How Not To Suck At Interviewing For A Job, Part II

Congratulations, you’ve made it past the first hurdle.

You’ve gotten past the gatekeepers, resume screeners, candidate tracking systems, and have gotten a call or email that someone would actually like to talk to you about hiring you for a job that they have open.

Now, let’s not kid ourselves – even though you’ve made it past the whirling blades of death at the entrance to the secret cave containing the buried treasure…there are still a lot of obstacles to be handled before you can start deciding what you need to pack in your cardbox box for your first day at the office to make it feel like “you”.

Let’s at least make it through the interview first.

Yesterday we got you through the prep work before the interview, so now let’s tackle the interview itself…

Interview day.  Keep calm, cowboy (or cowgirl, I guess).  No need to start having Niagara Falls running from your armpits…we’ll get you through this.

Check everything.  Twice.  Copies of your resume printed out and ready to go?  Good.  Put them in a folder and don’t spill coffee on them.  Find your car keys and put them with your resumes.  Double check your clothing selection and make sure you’re still happy with it.  Using a printed map?  Put it with the resumes.  Get yourself organized and ready to go long before you have to be walking out the door or on the phone.  Do you have the phone number of the recruiter in your phone?  The person you’ll be interviewing with?  Got everyone’s name written down so that you’ll have them handy?  Good.

Any breaking news?  Do a quick “latest” Google search for the company.  Maybe the CEO just got indicted that morning.  Maybe they just picked up a major client.  Maybe someone that works for them is getting nailed to the wall over a social media problem.  Walk in armed, folks.  Anything topical and relevant shows that you’re on top of things and interested.

Get ready.  Get dressed, grab your stuff, take one last look for everything…and if you’re heading into your job for the day, make sure everything you need is in the car before you pull out of the driveway.

Okay, so now you’re there (10 to 15 minutes early, right?  Right.), and it’s time to talk about the interview itself.

Be polite and nice to everyone.  The receptionist might be the hiring manager’s girlfriend.  The janitor might be someone’s brother in law.  Don’t kill your chances before you even make it into the room by being anything other than stunningly well mannered and professional.

Get a grip.  Please don’t have a handshake that makes people think they’re grabbing onto a jellyfish.  Don’t go trying to out-macho someone with a crushing grip, but have a nice, firm handshake for anyone and everyone that you meet and encounter along the way.  I wish I didn’t have to say this, but I’ve been told that it’s happened – you are not “a hugger”.  You’re not.  I don’t care if you are with all of your friends and random strangers in a bar…for the purposes of today, you’re not.

Relax.  They need to hire someone.  They saw something on your resume that made them think you could do the job.  So…relax.  Don’t get anxious and start randomly babbling.  Take your time.  Listen.  Absorb.

Show off a bit.  You went through all of that trouble to make sure you’re prepared, so you might as well do something that shows it, right?  Ask if everyone has copies of your resume.  As you’re walking back to wherever it is you’ll be chatting, take note of something…an award, something on the walls like the founder’s picture…and ask a question that shows you did a little research.  “I understand she started the company 12 years ago…have you been here that whole time?”, or “I see the Great Places to Work plaques…five years in a row?  People must really like it here.” or something along those lines.

Be Aware.  As you’re taking your time, listening and absorbing…be attentive to the flow of the conversation and pattern of questions as they start.  Make a lot of eye contact.  Speak with confidence, but don’t become an arrogant jerk that nobody’s going to want to hire.  Don’t be a conversation hog, and don’t interrupt…but make note (take notes if you need to) of what’s being discussed, and start thinking through how you can relate it back to your past experiences, your roles and responsibilities, and your history.  Ask for business cards from anyone in the room during your interview.  If they don’t have one, make sure you get their name right, and write it down for reference.

Honesty is the best policy.  It’s okay to not know the answer to something.  It’s perfectly fine if you don’t have a skill they’re asking about…it happens.  This isn’t the time to start lying.  Don’t start yammering and stuttering like a fool though – think on your feet and spin it back to your background and experiences.  Explain a situation where you’ve picked up a new, similar skill quickly and put it to good use.  Describe how you’ve handled similar challenges in the past and conquered them.  The last thing you want to do is get exposed as being dishonest during the interview…and if you claim to know something you don’t…well, you never know when someone’s got a test waiting for you just outside the room, or a tech lead that’s going to want to grill you, or someone with a lot of experience in that methodology that’s joining the interview in 10 minutes.

Sometimes, it’s not what you answer, but how you answer.  Nobody in HR really cares what kind of tree you’d be if you were a tree.  Nobody expects you to actually know off the top of your head how many quarters are in the stack it would take to reach the top of the Empire State Building.  It’s not really about the title of the last book you read.  What it is about is your personality type.  How do you react to adversity?  How do you handle…”odd”…circumstances.  Can you think on your feet?  Are you capable of problem solving?  Will your personality mesh with the rest of the team?

Ask your questions.  Again, you took the time to do some homework and create some questions, so make sure you ask them.  Show interest, and again, as these questions are being discussed and answered, be thinking of how you can relate the flow back to your work life and history.  You’re not only showing interest here, but you’re making sure that you’re defining yourself as the perfect candidate for this job.

Closing time. Odds are good that they’re not sitting there with an offer letter on the other side of the table.  There’s a process that’s going to be followed here, and if I were you, I’d want to know what that process is going to look like.  Where are they in the cycle?  Are there other interviewees coming in?  When is the position req closing?  If you’re interested, say so.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with telling them that you want the job, and so you want to understand what, if any, obstacles remain in your way.  Again – show interest.

Follow up and follow through.  If you’re dealing with a recruiter, as soon as you get back to your car you should be on the phone with them.  If not, when you get home, fire off an email to the person you’ve been dealing with about the job, as well as the person(s) with whom you just interviewed.  Thank them for their time, and again, express an interest in the position…assuming, of course, that you are.  If something came up during the interview that you’re supposed to get back with them on (an updated resume, a link to something you’ve done in the past, etc.) do so.  Don’t make them have to ask you again…because they probably won’t.

Be patient.  This is probably the hardest thing to do…especially if you really, really want the job…but it’s the most important part.  Don’t turn into a stalker.  No emails every day to the hiring manager when they told you that a decision wouldn’t be made for three weeks.  No phone calls to the recruiter every hour on the hour asking if they’ve heard anything yet.  You wait.  If you didn’t get a reply to your first email, and a few days (like “three or more”) has gone by, it is acceptable to go ahead and forward your note along with a (probably untrue, but I’m a big fan of “you can’t prove it”) statement like “Hey, I noticed I had a couple of email issues the other day, and so I wanted to make sure this reached you so that you didn’t think I wasn’t interested and following up…” or something similar.  I know it may be hard to believe, but everyone involved in the process here wants to get this closed out as soon as possible.  You want the job, they want someone to fill the need they have, the HR person wants to stop getting nagged about why their jobs aren’t getting filled, the recruiter wants to make quota and get paid…everyone’s committed, I assure you.

And that, friends and readers…is how not to suck at interviewing for a job.

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