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A Successful Job Interview: My One Best Tip

November 3rd, 2008 · 11 Comments

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I once gave you my one best tip for writing a better resume. This has prompted several people to write and ask if I have a similar one “best tip” for job interviews.

I do, and it’s a very simple one.

Zen And the Art of Job Interviews

When it comes time to prepare clients for a job interview, I go over all the usual common sense tips: dress well; be clean shaven; try to use proper language and grammar; familiarize yourself with your own resume (you’d be surprised how often people get tripped up by info on their own resume) etc.

I also try to concentrate on the mental stuff: be confident; try to give the impression that hiring you will be a boon for the organization… i.e. you’ll be able to deliver results; seem eager to work at this company. To this last end, I encourage my clients to do actual research on the employer. You want the hiring manager to think they’re about to hire you for your dream job; knowing something about the company goes a long way to leaving them with the impression you’re super motivated to join their team.

But the one thing I always end the preparation session with is this advice:


What? Be likeable? Seems like a trite bit of advice. But my reasoning is based on my own experience as someone who does the hiring.

The secret to the job interview is the human element. After all, that’s what a one-on-one interview is for: to find out the intangible qualities you have that can’t be put down on paper. People forget that.

Your resume has already indicated that you’re qualified for consideration. What the one-on-one interview is really all about is determining if you’re normal or if you’re a wacko.

Let’s say you’re applying to work at one of my two companies. If you are applying to be a writer, I would only have considered you if another writer has vouched for you or if I know you by reputation in the industry. In all cases, I’ve only agreed to interview you because your resume showed you to be qualified. The unqualified resumes didn’t even get callbacks.

So if you’ve made it to the interview, chances are I think you’re qualified. Or, at least, amongst the qualified. All I’m worried about now is confirming your qualifications, and more importantly, figuring you out as a person.

So, a good portion of the interview with me will be questions based off your resume. I basically just want to make sure you aren’t lying. So, I’ll ask some questions to try to trip you up. If your resume was all truth, you should have no problem with any of this.

And yeah, I’ll ask you some questions about your work history and your professional philosophy (and maybe some personal or personality questions, though that’s usually not not my style). But I’m really just asking any of these questions so I can get a handle on who you are and how you operate.

The interview is mostly about, will I enjoy working with this person?

In fact, almost every part of this entire process is me trying to suss out a couple of basic questions: Can I work with this person? More importantly, will I enjoy working with this person?

In other words, the interview is… at it’s bottom… Are you a psycho? No? A jerk? No? Then will I enjoy working with you more than the last person I interviewed?

And I would argue that this is really what 85% of interviews are all about: likeability. Weeding out the jerks and psychos and picking the person you think you can get along with best. It’s the personal element that counts.

So the best thing you can do in an interview is be personable, friendly and likeable.

Now, this runs counter to most traditional interview advice which has built the job interview into this bizarre nightmare grilling session where the interviewer is out to get you and any wrong answer means certain rejection. Reading some job search advice books, you get the sense they’re preparing you to testify before a judge or, at least, get interviewed by Bill O’Reilly.

I think this is wrongheaded. At best, it over-prepares you. At worst, this sort of advice scares the crap out of you and turns you into a nervous wreck. And as I’ve said before, you don’t want to be nervous, you want to be confident, competent and pleasant.

And yeah, some companies will put you through the wringer, asking literally hundreds of questions to try to trip you up. But they’re doing that, again, to weed out the jerks and psychos. If you answer honestly, as best you can, then you’ll do fine. Cause I’m assuming you’re not a jerk or a psycho.

So, in summation…

  • Relax.
  • If you’ve gotten to the interview, the interviewer probably already thinks you’re qualified. You just have to make sure to prove them right.
  • Just answer honestly.
  • Don’t try to over-think questions. Answer the way you would answer, not the way you think you’re supposed to answer.
  • The interview is about finding out who you are as a person. So, just be the person you already are.
  • Be truthful, thoughtful and most importantly, likeable.

Related posts:

  1. The Secret of a Successful Job Interview
  2. Interview Tip- Have Some Questions
  3. Sample Interview Questions From Google and Microsoft
  4. 6 Signs The Job Interview Went Well
  5. The 5 Dirty Little Secrets Of A Successful Job Search
  6. Train Yourself To Ace The Interview By Going On Trial Run Interviews

Tags: Interviewing · Job Search

  • CK

    Again, all good points to remember.

    I would recommend (besides company research) to have little success stories in your head that would apply for the situation. Just remember the problem (or issue), how you handled it, and the result. If it was a success, say so. And if not, what did you learn from it? Learning from past mistakes is a good thing!

    As to likability, what about mirroring the interviewer? I’m not talking about being creepy or anything. Like the rate of breathing, and moving to body posture. Make the connection, follow, pace and then lead.

    What I man by lead is to YOU changing your posture and see if the employer follows. if he/she does then you have connection, if not start again.

    People like people who are like them, look like them, act like them, and sound like them – so match with them! Then see if after a while that they match you! If so then you have a real connection (and possible job)!

