How to Ace an Interview

In my professional career, I have had applications ignored or rejected.  I’ve also failed a phone screen on two occasions.  But I’m going to toot my own horn here a little bit.

I’ve never failed to get a job offer after a face to face interview. 

To put some numbers on that, I’m 9 for 9 when it comes to F2F interviews.  Obviously, I didn’t accept all those offers.  But the point is that I got one every time.  So while I’m not saying that I’m the best interviewer in the world (I’m not), I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I at least kind of know what I’m talking about.

Part of my ability to perform well in interviews comes from the fact that I’ve sat at both ends of the table.  Before I started interviewing people, I was always terrified of the notion that everyone else was a better interviewee than I was.  But once I was on the other side of the table, I quickly realized that most people can’t interview for shit.

Here’s a short list of things I actually experienced:

  • Someone coming to an interview in torn jeans and a t-shirt covered in stains
  • Someone running out of the room to vomit during the interview (although to be fair, after he vomited he interviewed quite well so he was probably legitimately ill)
  • Someone who responded “I don’t know, I didn’t practice for that” to our first icebreaker question, which was simply “So tell us a little bit about yourself”
  • Someone who told us that we didn’t know what we were doing, and that he would make us “better” (Even if he was telling the truth, no one wanted to work with that prick)

More importantly, all of these disastrous interviews taught me what I actually wanted to see in candidate.  And I molded my interview techniques to match what I was looking for as a hiring manager.

What are Hiring Managers Looking For?

  • Someone who is qualified for the position
  • Someone who can work well with others
  • Someone who is a quick learner
  • Someone likable enough to deal with on a daily basis
  • Someone that isn’t a bullshitter

And that’s about it.  The reality is that no intelligent interviewer actually believes that you’ll be a useful employee right away.  No matter how great your qualifications look, inevitably there’s going to be a learning curve.  The exact same job position often has very different responsibilities at different companies.

New employees have to learn new procedures.  New employees have to learn different applications.  New employees have to learn who the decision makers are.  In other words, new employees have to learn a bunch of crap that they can’t possibly be expected to know before they actually join the company.

That’s why as a hiring manager, my perception of your ability to learn is just as important as my perception of what you currently know.

So How Do I Stand Out?

I’m not going to give you some bullshit pep talk.  Instead, I’m going to give you a guaranteed formula on how to ace your interview.  Here’s how:

  1.  Be presentable, wear your best suit and tie and make sure it fits for god’s sake
    • This is just interviewing 101.  Don’t go to an interview dressed like shit.  It gives interviewers the impression that you’re not taking the role seriously.  You can read my other article on wearing a suit for more pointers.
  2. Bring copies of your resume, business cards and the job description with you
    • Interviewing 101 again.  This is just the basics.  If one of your interviewers asks “Did you bring any copies of your resume with you” and your answer is a dumbfounded no, that’s strike 1 5 seconds into your interview.  It costs all of 2 cents to print ten copies of your resume.  No excuses.  Same with the job description.  It’s very helpful to have it in front of you, and to ask questions about the position.  This shows that you are interested in the position, and that you genuinely want to excel at the job.  The business cards are optional, particularly if you don’t have them already for some reason.  Don’t feel the need to custom order business cards just for an interview.  Honestly, everyone who interviews you will probably throw them in the trash immediately after the interview is over, even if they absolutely loved you.
  3. Spend at least an hour studying their website and their products
    • This is mandatory.  If you don’t do this, not only will you probably not get the job, but you probably don’t even deserve the job.
    • When I interview someone, one of my first questions is “So what do you know about this company?”  It’s kind of a trick question.  I already know that they know very little about the company.  After all, they obviously don’t work here.  Also, I can tell just from looking at their resume.  If they spent their entire professional career in stock trading and they’re interviewing for a .NET developer position, I know that they know next to nothing about the company.  What I’m actually expecting to learn from this question is how much time they spent preparing for the interview.  I don’t even care if they told me things that were incorrect, as long as they were logical and well reasoned.
    • Someone who spends time researching the company prior to the interview is someone who pays attention to details.  Someone who pays attention to details is a quick learner.  I know that regardless of what their background is, they’re going to have to spend a lot of time developing themselves to become a valuable employee here.  This is why it’s so important to do this step.
    • More importantly, shockingly very few people do this!  It provides a simple filtering mechanism similar to a GPA.  For a lot of people, it’s simply a matter of practicality.  They suck at their jobs and are extremely unmarketable, so their job search strategy is simply to apply for every single position they find that even remotely matches their background.  When you’re applying for a thousand jobs at once, it’s impractical to do research into every single one of them.
  4. Think of at least one interesting suggestion relevant to their business
    • This one is key.  It’s one thing to be able to tell the interviewer the description of their company that you read on Wikipedia.  It’s another to give them insightful advice.  Even if your advice turns out to not be accurate, it shows that you have a deeper understanding of their business and that you spent the time to do the research.
  5. Tell at least one joke
    • This helps a lot.  If you’re really awkward and suck at jokes, this is probably the only one of the steps that is optional.  It’s better not to tell a joke than to accidentally tell an awful joke, or worse an offensive joke.  But if you pull it off, your chances go way up.  Everyone likes someone who can make them laugh.
    • Do not ever tell a joke that’s potentially offensive.  This means sexist, racist, or insulting jokes.  Honestly, these kinds of jokes are often the funniest.  But save them until you get to know them better.  Even if they find the joke funny, the fact that you told such a joke on a first meeting is a red flag.  We don’t want employees that might do the same thing in front of clients or other coworkers.  Especially if it’s a corporate position.
  6. Compliment one of your interviewers
    • A compliment goes a long way.  It should be a small but relevant compliment.  Don’t try to kiss ass, this is too transparent and if anything it’ll make them think less of you.  The idea is to give them some reason to think of you after your interview is over.  If you can combine this with #5, even better.
  7. Send a thank you letter after the interview
    • This one is actually fairly minor and can be considered optional.  But the point is that it can’t hurt, and it may help.  Very few people would disregard an otherwise qualified candidate because they received a thank you note they didn’t want.  Doesn’t have to be long.  In fact, it shouldn’t be.  If it takes you any more than 2 minutes to complete this, you’re overthinking it.  Here’s a quick example:
    • “Hi whatever, Thanks for taking the time to interview me.  I really enjoyed our chat, and it was a pleasure to be able to learn more about the position and your company.  Feel free to contact me directly if you have any other questions for me, and have a great day!”

