Like most people who have lead teams and companies for many years, I have interviewed hundreds of people. It always amazes me to see the same mistakes repeated time and time again. Sometimes I just want to tell the person sitting in front of me what to say, or what not to say so that I can end the interview. But I don’t, because I want to give the interviewee a chance. With so many sites and blog posts dedicated to interview advice, you might think that there is no need for another one. The difference here is that I will represent both the interviewee and the interviewer, as both sides need to do and avoid certain things. In this blog post I will focus on key things the interviewee should address and avoid.
Short and relevant resume, please!
The interview begins when you send over you resume. Of course, the interview might not even happen if the resume is the not a “good” one. There are many sites that advise on this topic, but I will only stress that the resume should be short and relevant to the job. No one has time to flip though ten pages of projects and a detailed job history. Two short pages is the max, and always make sure you customize it for the job you’re applying to. Yes, it’s more work but if you want the job, you’d better start working for it. Recycle your resume and your resume will be recycled into the bin.
What hasn’t been said yet about preparing for an interview? And yet I still interview people who don’t really understand what Docstoc is, what we do, how we make money, don’t know me, etc. It’s only a Google search away to find something about the person you’re interviewing with and it’s a big win to do so, not because it flatters the interviewer but because it shows you did your homework in the most direct and personal way. Same for the business itself; go to the site and spend 10 minutes clicking on every link and reading key pages, make sure you really understand the business. Most importantly, figure out how you can help them, how you see yourself there, and how your experience can benefit them. That’s the goal after all, for you to join this business and make it more successful. Do your homework, no one will hire lazy people.
Dress For The Right Event
If you have no fashion sense and your wardrobe is composed of jeans, t-shirts and sandals, go to any store and spend $100 on a basic slacks, a button down shirt and basic black shoes. Nothing fancy, no tie or jacket. Don’t rent a suite and don’t borrow your dad’s; it looks funny and distracting and will not add to your chances of getting the job. I don’t believe in overdressing, as you want to see the person you will work with, not some made up version of them. Find the balance, it’s an interview not a wedding.
The first 10 seconds
An interview can last from 10 minutes to over an hour, but for most people the decision is made in the first ten seconds of the interview. The reason is simple, over tens of thousands of years our brain evolved to make quick decisions about the things we see. Should I run or hide? Is the person in front of me a friend or foe? Even though we are not running through the jungle with a spear anymore, our basic instincts are still part of us. Most people don’t understand this and translate it as a “bad gut feeling,” and the interview is over before it begins. The problem is that our instincts were never built for this kind of setting: an office interview where one person is looking for a job and the other is trying to figure out if there’s a fit. Our brain automatically and very quickly wants to classify the person in front of us, label him or her by making a “life or death” decision: friend or foe.
So, what do you do? Be as calm, friendly, as secure as possible and smile so the caveman-brain classify you as a friend. Just remember, what you wear, how your hair looks, how you walk, the handshake, your smile, it’s all part of it. I know it’s not fair but it is what it is and you understanding it will only help you win the job.
Ask smart questions
As an interviewee, asking questions is an important part of the interview but you need to shoot for the “hmmm… good question…” type of question. These questions make the interviewer sits back in his/her chair, look up at the ceiling and think. I’m still shocked when people ask me questions like: “Who is your competition?” or “How do you make money?” Really? You tell me. For all the simple questions the answers are just a Google search away; when you fail to take the time to run a few simple searches, it shows you’re lazy.
A good question to ask is something like: “What are the three most important things I need to do in this role to be successful?” Usually the answer is: “Hmmm… good question…” as it deep and shows you truly want to understand how you can help the company be more successful by succeeding yourself.
No one knows everything
You don’t know everything, no one does; so don’t try to pretend that you do. For me, part of the interview is getting to know people’s limits, trying to see what they don’t know and then how they react. Do they think on their feet and come up with a smart solution? Do they ask smart questions? Or do they get upset and defensive, or put up a wall?
This is an important test because in life we always hit our limits and you want to work with people who deal well with challenges. When I can’t get people to admit they don’t know something, even when I ask them about things I have no clue about and are probably completely impossible, I have a reason to stop and think.
Remember that not knowing is not a disadvantage or a weakness, it’s natural and perfectly fine. Of course, if the things you don’t know are key to the position you are in trouble. But then again, you’ll be in trouble anyways so why prolong it?
Don’t ask: “So, how did I do?”
It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes people ask me at the end of the interview: “So, how did I do?” This is a mistake. What possible good can come out of this question? Just statistically speaking, most of the time the answer is no. I used to be honest and answer it right then and there, which usually resulted in an awkward moment for us both. Do you really want to take the precious time you have to impress your interviewer and have him/her coach you on how to interview? Even if you feel the interview went so badly you won’t get the job, be professional and end it with your head held high. Send a thank you email later that day. You never know.
Will this job make you happy?
The first two questions I ask everyone are: (1) what are you looking for? (2) what will make you happy? You may need this job badly for financial reasons, or think that it will help your career. Maybe it’s close to home so you can see your kids more often, or maybe it’s the title. None of these things are the reason to take the job,they will probably not keep you happy in the long run. Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome to have a job close to home, with a hefty salary and a cool title but it’s like chewing gum, the sweet flavor will disappear at some point and you will find yourself grinding your teeth.
It’s better to find a place that makes you truly happy, even if it’s not the ideal salary, distance, or title. You’ll do better in the long run,on both a personal and business level. Life is too short to waste it on the wrong path. I know it sounds naïve in our day and age but it’s one of the “secrets” to a healthy life: Be Happy!