How To Be More Confident In Job Interviews

Asking the right questions can boost your confidence and help you stand out

Illustration by Cynthia Marinakos.

Many years ago I left the grad job of my parents’ dreams.

It was both terrifying and thrilling.

Who would ever hire me again? What the f*ck was I supposed to do with my life?

My saving grace was I loved writing. And I’d worked in my university careers unit reviewing resumes and cover letters. So I scored interviews easily.

The problem was, the thought of job interviews gave me the shivers. I’m an introvert. I grew up shy, preferring to let other people shine in the spotlight. Up until university, I’d rather spend nights and weekends roaming around Middle Earth with hobbits — than with people.

With no job prospects and seemingly, no future, I realized that I had to figure out a way to get past that.

Thankfully, I discovered a way to feel confident in interviews. To thrive in them. Even to, yes, actually enjoy them.

This skill, and it is a skill, has helped me get to get jobs I never expected to get: jobs in many different industries from a fitness personal trainer, assistant manager, and camp counselor, to executive assistant, international relations officer, and online communications coordinator.

What’s more, I even got offered higher roles I hadn’t even applied for!

How?

By asking awesome questions.

After countless interviews that have landed me at least 50 jobs since I was 18, let me tell you that asking the right questions will help you stand out.

Thankfully, I discovered a way to feel confident in interviews. To thrive in them. Even to, yes, actually enjoy them.

4 Ways that questions give you power in interviews

You see, questions in interviews do many important things:

1/ Switches the power dynamics

Now the interviewer is being interviewed. This switching in roles puts the interviewer in the hot seat. This mental reframe works unbelievably well. It gives you confidence and fizzles out interview nerves.

2/ Shows you’ve done your research on the company

Don’t close your eyes, say Eenie meenie moni moe and apply for a job where ever your finger lands. Companies can tell that you’ve used the same generic lines in every interview — or you don’t know sh*t about their business. They have a built-in BS detector. They’ve seen so many bloody people. Don’t be stupid about it.

3/ Tells the interviewer you’re proactive

You genuinely want the role and care about the company. It gives them an idea of whether you’re just gonna sit back and milk the company for all it’s worth. Or you’re ambitious, hardworking, and you’re actually gonna do some damn work and help them get where they want to be.

4/ Shows that you’re being selective

Questions tell your prospective employer that you’re not just applying for everything in desperation and taking anything you get. It’s a lot like dating. You can just tell, can’t you?

This approach works best when the employer is directly interviewing you — rather than a recruitment company. Employers are more likely to want employees who genuinely give a sh*t about their company, have something valuable to contribute, and fit into the company culture.

We’ve seen that questions give us a helpful edge in interviews. So what sort of questions should you ask?

What kind of questions should you ask a potential employer?

Well, think about what you want from 1/ this job and 2/ this company. Let’s face, it there’s so much more to a good job than the financial incentives. When you’ve worked so many damn jobs, you finally clue on that money isn’t everything in a job.

I mean, you’ve still got to get your head off the pillow every painful early morning, battle with bloodthirsty commuters, zap yourself out of post-lunch slump, and put up with colleagues you wouldn’t give two hoots about outside work.

If you can’t figure out what’s attracted you to this company — move on my friend. You don’t need to work in a job that makes your stomach churn, skyrockets your stress levels, and qualifies you for a diploma in 101 Ways To Pull A Sicky Every Monday.

So let’s get back to it: what questions should you ask?

Well, you know I was going to tell you to start by thinking about what you value from a job and a company. Then I remembered something:

It’s easier to decide whether a job and company are right for you by reviewing what sucked in other jobs — then make sure you stay the hell away from those situations. Of course, there’s no guarantee you can avoid them, but hey, you’ve got to give it a go.

Seriously, this was how I began to enjoy my jobs. And how I finally found out what I want to do in life:

Figure out what you don’t like to figure out what you like.

Then you’ll know what questions to ask.

Below I’ve given you examples of:

1/ Questions to avoid shitty situations

2/ Questions to find out if you’ll like it here

3/ Questions that turn the spotlight to your employer

I’ve based the questions on experiences I’ve had (and wanted to avoid repeating) — and what I value in a job. You can easily do the same for your own preferences and experiences.

Questions to avoid shitty situations

Your awesome manager left, replaced with a crappy one

  • How long has the manager been in this role?
  • How long have the team members worked under this manager?

Rationale: Does this manager take care of their team? Are they ready to move on?

Unreliable team members

  • What can you tell me about my direct reports?
  • What do you think can be improved in how the team runs?
  • How do you manage conflict in the team?

Rationale: Are you going to be stuck with crappy reports?

