Since I became a full-time trainer in 2018, I’ve been fortunate enough to not have to apply for any job in the traditional way.
But, I’ve always considered myself blessed when it comes to landing the job in any interview I’ve ever had. Right from the early days of graduating from university, I found it relatively easy to walk into the interview and walk out confident that I had “nailed it”.
After a few years as a developer, I was in a position to make hiring decisions myself. Over my career, I have reviewed hundreds of resumes, interviewed at least 100 people as well (maybe 200 even), and have hired dozens.
I’ll talk about resume skills for landing a job in another post. I’ll talk about technical skills for landing a job in another post too. This post is about interview skills. This is how you conduct yourself to land the job.
This is it. Here’s the secret to nailing a job interview:
You need everyone in the interview to really like you when the interview is over.
But Scott, It Sounds So Artificial!
Being likeable does not mean being fake.
It does you no good to have to put on a fake personality to get the job. So I’m not talking about doing that.
But what you need to do, is find a way to let your true personality show proudly. If you’re quiet, you can project quiet confidence. If you’re reserved, you can project reserved confidence. If you spend your weekends going to Star Trek conventions dressed as a Klingon, you can find a way to express the geeky side of your personality.
Don’t be fake. But don’t hide under the interview table either. Even if you really want to. You need to find a “you” that is the one that they want to hire for the job.
Be Aware of the Energy You’re Projecting
I’m not talking about crystals or aura here. But you do need to come into the interview with a certain energy and maintain it throughout. To me, this means:
- Come in happy and excited
- Dress well and be comfortable in your clothes
- Greet each person you meet, ask their name, and say their name
- Have good posture – sit straight
- Pay attention and demonstrate an interest in the other person
- Maintain energy and interest throughout the interview, but not too much
- Be friendly, and put the other person at ease
- Be able to engage in a bit of small talk – weather, traffic, the office they are in, etc.
- Be able to read the room – detect what is working and what is not working
- Every part of your body needs to be in tune with the rest – your words, your face, your body, your hands
This is so important! Don’t neglect this. You’ll notice that nothing that I said above has to do with technical skills or experience, and some developers might scoff at that. If you believe you are qualified for the jobs you have been applying to, and have been landing interviews, but come away without a job offer – pay special attention to this.
If you find any of the above to be outside your comfort zone, work on that. Watch videos, or take a class. Get advice from trusted friends who seem to have this figured out. Sign up to Toastmasters if you must.
But you must find a way to be comfortable in a casual conversation with a stranger.
Dress for Success
I am not a fan of suits, but I’ve always had a good suit for job interviews. I never wear a suit to work, but wearing one to the interview is expected.
Never come to an interview in a t-shirt in shorts. Or sandals. Save that outfit for your second week on the job. You are trying to impress them here.
Be comfortable in your suit.
I once interviewed a guy who had a suit on that he was “drowning” in. I am not sure if he borrowed the suit from his dad, or had bought the suit but never wore it. But he did not look comfortable in that suit. It was not impressive.
He did not get the job – not because of the suit. But it stands out in my mind 10-15 years later.
If you don’t own a suit, or don’t look good in a suit, find a dressy outfit that you DO look good in. A collared shirt and a tie are fine as long as you don’t sweat through the shirt. And depending on the place, you don’t even need the tie.
But look at yourself in the mirror, and say “I look good in this.” If you don’t look good, don’t wear it. And again, no t-shirts.
Find a friend who has great fashion sense and get advice on a good “interview outfit” and use that one for every interview.
Show Up On Time
Don’t be late. In fact, aim to be early. You can wait in the car, or in the café down the street until your appointment is almost there. Then you can stroll to the reception right on time.
Make sure you’re still looking good. Hair combed, clothes all set.
Another benefit of being early is that you have the chance to set yourself in the right mindset. Get rid of any nerves. Check the job description one more time, and be ready to tell them how great you’d be for this job.
Be nice to everyone you come across – on the road, in the parking lot, in the reception area. The game starts far outside the building.
Good Level of Energy
Then when you meet the person you’re supposed to meet, smile. Be excited to be there, and happy to meet them. Ask them how their day is going. Tell them how nice the lobby is (if it’s nice) or how easy it was to get there. You’re going to have to do a bit of small talk. But the purpose is to establish a quick rapport with the other person.
Focus on them for a bit. How long have they worked for the company? Demonstrate at least some level of knowledge of what the company does, and why they need you. You researched the company first, right? Good.
