PSA: Sarah’s Tips for Applying for Jobs – The Interview

In my last post, I talked about my personal pet peeves, as a hiring manager, for resumes. Based on the feedback I received, many agree or had an “a ha!” moment realizing they might have some tweaks to make to their own resume!

Once you have your resume in a good spot, it’s time to think about the interview. There is no one right way to approach an interview but it is important to do a little bit of planning ahead of the big day. As with everything in life, a little leg work goes a long way.

Think of an interview like a first date – you want to make a good impression in order to get another one!


Prepare for the conversation. You don’t know what questions you’re going to be asked but you do know the interviewer will want to know what you’ve done in your work history. Have some examples ready that you think highlight your skills. Having more than 1 example in mind is best. If you use the same one for every answer, it will appear that you don’t have very much experience.

Be ready for anything. I once knew a manager who asked “Which is better, Bud Light or Busch Lite?”. Obviously it’s not really about your beer preference. What the interviewer is looking for is how you react to a curveball and how creative you can be in your answer. If you say, “I prefer Bud Light.” and leave it at that, you’re missing the point. Instead, get creative! Talk about the appropriateness of each one on different occasions and why, or equate each one to a project team member and highlight their strengths. Sky’s the limit (just don’t portray yourself as an alcoholic….in an interview or on a date).

Have conversation starters of your own ready. To be honest, it’s kind of a turn off to me when I open up the interview for the candidate to ask me questions, and they have nothing. There are a million different things you can ask, from company structure to culture to travel requirements to expectations. Have a handful ready! Also, I try to be conversational in interviews to put the other person at ease. But, if you’re really stiff or serious and can’t keep the dialogue going, you’re probably not going to work on my team.

Make sure you know where the event is taking place. Is it a phone or in person interview? Is it in the office or at a coffee shop or restaurant? If it’s over the phone, make sure you have the time blocked off on your calendar and are able to go to a quiet place where you’re free to talk openly. For the love of Pete, please do not participate in an interview from your desk at your current job (or for that matter in a mall, restaurant or park). You’ll be limited in what you can say, there will be background noise and, well, it’s just tacky. If it’s in person, make sure you know how to get there so you’re not late. Drive there the day before if you have to so that you can adjust for construction, detours, parking issues, etc. If it’s at a place with food or drink, plan ahead and know what you’re going to order. That’s one less thing to distract you when you’re there for real.

Research the other person. Find out who the interview is with, their name and how to pronounce it. If possible, find out their position in the company so you are prepared to interview with an individual contributor vs. a manager versus a C-level.

Don’t OVER prepare. Relax. You’ve done the prep work, you’re ready. Don’t psyche yourself out. Nerves or arrogance will all come through during the interview so do your best to stay calm and carry on!

The Big Date

The day is here! Your chance to earn a new job! How exciting! You’ve done all the right preparation steps and now it’s time to strut your stuff. No matter how prepared you are, you can still tank an interview by making silly mistakes. Read on for tips on dodging some potential landmines!

Dress appropriately. Regardless of the dress code for that company, YOU should look professional. I don’t care if the interviewer is wearing jeans and a t-shirt, you should dress up. Also, keep it conservative and neutral. You may have a killer hot pink shirt or sexy studded stilettos or fun suit coat with palm trees on it, but this isn’t the occasion to wear them. Save those for another time. If it’s something you’d wear to the club, don’t wear it to an interview.

Photo courtesy of Univ. of Hawaii

Introduce yourself first and say your name. I mentioned in my resume tips that if you have a hard to pronounce name, it’s a good idea to phonetically spell it out. Anything you can do to help the interviewer and avoid awkwardness is appreciated. Same goes for the interview. Answer the phone with, “Hi, this is Chris” so they know you don’t go by Christopher. If you’re in person, approach the interviewer with confidence and say “Hello, I’m T’Challa, nice to meet you” so they can hear the right way to say your name. If you just say “Hello!” and that’s it, I then have to ask, “Is this T’Challa?” and stumble over how to say it. This happened to me once and it was terribly awkward. I don’t like to feel awkward so we’re already starting off on a bad foot. Sounds like a little thing but believe me, it can go a long way.

Respect the time. Understand that everyone is busy and you only have a certain amount of time allotted to this interview. As such, keep your answers clear but concise. There is nothing worse then someone who talks on and on and on. I guarantee you lost the other person’s interest after the first minute or two and now they’re thinking about all the other work they have to do or what they’re going to have for dinner or replaying that episode of Walking Dead they watched the night before. Be especially mindful of time if they have specifically told you to keep your answers timeboxed. I will actually do this as a test to see if the person will honor the request and follow directions. If you don’t, shame on you!

Don’t be tight-lipped. While you don’t want to drone on and on, you also don’t want to give too short of an answer that misses the mark. I asked someone what they thought were the most valuable skills of a project manager and of those skills, which ones they were the strongest at. The answer I got was, “Communication and planning. I’m good at both.” While technically they did answer the question, they really didn’t give me much to go on. Why are those 2 skills important? What do communication and planning do to benefit a project? What in particular do you do in those two areas that make them a strength? There’s a fine balance between too much and not enough. It’s important to find that balance.

Remember those examples you prepped ahead of time? Break them out! The more you can share real life scenarios, the better.

Know your audience. I mentioned above that it’s important to know who you’re interviewing with. This is also good to keep in mind during the interview itself and with how you answer your questions. I once asked someone what they are passionate about and what they look forward to each day. Their answer? “A good day is when I don’t get an email from my manager.” As the person that could be their future manager, that answer was very off-putting. It also calls in to question why they don’t like hearing from their manager. Are they the kind of person who often gets in trouble by management? Do they need constant supervision? Do they not respect authority? None of these are the questions you want someone to ask about you so be respectful and thoughtful with your answers and your audience.

Be amazingly humble. As with everything, you have to find a balance between being confident but not cocky; humble but not incompetent. An interviewee told me last week, “I’m good at this. It’s what I do.” Bleck. You may be the most awesome person in the history of this profession but don’t brag to me about it. Prove it. Also, while admitting mistakes is admirable, I don’t need to hear in every answer what you’ve done wrong. Save those for the inevitable “What are your weaknesses?” question.

[A tip on the weakness question: find something that is a legit weakness but one that’s not super bad. Like don’t say, “I’m always late and never get to work on time” or “I have a tenancy to lose my patience quickly”. Neither of those can be spun in a good light. And wherever you choose, make sure you speak to how you compensate for that weakness.]

Remember those questions I said to prepare? Use them! Ask the ones that you feel make sense. This is your chance to find out about the job, the company and the manager. Ask them their management style. Find out the company culture. Learn what the expectations of you would be in the first 3, 6 or 9 months on the job. The interview isn’t just about them liking you. This is also your chance to decide if you like them.

When you’re all done, thank them for their time…and mean it. Walk away with your head held high and always leave them wanting more. A recent interview I conducted was like this. The gal was very personable, easy to talk to and it felt like I was chatting with an old friend. I didn’t want the time to end. That’s how it should be. Make them like you so much that they don’t have choice but you bring you back in.

Now that you know my interview suggestions, next time I’ll talk about ways to find a job, a long with tips for working with agencies.

One thought on “PSA: Sarah’s Tips for Applying for Jobs – The Interview

  1. Pingback: PSA: Sarah’s Tips to Applying for Jobs – The Resumé | Team Trader Mom

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