How To Nail a Job Interview (And Actually Get The Job)

I’m in the midst of hiring right now for a Community Manager to join our team at Radian6 (I’m the Director of Community, and we’ve got several people on our growing team).

I’ve also worked in the nonprofit fund development arena and in marketing communications, and have hired people in both of those roles.

Interviewing is a key part of the job quest and getting it right is important. But for someone that’s hiring, the interview is the means, not the end. Lots of folks focus on the interview itself and the act of answering every question with perfection, with poise, with professionalism. Speaking for myself though (and maybe some of you others out there), I’m looking far beyond your answers and doing my best to diagnose whether you’d actually be a strong member of the team.

Be Personable, But Be Yourself.

This seems so obvious, yet I wish I had a dime for every wooden, impersonal interview I’ve been part of. We’re a team of humans with personalities, senses of humor, and a dynamic amongst us that’s very important to our success.

Part – actually much – of what we’re evaluating is whether you’d be a fit for the culture of our team. You can learn skills, be taught certain sets of expertise, but your personality is something that’s much harder to change. Don’t fake it. Be who you are. We can tell when you’re faking it for an interview and in the long run, those kinds of round-peg-square-hole relationships never work out for the best. Plus, you should be interviewing the company, too. If the personalities and characters on the team you’ll be working with aren’t comfortable to you, you’re going to be unhappy and feel out of place.

Show us that we’d like working with you and why. Finding what fits is important.

Don’t Read Your Resume.

One of the reasons you send your resume in advance is to prove table stakes. That means demonstrating that you have – at least on paper – the makings of the experience that the job needs and requires.

If you’ve landed the interview, you’ve shown your potential well enough to get that far and we like what we see on paper. What you want to show next is how that relates to the role you’re after, and what you can bring to the table. Assume that the information in the resume is a given (personally, I never interview with a resume in front of me). When you’re answering questions about your experience, expand on special projects you were part of or highlight how you overcame interesting challenges you were faced with. The stuff on paper we’ve already read. Now we’re looking for context, depth, and the details around your experience that make it really shine.

Ask Questions.

The interview isn’t just for us to get to know you, it works in reverse. Demonstrate that you understand or have researched the company, industry, and role by asking some relevant questions. Honest questions, not just the kind they teach you to ask in business school (most of us who’ve been working for a while can pick those out in an instant, and it’s a turnoff).

Be curious about the culture of the company. Who else this role would work with. What the team’s goals are. Whether they have company gatherings and what they’re like. What challenges they’re facing, what they love best about working there, how they plan, divvy up workload, what their management style is. The list is really endless but the key here is that it’s not feigned interest. You need to want the answers to these questions and when you’re done with the interview, process the answers. What impression or idea does it leave you with overall? Are you more excited, or less so?

Talk About Failures.

No one’s work history is devoid of failures, challenges, mistakes. We as hiring folks know this. And someone you want to work for would never expect you to have a body of experience that didn’t include speedbumps.

What we want to hear is how you dealt with them. How they made you feel, and then how you moved past them and forward. Roadblocks are part of life and work experience, but it’s perseverance that really counts in a crunch. We want to know that when we come upon a challenge with you on the team, you’re going to help us get over, through, and past it. Share your experience about how you’ve done that before and we’ll see more than one dimension to your work (which is a good thing). A positive attitude is one of those things you can’t teach but is a massive asset to anyone, anytime.

Never EVER Disparage People or Employers.

It’s unfortunate that I have to point this out. But.

If you’re leaving a current job, we can probably guess that there’s a reason you want a new gig. Whether it’s simply that you want a new challenge, a higher salary, or you don’t like your boss, we know there’s a reason. What we don’t want to hear is the gory details.

It’s unprofessional to dive into a saga about how your current employer, company, or boss has done you wrong or failed to realize your potential. All that does is make us question whether you’d do the same to us when and if you leave.

And personally, I’ve only got one side of the story: yours. The only person that looks bad in that scenario is you, and that’s not the impression you want to leave with someone you want to work with. Always, always exit jobs with grace and by traveling the high road, no matter what. We’ve all had unfortunate experiences in our careers. Your future depends on handling them well, and your professional reputation will thank you.

