Guide to Surviving Job Interviews (as narrated by an Interviewer)

green tent in the middle of snow field
Photo by NRKbeta on Unsplash

Background

I’ve been sitting on the “other” side of the table for a while now. Did around hundred of them. Primarily for software engineering positions, but I had my shot of fun with QA, sys admins and many others.

Frankly, I’ve always loved them. They kind of combine couple of passions that I deeply enjoy immersing myself in – presenting, learning, and seeing people grow. Presenting the company, learning about the candidate and seeing them grow as we provide positive reinforcement.

And trust me, I’ve seen my fair share of candidates. I’ve interviewed all kinds of people – introverts, extroverts, brilliant geniuses, loud and quiet folks, ordinary next-door neighbours and all kinds of weirdos. People who were excited to be there and those who appeared to have arrived from a different planet. You name it and I’ve seen it.

And yet, one thing is unique for pretty much all of them – I’ve enjoyed them all!

Real-life story

It was Tuesday, I think. I’ve been experimenting with publishing my articles on different days and, for no reason whatsoever, I chose to publish this one on Tuesday. Tuesday would do it. It was the article where I explained how we all are anxious about something and how I’m dealing with my share of it.

“You know what you should be writing about?”, asked a good friend of mine. She’d been following my blog from the very beginning and had always provided me with a great feedback.

“No. Tell me?”, I proceeded. “You should write an article on how to survive a job interview as an anxious introvert”.

And this got me puzzled. It got me puzzled for multiple reasons that are beyond explanation here, but one of the main reasons being the fact that this was a person with almost ten years of professional experience, who was, among other great things, extremely good at her job. Companies would be fighting over her, should she decide to apply. And yet, she struggled.

“But I don’t get it,”, I said, “why would YOU be anxious of interviews? You are great at what you do, you have perfect soft skills and you just have experience to prove that”.

“Well, it’s just that I see my friend, who is an extreme extrovert, having such an easy and fun time while interviewing, whereas I’d probably start sweating and collapse from a panic attack. How do I even compete against an extrovert who presents themselves way better than I do?”.

Ouch!

It’s scary because it’s unknown

There is a famous quote, said by US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, which goes like:

Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns —the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tends to be the difficult ones.

Source: Wikipedia

Even though the context was a bit different, the concept of known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns is a useful one. Let’s put it into the context of job interviews.

Known knowns

Known knowns are things that you know that you know. Things like – job that you are applying for, skills required to apply, etc. Pretty much everything that you are (hopefully) aware of at the time when you are applying.

Assuming that you already did your due diligence, we won’t be bothering with these.

Known unknowns

Known unknowns are things that you are aware of, but you don’t know much about them. These are things like – how are the interviews handled at this company, what are they really looking for, who the interviewers are, etc.

These are the things where you need to put your detective cap on and – investigate! The more you care about the company that you are applying for, the more time you should invest at this stage.

Start by learning more about the company and their values. Go to their website and read what they are about. Are they multi-national? Who their clients are and what their company values are.

Next, try and learn how this company does their interviews. Google for “[company name] interviews”. Look for websites dedicated to leaving the reviews of companies (e.g. Glassdoor). Make sure to look for websites local to your country (e.g. in Serbia we have Joberty and Helloworld).

Now go and learn who their employees are. Open up the LinkedIn and search for the company name. Explore who works there. What their education and their backgrounds are. Look for HRs, recruiters and interviewers. Learn about them. Google some of them as well.

Finally, ask around. See if there’s anyone working there who you might have contact with. Ask them for more info.

Rule of a thumb is – the more you learn upfront, the more confident you will feel; and, in turn, the less anxious you will become.

Unknown unknowns

Unknown unknowns are things that you don’t even know are there. These are the things that make you anxious without you even realizing it. And that’s exactly where this article comes to rescue. So, bookmark it!

The issue here is that you can’t really prepare because you have no clue what to prepare for. Do your fair share of dealing with known unknowns, make peace with statements that I write about and, trust me, you’ll do perfect. I promise!

So, let’s start.

It’s OK to feel nervous

Let me put this as simple as possible. Job interviews are stressful. They just are and there’s no way around it. Regardless of your personality type, there is a highly likelihood of hitting at least one of the most common anxieties — speaking in public, presenting yourself, facing the unknown, showcasing your skills, solving (whiteboard) problems, …

If you’re lucky – you’re dealing with one anxiety only. But if you’re like most people – you’re probably hitting a jackpot. Doubly so if it’s a job that you really care about. Ouch!

But let me tell you this – we, the interviewers are aware of this. We expect you to be nervous, panicky, sweating and stuttering. Not because we’re a sadistic bunch but because we know that interviews make people nervous. And that’s OK, really! We absolutely do not expect you to be as cool as a cucumber. Cool for you if you are, but it doesn’t make any difference to us. We will NOT judge you for it.

