I have an unpopular opinion about interviews.
Interviews are easy. There… I said it.
But they require you to prepare completely and comprehensively. And understanding what to expect from an interview can be a critical part of the process.
In fact, interviewing well is more about how well you know yourself than it is about impressing someone else.
Unpopular opinion: interviews are not as hard as you think.
The first step of interviewing is understanding why interviews exist
Imagine that you are a hiring manager. You are looking for someone to fill a very specific need within your team and you have started to interview.
You meet with two qualified people. Candidate 1 has every technical skill on your must-have list and prefers independent work environments. Candidate 2 is missing 2–3 technical skills on your list but has a proven record of learning quickly and loves to collaborate with peers. It’s a hard decision!
In this case, you offer the job to Candidate 2 because the company culture is team-oriented. Collaboration is essential. Candidate 1 would have been able to do the job, but wouldn’t have enjoyed the team culture.
Interviews exist so that hiring managers can make a decision between highly skilled and comparable individuals to benefit both the company and the individual.
Interviews assess everything from skills, to communication, to culture, to attitude. Although interviews are not perfect (we all know of people who have lied their way through interviews) they are still the best way we have to ensure a successful match for both the organization and the individual.
The purpose of the interview will vary based on the position
When you’re applying to positions, think about what the interviewer will be focusing on. The goal is for them to figure out why they should hire you, and it’s your job to convince them of that. Do them (and yourself) a favour and answer that question for them! When you prepare for the interview, think about the interests and concerns of the person you are meeting so that you can make sure that you give them every possible reason to hire you.
Here are some things to consider.
- Think of what that other person is going to be looking for from a person with your skillset applying to this type of position.
- Find your interviewers on LinkedIn and find out about their background to help you build a connection with them.
- Find people who currently work for the company on LinkedIn and see what their background is.
- Study the organizational values and consider how they match with your own.
But when there are so many types of interviews, how do you know what to expect?
There are a few different types of interviews and I cover some of this piece on the 3 Stages of the Interview Process. There is the informational interview, the phone screen, the introductory interview, the technical interview, and the executive interview. And each of these has a different purpose. It’s really helpful to know which type of interview can expect before you head into the meeting.
Never hesitate to ask whoever set up the interview to find out exactly who you’ll be meeting with and what their positions are. This is the easiest way to know what type of interview you’re walking into and how to prepare for it.
Inside scoop: informational interviews
- designed to help you understand more about an industry, position, career path, or opportunity.
- the conversation should be driven by your questions and is set up by you with someone that you are interested in learning from.
- great opportunity to have a relaxed conversation and to build your network.
- leads to further networking and job opportunities.
Inside scoop: phone screens
- sometimes scheduled ahead of time, and sometimes spur of the moment conversations.
- a quick overview of your recent work experience and the position.
- with a recruiter or HR coordinator.
- be prepared to answer basic questions about why you are interested in the job and the company (since you may not be prepared for the phone screen to start, make sure you know the answers to these questions before you apply).
- make sure that you pick up the phone to unknown phone numbers when you are applying to positions!
Inside scoop: introductory interviews
- the first time you meet face-to-face as a formal part of the hiring process.
- a panel interview including a member of HR and the hiring manager.
- expect behavioural based questions and be prepared to provide lots of examples from your previous experiences
- opportunity to ask lots of questions about the role and the work culture
Inside scoop: technical interviews
- designed to assess your technical or “hard” skills.
- often includes an assessment.
- expect very detailed questions and be prepared to give granular and “process” centred answers.
- to prepare for the technical interview practise the type of work that you will be expected to complete if you get the job.
Inside scoop: executive interviews
- executives put the final seal of approval on many interview processes
- the last step of the process
- focussed on communication skills and work culture. They will want to make sure that you will be a culture “add” and not just a culture fit.
- executive interviews tend to be short because executives are very busy.
- often a final discussion of salary expectations and compensation package.
Above all else remember that a good interview is a two-way conversation
Interviewers want to understand if you are going to be a good fit with their team. But what is even more important is that you understand for yourself if the team is going to be a good fit for you. Too many of us want our “first career job” so badly that we don’t stop to consider if it’s actually going to fit with our long-term goals.
Although there is no such thing as a “perfect job” (and you don’t need to get it right the first time) the skills you develop in your first job will help set you up for your long-term career success.
If your interview is a one-way conversation where you are being grilled by the interviewer and are not stopping to ask some questions or to engage in a conversation, you’ll never know if it’s a good idea for you to accept the job offer. You won’t have gathered enough information for you to make an educated decision. Interviews need to be two-sided for them to fulfill the true purpose of making a strong match between a candidate and a client.
You’ll know if you have a good interview because you will have been engaged in a conversation about the role, not just a one-sided interrogation.