Seriously, Read The Job Description.

I’m going to assume for a moment that the job description is well-written, and really does give a feel for the job. I know that doesn’t always happen, but asking those questions can help you figure that out.

Have you read it? I mean, really read it? Most of us that write job descriptions really mean what we say in there. If we say that the role requires you to work well with minimal supervision, that’s probably true. And if you don’t work well that way, being self aware enough to recognize that is going to be critical to your success. It can be hard to not tick down a job description and say “of COURSE I can do all of that.” But remember that most job descriptions are written to the ideal, and we know that we’ll likely have to make compromises when we hire. But people really interested in finding the right fit for a position will write the job description deliberately.

If there are parts of it that you have questions about, ask them. If there are elements of the job that you think you might need help with, or have less experience in, first admit that to yourself and then discuss it candidly with the employer. No one has it all. They should be able to talk with you about what areas of the role are must-haves, and which they recognize can be built up or learned on the job.

Demonstrate Graciousness.

Yes, indeed, your interview is a chance to showcase your experience and knowledge.

But bragging on how many Twitter followers you have (which is a unique quandary in the social media world and one that fills me with bemusement), or how many times you got promoted, or how many awards you won? That all sounds like ego, not accomplishment. How you frame your achievements is every bit as important as what you achieved. A savvy manager can spot a keen balance of sharing a success while giving credit to others, celebrating a strong collaboration, or acknowledging that business achievements are often collective, not individual.

We want to know that you’re going to be comfortable being part of a team, not just in the game for personal glory. We’ve all worked with one of those at some point in the past, and if you’ve experienced it, you’ll do your best to avoid it for the sake of yourself and the people you work with.

The Afterword: Be Patient.

Follow up can be good. It’s more than fine to follow up to be sure a resume was received or to thank someone after an interview for their time and interest. Those are good manners.

There’s a fine line, though, before that bleeds into over-zealousness. If you’ve submitted your resume, you have to trust that you’ll be contacted if you’re of interest for an interview (and if you’re not, six emails aren’t going to change our mind). Craftily trying to skirt the process – by, say, sending your resume to a name you found online instead of the contact listed on the job posting – can be seen as ambition, or sometimes just blatant disregard for process. Tread wisely.

Yes, I understand that good candidates sometimes don’t make it to the interview round and feel slighted or overlooked. That’s life, unfortunately, and part of the struggle of the talent market. Your resume might rock or it might not. If you’re not making it to the interview round, it might be time to give your pregame approach a bit of a once-over. But sometimes, it’s just the nature of the beast.

Once you’ve completed the interview, hang tight. If you’ve stood out among the applicants you’ll get another call. Scrambling for attention or feedback every 24 hours can smack of desperation, and most folks hiring will wonder why you’re in such a hurry to either leave your current job or land a new one.

If you’re currently unemployed, we understand that you feel a sense of urgency. If you’re currently employed, the fact that you’re interviewing means we know you’d like to make a change. But you’ve got to sit tight and let the process take its course, even if it feels maddeningly slow to you. Every company has to work on the timeline that fits them and if it’s too long for you, you should feel free to focus your sights elsewhere.

What Would You Add?

I’d like to hear from those of you that hire, and whether you’d agree or argue with me on these. And those of you on the job hunt, do any of these resonate? Did they help, or do you feel like you do all of these things and still struggle?

I’m obviously just one person with my own hiring methods, and I know that these standards can vary based on the individual, company culture, and lots of other things. I also know that there are lousy HR departments, crappy hiring processes, and all that stuff. If all those things are true, perhaps that’s not a company you want to work for to start with.

This is my take. What’s yours?

  • http://twitter.com/mckra1g mckra1g

    I think that this is an extension of the Ask Questions category, but when you apply for a job, you should actually *want* it. By doing your homework about the company in question, you should really get a vibe for how they operate and if you would be happy/productive there.

    An analogy is a woman who dates for food opps. No guy wants to be the person on the other side of the table: a means to an end for a free meal. No company does, either: Don’t apply for jobs just to take up space or to get a paycheck.

    Great post. Thanks for sharing it. Best, M.

