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interviewing, job search

Have an interview scheduled? Relax.

At one point in my past, I headed campus recruiting for the corporate finance function of an F100 company. We would routinely interview 12-14 student candidates for intern or full time positions in a day.

It wasn’t unusual to have one who was a bit nervous; for many this might be one of the first ‘real job’ interviews they’ve done. However, one student stands out in my memory. As soon as I called his name, he looked at me like I was about to court martial him. I tried to build some rapport and ease his nerves by asking him how his day was going and about the recent win over their rival school at basketball; I received a couple of  monosyllables in reply. As I started asking my first question, the ‘deer in the headlights’ look appeared in his eyes. He stumbled through his answer, apologizing profusely, beads of sweat popping on his forehead. After a couple of questions, I said, “Tell you what. Why don’t we stop the interview and just chat?” He immediately relaxed. I continued the interview in a more conversational way, completing all of my questions. When our time was nearly up, I asked, “So–what’d you learn from this interview?” He looked confused and replied, “What interview?”

I relay this story because interviews are not typical exchanges. They are viewed as word quizzes–and in many cases, rightly so. In interviews, the things people say, and how they are said, often play a major factor in whether an otherwise qualified candidate is moved forward in the process–or given a hire/no hire decision by the interview team.

Unfortunately, real life doesn’t prepare us well for interviews. It’s rare that many of us are required to tell people HOW and WHY we are good at what we do, especially in that type of format. It’s even worse for tech candidates; many companies believe in the tech interview that includes a requirement to verbally/visually articulate an answer to a hypothetical problem. This is totally outside the norm of how most tech employees work, and hence they are unprepared for this situation.

So, what we sometimes see is a candidate who exhibits a major crash and burn in an interview setting. This can come as a surprise to the recruiter, because we often only phone screen candidates through our part of the evaluation process and the candidate makes it through that stage just fine–only to have things go very wrong in face to face interviews.

A good recruiter will prepare you for the interview loop–to a point. We should tell you what type of people will be on the loop, how long it will be, what type of questions to expect, etc. However: We are NOT your interview coaches. You need to know whether you are comfortable or not in an interview situation. If you’re not, here are some suggestions:

  • Practice, practice, practice. The more you have the opportunity to practice interviewing with typical questions for your field, the more comfortable you will be.
  • Watch yourself interview and gain feedback. Are you aware of how your mannerisms/speech patterns change in an unfamiliar or stressful situation? I once watched a video of myself trying to explain the benefit of a sourcing process to a client. I used “actually” 7 times in 4 minutes. I had no idea I’d done that. There is immense value in this, and thanks to tools like Skype it’s easy to do.
  • Know your material. Review your resume and know it inside and out. Know how you will talk about every relevant accomplishment, skill, or experience you’ve listed for this position–and how you could put it to work with this company.
  • Research the company. Know about any recent earnings releases, industry news, new product information, leadership changes, etc. Have questions for each member of the interview team about the company that will help you make a choice about them.
  • Plan and prepare. Do you know what to wear? Ask your recruiter or recruiting coordinator what’s expected, then figure out your outfit the night before and have it ready to go. Do you know how to get there–and how long it’ll take you? (Nothing worse than being stuck in traffic you didn’t expect, anxiously watching the minutes advance toward your interview time.)  Where to park? What to do when you enter the building? Get clarity on all of the logistics before the day of your interview. If you haven’t been to the interview location and you’re totally unfamiliar with the area/route, consider doing a dry run en route somewhere else a few days prior.
  • Plan to arrive early. Give yourself time to take one last look at your material, get a quick drink of water, go to the restroom and check your outfit/wash your hands/check your breath. If you’re rushed, it’s going to be apparent to both you and the interview team.
  • Recognize and accept you’ll be nervous… Almost everyone is going to have at least a little nervous energy going into an interview.
  • But learn to relax. Learn to recognize the signs you are becoming anxious/stressed in an interview situation and techniques (like 4 square breathing) that can help you regain calm and control.
  • Don’t be terrified of silence! An interviewer may not give you much (if any) acknowledgement that you’ve satisfactorily answered a question.  Dead air can cause a big anxiety spike for a candidate–but resist the urge to fill that silence with more chatter. If you’ve answered the question concisely and to the best of your ability? Leave it at that. If the interviewer wants more, they can ask a follow-up.
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