The [Magic] Question You Need to Be Asking in Your Job Interview (and a few other tips and tricks)

Remember when you had just graduated college and were in scrambling frenzy to land your first job? (Or maybe you’re still in school and whatnot and haven’t made it to the so-called “real world” yet…) Either way, I can almost guarantee you that if you’re going down the 9-to-5 career path, you’re going to be looking for another job in the next 5 years. That is what “our” generation does, isn’t it? Hop from job to job every two years? Anyway, today I wanted to share with you the question that has gotten looks of surprise, caught so many professionals off-guard, and has floored CEOs.

I have applied to job postings, tweaked my portfolio, adjusted my resume, written cover letters, and interviewed for over 100 positions in the past 5 years. That kind of practice builds up experience. Throughout this process, I’ve done dozens of interviews and received roughly ten job offers. In fact, in order to land my first gig at RetailMeNot, I applied to 77 different places while fine-tuning my resume, value proposition, and portfolio along the way. (By the way, RetailMeNot was an absolutely amazing place to kick off my career, the talented people I met there taught me so much.) The point here is that when you’re still new in the field, and figuring out your career path in an industry, you have to be patient with yourself. And not get frustrated if you don’t land an offer in your first 10 job applications. This isn’t 2008, but we are still in a world where there are more kids graduating college than the number of jobs available in the workforce.

Okay, so now that we’ve gotten all that out of the way (and you’re still reading, phew!), let’s chat about a few quick tips that can elevate you as you pitch yourself to the world:

1. Walk the walk. Never use the words “aspiring,” “young,” or “recent grad” anywhere on your resumes, LinkedIn profiles, business cards or portfolios. Trust me, people will figure out if you’re young. You don’t need to add a flashing neon sign that points to you for emphasis. Let the world know that you’ve been groomed to be a risk analyst, software engineer, designer or astronaut. Own it!

2. Be scrappy! People like to hire people who figure stuff out and get things done. No one wants to hire a 22 year old whose hand they have to hold every step of the way. How do you learn to be scrappy? Practice solving hard problems, do research, find out the facts, and always ask yourself what you can do with the resources you have at hand.

3. Show off your confidence! Remember, you’ve spent the last couple of years learning your trade, and now you’re a subject matter expert. Act like it! When you’re writing a cover letter or talking in an interview, avoid phrases like “I think” or “Umm.” If you need to, practice in the mirror or do a mock interview with a friend.

4. Be You. It may sound cliché and overrated, but knowing you and your personality could be the one thing that makes a hiring manager decide they want you on their team. Often companies look for culture fits, above all else (you should be doing the same, by the way). That means they want someone who can blend in easily with the team. So don’t be afraid to show the interviewer who you are. If your authenticity, candor and demeanor match the company, you’ve already won half the battle.

5. Ask the magic question. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s the moment you’ve all been reading for… you must ask every interviewer besides recruiters the one magic question. This question will impress almost everyone you talk to during your job search and it goes like this,

“What do you expect a star [insert position title here] to accomplish in their first 90 days at [insert company name here]?”

After you drop this bomb, you must pause for emphasis. Let the person sitting across from you breathe in sharply as they realize they are in the presence of a prodigy. (Just kidding!) But seriously, do pause for emphasis and applause. This question shows the interviewer a couple of things. One, he or she can tell you’re already thinking about the future of the company (you said 90 days!) and that means you want to catch on to the vision of the company. Two, the interviewer now knows that you aspire to be the star [insert position title here] and that means you will do your best to be the best and maybe even a little extra. Every employer wants someone who puts in 110% on their team. Three, you’ve just made the interviewer picture you at the company! Imagine how powerful that must be for that person. At that moment they really will be able to figure out that you’re the right fit for their team. And voila! Your job offer just arrived in your inbox. You’re welcome! (A side note, I can’t take all the credit for this stellar move. My college career services coordinator, Michele Plante shared this with us during our senior year at UIUC. Thank you, Michele! You’re an angel!)

And that my friends, is the secret sauce to this job stuff. Of course, these 5 steps are not always guaranteed to land you what you want (disclaimer). But they will really help you shine amongst your peers and competitors for the position. The last thing I’ll leave you with is this: not all jobs are the right job for you. Sometimes there are better things waiting on the horizon and if you’re not the right fit for this one, maybe something better is about to come along. Keep looking and don’t get discouraged.

If you liked the content in this post, be sure to check out my eBook on Amazon, “Crush It: A Google Intern’s Guide on How to Get Your Dream Internship”

Still have questions? Comment below and ask away! And don’t forget to check out for more hilarious ramblings about tech, design and business. And of course, thanks for reading!