Retire29’s Guide To Crushing Your Next Job Interview

I like interviewing people. I feel in charge–like somebody’s destiny is in my hands. In NYC I was the first member of a team that had to be built to support a new change management program. That was fun because I got to interview all of my future coworkers. At my current employer, I offered to be an interviewer in just my second week on board. Ever since then, HR must have put me at the front of their Rolodex as I’m interviewing just about every-other week.

Not that I’m complaining. Like I said, I enjoy interviewing. For most of my coworkers, they choose not to be bothered with this thankless task. I find that odd. Interviewing folks gives me the opportunity to break up the normal day-to-day and allows me to speak to new people about our jobs and interests. It helps me get better at speaking about my work and helps me improve one of my biggest weaknesses (making eye contact in direct conversation).

At our company, which is a large consulting/financial services/auditing firm, we do a lot of hiring events. Two weeks ago, I interviewed three people—three easy rejections. Today, I interviewed two people—two easy offer letters. The crazy thing is, the resumes were not materially different. In fact, most of the rejections had stronger resumes than the offers. How is this possible?

Well, I’m here today to tell you six very easy things you can do to ace your next interview. And for the record, I’m not like a CEO or anything. The majority of folks I interview are age 45 or under and are seeking positions from entry-level up through junior (small team)-management. There will, of course, be different words of wisdom for executive interviews, and if you’re applying to Google, they tend to ask some pretty strange questions that I can’t really help you with, like “How many software developers does it take to screw in a light bulb?” (Answer: Two. One to hold the bulb. A second to spin the ladder.)

6 Things To Do At Your Next Interview

1. Stand Up When We Shake Hands – Call me old fashioned, or maybe it’s my seven years of Army experience talkin’, but if you don’t stand up to shake my hand, then I’m honestly going to be looking for a wheelchair underneath you. I mean, I’m standing, so why aren’t you standing? This really goes back to just common courtesy, and it costs you nothing; there’s no risk to standing. This is far from a deal-breaker, but why wouldn’t you stand?

As they say, you get one first impression. That handshake is going to be it. I can’t even tell you how odd it feels to shake the hand of a person that is sitting down. It feels like I’m handing you a bowl of soup or something. This one is just so easy…

And yes, when we shake hands to depart, you stand again.

2. Have Some Energy – Put yourself in the role of the interviewer. In nearly all cases, this interview is probably a (slight) burden on their day. They probably have meetings that bookend this interview. Or, maybe, they’ve just had a long day. More than likely their mind is preoccupied with some big client deliverable that is due, or some proposal they’re writing, or some project deadline that is coming up in like a half hour. While talking to you is important, their world is likely revolving around something else. So, your goal for the interviewer is the same general goal as if you were already working for them, “to make their job easier.” And, let me tell you, there is nothing that makes my job harder than getting a candidate that lacks energy.

I’ll usually come in to an interview with a bit of excitement, but if I ask straight away, “So, how are you doing today?” and the response is this quiet, “I’m okay. And you?” I’ll be thinking, “Oh gawd, this is gonna be a long 30 minutes.” But, if the person responds, “I’m awesome! It’s really nice to meet you! Hot enough for ya?!” Then I get super excited. I’m thinking, “Wow, where’d this guy come from?” My enthusiasm has to match yours, which makes the whole process easier.

3. Talk! – This goes along with #2, but it’s distinct. I usually approach an interview with 3 or 4 canned questions to ask in case the conversation hits a lull. After those few questions, I’m really hoping that we have a rapport, so that we can just shoot the breeze, otherwise I’m hoping that our time is up.

I’ve done many interviews where my questions are “up” after like two minutes. Because I’ll ask something like:

Me: “What client service aspect do you find most challenging?”

Them: “Sometimes I just have a hard time identifying exactly what they’re looking for.”

Me: “….”

Them: “….”

Me: “Oh, okay. Ummm, Can you give me some examples?”

The worst part is, their answer wasn’t that bad–lots of opportunity to expound on that. But, man, was it ever short. Frankly, if every question I asked was followed by a solid, 60-second response, I’d be delighted. It would give me time to formulate a follow-up question, to hear how you can deliver a cohesive statement, and to really just take a break. I hate having to grind out an interview, like I’m workin’ the count after getting behind on the pitcher.

Or maybe I’m just lazy, I don’t know.