It’s OK to ask

This is such an under appreciated and yet, such and easy and powerful thing you can do. Whoever was the person you had initial contact with (usually an HR or a Recruiter), just ask them what you can expect during the interview and what you should do to better prepare.

I can guarantee that you will never be judged for asking. Quite the contrary. You will show that you are interested in preparing upfront, which, at least to me, is a positive thing. A win-win.

Our job is to make you feel comfortable

Now this seems to blow people’s brains. And I have no idea why so, but it’s a fact.

Our job, as interviewers, is to help you relax. Seriously. And not because we’re particularly fond of you, but because we WANT to help you present yourself in the best possible way. You can even call it selfish if you want, but it kind of benefits both sides 🙂

We don’t want you redlining your heart rate. Quite the opposite. And, a win-win, really.

Interviewers are nervous as well

Weird, right? Unless you’ve been on the other side of the table, you probably never even thought about it. But it’s a fact.

We, the interviewers, get nervous and anxious as well. It can really range from a mild anxiety due to the fact that we are interviewing a candidate we’d really like to hire, all the way to sitting across the table from a person who, for lack of better word – makes us nervous.

The only difference between you, the interviewee, and us, the interviewers, is that we’ve done so many of the interviews that we lowered those anxities to manageable levels. And we learn to keep ourselves cool. It’s just practice & repetition really.

What if you encounter an unpleasant interviewer?

Well, that happens. Probably way more than we’d all like, but hey, …

But let me put it this way – if you go to a restaurant and encounter a rude waiter or, even worse, an owner, would you feel bad about the fact that you are feeling bad? Of course not! You’d leave that place never to return again.

What’s so different about interviewers then? I’d see those as a perfect filter – they filter out companies that you don’t really want to work in. You’re their guest and, if they don’t really care about properly welcoming you, then you have no business being there. Pay the bill (the time you spent there) and leave. Case closed.

Summarized tips for surviving the interviews

So, let’s quickly summarize everything that you’ve read so far:

  1. Learn about the company. Google for “[[ company name ]] interviews” and get familiar with it.
  2. Learn about the interviewers, if possible. Google them if needed. Learn who they are and what they do. This might give you a clue on type of questions that you might get asked by them
  3. It’s OK to ask. Ask your contact person how to prepare better. Let them help you. It’s a win-win.
  4. It’s OK to be nervous. We (the interviewers) know that you probably will be. Don’t worry. We won’t judge you for it.
  5. We’re there to help you present yourself in the best possible light. Yep. We’re trained to help you relax. We want you to show the best of yourself, given the circumstances.
  6. We know that what you demonstrate is not a perfect representation of what you really know. Really. Anxiety, panic, nervousness, … it can be crazy and we know it. So, don’t worry. Let us help you and guide you through the process.
  7. Finally, you can always look at it as a one more rep*. Really. The worst case scenario is that you have one more experience under your belt. And practice beats the talent; every single time.

* One more rep stands for a “one more repetition”. It’s a phrase usually heard inside gyms where you have a trainee doing some kind of a heavy exercise (bench press, squat, etc.) and when he’s about to give up, his spotter would usually shout – “c’mon, one more rep bro, you can do it!”. It’s usually that others are aware that there’s more in us that we believe. Hence, they help us figure that out, indeed, we weren’t failing when we thought we did 😉

Useful resources

Unfortunately, I’m not really that familiar with resources specific to job interviews. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any, but it’s just that I don’t have anything that I’ve read (or heard about) that I could suggest.

What I can do is share some of the books that you might find useful for interviews as well. Again, they are not specifically crafted for this, but the general knowledge you can extract out of them could be useful. Here they are:

  • How to win friends and influence people – this is one of those all-time classics that you should probably read anyway. It’s full of wisdom on how to communicate, how to behave, etc. Hence, the general knowledge might help you in the interviews as well, since, you know, you are interacting with humans.
  • Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most another great one that’s aimed at conversations and how to do them properly.
  • Never Split the Difference – this one is about negotiations and it’s an amazing read! It was written by a former FBI interrogator, where he discusses how he handled the difficult situations and turned them to his advantage. Even though your interviewer might not be holding a bomb or hostages, it’s a great read on improving your conversation and negotiation skills!
  • I also found this list of job interview related books on Goodreads. Look into it and if you find something useful, please let me know so that I can add it to this list
  • And finally, the all-time best resource — preparation! Invest time in preparing yourself and you will do good!

Conclusion

Interviews are scary. They force you to face a series of commonly encountered fears — speaking in front of others, presenting yourself, solving problems and, eventually, being rejected.

Good news is – interviewers are aware of that. Hence, part of their job is to help you relax as much as possible. And they also won’t expect the A+ performance from you. Really.

Finally, anything that is scary becomes less scary once you shed some light on it. Prepare upfront. Google the company and their interviewing process. Learn more about it. Shed some light and trust me, you will feel less scared and more confident. Guaranteed.

Good luck, have fun and let me know how you did!

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