If you do all these things competently I guarantee that you’ll be in the top 10% of candidates that interviewed for the position.

Still No Offer?

But PennyJunky, I did all these things and still didn’t get an offer!  Well, that’s entirely possible.  But there’s really only three logical explanations:

  • They liked you but you weren’t qualified for the position at all
  • They liked you but the interview was a sham, and a candidate was set in stone long before you interviewed
  • They liked you but the hiring manager is a pervert and opted to hire the entirely incompetent 22 year old with enormous breasts
  • Someone else interviewing for the position also read this article and executed way better than you did

You Weren’t Qualified

None of my tips will do anything for you if you’re genuinely not qualified for the position.  You may dress like George Clooney, tell the funniest joke in the world, have the interviewer blushing at your compliments, but none of that will mean a damn thing if you fail to convince the interviewers that you can actually perform the job well.  If you interview for a java programming position and you can’t tell them what a class is, well sorry you’re shit out of luck!  Answering any technical questions or job-related questions is entirely up to you.  This article only guarantees success if you are actually qualified for the position.

The Interview Was A Sham

Another possibility is that you never had a chance of getting the position to begin with.  Oftentimes, a hiring manager already has an internal candidate or a friend in mind for the position.  However, many companies have policies that force them to interview a certain number of candidates before making an offer.  The result?  They end up wasting everyone’s time, including their own.  You can often tell if this is the case by the questions that they ask you.  If they’re willing to engage in a lot of idle chitchat and don’t seem interested in describing the position or asking you technical questions, there’s a good chance that they’re just going through the motions.

However, still take the interview seriously.  I’ve seen cases where people who interviewed extremely well get callbacks when other positions open up.  This actually happened to me where the hiring manager called me after an interview and told me off the record that the position actually wasn’t available.  However, he said he intended to open up a similar position in the next few months and that I would be the first candidate.  He stuck to his promise.

Moral of the story?  Never burn bridges for no reason.

The Hiring Manager Is A Pervert

Honestly, this happens all the time.  A lot of people (men and women) simple can’t resist a pretty face. Sometimes you’ll be extremely qualified and have a perfect interview, only to find out that some random candidate with questionable credentials but a slamming body got the position instead.  The world is easier when you’re hot, just accept it and move on.  Or get plastic surgery.

We once sent an older man to hire a new entry level software developer at a career fair.  Few weeks later, he had hired a hot young woman with absolutely no experience in software development.  He insisted that she was the best candidate he had seen at the career fair.

Interestingly enough, the next year I attended that same conference.  In less than an hour after the event started, I had a stack of resumes in front of me filled with Ivy League graduates with impressive credentials.  Most of them had computer science degrees and great GPAs.  Very few if any of them were physically attractive.  Interestingly enough, I didn’t give a damn about that because I was looking for software developers…not the next contestant for America’s Top Model.

Someone Else Was Just Better

Face it.  The world is full of some very intelligent and sociable people.  It stands to reason that even if you did a great job, someone else could have done an even better job.  The fact that there will always be someone smarter than you is a blessing.  It means you always have room to improve.  There’s nothing more boring and soul-sucking than being stuck forever in a room full of people dumber than you.

Don’t let it get you down.  If you screwed anything up, try to improve on it next time.  If you follow the steps I provided you’re already better than 90% of the other lazy, inept imbeciles interviewing in the world so I’m sure your dream job will come your way in no time.

Conclusion

I hope these tips worked for you.  I know they worked for me.  If you have any comments, suggestions, or just want to share your own success story, please share in the comments section!

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