For most people interviewing for a job is as much fun as a visit to the dentist.
But unless you’re already wealthy or own the company, you need to learn how to interview to succeed in your career.
In this article you will learn how to ace any job interview.
Intro: 10 Truths of Job Hunting
Everyone has walked out of an interview thinking they nailed it and then the phone doesn’t ring.
The good news is that with a strong grasp of the realities of the market, strong mindsets and the same techniques you learn here for navigating power dynamics you can be an interview star.
And even when things don’t bounce your way you can learn how to systematically use the experience to become stronger and smash the next one.
Job Hunting overall is its own world and many great books and courses cover the basics.
To give you simple actionable tips this article focuses on what is going to make you strong once you’ve landed the interview. It also looks at the interview as an interaction where some common power dynamics may play out.
The 10 realities of the Recruitment Process
You have to understand a few facts about the process to be an effective job hunter.
Some may seem a little harsh or controversial until you understand the game a bit better so read on.
Here are the basic realities:
- HR and Recruiters are there to protect the company’s best interest, not yours. Don’t let this information push you into a competitive or confrontational frame: you want to be friednly and likable. But never forget that successful interviewing is based on power dynamics, and you want to gain leverage for your negotiation because you’re the only one who’s on your own corner
- It’s a market: you’re the supply, the recruiters are the demand and all supply/demand power dynamics apply to the job market and to your interviews.
It’s an even “colder” market than social or sexual exchanges because emotions and feelings play a smaller role. When businesses “say that they care” it can be a manipulation to shortchange you.
In general: if good people like you are scarce, you got power. If you’re a dime in a dozen, they have power. Strategize accordingly: don’t play too hard to get if people like you are abundant and let them pay through their nose if you’re hot and rare commodity
- Most applicants are lower power because the frame is that you need a job and because there are several other applicants.
- Job board applicants are lowest power, especially when starting out your career.
- Introductions or randomly met are power-neutral.
So whenever you can, seek an intro and play it like you “don’t really need a job” and “are kinda happy where you are BUT wouldn’t mind to chat and see what they’ve got”.
- Head-hunted interviewees are higher power because recruiters came to you first and the frame is that you don’t need a job.
- People hire people they like and one of the main criteria for linking is for you to be both high-power/high-warmth and for them to feel like you’re like ‘them’
- People like positive people. Nobody wants to be in the cubicle next to the person who is depressed or grumpy every Monday.
- It is what’s in it FOR THEM first, LATER what’s in it for you. Interviewers may ask questions that sound like they are trying to help you develop in your career. Normally these are ‘trap’ questions and they dangerously switch your focus from what you can do for them.
Instead, focus on delivering and displaying what you can do for them first, and THEN, when they want you, when they invested time, and when you have leverage, you can focus on fielding your (high) demands (always tying them back to why it’s good for them to give it to you).
- Some jobs are already allocated to somebody’s connection and you are there to make it look good. In this era of “forced equality” regulations sometimes they’re even made up or piloted to hit a “diversity quota”. It means that you can’t always tell the good interviews from the wastes of your time. Hence: generate as many interviews as possible.
- Your weaknesses increase the power of the recruiters, and vice versa. Such as if you’re starting out in the field or can’t/won’t relocate this increases the power differential between employer (the demand) and the candidate (the supply). But if you check all their boxes your power increases.
- Technical skills are a given and you need something on top. i.e. tech skills can disqualify you but they won’t get you over the line without the ‘trust factor’ -unless you’re the only candidate or SO much better than anyone else. Again, back to the “supply and demand” fundamental-
- Unique Selling Points can make you stand out of the general ‘wash’ of candidates but ONLY if the interviewer cares about them. So only play on them if the interviewer values them and/or is interested
- Every interviewer has power of veto and panel interviews are the worst – panel interviews are the worst in terms of power dynamics and, often, the worst bet in terms of your time/effort unless it’s a single interview yes/no round. You better be power-aware to handle these.
6 Mindsets for Successful Job Hunting
Mindsets are the foundations of your behavior and precede the techniques:
- I’m an outstanding professional
- I bring lots of value to any organization I join
- They’re lucky to get me (not out of any conceit or empty self-talk, but as a natural consequence of #1 and #2)
- I need to find out if they’re good so we can have a solid win-win Given the value I bring, I’ll need to find out if it’s a good place for me so we can have a good win-win
And at an even higher level of personal self-development:
5. Adopt a learner mindset
The key reason people are so scared of the job-hunt is ‘ego protection’.
Such as, they take the rejections personally and each rejection damages their self-worth.