4. Have some questions, and ask them – We had this awesome candidate come through not too long ago. Her credentials were okay, but her career was still sort of a work in progress. However, when the trio of interviewers reconvened afterward, the words “slam dunk” were said more than once. Seriously.

So, what was this girl’s secret? Well, as one of us put it, “I interviewed her for about ten minutes, and she interviewed me for about 20 minutes.”

Don’t get the impression that your intelligence can only come from your answers. Your true intelligence is very evident in the questions you can ask of the interviewer.

There’s nothing wrong with asking the interviewer boilerplate questions like, “What do you like about your company?” or “Tell me about your background?” but I love hearing, “What projects are you working on right now?” or “What is something that is making your job more difficult than it needs to be?”

Or, if you really want to wow them, the absolute best question you can ask is for their help with a specific problem you’re having at your current job. I’d love it if somebody were to ask me, “We’re having a big problem trying to get a full chart of accounts at our current client. This is the approach we’ve taken so far: ___________. But, it hasn’t seemed to work. How would your team approach this?”

Bam! You’ve just flipped the script, and now you’re interviewing the interviewer! But, more than that, you’re now just having a conversation about work. See what you did there? Not only is the conversation now very natural and comfortable (and talking about something that’s on your own turf), but it feels as though just a couple of coworkers are talking—-Bingo! Coworkers! Now you’ve got the interviewer in a mindset of working together and collaborating with you. Score! You can still exude your creativity, personality, and skills, but you’ve steered off the traditional Q&A path that makes many interviews so awful.

5. Know Your Resume – So, here’s an easy one. If it’s in your resume, prepare to be asked about it. Most interviewers will have given your resume about one rodeo ride’s worth of time prior to the interview. As they’re scanning the thing during the interview, their eyes will pick on something. If you’re lucky, it’ll be your alma mater, if you’re unlucky it’ll be some regulation or system you mentioned deep in the resume that you don’t actually know.

Rule of thumb with resumes, less is more (see #3 below). And, if you don’t still know any technical aspects of your experience, delete them. One girl train wreck I interviewed had this nice flashy resume. I would ask her something like, “It says here that you do a lot of process mapping. What tools do you use for that?”

She responds, “Oh, yah, I don’t do too much of that.”

That literally went on for like three more questions until, I kid you not, she finally said, “I’ll be honest. The stuff on that resume is just something we used to bid on a contract, I’m not exactly sure what’s on there.”

As you can guess, she was not given an offer. But, that hilariousness did help me write this paragraph…

6. Know (A Little Bit) About the Company – You don’t need to know a lot, but you should at least be prepared to answer the question, “What do you know about our company?” The key points will vary based on the industry, but you should have a general idea how the company makes its money, its geography, and maybe a few key leaders. Most interviewers aren’t out to “get you.” In fact, most interviews are occurring because they want to hire you. HR spent time prescreening your resume. Somebody had to write up a job description and requirements. Somebody had to schedule you, the interviewers, the conference rooms, maybe even pay for your travel. It’s a coordinated effort, and its all for naught if you suck. So, most interviewers want a good candidate, so unless the interviewer is a douchebag, they won’t ask, “what was our operating profit CAGR for the last three years?”

Just know enough to show that you care.

3 Things That Are Overrated

1. Your Technical Expertise – Obviously I can only speak for me and my own firm, but I’m far more concerned with who you are and your soft skill set than any vast technical expertise. Most fundamental concepts and principles about a given occupation are learned in the first year or two, after that point, every job has its own learning curve. I expect that even if you were doing my exact same job, just at a different company, the processes, politics, systems, and policies would be unique enough that you’d have to relearn most everything with good old fashiong OJT (that’s “on the job training”).

2. Your Appearance – Of course it’s not a good idea to show up smelling of homemade malt liquor, but the appearance factor is generally pretty overrated. I say this from past experience. When I left the Army back in 2009-10, we had this week-long seminar called ACAP, which is basically a transitioning-out program to help you prepare for the civilian world. Well, maybe 60% of the course (if memory serves) was devoted to “dressing for success.”

In all my interviewing, not once has anyone ever differentiated his or herself, for better or worse, by their appearance. You know the deal, suit, tie, jacket, but I’ll be damned if I catch myself saying “Yah, he was spot on, except those shoes didn’t match his belt. Go ahead and shred his application.”

