How to Ace ANY Interview
An Insider Perspective on How to Stand-Out from the Crowd
There are a lot of resources giving advice on how to have a good job interview. A lot of the advice is good (e.g. make sure to make eye contact, smile, prepare common questions and answers, etc.) and you should follow it.
However, in this post, I want to give you some perspective on what I think a killer interview looks like. I have perspective as an interviewer (I have conducted dozens of interviews at multiple levels within four different organizations in North and South America as well as Europe) and as an interviewee (I have successfully interviewed for eight different jobs in the last 11 years). I hope to go one step deeper than most other advice sites and provide real, tangible steps you can take to crush any interview.
Before we begin, let’s step back. What is the purpose of an interview? Of course it is to find someone who is a good fit for an open position. But it is so much more than that: It is an opportunity for you and the candidate to learn more about the position and decide if it is a good fit FOR YOU. I cannot stress how important this is. My first piece of advice is this:
1. Equalize the power structure of the interview.
Yes, you think you want the job, but what do you know about it? In a normal interview, it seems as though the hiring manager has all of the power (in a way, they do). But the candidate needs to understand that this is the best opportunity to understand the position, learn about the culture and team, and decide if this is the career move they want to make. Good candidates are genuinely interested in the company and position and, importantly, they hold the interviewers to a very high standard. Nothing impresses me more in an interview than when a candidate asks well informed, insightful questions..
A good interview isn’t an inquisition — it’s a conversation. You want a healthy back and forth rhythm to build a conversation. My second tip is one I use to great effect in interviews:
2. Follow your answers with questions.
For example, when asked what my greatest strengths are (or any other common interview question) I will answer succinctly then follow up with a question like “How do you feel these strengths would benefit your team?” This gets the interviewer to open up and share insights into the current team and culture. It also helps build rapport which is vitally important.
It is also important to make eye contact and learn how to read interviewers and their expressions during the interview. We’ve all had it happen to us: We pass all of the HR screens and are (finally) invited to an interview, but whenever you answer a question, the interviewer furls his or her brow and looks at you like you responded in a different language. Don’t panic! Just do the following:
3. Ask clarifying questions.
After I am done with an interview question and am getting a vibe that my question was off the mark, I ask candidly “Did my answer properly address the question?” This is impressive to an interviewer because you come across as fearless and want to get right to the heart of the matter. It works particularly well for confusing or complicated questions. You would be surprised the number of times I have been asked vague interview questions, answered and received a look like I was completely off the mark. I simply ask “did this properly address your question?” 90% of the time, the interviewer will say something like “Well, what I really am looking for is an example when you…” or some other clarifying statement. What this tip REALLY does is it allows you a do-over on difficult questions.
In the spirit of turning the interview into a conversation, you need to come prepared with a list of relevant questions. Any good interviewer will leave time at the end of the interview to answer any questions the candidate may have. You would be SHOCKED how many people mess this up. I would say that at least 50% of the people I interview, when I ask them if they have questions for me, respond “not really.” I do not hire these people. Seriously, if you are not engaged enough to take the time to do a little research about the company and the position, why would I want you on my team. This leads me to the next tip:
4. Prepare good questions for your interviewer.
The key to asking good questions is to make sure that the questions you ask are appropriate to the level of job for which you are applying. What does this mean? Lower job level questions (sales/customer service reps, new managers, analysts, etc.) should focus more on the day-to-day aspects of the job:
- What are the key metrics for this position?
- What types of people are successful in this role?
- What are some of the day-to-day functions of this position?
Whereas questions for more senior/executive level roles should focus on results and strategy:
- What are the results you would expect to see 90 days into this position?
- What is the overarching corporate strategy and how does this role support that strategy?
- What is the structure of the current team? Who are your A-Players, and how does the team need to be positioned differently in the future?
Job titles and level of experience vary widely between companies, so one of the best ways to calibrate fit is to focus on what questions are asked in the interview.
5. Ask for the job!
The number one mistake the VAST majority of people make in an interview is not asking for the job. I have conducted dozens if not hundreds of interviews and I can confidently say that less than 10% of candidates actually ask for the job. Think about that for a minute. What is the purpose of an interview? To find a candidate who is the best fit for an open position. What, then, is the role of a candidate? To convince me, the interviewer, that you are perfect for this position. That you were born to do it. What does it mean, then, if you don’t even ask for the job? Let me put it this way: I don’t hire people who don’t ask for the job. Period. If you don’t want to work for me, why should I hire you? How do I know that you aren’t just kicking the tires? That you are just feeling this out to see if my position is better than your current role? Guess what, I am not going to hire you — it’s that simple.
So, what should you do? Ask for the job. I know it feels overly aggressive to many people, but you have to do it. Something as simple as the following will suffice: “I have really enjoyed our time together answering your questions and learning more about the position. I feel I am a great fit for your team and I am confident I will do a great job. As such, I would like to ask you for this job.”
I have been very fortunate to stumble upon a (slightly different, yet infinitely more powerful approach) that is a big secret to my success. It is so important, in fact, that I call it the widow-maker. So without further ado, step 6:
6. Use the widow-maker.
- Ask 2–3 relevant questions. At the end of the interview, when it is time for the candidate to ask questions, you should ask two-three relevant questions (based on how much time is left). Make sure the questions are relevant to the level of the position for which you are applying (see point 4 above).
- The widow-maker is a particularly clever way of asking for the job that I stumbled upon early in my career. It is so powerful, it gives an almost unfair advantage in an interview. It consists of two simple steps: as close to verbatim as possible, (step 1) say “I have really enjoyed our time learning more about [company name] and specifically [insert position]. I am confident I will be a valuable addition to your team and would like to ask you for the job. Because our time together is short, and am keenly interested in joining your team, (step 2) do you have any questions or concerns about my candidacy I can address while we are together?” This is the widow-maker. Do you see what happens when you ask this question? You are basically forcing the interviewer to give you feedback while you are still in the interview! At this point, one of two things will generally happen (and both have happened to me):
- You will get positive feedback. Generally, the interviewer will say something like “you seem like a great fit for the team and I look forward to having you come aboard.” Or,
- You will be asked for more detail. This is more surprising than you may think, but it gives you a do-over where you may have stumbled. At my prior job, I used the widow-maker and the hiring manager said “The successful candidate for this role really needs to manage conflict well. Can you maybe provide another example of a time when you had to manage conflict on a team.” Needless to say, I provided a different, better example and got a job offer. I literally went from the no-pile to the yes-pile because I asked the widow-maker and got a do-over on the most crucial question.
In short, the widow-maker is a combination of asking for the job and getting immediate feedback in the interview. Use it — it’s amazing. If you are conducting interviews, look for it as it is the sign of a serious candidate.
To summarize, if you follow the steps outlined above, you will have FAR more success interviewing for jobs in the corporate world.
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