Here are some of key mindsets that can help turn the job-hunt from a bad run at the Casino to a survivable process that will make you ever stronger.
If you apply boundless curiosity and try and use every interview to get a bit better the ride improves and you may even enjoy the scenery.
To start becoming a learner, start seeing every interview as an experiment. You prepare, do your best, analyze the results, and then tweak and improve..
6. Self-amuse and love the game
This is a cliché so take it with a grain of salt and see if it works for you -but it works for me-.
Self-amusement and love for the game is all about taking things less seriously.
Interviewing, like many activities in life, is a poker game and it can be fun.
You can also use this attitude for the time-wasters.
For example, you can adopt that observer stance where it moves from ‘I can’t believe they asked me that!’ to ‘wow those guys were real clowns thank god I won’t be working for them’.
If you can do that, then you will easily walk off the bad interviews and rejections and shout ‘next’ with drive and enthusiasm.
7. If it’s tough, accept and embrace the suck
Here’s the truth:
If you are currently lower job market value it’s not going to be a walk in the park, with sirens trying to lure you in from all directions.
And that’s a euphemism to say that it’s going to be challenging.
No online guide is going to change that and any guru selling easy solutions is doing what all scammers do: selling pipe dreams and preying on the weak.
But that “weak” is only in the mindset.
People who can accept whatever situation they’re in while keeping an emotional even keel are the strongest.
So a much better approach is to accept the realities of whatever challenging situation you’re in as simply part of life.
And being cool with that initial “suck” period is the best starting mental point.
Once you can accept how things are and be cool with that, then you can focus on strategies and techniques while remaining confident and high self-esteem, despite any setback that may occur. That’s already half the battle.
A good strategy for less-in-demand job seekers is to target smaller organizations, non-profits, or reframe your situation to go for what you truly love instead of salary or status.
Read more here:
Finally, this is an in-between a mindset, an approach to interviewing:
Bonus: Prioritize Based on Your #1 Priority and Time-box
My Father had some sound advice – ‘follow the money’.
Money is an excellent proxy for the value an organization is placing on the role.
So my prioritization is simple: if best money and job are not a hot mess, then accept the highest offer.
Using the technique of ‘working back from the end’ then I prioritize applications to industries and specializations that I know pay best.
You may have different criteria, e.g. work-life balance.
Decide what’s your #1 priority and then plan the work and work the plan.
6 Pro-Level Interviewing Tips
And now let’s get to some advanced power tips:
1. Keep answers concise then ask them if that has answered it for them
You are sneakily cementing those frames that you HAVE answered and they ARE comfortable.
2. End with a catchphrase
What I do is to summarize my answer, and then end with a catchphrase such as “nobody s above the team”. “You can’t communicate too much”, etc. That way you give the ‘honour the process’ vibe HR loves while keeping it real and giving solid anchor points that your audience will remember after you walk out.
3. Reframe challenges as collaborations
If the interviewer challenges your answer use collaborative re-framing.
Such as: agree, bridge from their language to the answer you gave, and then tell them they are wonderful again (restore rapport).
For example, imagine you thought they were all about the team and you kept using ‘we’ language.
Then they harpoon you with:
Interviewer: ‘Yes but what did you do on the project?’
You: ‘You’re absolutely right, that was a tight project and everyone had to be accountable. I created a pitch deck that gained us 3 new key clients that quarter. And that helped the team targets and secured us more backing from Exec to move on with the next part of the work. What I’ve been hearing today is that your teams perform strongly while supporting each other and that’s exactly how I like to work’.
4. Use indirect questioning or statements to gather intelligence about their issues and pain points.
If you ask ‘and how would that affect the resourcing’ in one question and ‘what are the key cost controls in another’ it sounds like you are asking intelligent questions about the work.
But you are actually checking for vague answers that tell you they may not have budget approval for all the work which could affect YOUR job security.
The statement approach instead is to assume ‘of course you guys will have all the budget approvals / funding in place’. If they look uneasy or start looking at each other – there’s your answer.
5. Use insider lingo
Every industry and profession has its own language of insider words that cut through with people. Add them to your working vocabulary and casually drop a few of those keywords in the interview.
Even if you are fresher in the field you can sound like an expert. And if you sound like an expert the real experts will talk to you and you will develop through osmosis.
If you do the homework you will ‘become’ even quicker.
6. Tailor your interview to the interviewer’s hidden agenda
The interviewer likely will have agendas beyond the interview process such as:
- I need the guy to solve X problem
- Not quite sure who I need in this role – let’s see who’s out there
- I have no idea about this piece of work – let’s ask around and get a bit of free consulting
- I want somebody who won’t rock the boat
- I need somebody calm who will steady the team under fire
- I don’t want anyone too strong who might be a threat
Your job is to sniff out those agendas and play to them.
