Game On Job Seekers! How to Level Up Your Interviewing Skills

interviewing skillsWhen it comes to ‘selling yourself’, beware that as a candidate, great sellers often make poor buyers. Having interviewed hundreds of people for positions ranging from developers to sales reps, there are some interesting patterns that emerge. The better the candidate, the more complex the patterns. Almost like levels in a video game. For the best chance of success, you need to level up your interviewing skills.

Level 1

There are a number of things that candidates focus on which are in the “cannot hurt” category. To be competitive as a candidate these won’t suffice.

Dress for success? | So cliché. Your mom probably told you to “dress for success” but she also reminded you to be yourself. Come to an interview as yourself, if you’re comfortable in ‘business casual clothes’, wear those, if you’re only comfortable in jeans and t-shirt, great. If your confidence in a sales situation is strongest when dressed in a suit, bring it. Be yourself.

Follow-up letter? | “That candidate sent a great follow-up email so they have an edge” — said no quality hiring manager ever. If you’re going to write a follow-up email, make it substantive furthering a discussion from your interview:

“Enjoyed the conversation today, here are some additional thoughts with regards to …”

Paper Resume? | Nothing says “I’m out of date” like a printed, stapled copy of a CV to hand out. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date and use that as your curriculum vitae, it has more information than any resume. If the company insists on a formal resume, tell them you are happy to craft one specifically for them, and link to your online information. Whoever is coordinating your interviews should be able to include the link in calendar invites.

Level 2

There are things you can do to level-up your interviewing skills incrementally. Let’s start here…

Read up! | Unless the venture is stealth, there should be a fair amount of information about the company and its products. The interviewers are likely to have LinkedIn profiles you can study, understand where they’ve worked, what connections you might have with them, etc. See if there are recommendations that suggest what people are like. Obviously if some of the company’s products are online and/or down-loadable you should have tried them before coming in. The fact that this is a suggestion is indicative of how low the bar is on this point!

It should take 1–2 hours of studying to properly read-up prior to an interview — and be able to ask intelligent, probing questions. Often what distinguishes a quality candidate are the questions she asks.

Arrive early! | Arriving 15 minutes early will not only ensure you are not late but may reveal things about the place. How ‘busy’ is the lobby? What’s the vibe there? How do they handle your early arrival? If the interview begins late and you are waiting for a prolonged period of time, how is that handled?

There’s no right or wrong but you need to feel comfortable with the work environment. Arrive early and pay attention. This isn’t about being on-time (you should always be) but rather about assessing the place you are considering joining.

Level 3

To further improve your interviewing skills…

Activate! | If the room your interviewing in has a white-board, use it to explain something you are describing. If it doesn’t: pull out your notepad and draw! Get up out of your chair and show you are passionate about engaging in the discussion.

Showcase! | It never ceases to amaze me how often candidates talk about their work but do not show it, with pride. Bring you laptop to the interview and be prepared to showcase some of your work, this seems obvious but most candidates don’t. Why not showcase your work?

Level 4

If you want to take your interviewing skills game much higher…

Brand You! | Update your LinkedIn profile, add links to presentations, online copies of your work, recommendations from colleagues, etc. Add relevant professional links to your profile, eg. industry related social media links. Your professional brand is the combination of your professional background, your connections, your writing/posts about the industry, etc. Project your brand as a professional.

Act as an investor! | If you join the company you are interviewing with, you will be investing a large percentage of your waking hours, act as an investor — because you are one. Investing money is less of a commitment than investing your “full time” as an employee, yet the typical diligence by candidates pale in comparison to even the most careless investor.

The kinds of questions investor candidates ask:

  • Company growth plans and underlying assumptions
  • Financials (past and projected), particularly for the role in question
  • Anticipated dilution events, total amount of capital raised, most recent valuation

If the interviewer won’t provide you with some of this information, it’s a chance to gauge how they fail to provide it. The due-diligence you pursue after the interview is even more important. Find out what you can about the place and the people. Back-channel reference if possible — dig for dirt!

Seek mentors! | No matter what stage of your professional career, there are always people you can learn from, people who can provide mentoring. Look for a person in the company you are interviewing with that may be a mentor to you. Doesn’t need to be the hiring manager.

You already know the basics. Now it’s time to level up your interviewing skills and land the job you want!


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