15 Things I Look for When I Interview People

I get lots of questions from readers asking for all kinds of job interview tips, and so thought it might be helpful to provide a handy-dandy guide to what I actually look for when I sit down and interview candidates for a job. Obviously each interviewer and industry is different, but I think these tips offer general interview advice that should work for most people.

So with that in mind, this is what I would be looking for if you walked into my office for an interview:

  • Be yourself! I can’t say this often enough. I just read a popular work advice blog (to remain nameless) and I saw one of the first bits of advice for job interviews was to prepare a slick presentation of yourself and wow them with it. Ouch! While this might perhaps be useful if you are interviewing for a high-powered sales job or maybe an industry like entertainment or advertising (although even there they want to see who they’re really hiring), for most of you doing that will simply trigger a red flag, leaving the interviewer wondering if you’re all bluster and no substance. Now I’m not saying to be all shy and gawky either (see next section), but real and conversational trumps one-dimensional & slick any time. (Since most places do ask a version of tell me about yourself, it helps to think about your answer ahead of time. But when the time comes just tell it as naturally and 3-dimensional as possible.)
  • Be confident in who you are and what you have to offer. Don’t spend time worrying if I think you’re right for the job and what I (the interviewer) am thinking at any given moment. Just know who you are and help me see that. Know that you are a good worker who is reliable and will go the extra mile when called on – or whatever your own strengths are. Everybody has their own unique strengths. I want to know what they are. So make sure you prepare yourself ahead of time to be able to talk about who you are and/or what you have to offer so that YOU believe it as much as you want them to. It shows.
  • Look me in the eyes. Not saying stare at me…but when you answer my interview questions, I want to see you connect with me. I’d like to see when your eyes show real enthusiasm about something you’ve accomplished or sincerity about wanting to do a good job for me. Now of course I make room for nervousness, but if I see eyes skittering all about unable to focus on me, how can I be sure you’re being real with me?
  • Tell me a good story. When I ask you about things you’ve done that you are proud of or obstacles you’ve overcome, I want you to have some stories to tell me. Did you ever take on a tough situation and turn it around? Did you ever come up with a new process that saved the company money? Did you ever encounter something you knew nothing about and make a point of becoming an expert? Like I said…tell me a good story. And make it real!
  • Sit up straight. Slouching comes off as lazy or uninterested. You want to use your body language to show me you’re someone who is fully engaged and can handle any situation – even one that makes them nervous. Job interviews are tough for most people, but you’ll think clearer and come off as a more attractive candidate just by having good posture and looking alive and alert.
  • Relax. I purposely listed this after my posture suggestion since some people go to extremes and sit like there’s a stick up their backside. When I interview people, I’m looking for someone who I want to work with on a daily basis. Too rigid would be a drag. Of course you don;t want to look like you’re ready for a nap either. Practice in front of a mirror to see how it feels when you sit up straight while also letting yourself relax a little.
  • Practice practice practice. Spend time before the job interview doing mock interviews with friends or family. You can also record yourself to hear your voice (good for phone interviews too) and if your voice sounds kind of weak, practice speaking with strength and commitment. Talk about something you really care about to see how you sound when you are relaxed and fully engaged. If you have access to video equipment, even better.
  • Know about the job and the company. So much is out there on the internet now, take time to do research beforehand – it will pay off. One sharp Work Coach Cafe reader wrote us that he learned about a recent merger the company was going through and used this information to his advantage. One warning from my own interview files: don’t get too personal! I went for an interview once and, in doing my research, learned the man taught at the same university I was consulting for. I thought it would break the ice to mention it, but he was NOT amused.
  • Make sure you know your own resume! Nothing casts more doubt on your veracity than having to glance through your resume to answer questions. And worse than that is actually giving different information than the resume contains. So study it carefully well before you go in. And always remember to bring a clean extra copy with you.
  • Show me you understand the job you’re interviewing for and have the skills. This sounds so basic, but I’ve had many people not even familiar with the terms in the job description. If there is anything you don’t know, look it up! And if there’s a skill you don’t have, research it a little so you can show how quickly you could pick it up.
  • Listen! More than anything I’ve mentioned so far, listening is a skill that can make or break you. Really listen to the questions and whatever the interviewer is saying to you. Don’t be thinking ahead or about other things while the interviewer is talking. It really does show. Just be in the moment.
  • Answer my questions. If I ask a question that you aren’t comfortable answering, it’s ok to answer briefly and maybe shift to a short story or related thought that leaves a good impression. But make sure you don’t just jump to something else trying to divert me from what I actually asked. It not only makes you look like you’re hiding something, but it leaves the impression that you might be slippery to work with. And don’t go on for too long with any one answer. No one wants to work with a wind bag!
  • Come prepared with a few really good questions of your own to ask the interviewer. This is interviewing 101, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t have questions – or ask really lame ones like “”what’s the salary?” – especially when the salary was listed in the ad. (Not that it can’t be negotiated later on in the process.) It’s best to save questions like salary talk for the last interview (unless you only get one of course.) A great question shows you’re thinking about the work process or some of the interactions with other areas or what your typical day might be or something about the business/industry or anything that shows you are really thinking about more than just surface details. Try to come up with a question an average person wouldn’t ask. Best of all, I love it when someone asks a question that shows they were listening to me. Helps me see this is a person who can think on his or her feet.
  • Don’t forget to smile. I don’t mean to send you out looking like dazed idiots who just sit there smiling. But you are selling yourself and want the interviewer to know you’d be a pleasant person to work with. Many times I call people in who all could do the job. I’m looking to see if there’s a good fit and if we’d actually enjoy working with the person. Since you have no way of knowing what the place is really like, all you can be is yourself. It really is your best shot at getting to the next round and beyond.
  • When the job interview is over…stand up, smile, thank them, and shake hands if it feels appropriate. Then try to walk out without shaking too badly or falling. :) You made it!