Read more below on how to handle free consulting.
Bullsh|t-Proofing The “Typical Advice”
There are plenty of good interview checklists a quick google away.
So what’s content filler for bloggers and what’s gold IRL?
Here it is vetted for you:
- Allow plenty of time for interviews – TRUE –
It allows you to be organised, relaxed and remind yourself that you’re vetting them as hard as they’re vetting you.
- Research the company – NOT TRUE –
every recruiter in the world seems to have very little idea what the hirer is really looking for and want you to spend hours (unpaid!) memorizing the company website. This has helped me precisely zero percent of the time.
Instead, know the industry trends. What has helped me is dropping in a recent industry trend or happening with a couple of the ‘insider words’ as a quick ‘throw-away’ line – keep it punchy. You should know what the company does but at a helicopter level. Ie.: ‘what I’ve heard is you guys are number 1 in hotel resorts and your big growth is expected in south America. If you could share your thoughts on that would be amazing!’
Notice the power move: it’s “what I’ve heard“, not “whatve I’ve read“: you’re an insider.
- Dress to impress – ONLY IF IT WORKS FOR YOU –
interviews are a formal occasion and HR likes pomp and ceremony as much as the Vatican! However since Work From Home most companies are smart casual. So as long as you stay within “normal” ranges and adapt to the company, it’s best to dress for yourself as a default. If suiting up makes you feel 10 feet tall – go for it.
- Have a strong beginning and end. – TRUE –
Prepare a good story of who you are and why you’re a high-value worker. Always frame your previous employers as if they won you, as in “they managed to hire me”, and they were happy they did.
Then summarise and re-pitch at the end because that leaves an impression of a ‘makes things happen’ kind of person. Otherwise, the interview can trail off and that leaves an overall impression of ‘yeah they were OK – maybe look at a few more’.
Very few bosses have time for spoon-feeding these days so you want to sound action-oriented. They need people who can get things done, get along with the zoo and not scare the horses. And tell them you really liked their focus on the team or whatever they pushed in the interview and that you are keen to work for them. Everybody likes people who like them.
- Ask questions – YES, IF you ask good questions –
This is where you really can stand out. If you can work out what the problems always are in business and apply this to the interview it sells the message you ‘get the business’. E.g. they say they are expanding rapidly in South America. Usual pain points would be: organising lots of hiring remotely, government approvals delaying branch or product launches, cash-flow because you are spending capital before sales ramp up.
- Agree with the interviewers – YES –
Even better if you can circle back to a point they made earlier while answering another question. That shows you really listened to them and everyone wants to be listened to.
- Let the interviewers do most of the talking. – YES –
Let them talk as much as they want. You d be amazed how often they want 80% of the airtime to make points to each other. If you are at the interview they already believe you can do the job it’s all about the feelsc
- Prepare a list of references – NOT TRUE –
Your network is your net-worth, you heard that, right?
So, don’t give it away to just about anyone! Protect it and cherish and only share it for jobs you really want, and at the final stage of the recruitment process.
Also, it’s not good to give everything like an open book and it’s much better to let the interviewer also ask and work for it: they will appreciate you more for it
Fake Interviews: Handling The “Free Consult Traps”
Also, be aware of Machiavellian ploys to get free information.
Sometimes businesses set up fake interviews with the goal of assessing the current job market, get intel on the competition, or even solve their problems and get free consulting.
However, you won’t always be able to 100% tell apart the fake assessment from the real ones, so you gotta play the game, display your skills, without giving too much away.
So here’s how you navigate them:
Interview Formats: Strategies
Let’s now look for specific interview formats you are likely to find out there in the jungle.
The Phone Screen: Avoid Being Binned
Most likely conducted by internal HR or a recruiter. Your main job here is to avoid being binned.
The screener will have been given a likely vague or generic JD, a must-have and a deal breaker from the hiring manager.
They may also throw in some default HR question such as why are you looking to move on? HR drinks deeply of the company Koolaid, so:
- Display extra warmth and variation in your voice to make up for the lack of visual cues
- Use stronger words like exciting and amazing
- Show that you are a team player
The remote interview: make sure they see your hands
There are a few basics worth reminding on:
- Put a soft light in front of you
- Get on a test zoom and play with lighting and camera angle it does make a difference
- Be far enough from the camera for them to see your hand gestures – waving “hello” at the start, listing points, reaching out to them as you agree on something they said, etc.
