How To Interview: 5 Things To Master

Five simple concepts to help you master interviews.

How To Interview: 5 Things To Master
Photo by Joshua Hoehne / Unsplash

I’ve done a lot of interviews. A lot. It’s not something I am particularly proud of because the implication is that I’ve looked for a lot of jobs, but it is what it is. There’s a benefit to doing a lot of interviews, though, and that is you start to understand what works and what doesn’t, different interview styles, and eventually some baseline takeaways. This is what I’m going to share with you today.

Communication Is Key

When interviewing in a “professional” setting (eg, not a fast-food or other low-skill or entry-level setting) there’s an important differentiator that sets apart your potential workplaces: do they understand that sometimes “life happens”? You should be able to re-schedule an interview without it hurting your chances of being hired. Try to avoid it if at all possible, obviously, but the option should be on the table. A company that is willing to work with you to find a good time for an interview, especially in the face of mitigating circumstances, is one that will work with you as an employee, too. By the in-person or video interview phase you’re part of a small pool of potential hires that’s been whittled down from a lot more. Human resources, hiring managers, team leads, and many others have put time into evaluating applications and resumes, they don’t want that to go to waste just as much as you don’t want to miss out on a potential job opportunity. So if you have to push an interview because your kid got sick and has to stay home from school, or you and your partner just got ripped by your yearly case Norovirus and can barely get out of bed, then all you need to do is communicate that to your contact. If they’re happy enough to reschedule and work around whatever’s happened, then you’ve found somewhere to keep in consideration, otherwise cross them off your list and move on.

Punctuality

When you do finally get to interview day, regardless of whether its in-person, by video, or in writing by carrier pigeon, being on-time will set the tone for the rest of the interview. For in-person interviews you should check in at least 5 minutes before your scheduled interview time, make sure someone knows you’re there and ready to go. But don’t arrive more than 15 minutes early, by then you’re starting to veer into “what’s up with this person?” territory.

For video interviews that means logging into Zoom/Teams/Meet/etc. a few minutes early. If your video interview is at 1pm, try logging in at 12:55pm. Sometimes you’ll see your interviewer a little early, at which time you can have some small talk and break the ice, or you’ll just sit in a waiting room until everyone is ready to begin. Either way it shows that you can be trusted and are reliable.

If for some reason you are running late then simply communicate with your interview team. To reiterate the previous point, clear communication is vital in not only allowing both sides to better understand each other and run a smooth and effective interview process, but how a company communicates can be a big factor in whether or not you even want to come work for them.

Look the Part

I’m not saying you have to get dressed up to the nines for an interview (unless that is what they requested) but you have to look presentable. There’s an art to over-dressing without over-dressing, but the best way I can sum it up is this: do one “level” better than they requested.

If a company requests business-casual, wear a shirt and tie. If a company says just dress casual, wear some jeans and a nice button-up. Admittedly, I’m not “up” on women’s professional dress, but the principle still holds.

Looking the part also extends to video interviews. Make sure everything in-frame is well-kept. Wear shorts or whatever out of frame, but at least wear something nice where they’ll see it. The middle of a global pandemic may seem like an odd time to start dressing nice for video calls, especially with how ubiquitous they’ve become, but a little effort goes a long way.

Be Prepared

In the lead up to an interview its important to know some background information and context for the interview. Sometimes your recruiter or hiring manager will give you some materials about the company, but you should always do your own research, too, even if it means just going to their website and having a poke around. Believe me, having someone ask “are you familiar with what we do” and having to say “no” makes you feel really, really dumb for not taking the five minutes to do some homework. If you know who you’ll be speaking with ahead of time you can also look them up on LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social platforms to try and gauge what kind of people they are, what they’re interested in, and in the case for developers, if they have a Github and contribute to any open source projects. It might feel a bit like cyber-stalking at first, but rest assured that they will be doing the same exact thing to you. I’ve walked into interviews where my interviewer has read all of my Medium blogs (which is kind of terrifying), but they said it helped get an idea of where I stood on various technical things. If you can have that mutual understanding walking into your interview then you should feel a little more comfortable speaking with the people in front of you.

Ask Questions

Admittedly I’m pretty bad at this one, but you need to ask questions, even if they’re basic ones. The answers you get can tell you a lot about a company and its culture. Ask your interviewers how they like working where they do, sometimes you’ll get the company line but sometimes you’ll get some open and honest interviewers that will give their opinion.

You want to ask questions to try and peel back the layers of obscurity and privacy to get to the heart of what the position, company, and team really are. Don’t be afraid to ask questions they might not want to answer; ask about your potential team, the technology stacks they use, why they’re hiring for this particular position, etc. At worst they’ll say no, at best you’ll get a peek under the hood of the organization. Remember: the interview is a chance not only for the company to get to know you, but also for you to get to know the company and gauge it against other companies.

What are some things that you’ve picked up along the way? Let me know in the comments!