Your Jewish Fairy Godmother’s 10 Commandments
for Acing Your Interview
Congratulations. You made the cut! You’re on the list of people to be interviewed for a job. Maybe it’s your dream job or maybe it’s just a job you need to pay the rent. Either way, it’s a chance to practice your interviewing skills and make a good impression on a person or group of people who might play a big role in your future. So how do you get from the auditions to the starring cast, from the silent cameo to the Oscars? Start with the commandments below:
Commandment Number1: Do your homework
If the company has a website, go through it from home to contact pages. Learn everything you can about the company, the key players, what they do, how they make their money, their mission, their products, their financial history. Read the bios (especially if you know who’s going to interview you). Study the org chart. Google them for articles about the company on the internet. Collect clues about what makes them money, what their reputation and prospects are. See how the job you are applying for might fit into that future.
Commandment Number 2: Look the part.
If you’re applying to be a file clerk, don’t show up in a three-piece suit. But if you’re going to a classy law firm, leave your running shoes at the gym. Above all, go for an outfit that you feel comfortable in. Nothing with stains or odor. And nothing so new and shiny that you look like you’re in a rented costume. How you wear your clothes and your body will make people feel at ease with you. The more comfortable you look and feel, the easier it is for interviewers to imagine you around them day-to-day. And be sure to avoid any cologne or after-shave that might bother a sensitive interviewer.
Commandment Number 3: Have your answers ready.
You should have an anecdote prepared for each job on your resume. Know what you liked best about it, what was your greatest achievement, and know why you left. Don’t be so practiced that you sounds like a politician giving a stump speech, but know your answers. Practice your delivery till you sound thoughtful, casual, and professional, all at once. Deliver the truth about tough situations without slamming your former supervisors. Your listeners might hear you subbing in their names in some future interview. Have a neutral cover story for bad endings. If you got fired, have a good story ready to explain why. ( Review: “My boss was a jerk” is an example of a very bad answer. “I’d run out of challenges.” sounds much better.)
Commandment Number 4: Don’t undersell.
There are places in life for false modesty but a job interview is not one of them. The reason you are there is to convince the people on the other side of the table that you are better than the other applicants for the job. Don’t say you can do things that you can’t (see Commandment #5). But don’t shuffle your feet, stare at the floor, and mumble “Maybe. I don’t know. I’ve never tried anything like that before. Is it hard?” If they ask you about some xyz that you haven’t specifically done, say “Not exactly, but I have done abc.” And then launch into some success story, assuming xyz and abc are related. Always stress that you are a quick learner, good with new software, and that you balance independence with communication.
Commandment Number 5: Don’t oversell.
Interviewers can smell a con job a mile away. Try lying to your bathroom mirror and see the plethora of visual cues you’ll give them if you’re faking too much. If you try to fool them and fail, you’ll never make the next cut. If interviewers use keywords or jargon that’s not familiar, it could be intentional, to see how you’ll cope with unknowns. Ask for a definition, or an example of how it is used in their organization. See if you can relate it to something in your experience. But if you haven’t gotten past Physics 101, don’t claim to be a rocket scientist. Honesty is more valuable to an employer than an inflated ego that might cause costly mistakes.
Commandment Number 6: Ask intelligent questions.
Focus on the company, the job, and your part on the team. Ask about the short- and long-run projects and priorities and how this position fits into the overall picture. Ask what traits and experience they most need. Don’t ask about salary or benefits until they offer you the job. Your priority (as they see it) should be to learn about what you’d be doing, how it is useful to the mission of the company, and what they most value in that position. The point of your questions is to highlight your strengths, both experiential and personal. Show them you can think and talk at the same time. And then listen carefully to their answers.
Commandment Number 7: Display a range of personality.
Make them laugh and make them take you seriously. Show enthusiasm and specific intelligence about the tasks you’d be performing. But also be the kind of colleague they can imagine having a bad day in the trenches with. Make them want to have you around when the going is tough, as well as trusting you to prevent that from happening. Be seen as the perfect utility infielder. And for goodness sake be prepared to answer questions about the biggest challenges you’ve overcome, your biggest failure, and your biggest weakness. A classic answer is, I work too hard, but it is becoming a cliché. Above all, show flexibility and resilience, plus a sense of humor.
Commandment Number 8: Make your contact personal.
No matter how many folks are across the table from you, develop a sense of rapport with each of them. Make sure to create a personal connection. Have a handshake that is firm and not clammy. Make eye contact around the table. You don’t have to use their names in answers (which some people find annoying), but you should convey the sense that you are comfortable around them, that you’d fit in. They have the final vote on whether or not you make it to the next stage of review. So make sure they can distinguish you from the pool of other applicants. Leave them with a sense of why you are unique and the right choice. Make them want to go to bat for you.
Commandment Number 9: Supply good references.
This includes not just a one-sheet with accurate name, phone number, email, and how they know you, but access to people who will say something specifically good about your performance, especially as it relates to the job you are applying for. Nothing is as impressive as a great letter. But some companies have been sued over bad references, and now have policies about giving only name, job title, and dates of employment. Silence is not golden, it will hurt you by the implication that they won’t break the rules to be positive about you. Be persistent. Find a supervisor, or at a minimum a coworker, who is willing to say something positive and specific about your experience and achievements. Good words include reliable, accurate, responsible, trustworthy, innovative, cost-conscious, and dependable.
Commandment Number 10: Send a thank you note.
And do it right away. In the olden days, a handwritten note would be great. But now, an email ensures that you’ll get onto their screen the next day, while they are still winnowing the interviewees into the ultimate short list. Collect business cards and email addresses. Address the note to the lead person and cc others. Be sure to say your version of: Thanks for the interview. I liked you. I’m excited about the possibilities. I think I’m the right fit for the job. I hope you think so too. I really look forward to working with you all.
After that, whether or not you get the job is an unfathomable combination of luck, karma, and who else is in the pool the same time as you. Keep visualizing yourself working there, happily cashing your paycheck. And pray for the phone to ring.