment, show them that this is actually a formidable, real-world learning experience. Show them what you accomplished and learned during that time. Present what made it valuable.
In order to do this well, practice with friends or with a mirror ahead of time. You are bound to get many standard questions so these should be prepared for. These include “What is your greatest weakness? What is your greatest strength? Why this length of unemployment? Tell me about yourself. Why do you want to work here?”
Here’s an example of properly framing:
Rather than say you quit law school or med school, you can show what it really is: you were aggressive in move forward in living the life you want to live.
Although what you did in the past matters, what you are doing now and what you are going to do matters more.
10. Use Safe, Tested Responses
Don’t do crazy, risky jokes or stories. This happens more frequently than you think.
Your answers should be positive and professional. This is not the time to be
This is not the time to be losing the job with a single sentence that rubs the interviewer in the wrong way. Only use tested material.
This is worth repeating: This is not a time to be doing high-risk jokes or statements.
Laura Roeder, the founder of a social media tech company, MeetEdgar, wrote an article about how one remark lost a man an interview because it was overly sexist during an interview with a board of female interviewers. It wasn’t even that crazy.
Sometimes, you can try your best and something random can turn them off. This can’t be helped. But you can definitely increase your chances by being more smart about it ahead of time.
Most people don’t do their homework, don’t prepare, and come in confused. You can come out way ahead if you prepare with these tips.
People spend thousands of hours getting a degree but zero hours preparing for an interview, which is just as important towards progressing their career. It’s a huge mistake that can be fixed that can get you ahead.
Here’s the short summary to read and remind yourself right before an interview (ideally you want to prepare way ahead of time):
- Show your hunger/drive/hard work
- Show higher level thinking and body language
- Don’t be desperate
- Be likeable
- Understand the real questions they are asking
- Show specifically why you are interested in a company
- Show them what YOU can do for THEM. Don’t focus on just what you want.
- Own your past experiences and don’t react defensively to your answers. Prepare ahead of time.
Here is the summary of the past tips from my past article:
- Show enthusiasm
- Avoid low self-esteem or monotone intonation
- Be concise, don’t ramble
- Use stories that show off specific skills
- Do a special mini-project beforehand when you come in
- Don’t downplay your skills or experiences
- Have good body language
In addition to this, I have some bonus tips for over-achievers:
When you go to an interview, don’t walk into the place you’re being interviewed any earlier than 10 to 15 minutes before (I prefer no earlier than 10 minutes). It will make them feel nervous if you arrive extremely early like 30 minutes beforehand.
You can show up very, very early. In fact, you should so you don’t end up late. Just don’t walk in too early. Stay in the car.
Double the estimated time of the commute.
I have been late to numerous things because I thought that the estimated time of driving on my phone would be accurate. Usually, with traffic and all sorts of other distractions, you end up really late. This is not professional.
Nowadays, if an estimated commute time is really long: 30 minutes, I add an extra 30 minutes to the expected commute time, not including dress up time to get ready or other preparation. Surprisingly, even when I do this, I end up arriving on time or just slightly early.
Use this to keep things on track: “That’s really interesting. So what can I do to help you out?”
This is a social skills technique that allows you to ethically and professionally redirect a conversation when you run into someone who rambles a lot. Make sure to use this when you find that people are rambling a lot during an interview or meeting and getting way off track.
After an interview, review your notes.
Most people don’t take notes and forget how their interview went. You are not getting any better doing this.
After the interview, take notes and review how you can do better and what you did wrong.
Send a thank you note.
No one does this but you should.After the interview, immediately email the
After the interview, immediately email them with a thank you. If you didn’t get their email, ask the direct contact politely explaining why you want their email. Do this as soon as possible.
The thank you email can be as simple as:
“This is a thank you note thanking you for recent interview we had. I enjoyed talking about ____. Hope to hear from you soon! -Will”
Use the buzzwords mentioned in the job description.
