Be Smart: A Comprehensive Interview Survival Guide
Written by Amanda Handley + Edited by Chelsea DuDeVoire
Interviews are arguably the hardest part of any job hunt. On one hand, they’re exhilarating - because you made it through the first set of hurdles and the end is potentially near. On the other, there are no “safe spaces” in the interview room, where you’re going up against a lot of unknowns in a situation while openly saying, “Here I am – judge me!”
As I have both attended and conducted more interviews than the average BWH, I thought I’d offer up tips from my trusty interview survival guide.
As the interview is your chance to demonstrate who you are, and for companies to figure out if you would be a good fit for their team, every piece of information you offer up about yourself should be meaningful. You’ll undoubtedly be asked about hobbies or what you enjoy doing in your free time – take this opportunity to demonstrate your creativity, your adventurous spirit, or your passion for helping others in detail. “Spending time with friends, listening to music and working out” offers absolutely nothing unique or special. Be specific.
Be ahead of the game.
Over the course of an interview, you will have the chance to ask questions of your own. Use this as an opportunity to demonstrate that you’ve not only researched the company, but you’ve actually reflected on what you found. “What was the biggest challenge you faced on the [fill-in-the-blank] project, and how did you overcome it?” is a much better question than “What was your favorite project?” Two great questions I’ve been asked by interviewees in recent months were, “Where do you see your company in five years?” and “What does success look like here?” These two questions (asked by separate candidates) showed a sincere interest in the long-term goals of the company and in exactly how we define success for our team members.
This seems like a silly thing to say, but the fact that I have to write it at all means there are plenty of women out there who simply don’t know. Show up earlier than “on time.” Shake hands like a badass. (Seriously, find some people and practice shaking hands. And for the love of all that’s holy, don’t just hand me your fingers. Shake. My. Hand.) Do not interrupt your interviewers. Do not bash former employers. Do not bash the company’s competitors. All of these things convey arrogance, and no one is looking for that. Confidence? All day every day and twice on Sundays. But never arrogance.
Some of the best advice I was ever given was “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” This doesn’t mean you need to drop $300 on a pantsuit. It means you should dress appropriately for the role and company that you’re after. Your good friend Social Media can be a great research tool here. Stalk Facebook and Instagram to get a feel for what employees wear on a regular basis. Take cues from that, but take it a step further. As any Southern mama will tell you, “There’s no such thing as being overdressed.”
My rule of thumb for interview (and testing) attire: if you’re not comfortable, don’t wear it. I’m not telling you to roll into an interview in your yoga pants and Spiritual Gangster t-shirt. I’m saying that if you have to pull your skirt down frequently because it rides up, wear a pair of pants. If the collar of your dress shirt feels bunchy when you wear your blazer, wear a (modest) cami. Uncomfortable clothing makes you fidget, which distracts you from conveying your badassery to its fullest potential.
This might be some of the most un-PC advice I’ve ever given, but here goes: pull your hair back for interviews. I know, I know. This is 2016, and we women can wear our hair however the hell we want. You’re right. We totally can. But here’s the hard truth: most women, when nervous, touch or twist their hair, and most of the time, we aren’t even aware we’re doing it. This habit comes across as fidgety. Furthermore, it’s distracting and it communicates nervousness. A solution? Simply pull it back. You don’t have to go with a school marm bun, but getting your hair away from your face is the best way to ensure you’re not fussing when you should be communicating, “I’m a badass bitch that would better your business.” For this reason, you will never see me in an interview setting or client meeting with my hair down.
Don’t be afraid of awkward pauses. You’ll be asked direct questions, so of course, give direct answers, and then stop. Full stop. Don’t feel compelled to fill the silence. This silence gives the interviewers a chance to fully digest what you’ve just said, and it also conveys an incredible sense of confidence and patience. Filling those awkward silences tends to end up being more explaining or expounding upon things you’ve already said, and that’s simply not necessary. You gave a good answer. Let it sink in.
If you’re interviewing somewhere while employed elsewhere, you’re going to be asked some variation of the question, “why do you want to leave your current position?” There are a plethora of ways to answer this question, so choose wisely. Every situation and every BWH is different, so I have no fail-proof answer to offer you. What I can say is that you need to be prepared for this question (and others like it), so do your homework ahead of time.
For example: I am an extremely direct, honest person, so finding a good answer to this took me a while. I wanted to say, “I need to make more money, and my boss makes me want to stab myself in the eye with a fork.” What I actually said was, “There are a lot of things I enjoy about my current position. I have learned so much there, and I really do enjoy the work. However, I am looking to work on more meaningful projects, and my current position isn’t offering that.” Boom.