Get the Job Interview Right

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Earlier this week, Esquire magazine published an article titled “How to Nail the Job Interview.” It’s written in the style of Esquire‘s recurring “What I’ve Learned” feature, which I also love – concise little statements with lots of wisdom per ounce.

In my most recent client-side position as vice-president of marketing, I hired 10 staff.  And I interviewed 40-50 others in the process.  With that in mind, I’d like to expand on a few of Esquire‘s tips that I thought were spot-on:

“Bring a smile.”

Yes, it’s a pressure-charged situation, and different interviewees wear that differently. But also remember that most organizations aren’t looking at “overly serious hard-ass” as a cultural fit. Relax and be yourself, and that hopefully includes an amiable disposition.

“…you have done a lot of research about how you can help the company.”

I’ll be more pointed: If you can’t research the company very well prior to the interview, save everyone some time and stay home. My last employer was notoriously private and thus difficult to research, but several interviewees found ways to gather information. One asked very good questions about rising input costs that affected the whole industry. Another did multiple store checks, took notes and drew conclusions. A third worked his network, gathering perspective from competitors and even retail buyers. This kind of research not only shows initiative; it also gives the interviewer a taste of your thinking. That combination can be an important tie-breaker in a close decision between candidates.

“That same day, e-mail your thanks and mail a handwritten thank-you note to everyone you met. Overkill is better than underkill.”

Very true. Several interviewees did neither; again, if it’s a close decision, this can be a tie-breaker. Most interviewees thanked me electronically.  So a handwritten thank-you, with specific references to our conversation, is a very memorable and pleasant touch.

Three More Tips to Get the Job Interview Right

I’ll add a few of my own:

Come prepared with a long list of good questions.

I was dismayed by interviewees who, when given the opportunity, asked only 2 or 3 surface-level questions. (Or, in a few cases, NONE AT ALL.)  Believe me, nobody ever said, “I’d like to hire her, but she just asked too many good questions.” Do your research on the company and industry, know what’s important to you personally, and craft your questions accordingly.

Lay off the technique.

There is polish, and then there’s disingenuous presentation of oneself. I don’t want to feel like you’re feeding me lines that were fed to you by your career coach. Nobody wants to invite a bullshitter into their orbit.  Again: Relax and be yourself.

Stay positive.

The job market is tough right now, and employers are aware that many of you may have been on dozens of recent interviews. But “jaded and/or entitled” is not the vibe you want to send. Same goes for bad-mouthing past employers or bosses.  If you can’t keep a positive attitude during the brief window of a job interview, what am I to expect if you join my team?

Readers, what other tips would you offer – from either side of the interview desk?  Please add your thoughts in a comment below.

About Matthew Fenton: Matthew helps challenger brands to focus, grow and win.  Since founding his consultancy, Three Deuce Branding, in 1997, he’s helped hundreds of brands to achieve “brand clarity.”  His consulting services and speaking engagements help brands to focus on what matters through positioning, strategy and ideation.  Contact Matthew here.  He calls Chicago home.

Copyright 2012 – Matthew Fenton.  All Rights Reserved.  You may reprint this article with the original, unedited text intact, including the About Matthew Fenton section.

2 Replies to “Get the Job Interview Right”

  1. I received the following via email; it appears here anonymously with permission of the sender:”As an Interviewer of many many job applicants, some thoughts:Forgive the applicant that YAWNS. The person is not bored–more likely scared to death. You have something the person wants or needs badly–a JOB. The person was probably up all night, nervously drinking coffee and smoking. Two of my very best hires were yawners.Give the Applicant your TOTAL time. No phone calls or iPods or butt-ins, etc.Ask the Applicant if lavatory time is needed, especially if on a track meeting more than one person.Get back to the Applicant even if no job will be offered. This is no fun but do it.Tell the Applicants that the person that best fit the job requirements got the job. Nothing more.”

  2. And another comment I received via email, appearing here anonymously with permission of the sender:”Some thoughts from the other side of the desk (based on personal experience):Tell me what to expect when scheduling the interview – how long will it last, how many will I be interviewing with, group or serial interviews, any testing as part of the interview.If the interview process is lengthy, direct me to the rest room between sessions. I’m nervous and too unsure of protocol to ask. Please review my resume before I sit down in front of you. If you measure my interest in the position by the research I’ve done on your company, I measure you by the interest you’ve shown in my resume.Do not keep looking at your watch. It tells me you’ve got better things to do with your time, and frankly, so do I. I’m obviously not the candidate at the top of your list and your company has just been moved to the bottom of mine.Please turn off your phone, pager, email buzzer, etc. Let your secretary know that you do not want to be interrupted. It’s awkward for me as a candidate, and it tells me that I’m really not your priority. How would you treat me as an employee? Let me know when you expect to make a decision and then let me know, promptly, what that decison was. Good manners cut both ways.Recognize job related skills gained through non-job experiences. Volunteer work often provides experiences and skills translatable to the workplace.”

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