The company got restructured and it all went downhill from there

  • What challenges does the team / the business face at the moment?
  • What major projects are planned for the next year?
  • When was the last restructure?

Rationale: Is the business in turmoil? Am I going to be stuck in a pointless job with no support?

No support

  • What challenges did the last person in this role face?
  • How often are team meetings or individual meetings run?

Rationale: It’s demotivating to get into a new job only to realize you’re alone. There’s a whole pile of crap you have to deal with — without support. There’s a reason this role is available.

No work/life balance

  • Who fills in for team members while they’re away?
  • Will the team be expanding?
  • Is it normal for staff to do regular overtime?

Rationale: You can either make sure you’ll get paid for the overtime (not likely) or pass it over if you value your life, your relationships, and your sanity. Perhaps you feel that you need to do your time. That’s ok too. Just know what you’re getting yourself into.

The company cared more about putting in long hours than whether work gets done well

  • How is performance measured?
  • How are achievements recognized?
  • Does the team do long hours?
  • How flexible are the working hours?

Rationale: If you have a low tolerance for being at work for appearances (the longer you work, the better), you need to find out what the company values. Usually, you can tell by what they reward and measure. And whether the office crew look half dead.

Tried to fit 3 jobs into 1

  • Is this a new role?
  • How much of the role is operations and how much is project-based?
  • How do you envision the day will be split?

Rationale: Once you’ve seen enough position descriptions, you know when a job is hoping for 3 people in 1. It’s a set up for failure. Even if there’s mention of interesting projects, when the job is operational and busy, you might not get the opportunity to work on these projects.

Boredom

  • How long did the last person stay in this role? Why did they leave?
  • What opportunity is there to grow in this role? To implement new ideas?

Rationale: There’s no point staying in a role that makes watching goldfish swim exciting. It won’t help you — or the company. Understand why you want this role and what will make you excited and happy to be there.

Figure out what you don’t like to figure out what you like.

Questions to find out if you’ll like it here

Ask questions to get an idea about what it’s like in this company, in this job. For instance, here are examples of what I value and the types of questions I ask:

Great people

How long have people in the team worked here? Do they do much socially outside work?

Rationale: You want to know about turnover — how sticky this place is, how well they treat their staff. How well people get along.

Autonomy

  • What is the reporting structure?
  • Who will I work closest to and how will we work together?
  • What’s an example of a common process in this job?

Rationale: Do they micromanage? That’s a turn off. Will you get to make decisions or be forced to wade painfully through sh*tloads of red tape to get even the simplest things done?

Opportunity to learn

  • What professional development opportunities are available? Are they open to external courses or only run in-house courses?
  • Where have the team come from?
  • Do they support collaboration or is each area siloed off from the rest?

Rationale: Ask them about specifically about ways to pick up skills you want to learn. Get an idea of what you can learn from other people.

Flexible work environment

  • Is the team based in the office 9–5 every day?
  • Is there flexibility to work from home or later in the morning?

Rationale: It gives you an idea about their work/life culture, how they operate, and how much they value results versus simply showing up.

Salary growth

  • What does the performance review process involve?
  • How often does that happen?
  • What opportunity is there to move around the business?

Rationale: You don’t want to be stuck on the same pay scale for years.

Job expectations

  • What metrics are linked to your performance?
  • What needs to be maintained? What needs to be developed? By when?

Rationale: What do you need to do to succeed in the role — and does it sound realistic?

Turn the spotlight to your employer

Ask the person (usually your prospective manager) about their personal thoughts and experiences. This is a great way to connect and get them to step away from your interview performance notes, if only for a few minutes.

Also, the more someone talks, the more likely you can tell if you’ll get along. You can tell how they work. How genuine they are. And what you might learn from them:

  • How long have you worked here?
  • What do you like most about working here?
  • What changes have you seen since you arrived and what impact have they had on your job?
  • What challenges are you facing right now and how do you plan to get through them?
  • What skills are you lacking in the team at the moment?

Summary

Questions help you stand out in interviews in 4 ways:

1/ Switches the power dynamics slightly

2/ Shows you’ve done your research on the company

3/ Tells the interviewer you’re proactive

4/ Shows that you’re selective

It’s easier to decide whether a job and company are right for you by reviewing what deterred you from other jobs — then make sure you detect these before you start the next job.

Figure out what you don’t like to figure out what you like. Then come up with questions.

Ask questions to avoid shitty situations. And questions to find out if you’ll like it here — in this job. At this company. With this manager.

Give it a go.

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” — Steve Jobs

Aussie Copywriter. I love rock climbing high ceilings and hiking amongst ferns >> 10 Proven ways to attract more Medium readers: https://bit.ly/3g2e2xx

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