How To Crush Your Interview
I prepped someone recently for an interview and got the “wow, you are so good at interviewing,” I appreciated that feedback, and it was a very interesting moment of reflection for me because it was not always this way. I feel very confident about my interviewing skills now, but I did not always have this confidence. I have had many interviews go wrong because I said the wrong thing, or I was not “100% myself”.
Let me tell you a story of one of my worst interview experiences. I will leave the name of the company out, but this fortune 500 company had scheduled an interview with me in 2018, and trust me, I was very excited for this opportunity (in hindsight, there are 100 things I could have done to prepare better) but I thought I was ready.
The interview occurred sometime around midday, and it was supposed to go on for 45 minutes. I remember rushing away from the student center at school and running upstairs to a quiet study room to get my mind right a couple of moments before the interview. I set my laptop out and any other resource I might need (this was a phone interview). I was nervous, but of course, I kept telling myself, “You got this.” The interview started and I exchanged pleasantries with the interviewer; he asked me the first couple of questions and for someone that thought they were ready (I clearly was not because I could not produce any good answers). The awkward silence was killing me, and I felt like the ground should open and swallow me at that point.
This awkward silence and embarrassing pauses were happening within the first 15 minutes, and I thought there is no way I can endure this for the next 30 minutes and I am surely wasting his time, so what did I do? I hung up and put my phone on plane mode so the interviewer wouldn’t call me (100% do not recommend it). But yes, that happened, and I was both frustrated and disappointed in myself.
The following 18 months after that, I had multiple interviews that I am happy to tell you all that, no, I never hung up again. During this process, I was not getting many of the offers and I kept being hard on myself. I felt frustrated and many more synonyms of that word, but what I did not realize was I was getting better after every interview. I was prepping better. I was gaining confidence. It was truly a story of practice makes perfect (well, maybe not perfect, but I was pleased with where I was when I interviewed for full-time roles August — November 2020).
This story is a frame in the movie of my interview experiences. It highlights how my interview confidence went from hanging up the phone to passing interviews and getting offers from Top companies.
My goal is to highlight some of my learning and turn them into action items to help you succeed:
- Take advantage of opportunities to “break the ice”: If you are nervous going into an interview, my advice would be to take advantage of any opportunity to break the ice. The best possible way I know to do this is during the initial stages of your interview. When your interviewer comes in and asks: “how you are doing” or “how is your day going, please do not just say “fine” and move on. Talk about what has been happening briefly. Did you just complete a painting and of what? Did you just cook something fun? Is it raining heavily, and how you feel about that? Use this opportunity to be human and ask them the same question. Most often, this interaction will calm your nerves or at least reduce them and put you in a better mood to execute.
- For technical interviews, come prepared: They saw something on your resume that made them believe you have what it takes for this job and that is why you got the interview, so take your time to show and demonstrate understanding of the various concepts you might get asked. Ask clarifying questions; a considerable part of interviews is the interviewers seeing if they can work with you so communicate properly and demonstrate all the teamwork you called out on your resume.
- Utilize the STAR method always: STAR is crucial to succeeding at interviews. STAR is short for situation, task, action, and result. An example of utilizing this strategy is if you get asked, “Tell me about a time you had to under a tight deadline.” This requires you to talk about the situation where this happened (an internship? School? Commission?), the details about the task you had, the action you took towards completing that task and the result that came from you taking that action. This plays into your storytelling ability and how much you have practiced/prepped for the interview but keeping STAR top of mind when you answer questions is key to succeeding at interviews.
- Plan your interview line up when you are recruiting: Often, this might be something out of your control, but when you are interviewing for companies and are able to pick your interview schedule, I would arrange the order for the companies you are most interested to come last, so you get some good practice for what you are most interested in. For example, if your top companies are APPLE & GOOGLE and you have 6 interviews, I would set up the Apple & Google interview after the initial 4 companies to get enough practice, feedback, and confidence boost to succeed at your top choice options.
- Practice makes you better: I remember when I interviewed for the google Associate Product Manager (APM), one advice I got was not to let the first time you interview with someone be during the actual interview. That for me was doing mock interviews with mentors and friends that I trust their input and feedback. Other strategies are talking out loud if that is your style, recording yourself and observing, or using a mirror.
- Give yourself time / Stay ready: I know this can be very hard, especially when applying for many jobs, but you also want to set up some time to practice (it could be 2 hours per week or a lot more) to get some interview practice reps in. Apply for positions but know when you get the opportunity to prove yourself, you already practiced, and you are in a good space to succeed.
- Be as much of you as you can be: One of the most important and underrated parts of the interview is this point here. Your story makes you powerful, and more than often, we underestimate that when we interview. Your story guarantees that when you interview for companies that have hundreds or thousands of applicants, chances that someone has the same answers as you are little to none. It helps you avoid giving surface-level answers, toning down your energy, or hiding your full personality (fear can be a factor here). I have seen that showing as much of those as you can is a key recipe to success. When I went to an interview as the naturally bubbly person I am, talked about my background; Why I choose the path, I decided, coming from where I came from, made the interview conversational (by answering questions and flowing with the person). I have seen a lot more success than when I try to go “corporate” and have no authenticity.
- Adopt the next job-up mentality: This point is easier said than done, but you will experience many rejections during your interview process for most people. This article is to tell you that you are not alone, and this happens to many people. So, if you have ever heard the quote “what is meant for you will not pass you by,” use that, know that was not your job and look on to the next interview or the next set of applications. The thing is, it always works out in the end. If it doesn’t work out, then it’s not the end yet.
Interviewing is a skill that can be improved. The more time you put into it and the more situations you expose yourself to where you have to interview, the better you become. So, keep doing mock interviews, keep reading about interview strategies, and keep interviewing. It is only up from here :).
As always, may the force be with you, champ!