I feel a bit like your mother. “Don’t lean back in the chair. Don’t slump your shoulders. Look at the person who is talking to you. Smile.”
There has been more than one person that I’ve interviewed over the years who came into the interview like a wet bag of potatoes. They just sat in the chair, with no energy. Not smiling. Their answers were one or two words to each question.
Why did you waste my time today coming in for this interview if you don’t even look like you WANT to be here?
Look like you want to be there.
Use Your Words
Your parents spent good money sending you to years of elementary and high school. Maybe even college. So, they’ll be very pleased to hear that you can speak in full sentences.
Answer the questions asked to you. Try to avoid single “yes or no” answers if you can. (Unless the interviewer seems to prefer that.) Look at each question as a brief opportunity to sell yourself. Don’t push that too far, but better to make it seem like you’re the perfect candidate than not.
Example question: “Have you ever had to use Java in a Windows environment?”
Example answer: “Great question, John. Back when I was working at Vandelay Industries in 2019, we were moving a Java-based system from one environment to another, and someone had the idea to move from Linux-hosted VMs to Windows. I volunteered to test the system on a Windows environment and report back to the team in the next week. So I set up a Windows system and was able to get a Java environment running. There were a few tricky bits, as you must know, and so I can’t say it was easy but once it worked, it was working. I tested the system, ran our existing unit tests, and everything worked. I reported back to the team, and people were pleased. Several of the other developers believed that it couldn’t be done, but the tests came back all green. We ended up sticking to a Linux environment, but it was an eye-opening experience.”
So in an answer like that, you aren’t just saying “yes” or “no”, you’re giving some background on your experience. Even though in this example, their experience is only 1 week in a testing environment, it tells the interviewer several other things about you. That you volunteered for the task, that you did what you said you were going to do, and that the rest of the team was impressed with your results. All good traits.
Almost Never Say No
Sometimes, an interviewer will ask you a question that you don’t have experience in, yet.
It’s never good to lie – never. And never good to obfuscate the answer so that the interviewer thinks you said something that you carefully avoided not saying.
But, when asked if I’ve ever done something, I never just say “no”. I always relate the thing they are asking about to something that I have done.
Example question: “Have you ever operated in a high-availability environment?”
Example answer: “In the past 10 years in my career, almost all of the environments I’ve developed for have been important to the companies business. While not true “high-availability” in the dictionary sense, we never want to see production have extended downtime. So there are a number of things we did to ensure that production was protected from downtime. And if they did, that the downtime was brief. I can tell you about them if you’re interested…”
So you see, in this example, I did not have direct experience with the thing they are asking about. But I demonstrated that I knew what they were talking about, and talked about how the experience I did have was similar to the experience they wanted.
Read the Room
One skill that is worth developing, in life, is the ability to read the room. This is the ability to be aware of the feelings of the other people in the room with you, and particularly when those feelings change, and adjust your behaviors to compensate for that.
One time, I was interviewing for a job with the government. The interviewers must have seen 10-15 candidates for this position, and they were cold as ice. They didn’t smile. They didn’t engage in any small talk. They didn’t make any eye contact at all. They had a series of pre-written questions in front of them, and they were writing down my answers on the form.
That was my read on the room. I saw them as people who were probably a bit tired of what they were being forced to go through, asking the exact same questions to 10-15 people. And I was coming in late in the day, near the end of their day. Maybe I was even the last interview of the day.
I tried to be friendly and warm. I tried to make them feel like they could trust me with this position. I would take the job, and they wouldn’t have to worry at all about managing me. Hiring me would make their lives easier.
I had them smiling at the end. They were more relaxed. The energy that THEY were bringing into the room was HIGHER at the end of the interview.
Of course, I got the job. When I left the room, I called my agent and told her that I probably got the job. And wasn’t surprised a couple of hours later when they made an offer.
Again, none of the above has anything to do with technology. With programming or technical skills. Or, with certification. It has entirely to do with projecting a good image during the interview. It’s about having good, positive energy. Someone that can get the job done. Someone that makes the employer want to hire you on the spot.
Now if you’re not qualified for the job, your positive energy isn’t going to overcome that. But many companies will hire the right person who can learn the skills over the wrong person who already knows the skills.
I’ve seen too many low-energy interviewees. Leaning back in the chair. Slumped over. Giving barely audible answers.
Snap out of it. You want the job! Make them want to hire you!
If you can’t do that, learn how to do that!
The skill of being able to talk to strangers and make them like you almost instantly will serve you well throughout your life!