You’ve probably read dozens of articles giving you the “top 3 interview tips you need to know.” These articles tell you to dress to impress, show up early, and have a crisp résumé prepared. I have interviewed more than 20 people over the last month and a half, and I can tell you for a fact that I don’t remember what any of them were wearing. I don’t remember who was here two minutes early or 15 minutes early, and I certainly don’t remember what their résumés looked like (or even what they said). What I do remember is what the interviewees spoke about and how they handled themselves.
Here are three things you can learn from real interviewees. (I’ll even tell you which ones we hired!)
1. Don’t be defensive:
I interviewed one student for an internship; I had high hopes for her prior to the interview. She was involved in great student organizations, and she seemed to have the right experience for the job. As I do with all of our prospective employees, I did a quick Google search of her name before the interview. I wasn’t looking for any dirt on her, or even trying to spy on her social networking accounts – I simply wanted to see what came up on the first page of Google results. We are an online professional branding firm, for goodness’ sake! What shows up for your name online matters to us. During the 5 seconds I spent researching her, I found her Twitter photo. It was a picture of her with a handle of vodka. I assumed she was 21, but it did rub me the wrong way. I’m not against drinking – in fact, we’re headed out for a company happy hour in about an hour – but I am concerned with how a prospective employee brands himself or herself online. Her Twitter account was not private, so this was the photo she chose to showcase to the world. This photo was how she chose to brand herself. I couldn’t help myself, so of course, during the interview, I asked about it. I just asked if she was 21 and told her the reason that I asked was because of her Twitter photo. She automatically went on the defensive, saying that companies shouldn’t “snoop” on employees and that her Twitter account is personal and not something that I, as an employer, should be concerned about. The photo alone wouldn’t have made me steer clear of hiring her, but the reaction she had to my question about it sure did. An interview is your first chance to make a positive impression. The second you go on the defense, you have lost all credibility with the interviewer.
Result: She was not asked to join our internship program.
2. Don’t focus on only one strength:
One of our interviewees spent the majority of the interview talking about her experience with graphic design. Our internship requires a variety of skill sets, and while graphic design is one of them, much more is needed. The interviewee’s résumé was strong and she appeared intelligent, passionate, and friendly, but I couldn’t get past the fact that she only seemed to really care about graphic design and we needed someone better-rounded. If you have a specialized skill set, but the job requires a more general knowledge, make sure to spotlight your special skill, but stress that you are adaptable and can learn to do a variety of things.
Result: We didn’t initially offer her a position, but once we had one more spot open up, we offered it to her. She has proven herself as one of our most impressive interns, and she is extremely talented in skills other than graphic design. This is a great example of how we could have missed out on amazing talent, simply because of a one-sided interview!
3. Don’t be cocky:
One of the most entertaining interviews I conducted was with a student who, again, looked awesome on paper. He had great grades and was very involved on campus. His demeanor was definitely confident, verging on cocky, from the start of the interview. I asked him, “Do you have any experience with sales?” In my mind, this is a fairly straightforward question, and his response shocked me! He said, with a quirky smile and a hair shake, “No, but I mean come on, it can’t be that hard to sell people shi*, can it?” This shocked me for three reasons. First, he basically just compared our services to shi*; two, he used a swear word during an interview, which is pretty brazen, and three, he brushed off a skill that is definitely not easy to acquire, which made him look ridiculously cocky. The rest of the interview followed in this cocky manner, and I am sure he walked out of the office thinking he had nailed it!
Result: We did not offer him an internship. We are sure he was shocked.
If any of the students we interviewed read this article, I hope that it gives them real-life feedback for their next interviews. As for the rest of you, you don’t have to burn your hand on the stove yourselves – learn from these stories and apply the lessons to your next interviews. Interviews can be scary, and it’s not always easy to show your true talents. As long as you don’t come off as defensive or extremely cocky, and you allow all of your strengths to show, I think you’ll do just fine. I would love to hear more real-life examples of things to steer clear of during an interview. Let me know your thoughts in the comments!