It’s too bad you’re awful at interviews

I spent the last month as part of a search committee at the university where I work. Like the hiring process in any industry, it was tedious as we read through applications, conducted phone interviews, and met candidates.

That the process within academia is so similar to the process outside of it continues to surprise me because aside from keeping applicants in the dark for tortuous amounts of time and the incessant hoop-jumping necessary to get the required signatures to make the hire, the steps are basically the same.

Office Space InterviewAnd from my experience, all too often so is the interviewing incompetence of those being asked the questions, creating perhaps the largest roadblock standing in the way of a qualified candidate actually getting hired.

No matter your experience, your accomplishments, or your degree, if you are bad at interviews, you do not have much more than a snowball’s chance in hell of getting a job, even when your résumé and cover letter are flawless.

And this is coming from someone who has not only hired people, but who, looking back on it, has probably shit the bed on my own interview or two.

With both perspectives in mind, here are a few tips to follow as you both prepare for and go through the interview process. It is my hope that this insight will inform your experience and not allow a bad interview to stand in the way of you getting the job you deserve.

(1) Do your research and know your audience. This is perhaps the most important component of a good interview. Showing that you understand what an organization does, the things an organization values, and the components of an organization’s culture will allow you to more naturally articulate how you would fit in and how you would add value.

Research the organization and its stakeholders. You want to feel comfortable in your capacity to answer any job-specific questions that come your way, plus, knowing a bit about the people interviewing you provides an opportunity to establish rapport.

Now, there is a fine line between interest in interviewers and over-enthusiasm. I suggest making reference to similarities serendipitously. Rather than saying “Oh Sam, I saw from your Facebook page that you enjoy binge watching Netflix. I too love wasting my Saturdays on Gossip Girl,” say something like “I like to decompress from time to time and watch some Netflix.”

In other words, avoid making it obvious that you’ve been creeping on someone; rather, let the similarities arise “naturally.”

(2) Practice with someone who is going to give you honest feedback. Develop a long list of questions you think you might be asked during your interview. Include the standard questions most everyone gets asked, but also come up with several job/company-specific questions.

Your answers need to be about you and your skills, but they must clearly explain how you can fulfill the duties of the position and add value to the employer. Be specific in your references to the company and show the interviewers you have done your research because as much as the answers are about you, they need to pay homage to the company considering hiring you.

Lastly, when you practice, do so with someone who is going to give you honest, constructive feedback. If your answers are lame, find a person who will tell you that.

(3) Dress the part. You need to look professional. The adage “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have” is a touch cliché, but it works here on many levels. If you are trying to land a corporate job, proper professional attire is expected. However, if you are interviewing for a job as a brew master, the interview attire might look a little different because if you come into a brewery wearing a pants suit and blouse, it may appear that you won’t fit into the organizational culture.

Scope out the employer if possible and see what others are wearing. Do some internet research and look for photos to get a bead on what you should put on for your interview.

No matter what you find, be sure to look the part.

(4) Get yo’ mind right. Maybe you meditate. Maybe you go for a run. Maybe you put on some Outkast. Whatever it is, you want to get your mind in the right place to kick some ass.

DO NOT chug a beer or do a shot. I’m 100% sure I have done interviews with one or two people who have done that and can assure you it does not work out well.

(5) Be polite. Maintaining politeness should be a focus throughout the interview, but when you start considering your answers and trying to show confidence, this might give way to more contemplative emotions.

 However, no matter what, when you introduce yourself, do so with warmth and politeness. This is your chance to make a great first impression before flexing your technical and/or intellectual muscles.

(6) Answer what you have been asked, not what you wish you would have been asked. Listen to the questions and attend to them. Too often I have asked someone a question only to have them give a completely unrelated answer because they wanted to put something out on the table they thought made them sound smarter or more qualified. This is a bad move.

Process the question and if you need to take 3-4 seconds to consider your answer, that is fine, but make it obvious that you are thinking.

Lastly, be concise in your answer. Do not ramble. Long-winded answers tend to occur when someone does not know what they want to say or thinks they are brilliant and loves to hear themselves talk. Either way, you sound bad.

(7) Make eye contact. There is no better way to convey interest and emotion than good eye contact. This does not mean wide-eyed, laser-beam eye contact, but thoughtful, well-paced eye contact that moves from eyes to windows to eyes to paper, etc.

Like good speaking, good eye contact requires good rhythm. Think about what your eyes do when talking with a friend. Pay attention to what comes natural in this situation and work to emulate during your interview.

Your eyes can do so much to generate attachment and in interview situations, you want them to work in your favor.

(8) Be authentic, but professional. You want to convey an authentic self, giving authentic answers to the questions being asked. Practice will help this, but so will a relaxed demeanor during the interview. Take a deep breath and slow things down.

With that said, you should maintain professionalism. Use appropriate verbal and nonverbal language and know the setting and actors. This is not a conversation over beers. Maybe it will get to that point, but until it does, remain focused on the situation and the level of professionalism it requires.

(9) Be confident, but likable. No one likes a pompous asshole, but no one likes someone who’s desperate either. This might be the toughest thing to nail down in an interview because we are prepared to talk about ourselves. We have done that in our résumé and cover letter and want to repeat that in the interview.

But the interview is different. You have already sold yourself as an employee, now you want to sell yourself as someone the interviewers can have a cup of coffee with. Make it clear you are someone they want around. Do not be arrogant and cocky. Do not name drop and talk about all the cool things you have done.

Imagine you are on a first date and you want a second one. Start there.

(10) Have questions to ask. Few things make an interviewee look worse than not having 2-3 questions they want to ask the interviewers. During your research, write down a few things you would like clarification on or questions you want to ask the interviewers about their experience. Things like “What do you enjoy most about your job?” or “What is it about this place that keeps you coming back?” are fantastic questions. They do not have to be deep or cerebral; they just need to convey that you are interested in them as much as you are interested in talking about yourself.

You got an interview because you are qualified. Don’t let a bad interview stand in the way of you getting hired.


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