Hiring managers and recruiters are looking for specific keywords that are actually displayed specifically in the job description posted online for the job posting. Make sure you mention these keywords during the interview and put these in your resume and cover letter beforehand.
Stand up and smile during a phone interview.
There’s this saying that “people can see a smile through the phone.” While I don’t think that’s exactly true, I think that how you orient your body language and facial expressions will manifest in some way that can be picked up through the phone in terms of your tone of voice, energy levels, fluctuations, and phrases you use. Amy Cuddy did a TED Talk that showed that different body postures affected significant hormone levels in the body.
How to speed the hiring process:
If you don’t hear back within a week or 5 days, try sending a polite email like this:
“Hi ___, Just wanted to follow up on the interview we had last Monday. You mentioned getting in touch. I have been talking with a couple other companies that want to hear back about my decision for employment as soon as possible. Is there anything I can do to help speed the process along? Thank you, Will”
Of course, remove the “talking with other companies” part if it is not true. You want to be ethical and honest. It will work well without it. Tweak this script to your situation.
It lets them know you are interested and desired by other companies.
Frame your negotiations right
If you just walk in there and say you want a higher salary because you got into business school, got a certification, or worked here for a number of years, you probably won’t get one.
You have to frame it right to show your value.
Show that you are an indispensable resource rather than a commodity. Come in with an offer. Do your research of the market demand and salary ahead of time.
You can focus on them and what they want, then show why you would require a greater salary (because you are learning new skills and getting a larger role for example), and then show an example of present demand or future decisions. (“I got an offer from another company or to go to business school. If I choose to stay with you..”)
Have a key message you want to convey
Don’t have a scattershot approach where you are trying to convey everything. Have a specific impression and objective you want to get across.
Embody The Behavior Of A Highly Valued Candidate
Your mindset, body language, facial expressions, and response to questions should embody that of a highly valued, high performing job applicant in the job market.
A high candidate smiles. An average candidate is nervous or too serious. Check yourself in the mirror because you may think you’re smiling when you’re not.
A highly sought-after candidate is not overly focused on the salary and doesn’t overreact if they are offered a low salary. They simply point it out and give their range based off prepared job market research.
A highly valued candidate answers questions concisely and effectively. An average or low-value candidate rambles, stutters, and is not confident.
If you can’t embody these yet, work on them and practice.
A top performing, discerning candidate talks to a hiring manager as equals because he knows he is valuable. If you come at it from this angle, you have a mindset that will make you say things differently like “We can discuss compensation later. Right now, I just want to see if we’re a good fit.” You convey value because you show that you are a highly sought after and valued candidate rather than a desperate applicant.
Highlight your experience that is relevant. Don’t just list everything on your resume.
You may not have advanced levels of skill for a specific thing they’re looking for like data analysis or Excel skills. However, if you know that they are looking for, you can make sure to highlight any experience you have at all in the field in your past experience even if it was only at an intermediate level.
The average person doesn’t do this at all, breezes through it, and simply lists his or her experience chronologically. The hiring manager comes out of it confused and not sure what to take from the random mix of things you said because there was no point or message.
Don’t expect your hiring manager to have spent more than 1 minute on your resume. They don’t have the time. While you can list what’s on there briefly, make sure you add something that’s not on there.
They wouldn’t be interviewing you if they just wanted a summary of what they can already get on your resume.
My Challenge To You
How to perform well in an interview in one word: empathy. People have a hard time seeing from the employer’s shoes. What do they want? Some haven’t even considered thinking in that way.
But once you understand the real intention behind any interviewer’s questions, performing well comes down to preparation, having the skills necessary, and planning. 9 times out of 10, a company will ask you about your weaknesses. So, it’s on you if you haven’t prepared an answer for this question already. Anything that’s expected is your responsibility to plan for. And if you do plan for it, you’ll do well in any job interview.
What are the top 3 things you learned from this that you will implement right now? What was the most useful?
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