If you have 20 minutes before the interview, you’re better off doing some cursory company research rather than buffing those lapel pins.

3. Your Resume

Yah, a resume is necessary to pass through the algorithms that HR uses. But, once you’re in the door, your resume doesn’t matter much. In fact, it typically does more harm than good. Some basic rules of thumb:

  • Please, please, please don’t have your GPA on your resume. A 4.0 looks snobby. A 3.7 looks average. A 3.3 looks lazy. It’s lose-lose-lose.
  • Remove “References Available Upon Request.” It’s 100% unnecessary in all cases. We know your references are available. If they aren’t available then you don’t have any references.
  • Pretend somebody offered you $100 for every word you could remove. Okay, now get to deletin’.

The Bottom Line

In 30-90 minutes, a group of people will have to decide whether they want to work with you for the foreseeable future. In some ways, it’s just like speed dating, except that with speed dating, you’re looking for a spouse that you’ll spend far less time with than your future coworkers.

In 30-90 minutes, it’s literally impossible to know if somebody can do the job. There is simply too many nuances to most service sector work to know if somebody has every skill necessary. So, it’s a fool’s errand to know if somebody possesses every little technical trait. However, here’s what you can find out in 30-90 minutes:

  • If you can put a person in front of clients
  • If a person is easy to talk to
  • If a person knows the basic fundamentals of the position
  • If a person shows an interest, desire, and motivation

Take a look at those six things to do above, and you’re well on your way to hitting these four bullets and acing that next interview.

Thanks for reading Retire29!

Eric

 

8 Comments

  1. Great article Eric,

    In my experience, asking questions and knowing your story are the biggest keys to interviewing success.

    When it comes down to it, you will be working side by side with candidate in the future pending their hire. If they aren’t comfortable in their own shoes and don’t care about the work you do, then they won’t be a good fit.

    Before I received two offers earlier this year, I created a sheet of questions to ask the hiring manager. This way after the small talk, I could make the interviewer feel comfortable. Questions like: “What do you like about working here?”, “What do you do?”, “What new projects are you working on currently?”

    This shows that you have potential to grow because you are asking about the present and future. The resume is backwards looking. A conversation that involves these questions is forward looking.

    Thanks for the article and have a good day,
    Erik
    Erik @ A More Successful You recently posted…How To Be Amazing Without Changing Who You AreMy Profile

    • Absolutely agree with all that. It’s like a first date, an interview is. You’ll come out of it saying, “I could work with this” or “No f’in way.” It’s all about showing your flexibility. Nobody knows the job in the interview.

      Eric

  2. Ok, where the heck were you with this interviewing advice 20+ years ago? 🙂

    I have been on the employer side interviewing in my career and I certainly have run across applicants like you have. It is just hard to believe that people do not come to an interview better prepared.

    This is great a post that I just forwarded to my 23 year old daughter who graduated college in May and is actively interviewing.

    Take care!
    Bryan@Just One More Year recently posted…On priorities: Our friend “Buck” stops hereMy Profile

  3. I’ve done a lot of hiring as well. I’m curious if all this advice is general to all age groups or specific to more experienced hires. I say that because if I’m recruiting on campus or someone with only a year or two of experience, I definitely want to see a GPA.

    Otherwise I agree with all points.
    Adam @ AdamChudy.com recently posted…5 Steps to Accomplish AnythingMy Profile

    • I still don’t think GPA is really necessary. But even if it is for some fields, it’s definitely overrated. Even for those just graduating, the fact that you saw through a four-year process, figured out how to pay for it, learned how to be on your own, and understand what you want to do in life has a lot more value than a few grades where 70% of your classes are probably totally unrelated to what you’ll be working on.

      Thank you for commenting!

      Eric

  4. “3 Things That Are Overrated

    1. Your Technical Expertise”

    Can’t agree more. I saw this recently where we were interviewing INTERNS (for 3 stupid months) and the one guy could not get over this point. Look, they’re here for 3 months. I just want to see if they’re semi-normal and relatable. They’ll be able to figure out the job. It’s not that hard.
    Chris @ Flipping A Dollar recently posted…July 2015 “Profits” – Sales SlowdownMy Profile

    • It goes back to “everything I need to know I learned in Kindergarten.” It’s a bit like that for jobs. Most essential skills of a position are discovered/learned in just the first six months or so. After that it’s just tackling projects and applying your knowledge to certain tasks.

      Eric

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