General interviewing tips

October 31, 2005

As promised from my previous post and to get started on the new interviewing category, here are some general tips I’ve collected over the years while interviewing or conducting interviews at a broad cut of companies for a variety of positions.

  • Do your research – know the company, position, interviewers, industry. Research on the internet to see if anyone else has any info about the target company’s interview process.
    • Company: Recognize where the company fits into the competitive landscape. Figure out where the company is going and how you fit into the big picture. Read the latest news about the company and be prepared with your perspective on it.
    • Position: Read the job description. Read it again. Pick out the actual “meaty” skills required. Most of the time, a job description will be pretty long with a lot of fluff requirements (candidate must be a good communicator – duh; candidate must be familiar with MS Office – erm, my teenage sister is proficient). Know which ones are actually important and play to those (i.e. specific technical skills like client/server programming, familiarity with OS kernels, or web scripting).
    • Interviewers: If you can get a list of interviewers you’ll be meeting with, Google all of them. Peruse the company’s executive team profiles. Realize that oftentimes, only the first half of your interview schedule will be told to you. The heavy hitters are saved for the end of the day if you make it that far – usually these will be more senior people, ones you might be able to look up if you’re lucky.
    • Industry: If an interview candidate comes into an interview and says they are totally plugged into Web 2.0 but hasn’t heard of Flickr,, blogging, or anything beyond Google/Yahoo/MSN’s offerings, that’s an immediate red flag.
  • Tell the interviewer what he/she wants to hear. Interviewing is an interactive sport. Listen to what the interviewer says throughout the interview to clue you in on what they are looking for.
    • If possible, use the “ice breaker” chit chat to get clues on what the interviewer is looking for. Try to ask the interviewer at the very beginning why they like working at the company. Have the interviewer tell you a short version of their career story.
    • During the interview, continuously listen to what the interviewer says in the dialogue and integrate that into your subsequent answers.
    • Pay attention to body language when you give your answers. While you’re talking, interviewers will often signal what they think is correct or wrong.
  • Assess yourself beforehand. Know your strengths and don’t be afraid to play them up. Know your weaknesses and have a game plan for illustrating them in a positive/natural light. Don’t be afraid to mention your weaknesses if they come up; oftentimes, they are obvious. Everyone has them so hiding them will only raise suspicion. Talking about them in a candid and positive manner shows the interviewer that you are aware of your weaknesses and you’re working on them.
  • Guide the interview to what you want to talk about. This goes with the previous point; if you have a strength that you want to highlight, answer your interviewer’s question(s) by leading into a story that plays to that strength. You can lead into any story you want from almost any interview question. The trick here is to control the interview without the interviewer noticing.
  • Remember that you are qualified for the job (if you aren’t, then why are you wasting everyone’s time?). Since you know you are good for the job, the interview is actually about you figuring out if you want to work for the company.
  • Mirror the interviewer. Pick up on the atmosphere the interviewer is trying to setup and follow suit. If the interviewer is laid back, be laid back. If the interviewer is grilling you, don’t be afraid to get aggressive. Also, studies have shown that if you mirror a person’s gestures, sitting position, etc., they will unconsciously connect to you better.
  • Practice, practice, practice! Putting the above tips into practice is not trivial. Sign up for as many interviews as you can or have your friends/colleagues run mock interviews with you. As you get more experience, continuously refine your technique.

For each of these tips, be aware that an experienced interviewer might notice it and, depending on the person and the tactic used, may react to it positively or negatively. When I interview people, I consciously look for hints that a candidate is trying to game me with the above tactics. I’ll try to filter it out to figure out if the candidate has the raw skills I’m looking for and factor the use of the tactics into my hire/no-hire analysis.

Of course, in addition to the list above, the standard tips apply too. Be yourself, be passionate, be on time, and dress appropriately (this may mean suit, this may mean t-shirt and jeans; ask the person setting up the interview what’s appropriate). I have to assume that everyone already knows those 

Feel free to leave a comment if you have other tips I missed or any feedback about these. Of course, I’m also available by e-mail.

