Ace the Interview
by Taylor Slattery | April 5, 2022
Unless you ever find yourself sitting under the bare bulb of an interrogation room, a job interview will likely be one of the most high-stakes conversations you’ll ever have. There’s a lot of pressure to present the best possible version of yourself and appear as the ideal candidate.
The process as a whole is a bit like a dance. Like a tango or foxtrot, interviews tend to follow a certain sequence and include particular steps. The style in which the interview is conducted and the direction it takes will be largely dictated by your partner. Naturally, if you were asked to perform a tango for which a successful completion would result in your being employed, you would be nervous if you didn’t know the steps. Given time to prepare, however, you would be able to enter the situation with confidence and land the job with no problem.
So now that we’ve established that there are different styles of interviews, and each follows a specific set of steps, how can you tell which one you need to prepare for and which steps will be required? The types of interviews you’ll encounter will depend on the types of roles you apply for.
Naturally, the types of questions a web developer will be asked will be very different from those posed to a graphic designer. Within a discipline as well, questions will vary based on the industry, level of seniority, and specific needs of the company you’re applying to.
The best way to find out what sorts of questions you can expect is through first-hand experience or secondhand through the accounts of others. Do a simple search online for interview questions in your particular field and after an hour spent coming through the results, you’re bound to walk away with a general idea of what you can expect. Carefully reading through the specifics of the job listing itself will also give you a better idea of the types of questions the interviewer will have for you.
Consolidate the role into its core responsibilities and think of ways to relate them to your past experiences. Choose the examples that will best qualify you for the position, and be prepared to talk about them at length. Don’t make the mistake of assuming your interviewer has carefully reviewed your resume and is familiar with all of your abilities and experience. They’ve likely used an ATS to choose their list of interview candidates and may have only given your resume a cursory glance prior to your meeting. If the opportunity presents itself to expand on a particular experience that closely relates to the responsibilities of the role you’ve applied for—be prepared to seize it. Don’t be afraid to sell yourself, even if that means repeating what’s already written on your resume.
When you do discuss your prior work experience, try to frame things not only in terms of what you did, but the effects of your work and how the results benefited the company. If you can quantify these effects, even better. Attaching dollar signs or percentages is like a cheat code for impressing business-minded interviewers. And that’s exactly what you want to do. You want to impress them. There’s no guarantee of a second interview, so don’t leave anything up in the air because this may be your only opportunity to make your case.
It’s important to take the time to read over each job listing’s core responsibilities before you apply so that you don’t end up landing interviews for jobs you’re not qualified for. While it may seem like a convenient way to cut in line, and your portfolio may reflect a quality of work years beyond your current experience level, there are certain intangible aspects of experience that those in charge of hiring have a keen eye for. Beyond just the legal implications of committing fraud, if you lie about your experience or exaggerate your responsibilities, you’ll be ill-prepared to discuss them in an authentic way and your lack of qualification will become quickly apparent. Wasting your interviewer’s time is a good way to ensure you don’t get any future interviews with the company, even for positions you’re actually qualified for.
Maybe you’ve got an incredible poker face and rehearsed your responses enough for them to sound reasonably natural. On the off chance that you manage to land the role, your bluff will be quickly called when your fabricated set of skills fails to stack up against the very real set of responsibilities and expectations that come with the position.
That being said, if you’ve looked at all of the job requirements and the only box you can’t check is the number of years of experience they’re looking for, apply anyway. At some point in time, it became standard practice for entry-level positions to require four to six years of experience. From what I understand, this is a test in and of itself. It’s obviously unreasonable to expect a fresh graduate to already have so much experience, so as long as you’re confident in your ability to fulfill the duties of the role, don’t be afraid to apply.
In addition to questions specific to the role and your experience, interviewers will also often ask some more personal questions to get a better sense of who you are as a person. After all, they’re trying to get to know you—not only to see if you’re qualified for the job but also if you’re someone they can get along with and would like to be around. They may ask you about your passions, interests, or hobbies. These are great opportunities to connect with your interviewer. Be honest and open here and you may end up spending the majority of the interview talking about wind sailing or craft beer. Even finding out that you share a favorite band or sports team may be all it takes to stack the odds in your favor.
This brings me to another important point. The more you can get the interviewer to talk about themselves, the better for you. As long as the interviewer likes talking about themselves, and most people do, the positive feeling they get from doing so will be connected to you in their memory. The next time they see your name, perhaps as they’re selecting which candidates will proceed to the next stage, they’ll be reminded of that positive experience and hopefully transfer some of that positivity on to you.
Towards the end of the interview, the interviewer will often ask if you have any questions for them. This too is a test. They’re trying to gauge your interest in the company and how seriously you are taking this interview. Not having any questions for your interviewer reflects poorly on you, so use this as an opportunity to show them otherwise. Asking about specifics of the job, such as benefits, team structure, and room for growth shows that you’re seriously looking for a role and carefully considering your options, both of which make you a more valuable candidate. You can also use this opportunity to score some final brownie points with your interviewer by asking them about their personal experience with the company. Asking about how they got started, what their favorite part of the job is, and even what they find to be the most challenging will all similarly communicate your serious interest in the company.
Listen carefully, because the interview is just as much for you as it is for the company. You should also be using this opportunity to learn more about the company and its values to see if they’re a good fit for you. If something about the role isn’t quite in alignment with what you’re looking for, even if you land the job, sooner or later you may find yourself back where you started, looking for something new.
Once you’ve finished your interview, you can breathe a sigh of relief, but you’re not quite finished yet—there are still a couple of things you should do. First, while the experience is still fresh in your head, make note of the questions you were asked and any places where you felt yourself stumble. Reflecting on what caught you off guard will help you to be better prepared for the next time. The last thing you need to do is follow up. Send a brief email thanking the interviewer for their time and let them know you’re looking forward to the next steps. This last step is critical for showing how serious you are about the role.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and a few unanswered emails later, and you may be sitting there scratching your head wondering what went wrong. You researched the company, your skills were a match, and you even bonded with your interviewer over your favorite ’80s hair metal bands, but still no dice. Unfortunately, that’s just the nature of the game and the only way to improve your odds is to get back out there. Nobody nails the tango on their first attempt, and there’s always room for improvement. Like anything else, interviewing is a skill, and you’ll improve with practice.
Taylor is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Taylor is a graphic designer, illustrator, and Design Lead at Weirdsleep.