    Any thoughts?

    • Joey Gipson

      I had an interview yesterday that was over an Hour and then I got a list of job duties for my position does that sound maybe promising

  • Bonnie

    Excellent point (“be likeable”) and one I wish more job seekers would take to heart.

    The other day I heard someone say “I know I’m more qualified than the temp who’s doing the job now. If they hire her instead of me, I’m going to file a grievance!”

    I keep trying to drill it into people’s heads–employers don’t have to hire the “most qualified” person; they hire someone who meets the qualifications (even minimally) that they LIKE BEST.

    (Just discovered your blog, Brian — it’s definitely going to be one of my favorites!)

  • Marc Linn

    Excellent advice. Our culture tends to encourage us to act like lifeless zombies in a work setting — how much fun is that?

    I realize in an interview, by definition the interviewee does much if not most of the talking. Still, the old saying “To be impressive, learn to talk — to be popular, learn to listen” might have some relevance. Displaying genuine interest in things the interviewer might say about his or her personal life, hobbies, whatever can help in many cases.

    Listening well can also provide valuable insights into what sales people call the “hot button” — the aspect of the product (in this case, you) that the prospect (the interviewer) might get really excited about, to the point where they just have to buy / offer a job.

    I have hired people; I can only think of one time when I hired someone that I really didn’t like all that much. It worked out terribly as I recall.

  • christine smith

    My question is,I got a phone call from a dental office and ask me if I could do a working interview?and w/o interviewing me first and I asked her If I get paid in this working interview and she told me if I stay for the whole day I will.just want to know if this office is not using me for one of their employees is sick or on vacation.Pls. advice me If I should go and do working interview? Thank you and waiting for your advice.

  • D.Mote

    I have managed several dental offices. First of all, it is rather odd to ask an applicant for an interview if you have not even interviewed them at all. If you are truly just observing the work day, they are not required to pay you. If you are working, helping clean instruments, filing etc you must be paid per labor law. If they are using the day to train you, like showing you how to seat a patient, how they chart ect they must pay you because training on a job must be paid. A working interview is designed to show an applicant what the work day would be like and to see if they are still interested. They also, want to make certain that you mesh with the rest of the staff. Good luck, good idea to ask first if you will be paid before working interviews. The amount of pay should be set before the working interview. After all there may be day care expenses, gas, lunch etc.

  • Joy

    I had 2nd interveiw today with techinal guy,my 1st interveiw with the VP of strategic,planning and analysis dept went great, i should say excelent.but i am not so sure about the 2nd the end of the interveiw the interveiwer said to me that i did good and he thinks i can do it and told me how nice it is to work for that company.So my question is what do i make out of this Interveiw,did i get it or not?

  • Ahsante

    I agree – it pays to be ‘likeable’. I’ve been in situations where the employer hired me, even if I didn’t have all of the qualifications (they liked me & considered me trainable), because I made an effort (in spite of being nervous) to be warm, engaging and friendly.
    I also view the interview as a chance for me to interview THEM! “Is this someone with whom I can work, day after day?” “What is the culture of the company?” “How did the person who’s interviewing me get into this business; what motivates them?”
    Additionally, the bottom line is not always the salary. Being in a job where the people are pleasant, where my work has meaning and where my ideas and talents are valued, often carries more weight.

  • FG Coelho da Silva

    I wonder if the experts can give me some advice…
    I went to an interview Thursday, there were 4 people there, the main guy, and three females. I answered the first questions that the main guy asked, basicaly just selling myself who I was and why I thought my past experience would fit into this new position. After that the girls took turns with one question each, to which I answered superficially because I got very nervous, I mean really nervous to the point that they looked at me and offered a glass of water because I could not speak at first. The thing is this was an internal post shared by two departments, my current one and other. My current line manager was one of the girls and things just went bad when she made the question. I then went to answer another question from the main guy in a calm manner before they asking me if I had any questions (which I did (2)).
    The point I am trying to make is: my interview in my point of view went very wrong. I asked when they were going to make the decision and they told me Monday, it turned out that they did it before, and I got a phone call on Friday morning telling me I got the job.
    My question now is, was this decision influenced by my current line manager or was I really the best on the panel they interviewed? I mean I am well experienced and fullfill the job description fully, I wanted to send an email asking the guy the reason why I was the chosen one. Is that a good Idea?

    A copy of the email prepared to ask for feedback
    “I am pleased to have accepted the position
    Having reflected on my interview performance, it was clear to me that I did not perform at the level I wanted to. I am sure however that I am capable of making a positive contribution for the success of the project.
    I know that this will sound a bit foolish, being an ignorant in regards to recruitment processes it would be extremely helpful for me and I would be ever so grateful if you could give me some feedback regarding to the basis of your decision in selecting me as the best candidate to fill the vacancy.
    Assuring you of my strong and continued interest in the position, Sincerely”

  • guest

    if i had an interview and aftwards I decide that I am not interested in the position should I send a thank you note?

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