I am no expert at passing interviews, I haven’t done too many interviews over my career, but I have never “failed” a job interview. I have also conducted hundreds of interviews, made tens of hiring mistakes, and hired a couple of right employees, and looking back I can share a few things that helped me pass my job interviews and have led to some people getting hired (and others not getting hired).
The interview process most companies use is flawed as Sunny writes, and you can use that flaw to your advantage when interviewing for a job. The typical interviewers don’t necessarily hire the most suited or the most smart candidate, they hire the candidate they like best.
There are the obvious job search and application tips: research about the company you are interviewing for and the job role, have a good elevator pitch in response to the typical “tell us about yourself” question, have smart questions to ask the panel etc. Assuming you have all that right and are technically competent, you just need one thing:
Be likable, and don’t try too hard.
There are few things that come to mind insofar as likability is concerned:
- Look good when going for an interview. Unless its for those artsy positions, dress smartly (mostly in a suit), make sure your shoes are polished, your hair is neat, and for god’s sake gentlemen trim your fingernails. No chipped nail polish for ladies. This may seem petty, but the first impression you create takes you halfway there. If you’re a fresh graduate and are short of funds, buy one suit and pair of shoes specifically for interviews. I had one suit, a pair of stockings and shoes for interviews when I was looking for my first job, thankfully I didn’t have to do a second interview.
- Be authentic and honest. Panelists are human, and “human candidates” are more likable. If you failed at something and it comes up, speak about it frankly, and with humility. If you’re asked a question whose answer you don’t know don’t try to be a smart ass. Just admit that you don’t know, and ask the panelist to tell you the answer. You are not expected to know everything, but curiosity is good.
- Be conversational. Interviews are mostly boring for the panel. Stiff nervous candidates, rote questions, rote answers, *yawn*. A candidate who creates conversation is a breath of fresh air in any interview. Make your interview a 2-way conversation by using real life examples, even cracking a joke (it has to be a good one though). When talking about yourself, speak about your interests away from work, and in a way that attracts questions. Read, and read widely, both about your field and life in general. Have a life.
- Avoid rote answers. As a follow up to the above point, please avoid stiff, overused answers. Your weakness isn’t working too hard, or perfectionism. Please don’t say your greatest strength is the fact that you are a team player. Be yourself, but also show initiative. The weakness question is usually a bit difficult to answer without giving yourself away, but here’s an example of how I would answer it: “My greatest weakness is that I am impatient. I get bored in situations where I am powerless to move things forward, and I don’t like routine. However, I realize patience is key because success doesn’t come overnight, and I have been working on it. Motherhood has forced me to learn to be patient with my daughter, and the benefits are overflowing to my work.”
- Ask great questions. I will cover this in a separate post. Don’t ask about pay at the first interview. Build curiosity about the company, culture, working environment, strategy etc. You are also interviewing them, so make sure you ask questions that inform you whether that’s a good place to work or not.
- Smile. A lot. Relax. A job is a big deal, but relaxed candidates perform best at job interviews.
There you go, that’s my interview cheat sheet. What has helped you pass job interviews? Please share in the comments section. Of course this is general information, but I am happy to give specific job application and interview tips. If you would like me to answer specific questions, leave your questions or contact details in the comments section.