Hope that helps even a little. Good luck! Oh…and feel free to share your interview stories and questions with us here at the cafe.

***

More job interview articles I hope will help:

Job Interviews: What’s Your Greatest Weakness?

Job Interviews: What’s Your Greatest Strength?

Job Interview Questions: How To Handle Tell Me About Yourself

How to Answer Why You Left Your Last Job When You Actually Quit

Help! I Get Nervous When I Interview for a Job

18 Practical Tips to Help You Ace that Interview

The Single Most Important Thing in Any Job Interview

15 Things I Look for When I Interview People

10 Reasons You Didn’t Get the Job

How Do I Ace My Phone Interview?

How Do You Interview If Interviewer Doesn’t Know as Much as You Do?

 

About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.

Comments

  1. Shida102 says:

    Hi, I just got a phone call for my dream job – a tenure track position at a leading private institution. I am currently staying in the country this university is located but started another job here 3 months ago. They called me in my home country but my sister gave them my contact number here. I have an interview in two days but was a bit confused as to whether it was an interview or not. On the phone he said he wanted to discuss a position with me, get to know me and see if I’ll like the university. This all seems positive and the director will be there as well. Now do I mention that I already started work at another company and mention visa requirements at this meeting or do I treat it as an interview and wait till they make a formal offer before I discuss these matters? I think it’s a positive sign that he mentioned me liking the university but I also don’t want to get my hopes up if read too much into it. Help! I need some perspective so I don’t psych myself out.

    • chandlee says:

      Shida,

      Treat the interview like a conversation. They won’t likely make an offer at this exploratory meeting. They will let you know what next steps are. In the interim, you may let them know of your current work — and the fact that you would certainly need to give notice and work out a transition plan should this be the ideal fit.

      I would not mention visa requirements until you are farther along in the process.

      Good luck,
      Chandlee

  2. Shida102 says:

    Thanks so much for your reply,

    So the meeting went well. It seems they already decided they wanted me for the position and they discussed a salary package. I wasn’t prepared for this and the package they offered is way below what was advertised. They said they would send me an email with the formal job offer. Now what I want to know is, is there room for negotiation once I get the email? I’ve done research and it seems they want to pay me less than half what my peers would get. In the meeting I made the mistake of telling them my current salary because I was so nervous and failed to mention that the job I currently have is more like a bridge job. I actually took a pay cut because my husband relocated to the middle easy and working seemed like a better option rather than sitting at home doing nothing. Also, in the job ad, they mentioned furnished accomodation, once they heard my husband was here and I was married, they said they can’t offer that seeing as how I’m not single. I don’t understand how my marital status should impact my contract but it seems it has. I really want this job but at the moment I feel that I am terribly undervalued and I feat I would feel even more so once I actually start. I would really appreciate your advice.

    • chandlee says:

      Hi Shida,

      First, congratulations on your offer. I recommend you seek out the advice on how to negotiate salary from the website Job-Hunt.org.

      Before you ask for a higher salary, you should do additional research on salary norms for the position — and what similar jobs pay in comparable space. If the job typically provides housing you may be able to ask for additional compensation since you aren’t taking it.

      Good luck!

