A Simple Guide to Nailing Your Interview
How to ace the interview and land the job you want
I have interviewed hundreds of candidates over the past 20 years, and during that time, there have been some commonalities that set the successful ones apart. Being qualified on paper is great, but that’s only half the battle, and your qualifications will only get you so far. Things like enthusiasm, preparedness, and the questions you ask can make or break your interview and determine your likelihood of landing the job.
With this in mind, here are ten steps to take the next time you interview for a role. Master these, and you will set yourself up for success.
1. Do Your Homework
Interviews are your chance to demonstrate your key skills. Three of those skills are preparation, comprehension, and communication. By doing your homework, you are showing that you are invested in the company, its products, and the role.
I have interviewed some candidates who never even bothered to sign up for the site and use it. Once, while I was at eBay and PayPal, I interviewed someone we wanted to hire to work on the integration. When I asked why they didn’t buy anything to test out the experience, they replied, “I don’t really buy things on auction.” If they had spent more than a few minutes on the site, they would have realized that “Buy It Now” was a prominent option. Their qualifications were otherwise good, but their lack of preparation made us wonder if they were really interested in the role.
Understanding a company’s product is crucial to interviewing in a nuanced and informed manner. This is true even for products that are hard for you to use. For example, Ancestry is magical if your family originated in Western Europe, but it can be challenging to use if you are from Asia. I made a point to talk to people who loved the product to better understand their experience and what they believed we could improve.
There are other ways to learn about a product aside from just using it, and these can give you additional insight into its strengths and flaws. Consider speaking to customers, or connecting with friends who already work at the company, to gain context ahead of your interview. By taking the time to learn and prepare, you are demonstrating your investment and interest in the product. This will take you far.
2. Show Your Value
There have been times when I’ve interviewed candidates who only talked about what they wanted out of the job, and how they wanted to grow their careers. They gave little thought in their responses about the true value they could create.
The thing is, companies don’t hire you out of the goodness of their hearts. They hire you because they believe you can be a productive and profitable part of their team. If you don’t add more value than the compensation they offer you, they have no reason to hire you. This is of course a simplification, and the hiring equation is rarely that crass, but at the end of the day, it is a cost-benefit analysis for every candidate. For this reason, it’s critical to demonstrate why you would be an asset to the team and the business.
Your priority during a job interview should be carefully outlining what experiences you’ve had that could have a positive impact in this new role. Whether you highlight your previous successes, unique qualifications, or experience helping teams overcome challenges, you should always be asking yourself, “What do I have that will benefit this company?” Show them through your skills, passion, and experience why you’re the person who can deliver the best return on their investment.
3. Be Curious and Enthusiastic
Some candidates show up with energy, positivity, and passion for the job. Others come in with a neutral, subdued stance like they could work here or at any number of other companies. Which type of candidate do you think interviewers and hiring managers prefer?
Energy begets energy. If you show genuine interest, chances are the interviewer will reflect that back onto you. It’s true that the interview process is also a way for you to assess the company. However, if you appear to be sitting back in judgment, you will make it harder for the interviewer to connect with you. Those who lean into the process will shine more than those who lean away, so embrace it. Be open, optimistic, and excited, even if you don’t have all the answers. You’ll be surprised what a difference it will make in how your responses are received.
4. Align with the Company’s Mission and Values
Every company takes pride in its mission and its values, and the most successful candidates are the ones who demonstrate a passion for them as well. Before you go into an interview, take the time to understand what the company’s mission is. What problem are they trying to solve? What is their philosophy for solving it? Demonstrate that you care about and understand that mission and that you want to be a part of it. Identifying which company values you connect with, and why, will also help you bring your passion and enthusiasm to the foreground.
Great candidates stand out because they align themselves with the company’s mission and share how they can contribute to achieving it. This shows an understanding of the big picture, which is one of the keys to long-term success.
5. Connect with the Hiring Manager and Team
An interview is more than just a question-and-answer session. It is an opportunity to get to know your future colleagues and manager and understand how you interact. Take the time to not only thoroughly answer the questions but to show what working with you is going to be like. Ask thoughtful questions of your own, and demonstrate awareness of some of the challenges the organization and team face. When possible, be helpful, rather than critical. Oftentimes, the interviewer will ask you what you think about their product. They have pride of ownership, so be appreciative of the work they've done while suggesting constructive ways they can amplify their impact.
Companies often look for something that is vaguely defined as “culture fit”. Culture fit is often described as how someone would “feel” as part of the team. Do they fit in? Would we want to hang out with this person? Do we want to spend time with them? I have my own opinions about the fairness of this given unconscious bias against those different from the team already there, but it’s the reality at many companies, so it’s something to be mindful of.