The last tip is to anticipate common interview questions and be prepared. There are common programming questions used in the software industry and some standard HR questions used everywhere; you should know your answers like the back of your hand. I’ll be going over how I construct my answers to these in the next few posts… stay tuned!


18 Responses to “General interviewing tips”

  1. […] General interviewing tips Filed under: interviewing — markjen @ 4:06 pm […]

  2. Chris Meller Says:

    Ohhh, you have a sister! Heh…

    Some really great advice. How about tips for writing your Resume next? 🙂

  3. markjen Says:

    Hmm.. I was actually thinking of posting about that too. Which one should I do first? Resume writing or interview question answers?

  4. Harish Says:


    Excellent stuff!

    I also tend to check on to get more information about the internals of the company, some of it may be true, some of it may not be true, but at least it gives some insight into the company.

    Also,rather than just using google I tend to use
    webcrawler to search for company information as I have found that the search results are more far more comprehensive, as it retreives results from all of the major search engines out there and then some!

    Looking forward to your post about the technical questions which you have been asked in previous interviews.


  5. Ryan Malecki Says:

    I’d suggest posting about the resume first. I do recruiting for a leadership program at a very large industrial/financial conglomerate (Think Fortune 5, not Fortune 500), I see many many resumes. A common mistake people make is that they undersell themselves with their resume. It’s either unclear, too cluttered, or it contains irrelevant information. If I’m not sold on your resume, there’s no way I’m giving you a chance to interview. The resume is the first “commercial” advertising you and your skills. If I “flip the channel” and skip you, that’s it, I’m not coming back. Also, for people that are still in college (I’m not that far removed from my college experience), you need to do something to differentiate yourself. People I see always have high GPAs, they have or are currently president of this or that student organization. You need to differentiate yourself, make yourself stand apart from the pack. Mark, I know don’t know each other at all, I’ve never posted but have been an avid reader since your USAToday article, but I’d be interested in “collaborating” on putting together a section on a good resume. Let me know if you’d be interested.

  6. rose Says:

    OMG stop this lameless. there are already books out there for writing resumes. we certainly don’t need anymore. stop reinventing the wheel.

  7. Confessions of blog addict

    I confess. I blog and I read blogs. I think they are great and I’m addicted. There… I’ve said it, so I guess I’m now on my way to recovery. My blogging activity generally centers around things related to Plaxo,…

  8. ruchit garg Says:

    Great stuff mark, I am putting up your post on my blog under a section named ‘Campus’

  9. […] Just being little lazy, I didnt had a long descriptive post on the ‘Interviewing process’ which my friend Mark managed. Mark has penned yet another great post on General interviewing tips, which is must read for for all aspirants and readers of my ‘Campus‘ category posts. […]

  10. Nice tips Mark. Will remember to go through them again next semester when I complete my Masters.

  11. Rob Ryan Says:

    Hey Mark – I googled around to find an ex- web designer from plaxo or current designer that can do some design work for us on the side. We need a few dog health web sites designed in the \”clean\” style we see on the Plaxo site. Please contact me at your convenience if you would. I would so appreciate the referral or tip.

    Rob Ryan

  12. lus Says:

    Интернет пишется с большой буквы внутри предложения, если что. И сотые не с точкой, а с запятой. Это по стандарту.
    А так неплохо все, просто вэри гуд!

  13. Приветствую

    Типун вам на ваш великий и могучий русский язык!


  14. трекбэк … новость взята с данного сайта – ссылка …

  15. Paiste Says:

    Готова перечитать статью ещё раз. Хороший матерьял и написанно просто! ТО что надо.

  16. Женя Says:

    Спасибо за статью! Надеюсь, автор не против, если я использую это для своей курсовой.

  17. Ray Says:

    Haha ^^ nice, is there a section to follow the RSS feed

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