      All the Best,
      Chandlee

  3. Shida102 says:

    Hi Chandlee,

    One more question I promise. The interviewer said thank you at the end of the interview and said that I’ll be receiving the job offer within the week. The week had past and now I get a call from HR asking me to come in for another interview? I’m really confused as we already discussed a package and start date? Should I worry? I’m meeting with a different person now but who can honestly be higher than the president and the director? How do I prepare for this second interview?

    Thanks

    • chandlee says:

      Shida,

      Often senior executives request a meet and greet before they sign-off on a hire. This is likely what’s happened. You should prepare as if you were preparing for any other interview — research the company and the person you are interviewing with and be ready to answer questions. Have questions ready for them as well. One might be, “What do you like best about working at ______?” Or, “what do you wish others knew about working at ______?”

      Good luck!

      All the Best,
      Chandlee

  4. I had a group interview. It was fun trying to read each person’s reaction to my answers to questions. I could tell one person was skeptical; that I was only there just to get a job. I think that person was the decision maker. I didn’t get the job. I guess I couldn’t convince this person.

    • chandlee says:

      Jodine,

      Chances are good that the interview decision had more than do with the opinion of one person. If you are feeling brave, ask for feedback. The decision may have nothing to do with you, and if you get feedback on how to further strengthen future applications that could help you get a job in the long run.

      Good luck and all the best,
      Chandlee

  5. I had a great job interview on 8/2/12…..They are still interviewing! I thought it went very well! I wrote out 2 separate thank-you cards to the 2 HR staff.

    I was told in the interview either way I would be contacted by phone and/or a letter. It is my understanding allow the employer make the next move. According to my sister who is a HR recruiter.
    What are your thoughts and opinions?

    No news is good news! If I was ruled out I would have been contacted either by phone or a letter.

    My gut says “wait, if it was meant to be, great!” If not, then something else and something better will come along

    mary

    • Mary,

      The interview process often takes time…I’d give it another week then send a brief note emphasizing your continued interest in the position. In the interim, I recommend that you continue to seek out other opportunities. Never hurts to have many potential options.

      All the Best,
      Chandlee

  6. Rhythmics says:

    Hi Mary,
    True, you have to let the employer make the next move and give them time, however, it has been almost three weeks since the interview. In that case, I would make the attempt to ask for any updates. More than 2 weeks is somewhat longer than normal.
    I have gone through what you are going through, thinking to allow more time, and every day kept on checking my email like 50 times a day, hoping for some response. Eventually, I would make the attempt to ask for updates if over 10 business days have passsed by. I would always keep on back of my mind that worse comes to worse what can happen??they will just say ‘no’ right?..and as you mention, something else, and something better…so why not just make a small attempt at this point….
    Wish u all the best. :-))

    • Dear Rhythmics,

      Thanks for weighing in. Agree, there’s nothing wrong with following up. But also think it’s completely normal for it to take more than two weeks for a follow-up, particularly as most employers wait to finish ALL previously scheduled interviews prior to making a decision. How would you feel if you got a call that said, “hey, we interviewed a great person yesterday and we’re just going to go with it — so your interview is canceled.”

      The best way to have a phone ring is to step away from it. In my experience, the phone always rings more when we pursue multiple options.

      Again thanks for submitting your perspective.

      Best,
      Chandlee

  7. Hi. I accepted an interview for this week. When the recruiter sent me the job description, I realized it was for a much lower level position than I am qualified for. I don’t want to waste my time, or theirs on something that I most likely will not accept.

    How do I politely cancel the interveiw?

    • Angie,

      If you are currently employed and don’t wish to be considered, simply send a note and say “after careful review, I realize that this position is not aligned with my goals. Therefore, I wish to cancel the interview.

      Otherwise, you may want to proceed with the interview and see what happens. Sometimes an employer will upgrade the salary and position level based on a candidate’s qualifications. Doesn’t happen all the time but when it does — it’s a good thing. And having the interview can make that sort of discussion happen.

      All the Best,
      Chandlee

  8. What do you recommend for people with Aspergers? People who are socially disadvantaged usually depend on their skills and experience listed on their resume.

    I noticed that you look for things which do not come naturally to those with the condition.

    Should they disclose or does that put them out of the running as so many fear.

    • Rebecca,

      Google “interviewing and tips and Aspergers” you’ll find a lot of resources and tips on how to prepare. You may also want to seek out the advice of the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a free service run by the Department of Labor. These resources can provide you with advice on how and when to disclose.

      All the Best,
      Chandlee

  9. I recently interviewed for a position I am very interedted in acquiring. When I asked at the end of the interview how soon they were looking to fill the position, the interview panel jokingly replied” Yesterday”. However, they were unable to give a tentative date by when they would be able to make a decision, simply saying that they will continue to review shortlisted candidates.

