Interview Survival Guide: 7 Things You Should Know

Interviews can be nerve-racking for even the most calm, cool and collected professionals. With the exception of those seasoned job hoppers who saunter through the process unfazed, most people get a little unstrung the first time they meet with their potential boss. Nervousness in interviews is usually brought on by fear of screwing up, inadequate preparation or anxiety. Even the most experienced candidate will trip up trying to put his best foot forward. Here are a few tips that may improve your experience the next time you meet.

1. Arriving late

Stop there! Whatever excuse you have cleverly conjured up on your all out sprint to your appointment, recruiters have heard them all before – from flat tire to GPS malfunctions. Indeed, these are very real incidents that might very well happen on the day of your interview. But in business as in life – you will miss big opportunities if you don’t anticipate the unexpected. This is where all chances of success are likely doomed.

What you should do
Plan with enough time for just about anything…shit happens! Camp outside the company’s premises if you have to but arriving late to an interview is an egregious misstep that will certainly trip you up later. It shows a lack of consideration for the busy professionals who have taken the time from their work to meet with you. For one thing, it implies that your time is more important than theirs.

You should arrive 15 – 20 minutes before your interview. If you get there an hour before your appointment, sit in your car or find a quiet place and stay out of sight. You can use this time to review talking points and go over information about the position and the company until the time is appropriate to announce your arrival.

2. On Being Unprepared

If this is your practice then you’re bound to fumble. Pardon the cliché, but chance favors the prepared mind. My mother hammered this in my head as child. Funny thing, the meaning still rings true today as it did when I was a lackadaisical and carefree kid. But not all preparation seizes the opportunity.

What you should do

Practicing interview questions that you’ve pulled from Google the night before your meeting will make you sound mechanical and rehearsed. Companies want to hire real people who are smart, analytical and can think on their feet, not a modern day Mr. Spock.

Yet, there are some common interview questions that I wish would vanish forever along with the individuals who insist on asking them. Ok, the people can stay but the questions gotta go. It would be wise to remember that every interviewer has a different style and they are becoming even craftier these days. (See the cat, dog, and plant question below) That’s just an example of how far they are willing to go. Still, the number one way to tackle any question in an interview is to know what you are talking about and that comes with the proper preparation.

Best Preparation Techniques:

If the company is publicly traded then you should find all you need to know in their latest annual financial report aka 10-K – this information is usually found on the company’s website on the “INVESTOR” page. You’ll also find useful information in press releases on the “NEWS” or “PRESS” page of their website. Study ad nauseam and use the information that you’ve gathered to strengthen your argument for why you should be selected. Additionally, it is important to know how well your qualifications stack up against the requirements of the position then practice selling yourself as the best person for the job. Last thing, if the company has a LinkedIn page, go there and look at the people hired for similar roles. You can always get a good snapshot of career trajectories and growth potential if you decided to take your career there. But be mindful that there are performance factors that actually influence career growth and not everyone will rise to the top. The more you know about the position and the company, the less the interview will feel like an interrogation.

3. The Truth Won’t Always Get you Hired But It Will Set Your Conscience Free

Any form of aggrandizement or embellishment of your qualifications is unacceptable and will eventually catch up with you. So, it’s better to avoid them at all costs.

What you should do

Be honest. Honesty might not get you the job but it will set your conscience scot-free. Not long ago, Yahoo’s CEO, Scott Thompson, was famously ousted for lying on his resume. Companies are impartial…liars get fired or fibbers get severed…you choose. If you find that you can’t check all the boxes then find out from the recruiter what are the must-haves and propose a plan for obtaining any area missing from your resume. Some requirements are tangential and may be overlooked if you are strong in other areas, but an Accountant must understand accounting techniques, principles, and statutes…there’s no bargaining that one!

4. Dodging Interview Questions:

Interview questions are like boomerangs – they keep coming back until you catch the drift. The surest way to sweating bullets in an interview is to have the other guy sitting across from you lose his cool from having to repeat himself over and over. Dodging an interview question is providing an answer for what you think the question should have been and different from the question asked. This is generally the case when candidates practice interview questions rather than follow proper preparation techniques – it’s sort of like rehearsing a script for the wrong audition. I’m sorry Ms. Jackson, the audition for that role is in studio B.

What you should do

There’s nothing wrong with asking for clarification if you don’t understand a question but you only get a few lifelines before the interviewer starts to lose interest. Make every attempt to answer all questions. At this point, whether you do or don’t, he has already formed his opinions.

5. Bad Interviewer

The interviewer is as cold as a wet mop. He appears aloof and uninterested in engaging a meaningful discussion. You begin to get nervous because you can’t wring a grin out of this guy.

What you should do

Arthur Miller says, “the only thing you got in this world is what you can sell.” Nobody knows you better than yourself and an interview is probably the only place you can talk about your achievements without anyone giving you the stink eye. Learn how to sell yourself. But let me clarify what I mean by this since desperate times can lead to outrageous imaginations and I wouldn’t want to put anyone in an awkward position, if you know what I mean.

Harp on your job-related achievements and experience and how they may be transferred to the new position. Share what you know about the company and trends in the industry. Talk about your skills and how they will contribute to the strategic vision of the group and business on a whole. This will let the interviewer know that you have done your homework. Because whether he asks the right questions or not, you’re still being evaluated on your performance. The caveat here is making sure your responses somehow answer the questions asked.

6. Ridiculous Questions

You shouldn’t subscribe to the belief that there are no stupid questions. Sure, they are.

I was on an interview team once and heard the most absurd question asked by a hiring manager. “If you were asked to take care of a plant, a cat, or dog which would you choose and why?” I could feel my eyes rolling toward the back of my head. I think they got stuck there for the rest of the interview.

What you should do

Take note, a question like this is not to be taken lightly. This is a very clear sign that your future boss has the tendency to fall off his rocker. You can choose to run now or stick around to hoist him up from time to time.

On a serious note, make a good attempt at answering all questions regardless of how ridiculous they may sound. There’s usually some esoteric meaning hidden very deep in there somewhere.

By the way, I would have gone with the “dog” option because dogs are smart and can sniff their way around BS.

7. Sit Here, Not There.

Seating arrangements are more important than you think. Sitting too close will make anyone nervous, too far should raise a red flag, and inviting the entire department to stare you down from across the boardroom table is just downright torturous.

What you should do

Facing the entire “hiring” squad is tricky and is a nervous situation waiting to happen. The best way to handle this type of arrangement is to take deep breathes, relax, and know what you are talking about. Focus on the person who is asking the question. Smile and count to three before saying anything. Do not search the room for approval. You won’t get it and you will begin to think that you are not answering the questions correctly. And say you get a few smiles and head nods that still don’t mean they like you. They just want you to hurry up so they can get back to work. Keep smiling and stay confident. Don’t act weird. No one likes weird.