  • http://twitter.com/fellowstream fellowstream

    Thank you for explicitly pointing out “Never EVER Disparage People or Employers.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve turned down a candidate because of this very thing. The interview should be about what you bring to this company, not how you feel a previous employer made you feel.

    I would add “Practice.” Sit down with someone you trust (preferably someone who’s been on the other side of the interview desk) and have them ask you questions. Interviewing takes a lot of practice, and if you’re not used to talking comfortably about yourself, it’s good to do a little trial run, especially if it’s for a job you really want.

    I would also highly, highly recommend that if you do a phone interview, do it in a quiet place where you can sit up straight and talk as loudly as you want. Don’t do what I did and sit on your bed while giving an interview. You’ll naturally be more informal than you’ll want to be, and you’ll sound unprofessional. Putting yourself in a professional setting will make your subconscious away that this is not a personal phone call.

  • http://mybridalbouquet.wordpress.com/ @jennamacmorton

    You sound like a person I’d be happy to sit in front of for an interview – these tips speak to the way I try to prepare, for sure. I’d like to add that I feel more comfortable & therefore show more of my personality when the interviewer has taken the time to read my resume & ask slightly personal questions, rather than it just seeming like he/she is going through a checklist provided by HR. This post makes the process sound enjoyable – unlike many interviews I’ve sat through. Glad to know people like you are out there!

  • http://twitter.com/frankrebecca Rebecca Frank

    Having fairly recently gone through a job change, I’d say that one thing to remember is that you’re dealing with people, not robots. People have schedules and kids and can be distracted or in a bad mood… You can only do as much as you’re capable of in the interview, and then, just like everything else, you’re in the hands of a human. With flaws.

    Now, how much comfort this brings you depends on your view of humanity. But if it’s good, you should be OK.

  • http://twitter.com/MissLynn13 Lynn Morton

    It’s really comforting to be reminded to let the process happen. Currently being in the job market, I find myself sometimes getting impatient with the process, but taking a step back and a deep breath reminds me that I need to work on their schedule. If it works out, it works out. If not, it wasn’t meant to be.

    Thanks for the tips and the reminders. :)

  • Flyingwatercs

    Having been on both sides of the table, I recognize all of your points. Well done. Regarding the follow-up (and being patient), I remind people on the hiring side that good manners (and good business practice) include having some way to notify people that they did not just fall through the cracks – let them know the expected timeframe for a decision, whether they will be notified even if they are not selected, etc. I know that it takes work, but it is simple consideration.

  • http://www.jesseluna.com jesseluna

    Thanks for the great perspective. Employers have just as much at stake in finding the right person as the job searcher does in finding a good fit with a company. For job searchers, like myself, it’s easy to forget that.

  • http://www.paulylacosta.com Paul L’Acosta

    I’d probably summarize my recommendation to applicants in three steps: Ask, shut up and listen.

    We have this notion that interviews should be uncomfortable, painful, and nervous-wrecking events in our lives that we all need to go through in order to feel “successful”.

    Not in my case. I believe interviews should be just a professional space in time that is both open and conversational. Talk, don’t instruct. Feel, don’t impress.

    Why not instead of getting ready for the “ball-game” the cliché way (for instance, by ironing a suit) you just sit down and write down the 10 most important questions you may have for the other “team”. Look for a good ice breaker. But try your hardest to avoid talking about the weather. (yawn).

    Great words as always Amber. See you soon! ~Paul

  • http://twitter.com/DaveBenjamin David Benjamin

    I’ve read a ton of articles, blogs, and advice columns on how to prepare and interview for a job but by far this is the most comprehensive with real examples of what not to do in addition to what to focus on. As you stated, too often the candidate is trying to be perfect, polished, and rehearsed which typically results in a stiff performance.

    The ideal candidates will have researched the company and put much thought into why they are a great fit both from an experience perspective as well as a being a cultural fit for the organization. They will be confident without being arrogant and their answers will naturally demonstrate their passion for the position.

    Very well written.

  • http://www.womanzworld.com/ Natalie Sisson

    Fantastic points. I always support asking questions back. It’s as much you interviewing the company you’re possibly going to invest a lot of your life with as it is them finding out if you’re the right fit.