    My question is this, in doing follow up should I contact the HR dept representative or enquire directly with the Managers that conducted the interview? Also is it a negative sign that, additional candidates are to be looked at? I felt the interview went well, though there are areas in hindsight I wished I had expanded more on.

    Thanks,
    Nicole

    • you should contact HR rep as they are your first point of contact to phone screen you, and/or scheduled your interview with management.. If any manager contacted you directly, then inquire with the Manager.
      It would never be a good idea to contact Managers directly while there was an HR rep that assisted you in the interviewing process. It would create a negative impression where you decided to jump over the HR rep, to reach managers directly.
      It is NOT negative at all that they are interviewing other candidates after you. Its a normal process, to interview each candidate that they have on their list. It would not be fair to inform candidates to come in for interview, then tell them not to. How would you feel if you are called in for interview, and you have been preparing for couple of days, but they all of a sudden called you to inform you not to come for interview, as they already decided to move with other candidate…

    • Nicole,

      Respond to the interviewers and say thank you for the interview. Let them know that you are still interested.

      Most employers schedule interviews with multiple candidates…it is part of the hiring process. Would it feel fair to you if an interview was canceled because the employer said “we already interviewed someone else we like”?

      Be patient and keep up your search in the interim.

      Good luck and all the best,
      Chandlee

  10. I am getting a interview at a cafe in 2 days. This is my first interview and I am quite nervous. What kind of questions will they ask me? I have done some research and the most common question to be asked in a interview in “tell me about yourself”. Could you give me some advice? What do I wear? (I’m a 14 year old guy)
    Thanks :)

    • Rhys,

      Wear a nice shirt, dress pants and a tie if you can. Shake hands and look them in the eye. Be yourself…and show your interest in the job…Not likely they are going to want more than that…

  11. hi!!

    I had given interview in my dream company, i cleared 1st round of interview and after some days sit for the second round, my second round was really very good with GM and internally i was in full confidence that i will be selected, but it did’t happen. and again i gave interview for another good company the interview was awesome i impressed both the person who were taking my interview, as interview over VP sales gave his visiting card to me and asked me to send my salary slip till evening, more than 20 days has passed but, there is no reply from there side. i don’t know what is happening in my interview or where i am getting wrong in interview. please help me!!!!

  12. Michelle Terrell says:

    Hi I need help and direction I lost my job @ Walmart, I got the flu had a fever and didn’t want to infect children and the elderly. So I stay home for 3 days.. I moved here to Minnesota ans I’m looking for work its so hard this is a lousy time to look for work.. Any how I need some encouragement help.. Sorry for the whining.

  13. I appreciate your advice about being yourself… my story is a great example of how that works. I was in a panel interview with 5 people asking me questions and I was nervous. I was feeling frustrated with my first couple of answers. I was being superficial because I was so busy trying to hide my nervousness! So I switched gears and said, “You are a very welcoming group and still it’s an interview setting and I’m feeling nervous, could I get some of that water.” And that did it. My nervousness went away. The tension in the room was gone. After I got the job, one of the interviewers told me, “After you said you were nervous, you just came out – BAM – and filled the room. You blew us away.”
    Moral of the story: Be yourself, you are enough.

  14. Hi!
    I’ve been unemployed now for 3 months after working at a company for 3 years, so I haven’t had an interview in a long time. I’ve had 5 interviews since being made redundant and I have always gone in nervous but confident, yet I always get told that I come across as too nervous or shy to work there.I have an interview in a few days and I really want this job. How can I tackle this problem as this makes me feel more nervous! It’s starting to get me down :(
    thanks for the help

    • Susan P. Joyce says:

      Hi Olivia,

      Part of your nervousness comes from being unsure of how to respond.

      So, practice job interviewing with a friend or family member, if you can. Give them a list of the standard interview questions to ask you (look in the right column of this page, near the top, to see the ones asked most often. Then practice your answers to those questions.

      If you don’t have anyone you can practice with, just practice answering the standard questions out loud. You might even want to be in front of a mirror when you do that.

      Research the employer before you show up for the interview so that you can ask them good questions to determine whether or not you want to work there. And give yourself plenty of time to arrive at the employer’s offices so you aren’t flustered by being late.

