UNSOLICITED INTERVIEW ADVICE
I’m Joseph Steele, I’m a Graphic Designer and Artist based in Berlin, Germany. Since graduating with a BA in Fine Art in 2009 I’ve worked as a designer in large businesses, start ups as well as volunteering with activist groups. I’m now a Senior Art Director at a tech company in Munich.
I’ve now sat on both sides of the interview process, interviewing dozens of candidates and being interviewed by recruiters all the way up to senior execs. I’ve read hundreds of articles about how to do it, so instead of boring my friends I thought I’d consolidate my thinking and if one idea helps one person with their next interview then it was worth it.
Here is my unfiltered and unsolicited interview advice:
NUMBER 1: IT’S MEANT TO BE TOUGH
Let’s be real. Everyone is different, some people find it easy to get new jobs, others not so much. Job hunting is like having a really lame hobby that nobody wants to talk to you about and you just have to suffer in silence and find something else to talk about.
It can feel like a rollercoaster ride where you discover hopes and dreams you never knew you had only to see them being smashed by a badly written email. And further crushed with hard to swallow feedback that you probably had to nag the interviewer to send.
But, when it finally happens, well then, it’s done. Even if your new job goes down in a glorious ball of flames, once that offer has been made and the contract signed you can say I DID IT!
NUMBER 2: ALWAYS BE PREPARED TO WALK AWAY
Says the person with the job…
I’m putting this here because it’s about mindset. I’ve found as I’ve gotten older that stepping on the gas all the time isn’t a good thing. Relax, maybe it’s right, maybe it’s not. You are surviving right now, you will survive tomorrow. This mindset will help make the whole process easier and keep your nerves down.
Initially I found it scary and arrogant to think like this. It’s especially tough if you’re not getting a lot of responses but it’s so important to remind yourself that you can just leave the process. Especially if you feel like there was a red flag… there was one. Sometimes red flags are an opportunity, often they are not.
I was having an interview that was going well, but I withdrew myself from the process because I wasn’t totally excited. When I got my next rejection of course I felt like an idiot, but in the long term, taking this step helped me learn to value myself, my time and my future.
NUMBER 3: DON’T GET CHOKED UP
You know the feeling… palms are sweaty, mom’s spaghetti. Words don’t come, too many words come, you think things that the interviewers are thinking about you as you sweat even though they probably aren’t and even if they were what would it matter?
Relax, breathe. You’ve got this. You know this. And if you don’t… maybe look into that and try harder, do your research for next time, don’t go out the night before and wake up in a bin. Say no.
NUMBER 4: RAMBLING IS FINE, BUT IT’S ALSO NOT FINE
Stop. Breathe. There is no perfect answer. Listen to them. Listen to what you know. Then speak.
When I feel a ramble coming on, I ask for a bit more clarification. I think asking to repeat the question makes me seem stupid so I talk around it, dig into the question and counter ramble. While they’re talking, collect concise thoughts.
Caught in a ramble cheat sheet:
- Find a way to come to the end of your sentence/point, smile, and stop talking.
- Flip it — allow your response to naturally turn into a question.
- Confess (Last resort) — Acknowledge that you are rambling and laugh it off (not too much)
- Abort (Last, last resort) — Close your laptop/walk out the room, go to the bathroom and cry.
NUMBER 5: TIME IS AN ILLUSION — APART FROM START TIMES, THEY ARE REAL
How long should an interview last? It ran over, is that a good thing?
An interview can end early or it can run over, neither necessarily means anything. (Unless it’s obvious it does.)
However, interviews MUST start on time and if they don’t it can’t be YOUR fault. There is no excuse, and if there is, nobody wants to hear it.
My advice is you should be politely early, no more than 5 minutes.
4d chess move: Being a few minutes early puts the interviewer on the back foot. This is good. If anyone is starting the interview in a fluster it needs to be them not you.
NUMBER 6: KNOW THE COMPANY, KNOW THE ROLE
What? Every company? Yes. It takes time, but you can help yourself by being realistic/selective about where you apply. As an interviewer it’s very obvious when a candidate doesn’t know anything about the company, it’s also kind of rude and says a lot about the candidate’s passion. For a screening call it’s sort of fine, but after that you need to be able to give a basic explanation of the product or service. As a designer I am always impressed by a more than skin deep understanding of our brand system and what they’ve been able to piece together online. This is what makes a candidate truly memorable.
The more you do this, the easier it becomes, the more you expose yourself to how companies talk about themselves. It’s not that hard.
Always have questions — the more precise and related to the role the better.
NUMBER 7: FEEDBACK
So maybe you get the email ‘the quality of the applicants was really high and this in no way reflects on your skills and experience however we decided to go with another candidate…’ and all of those fantasies you had about resigning, about starting your new life, about buying that nice rug you saw on Etsy disappear. If you’re lucky they will fade and be replaced, if you are unlucky you will go through a phase where you are first shocked, then confused, then angry, then have to just deal with it.
Either way, maybe it’s not what you wanted to hear but sometimes it be like that. You can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need. (I think that’s a quote from somewhere…)
I always ask for feedback where it’s appropriate, and I push for it. The toughest I got was being told my work wasn’t ‘edgy’ enough. It stuck with me, my friends still make jokes about it. But I took it on board, embraced it and grew. And that’s all you can do. It’s part of your story and you have to accept that.
My favourite interviews — as either a candidate or an interviewer — are when our personalities and professionalism shine through, and we just have an informed conversation that is enjoyable. That’s the kind of thing I strive for and try to give candidates and the mindset I try to have when going into an interview.
If I was to reduce this article to a few ideas:
- Thoroughness, sincerity, balance
- Self reflection, positive action
- Value yourself, you are worth it
It’ been an interesting ride for me. I’ve had to do a lot of digging deep, getting to grips with some difficult truths along the way. There’s also lots of self-improvement to do, and it never stops, and it should never stop.
Ultimately, the best way to get good at interviews, is to do loads of interviews.
Good luck! And remember, failure is passage.