A strong interviewer will always allow you to ask questions at the end of the meeting. But I encourage you to ask questions throughout the interview to show active listening and engagement in the conversation.
Here are five interview tips that will help you with the art of interviewing
1. Prepare thoroughly
Understand exactly what the company is looking for by reading the job description in detail. Know which areas are your strengths and which areas you would need to work on to be successful. Understand the culture, the mission, and the values of the organization. And do your research. Make sure you’re prepared to talk about how your skillsets align with the job, what value you would bring to the company, as well as what value the company could add to your long term career.
2. Pretend that interviewer is a friend who you don’t know yet
A lot of us become friends with our colleagues. In fact, being able to cultivate a friendship is shown to improve the working environment significantly. When you’re interviewing you want to make sure that the interviewers are people that you can imagine having a conversation with about your family, your habits and hobbies, or life outside of work.
In the remote-work world, your colleagues will see your home through a video camera. They might meet your kids, or your dogs, your animals. And so you need to imagine that they are going to have access to your life outside of work. If this is not someone who you think could be a friend, maybe it’s not gonna be a great match for you. And it’s not that you need to be best friends but just that you need to like someone enough to want to engage in ongoing conversations with them.
3. Humility and confidence can go together
I will often interview people who have one or the other but not both. The overly humble interviewee doesn’t communicate their strengths or experiences in a compelling way and is more likely to dis-value their experience. I also interview the overly confident person who has no “flaws” and no issues relating to the opportunity.
Neither one of these is a true representation of a person, and neither one of them present see you in a great light. The trick is to have humility — communicating that you might not be able to meet everything in the job description or might not know everything as soon as you enter the position — but confidence that you can learn you can grow and that you have the skills that will be an asset to the company. Pairing humility and confidence will help make a good impression in the interview.
4. Be honest with yourself
Advocate for the things that matter to you. Don’t answer with “classic” responses that you think the interviewer wants to hear. This includes answers like “one of my weaknesses is perfectionism” or “yes of course I handle criticism well”. Be honest and thoughtful in your responses. Provide real-life examples to help you communicate your point.
For example, I would answer a question about criticism like this:
I handle criticism best if it is sandwiched within compliments. I am someone who requires words of affirmation as part of my love language and that is just as important at work as it is at home. Feedback is very important to me as I love to continuously improve my skills and I’m hoping to work for a manager that will offer both criticism and compliments frequently.
But here’s the catch… you have to know these things about yourself before you start the interview! Make sure you do the self-reflection and preparation to know your own character traits and practise communicating them to others. If you can communicate well with the interviewer, they will be able to prepare you for success when they offer you the position.
5. Know your strengths
Understand where you are strong and understand where you are weak. And do not hesitate to communicate both of those things to the interviewer.
Many of the people I work with do not know the depths of their strengths. I get generic and non-descriptive responses (sometimes stolen from online advice articles like this one) more often than not. Some of the common responses are “hard worker” or “responsible.” And although these are both good strengths, they are not very convincing answers. I want to get a deeper understanding of what are your strengths and how have you use them in the past. By expanding on your answer, you will be able to sell me your experiences and help me visualize you succeeding on my team.
Many people ask “how do I know if an interview went well?”
There’s an art to reading the interviewer and their reactions. Depending on the interviewer, you might find that they are very stoic and rigid. This is often true when the interview has a formal style or is following a script. If this is their interview style, it can take a few meetings to start to break down that wall. If it’s your first interview with the company don’t worry… Reflect on your answers and your gut impression of the conversation. It can be hard to read, but you’ll find out if it went well when you get a callback for the next round. And if you don’t get a call back you can ask for the reason why and you can learn from your experience.
As you start to get to know the interviewer you’ll begin to read their body language in their cues. And this is when you start to understand how you were building rapport with the interviewer. Each stage of the interview process should become more and more of a two-way conversation. If the interviewer isn’t engaged in talking to you or isn’t answering your questions, chances are it might not be a good place to work. Ultimately it will tell you what you need to know about if you want to work for the company.
To seal the deal, always follow up
I encourage you to follow up and send a thank you note for the interviewer’s time the next day. In the note include areas where you see the opportunity for you to grow, where you see an opportunity to use your strengths, and also why you continue to be interested in the position. Tell them not just what challenges there might be, but also how you would go about fixing or overcoming those challenges. Show that not only did you do the work before the interview to prepare, but you’ve also done some work after the interview to think about all the ways that you could do a great job at that company.
Do the thinking for them, and they’ll be grateful that you are being so diligent and interested in the position.
When it comes down to it, interviewing is just a conversation
It’s a conversation with someone you haven’t met before and that you’re trying to impress.
But ultimately the most impressive thing is knowing who you are, what strengths you bring, and understanding how you align with the opportunity you’re interviewing for. The interview is an opportunity for you to understand if the job is right for you, just as much as it is for the company to understand if you are a fit for them.