Over the last four years, I sat in roughly six job interviews a week. This means that in the last 48 months, I rejected over 900 applicants for a variety of tech and non tech positions.
Sometimes it was a tough choice. Mostly, it wasn't.
Job interviews are hard. It's not the kind of skill you get to practice a lot. If you did go to enough job interviews that you got good at them, well then you need help beyond this post. Possibly an exorcism too.
Those meetings in unfamiliar places with people who are going to judge whether you're good enough to fit... they are scary moments in your life. Everything's changing. You're either forced or inspired to take a gamble and try to find a new livelihood. It's easy to freak out, to seek comfort in regurgitated wisdom. It's extremely easy to sabotage yourself because you're not thinking clearly.
The good news is that you're not alone. The better news is that it's really easy to do better. The terrible news is that you're going to hate it because it's not a foolproof magical formula that only costs 29.99.
Think. Before you apply, think. Before you write your resume, think. During your interview, think. For the sake of sweet baby Jesus in the manger, think.
Understand what you're about to do.
There is a lot of confusion about the interview process. And if you're desperately trying to make rent and simply need a short term gig, feel free to ignore this section.
However, understanding what you're about to engage in can save you a lot of pain.
To start with, a generic consideration. When interviewing, you are part of a system that wants you to succeed. The vacancy you responded to? Money was spent to write, edit, and present it in a way that would appeal to the right people. Then, more resources went into figuring out where to place it. It was likely advertised. The bonuses and performance of the entire team responsible for getting you into the building depend on you getting the job.
It may not feel that way when you're in front of a guy with a clipboard asking why you took a summer off to travel to India, but you are on the same side as your prospective employer. You just both really want to finally fill that job position.
Next, the specifics considerations. Who are you entering a contract with? What have they done? What do they want from you? Will you have to become someone else to get this job?
Run of the mill "this is how you get hired" posts on Medium will tell you that you should read into your potential future employer so you can sound like you know them. That's wrong. You should read into who you're talking to so you can find out whether you are going to survive.
You should know in advance whether you're entering the kind of place that frowns upon their employees wearing those Morbid Angel t-shirts you swore to wear every day for the rest of your life.
I'm not judging your dumbass life decisions. It is on you to bear in mind who you are, and make sure you don't pick the wrong place to work for. Because you'll be talking to a guy whose job it is to find out exactly how well you'll be fitting in, and he can easily realise there is a massive cultural mismatch in the first 15 minutes.
And then you'll think he hated you. He didn't. He just really wished you hadn't started going on the evils of capitalism during a sales job interview. Or so I hear.
No personality inside
Early on in my career, I came up with a question designed to put people at ease, and get them to talk about themselves so they'd feel more comfortable while I proceeded to tear their lives apart in my hands and ask about their most embarrassing moments.
The question is "tell me something I didn't just read about you". My intentions backfired spectacularly. It wasn't all bad however, because those blank, panicked expressions made me realize two things.
First, people are freaked out during interviews. That's weird because I'm so easy to talk to and anyone who disagrees was fired a long time ago.
The other is that your job interview is the wrong time to try and be someone you're not. This is not the time to be "professional coder drone with acceptable hobbies #354".
After a month and 20 to 30 interviews, you all look the same. How do you think I remember you? "That one who worked at Philips"? Are you kidding? Do you have any idea how many "ones who worked a Philips" we see a year?
No. I remember "that crazy one who took paragliding selfies", or "that one who said he read fantasy and it was actual novels not set in Hogwarts".
We remember people. Their characters and personalities. If you purposefully go out of your way to have no personality so that you can pretend you're professional, then I'm going to remember two things: that you're not professional, and that I don't know a thing about you.
This is the one people struggle with the most. I can't sell you the perfectly balanced formula to give enough personality without going too far. I don't have it. If I did, I'd be selling it to you, weren't you paying attention?
Being remembered as "that one who talked too much but at least had energy" is better than doing your best to make sure you belong bang middle in the slush pile of forgotten, gray CVs.
Padding your CV
Don't. Don't think about it, don't listen to that friend who told you they can do a really good job on it, don't even consider it. Seriously. It's never going to play out well for you.
In the best of cases, you end up looking stupid during your interview. You must never, under any circumstances find yourself in a place where you're asked a question about your supposed skills that you can't answer.
Don't be the student with no job experience and 12 programming languages listed as expertise. Don't be the middle aged guy who calls himself a project manager and then can't explain what Gantt charts are. Your CV is not a sales brochure, it's a service record. If you're lucky, you're going to be remembered as the fool who didn't know the difference between an epic and a story.
In the worst case, you're going to get away with it. And that may not sound that bad until you start thinking.
Every day for the coming months until your incompetence becomes manifest, you are going to be watched, evaluated, and your work will be under scrutiny by colleagues who report on your trial period.
The worst thing you can do to yourself is lying about your competence, bullshitting through your interview, and then causing production delays for several departments because you didn't think before applying.
You're going to be out of a job quickly. You're going to have to lie on your next CV because if anyone calls for a reference check, they'll be told.
I should have kept this short, at the first five characters: don't.
So much in a job interview is out of your control.
Maybe you're there because talent wasn't sure you'd be a fit but you looked interesting enough. Sometimes there is a cultural or economic mismatch that cannot be bridged. Sometimes you have a bad day. Sometimes the person interviewing you has one.
However, there is so much you can do to be prepared. Make yourself aware of your surroundings, and the culture of the people you're talking to. Show enough of yourself to make an impression. Don't lie about what you can do.
We're there to get you that job. A bad interview is a wasted hour at the end of a long chain of wasted hours. Just please, think.