How to Ace an Interview

I have a good-looking resume. Each line item begins with an action verb and more than 80% of them include a statistic to quantify my accomplishments (see what I did there?). I look decent in a skirt suit, I own sensible shoes, and I even have a leather portfolio to help me pretend to be a grown-up. These are not the reasons people hire me.

People hire me because I give a good interview. I smile a lot, I make jokes, and I remember names. I present myself as someone that you want to have in your office. There’s no guaranteed, fool-proof methodology, but here’s mine:

Lesson 1: Be young. (It’s not a crime.)
For most entry-level jobs, they expect you to be young, so don’t sweat it, and don’t apologize for it. You will learn fast. You will absorb information at a pace that makes adults go green with envy. You know how to use keyboard shortcuts! You understand the difference between a Facebook message, a wall post, a comment and a “like.” What middle-aged professionals have to go to week-long tech seminars to learn, you know how to do intuitively. Tell them this! Anyone your age who is gunning for this job also has these skills, but will they think to discuss them? Probably not. Win for you!
Lesson 2: Don’t be modest.

Women in particular are taught that modesty is a valuable and attractive asset. Okay fine, so don’t brag about your mad crazy Excel skills on first dates (or do, conventional dating rules be damned). But in an interview, the person across the table won’t hire you if they don’t think you’ll be good at the job. You, just you. I’m sure you had a great team at wherever you’re coming from, lots of support, camaraderie, campfire singalongs, etc. Your team is not being interviewed. Your colleagues are not up for this new position. Your support system isn’t sitting at a conference room table in front of stale coffee trying to be impressive. You are. You are the rock star, or so you need your potential new boss to think. Do not start sentences with “we.” Yes, collaboration is important, but you are still an individual contributor bringing your individual abilities to the table. What can you do? What can you accomplish? What value will you contribute?

Lesson 3: Be difficult.
I was in an interview at an advertising agency.  The very intimidating manager of a giant retail account asked me to discuss an advertising campaign I disliked. I said, “Can it be one of yours?” He laughed, “Yes, even better!” I told him in no uncertain terms everything I hated about the campaign and why. He gave me the best review of the day, and I got hired. Being sycophantic may temporarily ingratiate you with middle management, but in the long run, people who are going to be your professional advocates (and trust me, you want some) are not looking for head-nodders. They want people who have opinions, people who say, “have you thought of this?” and “why aren’t we considering that?” Be confident and vocal in your views until the exact moment someone puts new evidence in front of you, and then be open-minded and flexible.

Lesson 4: Know yo’ shit.
It should go without saying, but just in case it isn’t obvious, do your research. Read up on your potential employer. Read up on their competitors. Read up on their customers. If possible, when you’re scheduling the interview, ask for reading recommendations (industry newsletters, blogs, overviews) to prepare yourself. When your interviewer asks if you have any questions, you will leave all those lame, “So what’s it like to work here?” question-askers in the dust. You will say, “How have you approached the recent merger of Competitor X and Competitor Y?” or, “You recently launched a social media awareness campaign, what kind of response have you been getting?” or, “I read about the trend in xyz, has this had a positive effect on business?” You will be the candidate with the badass questions, and you will be remembered as prepared, well-informed, and forward-thinking.

Lesson 5: Be memorable.
I recently left a job. In the exit interview, I discussed my tenure with the recruiter that had hired me, and asked her if she remembered our initial interview. “We talked about pubic hair!” she exclaimed. And it’s true… we did. More specifically, we discussed advertising for “intimate razors,” but it quickly spun into a conversation about feminism and beauty standards. You can’t let your freak flag fly right off the bat, but if you get the vague sense that your interviewer speaks your language (whatever that may be), use it!

When you walk out of your interview, your interviewer may not remember what your degree was in, or how many Microsoft Office products you can use, or the languages you’re (probably not actually) fluent in. What you need them to remember is that the energy you brought to the room was positive, constructive, curious and collaborative. That’s the kind of person they want to hire.

Image from 50’sfran via Flickr


By Emily Heist Moss

Emily Heist Moss is New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works at a tech start-up. She blogs every day at Rosie Says, and writes regular features for The Good Men Project about dating, relationships, sex and gender. She has also been featured on Jezebel and The Frisky. You can reach her at Find her on Twitter @rosiesaysblog.

7 replies on “How to Ace an Interview”

I’m good at interviews too. They don’t make me nervous because basically I like chatting about myself! So I’m relaxed, I smile, I say hello, I ask how they are, I don’t get too flustered over any questions… A good little trick when you’re asked something that stumps you is to say, “Oh let me think about that one, and come back to it.” Most of the time they forget to ask you again.

Your last point about being memorable was so spot-on. At one job I was told after the fact that I was hired because when I was asked what I’d done to prepare for the interview I quipped, “Besides getting all dolled up?” I segued into ‘I read this and that blah blah blah’ but my interviewer thought my initial off-the-cuff question was funny and unexpected enough that she didn’t forget it.

Any suggestions for phone interviews? I’m generally a good in-person interviewer, but I’m trying to relocate and have had a few phone interviews. I’ve noticed they seem to not go as well as in-person ones (no offers yet). Since they can’t see my smile and it’s harder to read reactions over the phone, any tips on how to handle these situations would be great, too.

I do a lot of job coaching at my current position and get this question a lot. For phone interviews my # 1 tip is that awkward pauses are normal and you should expect them. They usually come after you’ve answered a question and are waiting for the next one. Most people read these pauses as the interviewer is not satisfied, and wants you to elaborate. Don’t feel like you need to fill that silence with lots of rambling! Phone interviews don’t flow like normal phone conversations. Usually the interviewer is either taking notes or pausing to prepare for the next question. Filling up silences can cause you to ramble and give imprecise responses. If the interviewer wants you to elaborate they will ask you.

Second, as far as conveying excitement I think it’s best to treat a phone interview like an in person. Dress up, feel confident and stand up while you’re talking. Standing will help project your voice and dressing up can boost your confidence which can come across subtly over the phone.

About awkward silences, a professor of mine (who teaches a Technical/Professional Writing and getting a job class) told us if you ABSOLUTELY can’t stand the awkward silence and it goes on too long, ask if you can ask them a question. Also like Rosie says, you should ask a lot of questions… A lot of good questions that show you know about the company (“What’s it like to work here?” isn’t necessarily a terrible question, just not very creative).

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