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The Secret of a Successful Job Interview

January 22nd, 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. How To Prepare Yourself For A Successful Job Search
  2. Interviewing Tips From Someone Who Does The Hiring
  3. Interview Questions You Need To Know How to Answer
  4. Ask Brian- How To Schedule An Interview When You Already Have A Job
  5. Ask Brian- How Do I Know If I Aced the Interview?

Tags: Interviewing · Job Search · Job Search January

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  • geri

    I went on interview and it went well; he introduced me to CEO of the company and that went well (at least i think it did). The whole interview was 2 1/2 hours. They gave me an application to fill out and fax to HR dept., which i did. My question is: do i call the HR department now to see if they got it? I’m not sure what my next step is…They also gave me a medical form, since I work with clients, I need to get that filled out….do I call my doctor and schedule that appointment….I didn’t get an exact answer on if I got the job; so I’m not really sure where I stand….

  • sandrar

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.

  • Clara

    I just wanted to write a big THANK YOU to the person that wrote this. I was looking for a teaching job and my odds to get “the job”felt like winning the lotery sometimes in today’s economy, the competition is fierce and this would be my first teaching job= no experience. With that in mind, I read every possible blog and website about interviewing, and right before I walked out to go to THE INTERVIEW, I came across this blog. We all know the obvious : don’t curse, dress nice, don’t chew gum… etc. but I did exactly what this article is about: go beyond the job description. I had a portfolio with drawings that I have made, since my background is in design, I told them that I was interested in enrichment activities after school such as art, or chess and I had a management plan in place for the classroom…and smiled, smiled and smiled.
    I didn’t even talked about my nonexistent teaching experience, ( they were aware of that, and they called me for an interview anyway).
    One week later, I got the job. It was my first and only interview ,when I was mentally prepared to interview at at least 5 schools, wich is what I’ve heard from other people in my situation. All because of the JOB BORED, so if I didn’t say it before: THANK YOU!! THANK YOU!! THANK YOU!!!

  • Faith

    If I was given a tour of the company, is this a good sign?

  • black celebs

    Sign: wdpad Hello!!! uzpbx and 469edeybdmppv and 1601 : Thanks. We look forward to hearing from you again and for your opinions on the world of work.

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  • KVM Drawer

    A worthwhile interviewing goal is to link your abilities
    with the company needs in the mind of the employer so you can build a strong
    case for why the company should hire you. The employer is not interested in how
    this job will improve your career. “Talk about what you are bringing to
    the job, what special qualities, knowledge or vision you can offer,” says Cornfield.
    “Explain to them what a difference you can make.” The more you know
    about each other, the more potential you’ll have for establishing rapport, and
    making an informed decision.