Jeremy Schifeling has been through lots of interviews. Whether it was in his own process to transition from grade school teacher to tech product marketer, interviewing candidates and potential new hires at companies like LinkedIn and Apple, or now as the Founder of Break Into Tech, where he advises numerous clients on acing the interview process as they try to transition into careers in Tech, Jeremy’s got a keen understanding of what works and what doesn’t. We had the chance to chat with Jeremy about the lessons he’s learned on both sides of the interview, and his advice for people trying to ace their next interview.
CareerSchooled: In your blogpost, you talk about the importance of projecting both competence and warmth. Not all people are comfortable interviewing or interview regularly, so for those folks what advice do you have to practice projecting competence?
Jeremy: The easiest way to project competence is to get organized. An organized, concise speaker will always be rated as more competent than a rambling, long-winded one.
So get organized by figuring out the three points you want to make for each answer. For example, for the question “Tell me about a time you failed,” you may want to highlight how you failed, what you learned from the experience, and then how you applied that learning next time.
If you can practice delivering those, 1-2-3 all in the course of two minutes, you’ll be golden. And if you can do that for every single question, the job is practically yours!
CareerSchooled: Warmth, or being likable seems like a sensible characteristic, but how do you “practice being likable” to prepare for an interview?
Jeremy: While it’s tough to make yourself utterly charismatic overnight, it’s much easier to be merely enthusiastic for 30 minutes. And since emotions are contagious, a positive, passionate candidate will always inspire warmer feelings in the interviewer than someone who’s cold and withdrawn.
So here are two ways to inject enthusiasm into the conversation:
First, make sure that you smile right before you step into the interview room – this will ensure your all-important first impression is a positive one. And then, everytime you answer a question, try to bring it back to something you love – either a positive memory or something you’re excited about at the job. For instance, if the interviewer asks you about yourself, start by talking about your passion (“I’ve always loved to figure out how things work – I started taking apart and fixing toasters when I was just a kid…”) and then connect that passion to something you’d love to do on the job (“Which is why I’m so excited about the tech support team – after all, helping unravel even the knottiest challenges is something I’ve always loved”).
Voila – instant warmth!
CareerSchooled: From your experience interviewing candidates, where do candidates make mistakes when trying to project their competence?
Jeremy: Candidates focus way too much on trying to say the right things, instead of how they say them. As such, they blather on for 4-5 minutes per answer, long past the time when the interviewer has lost interest. So no matter how brilliant their thoughts, they’ve already mystified their audience and inadvertently projected an air of erratic incompetence!
CareerSchooled: How can someone who is a “career switcher” project competence in an interview, especially knowing that at least on paper, they may not have the same experience as other candidates?
Jeremy: Again, the trick is to focus less on saying the “right” things than on how you present them. For instance, let’s say you want to be a Product Manager at a tech company but have never actually been one. And now you’ve got to answer the question, “How would you launch a new product to help senior citizens connect with each other?”
Many candidates in this situation will try to overcome their weakness by rambling through a series of incoherent buzzwords they read online: “OK, I think this is a great opportunity to build a viral platform. Something that can really bring together social, local, and mobile technologies. Blah, blah, blah…” Which is immediately seen through by the hiring manager who actually knows something about this space!
Whereas, a savvy candidate who knows their true strength lies in their ability to demonstrate organized leadership, might say: “OK, I’m going to walk through this challenge, step-by-step. First, I’d want to understand what my goals are – am I trying to build a product that gets lots of users or that focuses on revenue? Based on that goal, I’d set up interviews with seniors to understand what their communication challenges are today. For example, are they more concerned with staying in touch with far-away family or old friends? And then I’d build these insights straight into my plans…”
The result is that the interviewer can immediately start to imagine this candidate doing the job – even if he/she has never done it before. That’s the power of projecting competence!
CareerSchooled: Besides projecting both competence and warmth, from your experience what are other things great candidates do to put on a great interview?
Jeremy: I know this is going to sound crazy but there is literally nothing else that matters. You could read a million blogs ahead of the time, you could send the world’s greatest thank you letter afterwards, but if you don’t come aas mancross as someone I’d want to work with in those 30 minutes, it’s game over. Because once another human being has made a gut decision about you, changing his/her mind is nearly impossible.
So what this means is that you should focus on exactly three things to prepare for your interview:
- Get as many real interview questions as you can from Glassdoor
- Have a good friend (who’s not afraid to call you on your BS) grill you on those and rate your competence (“Could you do the job?”) and warmth (“Would I want to do it with you?”).
- Repeat until you ace those two tests for every answer!
Want more interview guidance from Jeremy? Check out Break Into Tech