A friend and I were talking about an interview he had at an ad agency. When he was greeted by his interview, the first question that was asked was, “Do you want a beer?”
I laughed out loud. It was a disruptive question to ask before the two even sat down. How do you respond? In most companies, drinking on the job is far from encouraged. So, what do you do when your potential boss asks you, in an interview, if you want to have a beer with him?
An interview produces anxiety in most people; we are trying to “win” a job we want (or need). When we walk into a room to be interviewed, we want to put our best foot forward so we can give the hiring committee the best version of ourself to judge.
As the job market gets more competitive, though, interviews are getting tougher and more companies are employing non-traditional practices to hire employees. After all, a bad hire is far more costly than extending the hiring process to find the right person.
In the year, I’ve done dozens of interviews and found that there are four practices that differentiate great candidates for a position from everyone else. Remember these four interview practices will be the difference between landing the job you want or spending your extra time updating your LinkedIn profile.
While it seems like a common practice, how you present yourself matters and more people seem to forget that basic concept. This applies to in-person interviews but also to video interviews. Technology provides an opportunity for a face-to-face interview over long distance, but it means that the interviewee needs to choose their interview space well. Avoid doing interviews over video in your bedroom or in a crowded coffeeshop. As an interviewer, it is weird to talk to someone when they are in their bedroom (if you are in college, your dorm room counts as your bedroom). Pick a place free from distraction with a clean background.
Don’t Fear Flaws.
As an interviewer, I know you have flaws. Everyone does. You have things you are bad at. I won’t think less of you if you tell me what they are, because chances are I will figure it out anyway. When a person comes in afraid to tell me what they are bad at, where they’ve failed, or where they lack in skills I consider that a red flag. A person that knows there weakness likely knows their strengths. I want those kinds of people. Don’t try to avoid or re-contextualize your weaknesses (well, I am not great when it comes to logistical work, but I can definitely learn). If you are applying for a job that requires things of you that are your weaknesses, you shouldn’t be applying for that job.
Follow Up Is Great, but Your First Impression Matters.
I’ve gotten several follow up cards from candidates thanking me for the interview, which is always nice. I get the idea; in a crowded interview field you want to help people remember you by following up with a card. Here is the reality: If you weren’t memorable in an interview, a follow up card is a kind gesture, but it won’t matter. I don’t discourage the practice; a follow up e-mail in gratitude or a post-mailed card can help confirm the right candidate, but it won’t bump up someone that wasn’t memorable. Don’t put your hope in that – focus on how to make a good first impression. The first five minutes of an interview often tell me 90% of what I need to know about a candidate. I spend the rest of our time together either trying to discredit or prove what I found out already.
Take the Beer.
When you interview with a good company they are looking for someone that is a good cultural fit. That’s why my friend was offered a beer. While people in the organization weren’t constantly drinking on the job, it was a more casual culture where it wasn’t out of the ordinary for people to get some work done over a beer. There wasn’t a right answer to the question of whether or not to take the beer, but the interviewer was trying to judge the reaction of my friend to determine cultural fit. Would he be thrown by the question? Would he visibly react with disgust? If so, he may not fit well with the company culture.
Be yourself in an interview. If we try to present what we think an interviewer wants to see, we may get a job that we don’t want or don’t fit into. I know plenty of people that put on a mask for an interview and then six months later wondered why they hated their job or were fired. Be the person you are going to be at work in your interview. It may mean you don’t get offered some jobs because you aren’t the right fit; that can hurt in the short term but will save you a lot of time in the long run.
Interviews produce anxiety, and no best practice is going to make that completely go away. We can utilize the four tools above to put our best self forward and maximize our chances of demonstrating who we are to a hiring committee and landing the job we want.