LinkedIn has a video interview question feature or you can practice in front of a Zoom test call.
The panel interview: de-prioritize it or you’re jumping through 10 people’s hoops
The tricky part is that you have more chances of being vetoed.
Plus if they can’t agree they will just veto you as a group.
Unless you know you have a friend on panel I would strongly advise you to prioritize one or two interviewer formats over panel.
To succeed you have to be all things to all people.
In one answer you are action man/woman, in the next you are team den mother. Provide a buffet and let them take away what they want.
Aptitude tests: don’t waste too much of your unpaid time on it
Aptitude tests are an extra hoop for you to jump through.
And the more hoops you jump, the more power they gain over you.
That dynamic than can easily translate into salary negotiations where you’ll be fighting an uphill battle.
So everything else being equal prioritize interviews without aptitude tests and case studies.
This of course assumes you have multiple interviews lined up. If it is your one and only interview then jump through with a smile and tell them how much you enjoyed their shiny hoops.
Post Interview Strategies
After the interview there are two schools of thought:
- Shotgun approach is to end your involvement the moment you walk out, move on quickly, and focus on the next interview(s)
- Sniper approach is to go “all out” and follow up, E.g. write thank you emails, re-state your pitch, add more ideas on how you can solve their challenges, follow-up with more details on what you discussed, etc.
Many job-hunting resources advise you to go for the sniper approach and send a thank you email restating your pitch and if you can answer one of their questions/problems in more depth.
However, keep in mind the conflict of interest: many guides are written by HR and recruiters and they want people who chase and over-invest because it’s better for them.
But is it better for you?
After trying this a few different times and ways, I personally am less than convinced.
This is because of the unknown agendas in the room. If a potential boss has decided you don’t ‘fit the team’ whatever that is in her perception no cleverness or effort on your part is likely to turn the decision.
I would say that if you have decided it is an amazing job and it’s the best pay STILL only invest in a follow-up pitch if you have only one decision-maker to persuade.
The more variables the more uncertain the outcomes. The more uncertainty the less likely your investment pays off.
So who can you totally control?
Don’t over-invest: it’s never a good idea to disempower yourself -OK, almost never-.
Instead, grab a quick knowledge snack from the job-interview buffet table.
What was their focus? What is their business trying to do? Is there a question that seems to come up often that you feel you need a better answer prepped? Google a couple of terms they used you had never heard. Jot it down in your notes in the cloud. You do have notes right?
If you don’t get the job: ask for feedback and thank them
No, the feedback won’t be honest.
Unless you have an inside contact you are likely to never know how they reached their decisions.
If you ask for feedback everybody gives the palatable excuse to avoid any blowback on the interviewers or the organization.
Also, don’t treat interviewers as a truly rational and effective way of hiring the best candidate.
Interviewing is an interruption to people’s busy day jobs. They often go for gut feelings and emotions and back-rationalize later to sound logical.
And often they make even more obvious blunders. For example, I have been often given feedback that I wasn’t strong enough in answering a question that they never asked me. Either an excuse (e.g. because somebody’s friend got the job) or equally likely they mixed me up with somebody else.
You ask for feedback to stay top of mind and to establish a relationship
So, OK feedback is not always helpful.
And it’s also NOT an opportunity to change their minds.
Don’t chase the rejection or you look desperate. Any feedback from HR or the Recruiter is not a chance to overturn the decision, that ship’s sailed.
But you ask for feedback to develop a good relationship that may be useful in the future.
It is a chance to remind them you were a great candidate and you would love to work for them and will reach out once in a while.
Recruiters often move around and establishing a relationship will open other doors.
How to Pitch Two Offers Against Each Other
If you have more than one offer: congratulation.
You’re in the power seat.
However, remember: high-power is great, but high-power asshole is not. And it burns bridges (and goes against the foundational strategies of making friends and allies).
So see here how the good social strategist pitches two employers against each other:
See Power University for more.
The job market is always changing and is in reality a collection of job markets.
You are only one variable in the hiring process. Often why you do or do not get the job is not about your ability to perform the job from a technical point of view.
Whatever the interview format, how you want it to roll is as a back-and-forth conversation and have the interviewers to positively imagine them working alongside you.
On the day you want the interview to become a free-flowing conversation where you learn more about the role and frame yourself as already one of their teammates.
Interviewing is very subjective from both sides of the process and types of interviews and how best to win will vary by job and industry. People hire people. This article has focused on the human side of interviews as human nature applies everywhere.
There are of course exceptions to every rule but the suggested tactics here form a firm foundation. Follow the tips here, tweak for your own style and you will be ahead of the pack and well on your way to that dream job.