Tuesday, March 13, 2018

How to Ace the Job Interview

If you aren’t in the job market you should share this advice with anyone you know who is. If you are not going on a job interview any time soon you should apply this advice to all of your business meetings. I would take it a step further and suggest that you should apply this very same advice to your personal relationships, your friendships and even your acquaintanceships.

The advice comes from William Vanderbloemen, a man who has considerable experience interviewing job candidates.

His first piece of advice for your job interview is: be on time. I would qualify that, and say that you should always be a little early. Never, ever keep your interviewer waiting. If you have to deal with the New York Subway system and you know that it is decidedly unreliable, give yourself ample time. Get there early and wile away the time in a Starbucks… or wherever you wish. But, never ever get there late. Rumor has it that the tech titans of Silicon Valley, noted for their casual laid-back approach to corporate dress codes, will not hire someone who is a minute late for a job interview.

According to Vanderbloemen, 93% of interviews will cross you off the list if you are late. No matter how terrific you are. And we know that you are terrific.

He explains:

At its root, an [interview] appointment is a contract between you and me. And if you cannot keep this very first contract we have, especially when you’re trying to impress me, tells me that you’ll likely not be able to deliver on any other contract I entrust you with if you were on my team.

Sometimes people are late because they like to make themselves mysterious and to stoke the drama. One might even suggest that in the dating world—assuming that anyone still dates—it might serve a purpose to be slightly late.

Repeat after me: a business meeting is not a date. Your interviewer is not going to like being manipulated. He is not going to appreciate your effort to seduce him. You do not want to suggest that you do not know the difference between a business meeting and a romantic assignation. At a time when women, in particular, seem to be subjected to pervasive sexual harassment, they do well to behave in the most business-like fashion. I trust that that will offend enough people to make it worth saying.

As for the question of what you should do when you are running late, I think it best not to think of what you should do when you are running late. If we tell you that you can call and apologize will only end up giving you another option. And, if you have a job interview your only option is to be on time. If circumstances beyond your control prevent you from being on time, you can call… but only if you are calling from the Emergency Room after you got hit by a truck.

As for the second rule of job interviews, Vanderbloemen recommends that you not whine, that you not complain, that you not portray yourself as a victim… of the company, of your former boss, of your former colleagues, of the president of the vast right wing conspiracy.

Complaining is passive aggressive behavior. It is designed to be so annoying that your interlocutor will will give you anything you want… as long as it shuts you up. Complaining involves shifting the blame. You explain that you did not fail on the job. You were sabotaged. You complain about how hard your life was… what with family and friends and job responsibilities. You portray yourself as someone who is not really responsible for what went wrong… and you end up sounding like a whiner. If you do this you are not going to get the job.

Rather than try to explain why it went wrong—which your therapists probably taught you how to do—show that you have learned something from the experience. Better yet, shift the conversation toward your achievements and accomplishments. If you belabor failure you are going to define yourself as a failure. It’s not a good thing.

The third salient piece of advice: be prepared. This applies to job interviews and to all other business meetings. If you are being interviewed by XYZ corporation, bone up on XYZ corporation. Study the company history. Read the company mission statement. Go through recent press reports. Know the last quarterly report. If you do not have enough initiative to learn about the company or enough interest to know why you want to be part of the company the chances are good that you never will.

If you have had anything to do with the interviewing process you know what to expect. You know the trick questions and the difficult, complex questions. You should prepare for them. You should write down—not think through—some possible answers. You might develop a tactic to smooth over your angst when you feel blindsided, but you do much better to have worked on the answers. Again, to repeat myself, you will work more efficiently and effectively if you write down your thoughts. I would recommend that you do it by hand but apparently today’s younger generation has not yet mastered the art of handwriting.

The same applies to a business meeting. If you are trying to sell your latest widgets to a retailer you should prepare for the meeting by learning all about the retailer. If you are too assertive about the value of your widgets your sometime retail partner will think you are trying too hard, and that if you need to try so hard, your widgets cannot sell themselves. 

And, you should understand the corporate culture of the retailer. Do not wear a bespoke suit to a meeting with Walmart or Costco. If you do you are saying that you do not know who you are dealing with and do not want to work with them.


art.the.nerd said...

