The Future is Now: Nailing the Interview

how to nail an interview
The Future is Now: Nailing the Interview
Perhaps the single most important part of the job-finding process, the interview makes a nervous wreck out of even the most stoic of gentlemen. Here's the inside scoop for coming out on top.

Interviewing is kind of like dating. You have specific bullets about yourself that you find every which way to highlight throughout dinner and drinks, and then you get the girl into bed – I’m assuming here, for your benefit – and into a relationship – if you’re that type of guy – and forget all about what got you there. Then something happens. The relationship unravels or some tragedy befalls all the romance and you’re back on market, looking for a new catch. But, like most of us, you don’t have a handy guidebook of how you got the last girl, or the one before that. Thus you come to a familiar problem: getting the next girl. But in this article the next girl is really the next job. Because when you come down to it, interviewing at its core is pretty much the same as dating. The only difference is the benefits package, depending on the employer, or girlfriend.

So you’ve found the job, the one. The next step is getting it. Interviewing is tumultuous territory, scary at times, but the process is pretty standard, so once you know what’s coming it’s a matter of having the right answers, asking the right questions, and generally not screwing up as you highlight your strengths and kick your weaknesses under the rug.

How to Tackle All Types of Interviews

There are five and a half types of interviews I’ve come across in my travels. The half is important too and we’ll get to it. Promise. The lesser talked about forms of the interview you’ll see are the committee, group, job fair, and phone.

Committee Interviews

Committee interviews are my personal favorite mainly because they seem difficult, and are supposed to be, but offer the most latitude, provided you’ve done your homework. When setting up the interview, if you can ask whom you’ll be meeting with, go for it. This gives you the ability to do some research on LinkedIn and the company’s website. It’s like Facebook stalking before a date so you know to drop into conversation that Nicholas Sparks book you “read” the other day. Once you’re in the interview, tailor answers to each person. They’ll all have questions, but they’ll be looking for answers you’ll be prepared to give after reading this article. I treat the panel like I’m waiting tables again. Focus on each person – but not too long – while you add a little charm, and know the menu, the specials, and what wine goes with what.

Group Interviews

Group interviews can be tricky mainly because they offer the most traps. You’re plopped into a room with other interviewees and proceed to talk, and sometimes work, with the competition as you compete. My advice, don’t compete. Use the time to show off collaboration skills. Treat other candidates with respect and roll with whatever happens. The number one trick here is to prepare multipurpose answers. Some ass might Bogart your perfect answer and you’ll need to have another at the ready.

Job Fair & Phone Interviews

Job fair and phone interviews can be a nuisance, but they can also be an open door to something more. At a job fair you’ll want to have three things by my count: an elevator pitch, knowledge of the company, and relevant questions. These interviews go quickly so the goal is to stand out, encourage a second interview, take a business card, and thank the interviewer post-job fair. As for phone interviews, they are a one-on-one interview via phone. My advice: Don’t do it in your pajamas. Shower up, close the door to wherever you’re calling from, and be prepared with everything you might need laid out for easy reference. And most often overlooked, stand up for the duration of the call. Standing helps the projection and pitch of your voice. You’ll actually sound better on the other end.

And most often overlooked, stand up for the duration of the call. Standing helps the projection and pitch of your voice. You’ll actually sound better on the other end.

As for that half interview I mentioned: The callback. You didn’t get the job yet, but you didn’t not get it either. When companies bring you back for a second, third, or even fourth interview you need to bring the same level of play that you did for the first. First impressions are all well and good, but a second date at Burger King can nullify a candlelit first try. Keep up your A-game. I find that working out beforehand gets endorphins pumping and subconsciously affects your interview performance. And when you get to those down-the-line interviews it’s okay to politely ask for a time frame or what the next steps are.

Finally, is the more common one-on-one interview. Nearly every piece of advice you’ve read here, and elsewhere, applies to the standard person-to-person setup. So rather than go into those details, let’s touch on a few of the personalities you’ll see across the table.

How to Rap with All Types of Interviewers

My favorite is the bully. He knows more than you and has all the power. He likes it that way. It’s your job not to piss him off while demonstrating that you’re a valuable asset. He’s going to be tough on you while scrutinizing everything. Stay confident and look him in the eye when you speak. I find it helps to lean forward when talking to show engagement. Just don’t battle him or overdo it. Let your answers and body language work for you.

