Interviews are all about picking the person who’s best qualified for the job, right?
Let’s think about how humans actually size each other up. A large field of research shows that most judgments boil down to two key factors :
- Competence - Can this person do the job?
- Warmth - Would I want to work with this person?
Which means that, instead of trying to cram every last fact and figure into your brain before stepping into the interview room, you really just need to focus on how you’ll come off through these lenses:
- Do I sound like I know what I’m talking about?
- Do I seem like someone who’d be easy and enjoyable to work with?
Here’s how you prepare to ace these two tests:
Answering Interview Questions with Competence
- Start by understanding the job. Go back to the job description and make sure you have a clear grasp on what every key skill and requirement is about (but don’t worry if you’re not an expert yet). And if you’re not sure, don’t hesitate to reach out to the industry pros you spoke to during your fit-finding mission. For example, if you’re applying for a Project Management position that talks about leading Scrum sprints, chances are that by digging into what those entail, you’ll find something in your military experience that matches up.
- Next, understand the company. Specifically, what are they trying to achieve via this job? You can get a better sense of this by walking through the job description with the insiders who helped refer you in. For instance, an insider may tell you that her company is hiring for a Project Manager because they’ve been shipping all their products six months behind schedule and are falling behind a major competitor.
- Finally, understand your experiences. It's up to you to explain how your experiences relate and are transferrable to the role your interviewing for. Brainstorm 5-7 experiences from your past that you would be excited to talk about during the interview. Experiences or stories where you accomplished a goal, exceeded expectations, and went above and beyond are great. Don't forget to also brainstorm learning experiences, when things didn't go as planned, but you learned from a mistake - these stories are just as important and demonstrate that you are resilient and learn well on the job!
Answering Interview Questions with Warmth
- The #1 thing you can do to win over your interviewer is to bring positive energy to the conversation. While this may seem like an amorphous point, try using the following tips:
- Before you walk into the interview, think of all the things that genuinely have you excited about the role. Whether it’s the potential to work on something meaningful to you or just the chance to start something new and different in your life, beginning with this frame will color everything about your presentation.
- The minute the interview door opens, smile. As cliched as this sounds, it does two things. First, it forms that critical first impression for the interviewer at the exact moment they’re sizing you up. And second, even if you have to force the smile, it fools your body into releasing dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin that will get you energized for the conversation.
- Throughout the conversation, make sure that your goal is to win a friend, not to come across as perfect. If you apply the former lens, you’ll listen carefully, be self-deprecating, and ask good questionsy. Whereas, if you try to focus on perfection, you’ll talk too much, give out canned answers, and freeze up when the conversation goes off-script.
- While how you act is the primary determinant of warmth, how you communicate is a close second. And the judgement here really comes down to two key aspects of your answers:
- Are they organized? If your answers flow logically, your interviewer will think, “Ah - I get it. Working with this person’s going to be a breeze.” Whenever you answer a question, be sure to include an example from your past that you brainstormed prior, and describe four key points: The Situation at Hand, The Task, The Actions you took, and the Results. Be sure to go in that order, and spend more time discussing your actions and the results, as those are the things interviewers want to know.
- Are they concise? Even if your answers are logical, you can still sink your candidacy by not keeping them tight. Especially in a phone interview where your body language isn’t on display to keep the interviewer engaged, any answer over 2-3 minutes is too long. Prove that you’re going to be a colleague they can trust not to waste their time by always setting a mental timer for each of your answers. And then, if you catch yourself not building momentum towards clear results, well, get to it!
While you'll never be able to know exactly what questions will get asked of you, check out these common interview questions and see if there is a list of questions candidates for this job have been asked previously (you can find these on Glassdoor). Don't prepare exact answers to these questions, rather continue to use them to brainstorm experiences and examples you'll want to use during your interview. You never want to sound scripted!
For more interview tips, including what to do at the end of the interview, check out Shift’s complete interview guide.