> If you are being interviewed by XYX corporation, bone up on XYZ corporation.

And be sure to have someone proofread everything you write.

Jack Fisher said...

For nonprofessional staff, I look for the reaction to the statement that we work to the project, not the clock.

Sam L. said...

You're late. You've failed step one of the interview.

Anonymous said...

My Dad always said "on time is 15 minutes early. I've always had short interviews. I just say I'll, always be on time, do what I'm told, and earn my paycheck. (Sennacherib somewhere in Colorado).

Linda Fox said...

I used to do temp and substitute teaching work. I ALWAYS arrived early, with a notepad to write on, and something to write with. As I received directions, I wrote them down.

Before I clocked out, I wrote down what I did that day, any problems/questions, and a thank you for the opportunity to be there that day.

I was ALWAYS asked back.

sestamibi said...

It works both ways though, in many instances. While I agree with all the suggestions listed in the article, if you are currently employed and seeking a new or at least different opportunity you are still dealing from a position of strength. It then becomes not only a matter of "why should we hire you?" but also "what are you offering that would be better than my current position?"

I haven't been on many interviews in quite a while--only two while at my last job in 2010, and one by phone since retirement. However, what was revealing about them is that the free-wheeling give-and-take of the 70's-90's has given way to the highly structured HR-mandated interviews by committee in which a common list of questions is posed to all applicants from which the interview team will not deviate in the slightest. Presumably, this is to guarantee "equality" or some such other nonsense. Interview teams today also seem to be more focused on how the applicant will fit in with the company culture rather than whether or not he can do the work and contribute to the company's bottom line. This too is all part of the pussified HR culture that runs the company and holds that life must be all bliss, all the time, and no one's feelings must ever be hurt. They have all but posted notices "straight white males and Republicans need not apply."

And finally, don't be afraid to pull the plug to save your own self-respect if you need to do that. I went for an interview in 2010 in a Midwest location. The company seemed eager to bring me in and paid for my trip, but I didn't hear from them for five months afterward, so I told them to go fuck themselves. When you have a job and are close to retirement, you can indulge in such luxuries. It felt goo.

David Foster said...

There are several companies these days who not only require multiple interviewers, but (at least in theory) ALL of the interviewers to agree on the candidate. It's hard to imaging a more effective way of creating/maintaining a corporate monoculture with dangerous blind spots.

Although I would bet that in many if not most cases a sufficiently forceful hiring manager could succeed in overriding the herd and getting the guy or gal that he wants. (When I use the term 'hiring 'manger', I mean the person to whom to new hire will actually report, not some HR person)

Webutante said...

As well you should, Linda. Outstanding people like you stand out and are hard to find. Great comment.

Jack Fisher said...

Anon. said, "I just say I'll always ... do what I'm told ... ."

I'd never hire anyone like that. I want my people to be smart enough to do what I would have told them, had I told them.

Anonymous said...


"I'd never hire anyone like that. I want my people to be smart enough to do what I would have told them, had I told them."
That's an excellent way to do things, but it does open you up to the Principle Agent problem. Throughout history people who have been in the position of ultimate decision making have faced the problem of can I trust someone to carry out my intent independently. There has never been a really adequate way of doing this, except by personal judgement. When I said I would do what I'm told, I would within in the ethics I adhere to, if this was not possible I would simply resign, otherwise I would say you are correct.
Anon (James)

Jack Fisher said...

Anon, my comment is a paraphrase of a statement Adml. Nelson made about the independent action of a subordinate captain, at either Trafalgar or the Nile. He had an overall plan, made certain his officers were trusted men and thoroughly familiar with his way of thinking, and expected them to use initiative to carry plans through when the unexpected arose. That is how it is done.

A classic counterexample is how Benteen failed Custer at the Little Big Horn.

James said...

Got you. Military history is littered with great examples, Jackson to Lee, Caesar and his Centurions,etc. By the way it's James, I'm up in Colorado helping my parents and hopefully learning how to comment.

Jack Fisher said...

Hi James, Colorado is great! My parents are from Pueblo.

James said...

I'm out in Crawford, just east of Montrose.