    I have asked the following question when interviewing people in the past: `What’s your special sauce?’.

    It’s fascinating to see the answers you get, whether someone even knows how to handle that question, whether they’ve thought about their special sauce (namely what’s a unique strength that they bring to any situation, role, company) and how they answer.

    I had a few people tell me it the actual sauce that they make for special dishes they cook. Hilarious – but that in itself is good to know as well as it’s another angle to the person.

  • @tay_woo

    Great post! Having recently finished grad school, and in the midst of a career change, I have been faced with the dreaded interview process. The most successful interviews were those that felt most natural and more like a conversation, or a reciprocal interview. Being natural will ensure ease in transition and good company fit. Company fit has become more important, as work takes up more of our time we want to make sure that we enjoy spending time with our co-workers.

    Being yourself, asking thought provoking questions that show that you have thought about the

  • http://socialbutterflyguy.com/ DJ Waldow

    A few things to add…

    1. Similar to “being there before the sale,” be there before *the interview* if possible. What I mean is that ideally the candidate will have had some type of informal communications with the company/interviewer before the formal process. This interaction may have been in person or online (email, twitter, facebook, linkedin, etc). I realize this is not always possible, but it helps a ton to have that prior communication. It goes a long way. Remember: All interactions are part of the interview process!

    2. Go with your gut! As you said Amber, you are also interviewing the company. If the interviewer is going to be your boss or on your team if you get the gig…and you get a bad vibe from them…get out! People sometimes convince themselves that “it will be different when I get hired” (kinda like they do in relationships – “once we are married, that will no longer be an issue.”). Interviews are often a good indicator of what you can expect when you get the job. Does that make sense?

    Wonderful, real world examples of what to consider during interview process. You can interview me any time, Amber!

  • http://twitter.com/tasmijn Bas Helderman

    I read the job description, got personable and stayed myself, asked a question, but maybe I’m being impatient to say I’m still not sure wether The Netherlands is too flexible for a location ;)

  • http://www.officialcommunity.com Amber Authier

    This is a great post, Amber. I’ve done a lot of hiring in my position as a Director of Communities. The one thing that always strikes me as interesting in that process is that very few people treat an interview as a test of the fit for both sides. I’ve had plenty of people drill me with questions and stories of how amazing they are, but they leave little time for me to tell them about our company. Those candidates always fail to get hired. And then I have plenty of people that sit meekly waiting for my next question. They ask none and their answers to mine are short. Those people also fail to get hired. Those that I enjoy interviewing most are those that treat the interview more like a first date. They let me tell them a bit about who we are, what we value and how we got here. Then they let me ask a few probing questions and answer them with thoughtful responses that let me know a bit about who they are. Then they follow with a few questions about of their own. I always remember those candidates that engage me in conversation and want to know who we are as much as we want to know who they are. That is how I find someone that will fit.

  • http://lacorbeau.com/ lacorbeau

    Helpful posting and reminder! Good timing in this job market. Caroline

  • http://twitter.com/mscheid7 Michelle Scheidler

    This is a great post, very practical advice. Particularly during a difficult job market it’s important to return to the basics of how to interview. I really appreciate the part about waiting afterword. It’s often hard to know how to be politely persistent when it comes to follow up, as you want them to know you want the job but don’t want to be over-bearing. I really appreciate the parts about being yourself, talking about failures and being gracious. Often times in interviews, nerves kick in, maybe you’re over prepared and everything comes out robotic or scripted. Good stuff.

    Michelle

  • http://squarejawmedia.com/ Brian McDonald

    The first piece of advice you gave is the best. My father told me the same thing after graduating college and being yourself is very important. I agree with you on also being honest about failures and how you overcame them. And not dumping on former employers is key. The interviewers may think to themselves, if he/she is saying this about their last boss what will they say about us?

    Great points Amber and yes don’t be over zealous. Hiring decisions take time and patience. In the end if you don’t get the job always ask why you were not chosen so you have good feedback on what you should change.

  • http://twitter.com/drewhawkins drewhawkins

    I do find it funny on how many of those don’t actually look at the job descriptions. Titles do very little in describing the demands of a job.