      Good luck with your job search!
      Susan

  15. I had given an interview last week and within two days I had got a call from the HR asking for my previous payslips. Does that mean good? They also asked me how soon can I join. I told the HR that I require a week to join the company.It has been three days now, I havent received anything from them as yet. Help me :(

  16. hello Susan,

    Thank you very much for answering my last comment.
    I will have a 2nd interview in 4 days in Frankfurt for a position that it is actually going to be in London.
    On this interview I have to demonstrate my presentation skills and my professional demeanor.
    So we have already covered the most important topics of an interview including the salary.
    Besides my presentation and to make to the hiring manager clear that it will an honor for me to move to London and to be a part of his team and company. I do not know what to expect?
    Will he repeat the same questions? Go over my cv? Make an offer? I belive for this one is too soon.

    Thank you for your answer.

    Maffy

  17. Hi, I just left a job interview for a different position within the company I’m currently working for. I thought I would know if I had the job today but instead they made me aware that they had a couple more interviews this week and that getting hired is a long process because I would have to meet with 2 other managers. They said I should know something by next week. Does this job sound promising for me? So nervous because I know I did a good job.

    • Susan P. Joyce says:

      Hi Ashley,

      It sounds like things are moving forward well. Just be patient and focus on continuing to do a good job of the job you have.

      Good luck with your job search!
      Susan

  18. Hello there Susan,
    I got a call for a phone interview. It went very well. The company initially agreed to the range I wanted for base salary. They want to move further with more interviews which is awesome however, the HR manager indicates that they don’t think they can do my range of salary, am I negotiable. I just said yes even though I’m not. I think what I asked for is market, however, they always want to pay less.

    Did I do the right thing? My strategy is for them to love me and if offer comes in lower, I can then ask for more and state why per market research.

    THank you much

    • Susan P. Joyce says:

      Hi Ray,

      Yes, I think you did the right thing. They may see through your strategy, or they may not.

      When it comes to the additional interviews, talk about your accomplishments, preferably quantified if you can (“increased customer satisfaction by 20% above the previous person” – or whatever is appropriate for you) to demonstrate that you are worth more.

      Also do more research on the “market rate” for that job – check several of the salary survey sites, not just one of them. I’ve worked in compensation consulting, and I am skeptical of the quality of the data provided. And some employers choose the expense of replacing employees more often because they don’t pay the top – or even the market – rate for a job.

      When the time comes to discuss the salary, be ready to negotiate! Have MANY “options” to offer them. Ask about the other forms of compensation they are offering, like vacation time, training, tuition reimbursement, reimbursement of commuting costs (like gasoline and parking if you drive or public transit fares), etc. They may not be able to raise the salary, but they may be able to promise a salary review in 3 or 6 months if you prove your worth (which could result in a raise, or not). Or, they may be able to offer you other forms of compensation like an extra week of vacation, working from home one or two days a week, etc.

      Good luck with this opportunity!
      Susan

  19. I have a 3rd part of an interview (at a not-for-profit company I have been applying to for several years. I have kept my resume updated and they called me) which lasts all day. I will meet with several people and have a “walk through” of the job (it’s a demanding physical job). Are there any tweaks I should adjust for to really wow them?

    • Susan P. Joyce says:

      Hi Hillary,

      Wow them by being up-to-date with the latest news regarding the organization, their mission, and their “competitors’” activities.

      If you have any history of volunteering for them – or for other similar organizations – be sure to mention it.

      Good luck!
      Susan

  20. Frustrated says:

    I have done all of this in my interviews. I am interviewing with smaller companies and I have had big company consulting experience. I have had this happen a few times. The interviewers are territorial often male and comparing size of company in numbers. You worked at a 500 people co. we are 200 people. I was like so what. You don’t have enough small company experience and I do. We are only 1000 people more..than your last company. THis talk is all nonsense.
    I have all the skills to perform the job.
    What I can tell is that these are people who are territorial and bring up numbers in protecting their organizations. These are mostly men who are doing this.

    THis type of talk reminds me of shepherders who count their flock. “I have 10 sheep” You are not going to get 10 sheep here like you did in your last company. The psychology of that sizing in specific numbers is incredible. Insecurity is coming out and politics.

    • Susan P. Joyce says:

      Of course, difficulty in transitioning from a larger to a smaller organization depends on the job, the quality of management (both places), the industry, etc.

      Reality or not – and often it IS reality – moving from a large organization to a small one CAN be a big adjustment, and not always an easy one. Many things are “handled” for you in a large organization that you must cope with yourself in a smaller one. I know. I’ve worked in both myself, starting with the large organization and going to a small one. It isn’t as easy a transition as you may think.

      If you have any experience in a small organization, do your best to emphasize that experience as an example of your understanding of that environment.

      If you don’t have any experience is a small organization, see if you can create some – volunteer for a small, local nonprofit possibly.

      Good luck with your job search!
      Susan

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