9 Steps to acing a job interview


A good way to think about the process of getting a job is that a resume gets you in the door, and an interview is where you close the deal.

Here are nine ways to ace an interview and get the job:

1. Tell good stories.

When someone says, “Tell me about yourself,” they don’t want to hear you rattle off a list of what you’ve done or what you’ve accomplished. People want stories. Stories are what make you stick in people’s minds.

The problem is, most people can’t figure out a story to tell about themselves, so they start listing facts. This is boring, and research shows that listing facts about ourselves instead of telling stories actually makes us feel disjointed — which is, of course, no good in an interview. Compelling stories make us believe in ourselves. So find a story arc to your career, and tell it during every interview.

2. Understand the behavioral interview.

When someone asks you a question that begins, “Tell me about a time when…” it’s a cue that you’re in a behavioral interview. There are established ways to answer this type of question.

The interviewer is trying to see how you acted in the past, which is a good predictor of how you’ll act in the future. You need to tell the interviewer about a situation you encountered, the action you took to solve the problem, and quantify the results. This is called the STAR response — Situation or Task, Action, Results.

3. Ask questions at the beginning, not the end.

Don’t wait until the end to ask good questions. What’s the point? You just spent the whole interview telling the person you’re right for the job — it’s a little late to be asking questions about the job, right? So ask your questions at the beginning. And then use the answers to better position yourself for the job during the interview.

At the end, when the interviewer says, Do you have any questions?” you can say, “No, I think I asked everything I needed to ask at the beginning of the interview. But thank you” instead of thinking of a pile of pseudo-questions

4. Stop stressing about your MySpace page.

Look, there’s nothing we can do about the fact that nearly every college kid is writing stupid things to his friend and posting it on MySpace or Facebook.

Hiring managers care less and less about these pages; it’s not earth-shattering news to human resources that college kids do stupid things. Which is lucky, because often, trying to clean up an online footprint is a lost cause.

So instead of worrying about what you did in the past, focus on what you’re doing now. Write articles online, or write a blog — do anything that will come up higher on Googlethan your prom date photo. Getting your ideas at the top of a search is the way to impress an interviewer. You want to get hired for your ideas, not your clean record on MySpace.

5. Explain away job hopping and long gaps.

It doesn’t matter what you do with your time as long as you’re doing productive, interesting things. So a gap is fine, as long as you can talk about what you learned, and how you grew during the gap. And job hopping is fine as long as you can show you made a significant, quantifiable contribution everywhere you went.

6. Present a plan.

Show the interviewer that you’ve done a bit of thinking about the company and the job. Brendon Connelly at Slacker Manager suggests that you go to the interview with a plan for the first three months you’re in the job.

Show some humility — say, “This is just something I came up with that we might use to get the interview started.” Of course, you can only do this if you know a lot about the job. But the best way to get the job is to know a lot about it.

7. Manage your parents.
It’s common today for parents to be involved in their twentysomething child’s job hunt. Parental involvement is so ubiquitous during interviews for summer internship programs that companies like Merrill Lynch will actually send an acceptance letter to a parent if the candidate requests one.

But some parents hover so close by that they make their kid look incompetent. Get help from your parents, but don’t get too much. Check out CollegeRecrutier.com to find out where your parents fall on the spectrum.

8. Play to stereotypes.
You’ll probably interview with more than one person. And each person you talk with will have some sort of personal agenda that will infiltrate your interview. Your job is to identify the type of person you’re talking to so that you can give the type of answer they’re looking for.

Understanding personality types will be helpful. But also take a look at Guy Kawasaki’s hilarious list of interviewer stereotypes and how to wow each type with your answers.

9. Practice. A lot.

An interview isn’t an improvisation — it’s a rehearsed performance. And it’s no mystery what the most common interview questions are, so prepare you answers. Even if you end up fielding a question you didn’t anticipate, surely a version of one the 50 answers you did prepare will work with the surprise question.

You can practice with a friend, or you can go back to your college counseling office, which will probably help you out no matter where you are in your career. But Alexandra Levit at Water Cooler Wisdom recommends using InterviewTrue to practice on video.

10 replies
  1. Mary-Louise
    Mary-Louise says:

    I work for Guy Kawasaki. Thanks for the link to Guy’s blog posting: Everything You Wanted To Know About Getting A Job In Silicon Valley But Didn’t Know Who To Ask!



  2. chris timlin
    chris timlin says:

    Penelope – How do you deal with all the negative feedback your getting from your faithful readers? Perhaps you should write an article about what makes you an expert to give yourself some credibility to your readers.

    * * * * *

    Hi, Chris. A lot of people ask me about the negative feedback. I don’t actually mind negative feedback. You can’t really be a columnist if the negative feedback bothers you.

    Seth Godin wrote a post about how he doesn’t allow comments on his blog becuase the feedback gets to him too much. I think about that a lot. I think that feedback makes my work more like a conversation, and I like that, because it makes me a better writer. I just need to be good at knowing which negative comments to listen to.