Next up is the stone face. She could be playing poker if not for your interview. That she doesn’t give anything away during the interview doesn’t help, but it doesn’t have to hurt either. Rather than catering your answers to her non-responses, follow your game plan and highlight your strengths and knowledge of the company and ask thoughtful questions.

With two of the toughest interviewers taken care of we can run through a few of the other characters you may encounter on your journey. There are the talker and the listener. These two opposite sides of the equation set you up for similar fails. Don’t overdo it either way. If you find yourself doing most of the talking try to revert the conversation back to the interviewer. If you find that you’re sitting across from a talker don’t get lost. While it is good to keep eye contact and actually listen, it is equally important not to be timid. Find a way to revert the conversation back to the interview with a related anecdote or story that highlights your skill set.

The last interviewer you may come across – all too often it seems – is the frazzled, overworked, spur of the moment fill in. She might not actually be filling in as interviewer, but you’d be hard pressed to find how she prepared. It may seem like a throw away, but hardly ends up as so. Take advantage of the control you’re given as open-ended questions allow you to give complete, in-depth answers.

Nothing says, “don’t hire me” more than a college shrug of the shoulders when an interviewer asks if you have any questions for him. Keep in mind that every interview is a dialogue. You are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you.

How to Answer Questions… and Ask Them

You’ll run into a multitude of questions as you sit with interviewers. Rather than go through a long googleable Q&A, I’ll give you some basics here to go along with what we’ve been talking about all along. You’ve done your homework. Questions like, “tell me a little about yourself”, “why are you looking”, “why us”, and “why not your last job”, are all looking for the same combination of information. Don’t gush about your life story, trash your former job, or make it about money. You’re advancing your career here. And in advancing your career you provide the unique advantage X organization is looking for: you. So in answering questions, show off the best version of yourself, what you’ve done, how well you’ve done it, and how you’re willing to go the extra mile going forward in an organization that can help you advance your career while you do a stellar job at whatever they throw at you.

As far as asking questions, you can, and should. Nothing says, “don’t hire me” more than a college shrug of the shoulders when an interviewer asks if you have any questions for him. Keep in mind that every interview is a dialogue. You are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. Again, I’ll spare you a list of what you should ask. But stick to relevant job related questions that touch upon the organization, careers of those before you, and why the position is open. You want to come across as thoughtful. It should go without saying then that you shouldn’t ask obvious questions about the company or anything that makes you seem like a self-centered millennial. Often times that designation precedes you so keep your interest in time off, promotions, general gossip, and whether they’ll do a background check to yourself. And typing isn’t a skill anymore. Texting never was. It still isn’t.

How to Do Everything Else

Get there early, but not desperate early. I like to get to an interview at least a half hour in advance, but I don’t go in just then. Get a coffee, review some notes or play Candy Crush while you chill out. Then walk in at ten of. It beats sweating that you’ll be late and then explaining to a cop why you were driving 110 in a 65.

Wardrobe is an obvious key here. Keep in mind that a suit isn’t a catchall. While I find that the mantra “when in doubt dress up, not down” works well, it will do you well to delve into each organization before walking through the front doors. As for the other nuances to follow, most come down to general courtesy.

  • Stand when shaking hands as well as when somebody joins the meeting or leaves it.
  • Don’t tell jokes. You’re more apt to offend someone than not. Don’t swear. Same reason. Introduce yourself to secretaries and be nice to them. Reread that last sentence. Secretaries and custodians hold all the power.
  • Bring extra copies of your resume, a list of at least three references, a pad of paper and pen. I like to hold them in a leather folio to stay organized. Lastly, leave your coffee in your car. But do accept water if offered. It isn’t a trick. It’s water.

Once you’re out of the office loosen your tie. But you’re not done for the day. Jot down a few notes about what went well and what didn’t. You’ll reference a little nugget from the former in the thank you that you will absolutely not forget to send. You’ll reference all of the latter when preparing for the next interview. Now you’re done. Get yourself a beer. You deserve it.

Michael Barry

Michael Barry is a writer who lives in Boston, MA. He received his B.A. in Financial Economics from St. Anselm College and his MFA in Creative Writing from the Stonecoast Program at the University of Southern Maine. Check him out at