    The weirdest part for me is why I would leave my other post. I have been asked this before but try and avoid the question. Obviously, as you said, there are probably various reasons that may not necessarily be bad (not animosity related reasoning). I’ve been asked to give specifics on why I was leaving a post to pursue something new. My assumption would be that the focus should mostly lie in why I want to work for their company, not why I left a previous one.

  • http://www.twitter.com/jljohansen jljohansen

    I like the point about being candid about failure. I’ve made conscious decisions in my career to focus on areas that I know are my strengths. When I’ve taken roles that focus on those strengths, I’m able to overcome the challenges and roadblocks that come up.

    Showing a positive outcome to a difficult situation, even if it included an initial failure, can be an excellent way to build credibility during an interview.

  • http://twitter.com/NonchalantS Nonchalant Savant

    “I had a few people tell me it the actual sauce that they make for special dishes they cook. Hilarious – but that in itself is good to know as well as it’s another angle to the person.”

    Ha! That would also tell me that those people communicate VERY literally. That’s great for certain type of work, but tortuous for jobs that require ‘out of the box’ thinking.

  • a6062

    I really like this article and can’t agree more with your first point. Our latest intern hire was not the most experienced one of the bunch, her resume lacked formal training in a few areas. However, this candidate was authentic, asked the right questions and had a serious drive about working with our team, not just getting the first job she landed. She’s doing a great job!

    This article was very well written and I’ll be sharing this with friends:)

  • Lfriedman

    Excellent tips, and all very useful. Now if people would only apply them, we’d get a good group of interviewees!

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  • Andrew

    Hi Amber

    I hope you dont mind…but I loved your post and decided to post it on our Job Hunting Blog.

    http://www.searchtoemployblog.com

  • http://www.drewhawkins.org Drew Hawkins

    I’ve been in interviews where the focus was almost entirely why I want to leave the company. It caught me off guard. Obviously there are things about that company that made me want to look elsewhere – hence why I applied and agreed to the interview (like mentioned above). However, I would think the focus would need to be shifted on why I want to come to their company, not why I would want to leave another.

  • http://www.made-in-china.com/products-search/hot-china-products/Luggage.html Luggage in China

    Yes. You are right. The job interview not only can make you introduce yourself to the interviewer but also can let us know more about the company. So, we shall prepare some question to ask before.

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  • Andam14

    Crap…i should’ve read this before my interview…only thing I messed up was; he asked if there has been a supervisor I disliked, and I said yes and then, get this, went into detail!! GAH! I hope that doesn’t ruin my chances.

  • Andam14

    Crap…i should’ve read this before my interview…only thing I messed up was; he asked if there has been a supervisor I disliked, and I said yes and then, get this, went into detail!! GAH! I hope that doesn’t ruin my chances.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Jleigh142 Calliope Vouet

    Research the company first, too!!

  • ocalared

    I recently did a videoconference interview via Skype and I was just as nervous as being there in person. I think it went well, but who knows. I did all the right things, I think.

  • Verycherry0162

    thank you for this helpful article!

  • Jjudova

    useless. are you expecting idiots to apply? All of that can just be substituted with ‘COMMON SENSE’ which apparently is not that common 

  • joanna

    same old recycled “advise”–nothing new. As far as asking questions, by the time the interviewer asks if I have any questions, it is at the end of the interview and he/she is looking to wrap things up. I don’t bother asking unless I need for them to tell me what I would be doing in the job (job description), which often, believe it or not, they have not provided. And as far as patience goes it would be nice if companies had the manners to contact you if you don’t get the job. Sending an email isn’t that hard.

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  • Analystpro

    I have read many, many articles on how to nail the interview. I find most of them to be common sense, but apparently it is not common sense to everyone. Which is great because maybe these are people with whom I am competing against for a job!

    I found this article to be more insightful than most of the others. The only thing I would add is the importance of the follow up thank you email. This should re-emphasis something important that they indicated during the interview that they are seeking, and how you fit that perfectly. Also sound very excited about the opportunity. They are seeking someone who is excited about it and hungry to dig in and hit the ground running!

    Nice article!