  3. oldguy
    oldguy says:

    So what do you figure the story is for a guy who types in all caps and signs his name with the irrepressibly clever “Dick Long”?

    The name would suggest high school. The all caps suggests a sixty year old who won’t be able to undo the caps lock until one of his kids comes home for a visit. I’m guessing old and disappointed in life, but it’s just a guess.

    Either way, I would take it as a sign of progress that someone like that is not a fan.

    * * * * * *

    Yeah. I just saw him. I’m amazed that he’d take the time to come to the blog just to write that stuff. You’d think he’d have something better to do. I deleted the comments. The only comments I ever have to delete for being out of hand come on the days my Yahoo column runs….  I am thinking about that.


  4. Jaerid
    Jaerid says:

    I think that many people who read your Yahoo column forget that they are not your only reader. Today’s column is perfectly inline with your general theme and very useful to those who may not have a lot of experience interviewing or are having trouble.

    The advice you give is very useful and those who criticize your proposed techniques obviously lack the self-confidence or social abilities (EQ?) to be able to execute them.

    Telling stories, relating to your interviewer, and asking questions all add depth to yourself in the eyes of the interviewer. They make you stand out and be remembered. If the interviewer is offended by your actions then you just learned something about them which may help you make a decision if an offer is made.

  5. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    One could ask these critics why they read Yahoo Finance at all. Writers and analysts on Yahoo Finance are researcher-writers, not typically people running the day to day operations of the companies they write about.

    (I’m responding to the readers that claim that you have no credibility because you don’t work for a fortune 500 anymore, but instead you interview experts and summarize opitions. That’s what writers do; that’s what financial analysts do. People who write about publicly traded companies do their research do some interviews and offer an educated option (I’ve been one! I do know from direct experience :-).

    So, why read newspapers or financial analysts if you only want to hear from people with direct direct experience? People on the inside don’t share it with idiots on Yahoo!

    I’m a little surprized Yahoo lets them undermine the credibility of their financial website. I used to use it as a research source (although never read columnists until you started writing there), now I’m finding myself going to other sources for financial info somewhat subconsciously as I’m associating Yahoo with the idiots who don’t know what a newspaper column is all about.

  6. Lea
    Lea says:

    “And each person you talk with will have some sort of personal agenda that will infiltrate your interview.”

    This happened to me just this week. I’m interviewing for an administrative position at a tech company, and I went in for my third round of interviews. I met with a project manager whose body language told me that he didn’t want to be there — he leaned backwards in his chair, away from me, and he kept his arms crossed over his chest the entire time. About halfway through the interview, he starting talking about how much he liked working with the person who had last held the position I was interviewing for. I had already been told by several other people that the person who had left had caused problems by not showing up for work and by not completing projects that she agreed to do. I handled the situation by saying, “I’ve been told by others that [NAME] had some difficulty here, but it sounds like you had a different experience.” He waxed on about how they had worked well together, and I used it as a springboard to ask what other qualities he thought were important for the new hire to have. It got us back onto more neutral ground, but I’m wondering if it helped or if I just never had a chance to win him over because he wants the last person back.

    * * * * * * *

    Lea, thanks for this comment. It’s a good example of how to turnaround an interview that’s going poorly. Often, it’s not that difficult to figure out that an interview is going poorly, but it’s almost always difficult to figure out, in the moment, what to do to turn things around. I like reading how you did it. I hope you got a job offer :)


  7. Greg
    Greg says:

    “Manage your parents”

    I have read about the involvement of parents in job fairs at colleges and it blows my mind. if I were in a position to hire, someone whose parents were overtly involed would go to the bottom of the stack.

    Perhaps a parents would serve their children better by having them work a summer jobs so they can pactice job-getting-game.

  8. Jacqui
    Jacqui says:

    From someone not that far removed from job fairs and the like, the thought of helicopter parents following you around at a job fair, in front of future employers, is mortifying.

    I was recently involved in choosing interns for a college program my company sponsors. I heard one story of a young man who seemed so frustrated by his father’s presence at the job fair we attended that he seemed to be sabotaging all the opportunities his father was trying to broker. (I’m not sure whether this deserves kudos or contempt.)

    This makes me wonder if GenY/millenials are really as dependent on their parents as everyone likes to say or if the dependence is being forced on us.

  9. Rowan Manahan
    Rowan Manahan says:

    Great thought-provoking stuff, as always, Penelope. My number one piece of advice to candidates is to drop the mask and be themselves. Everything after that is tactical.

    If you are not sufficiently confident to speak your mind and talk at a meaningful level about your approach in the workplace, then you probably aren’t going to get hired anyway and if you do – it may well be into a square peg in a round hole situation.

    I work with job-hunters every day and the majority of them will point to negative past experiences as being on the basis of untruth. Naive job-hunters lie all the time, thinking that once they get into the company everything will magically sort itself out. Employers lie all the time too – dressing up job descriptions and hiding the reality of the corporate culture.

    What healthy relationship can be formed on the basis of both sides misrepresenting themselves from the outset? It doesn't work in love and it certainly doesn't work in the world of work.


    Rowan Manahan

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