Russell Tuckerton wants to do you a favor. He’s the author of 15 Minutes to a Better Interview: What I Wish EVERY Job Candidate Knew. In his 20 plus years of experience in tech, he’s served in management at several companies, ranging from Fortune 500 companies like Microsoft, to small startups.
He starts out by saying “I’ve lost count of the number of times I really wanted to halt an interview and provide coaching to a job candidate.” He’s seen too many candidates blow their chances at great jobs, not because of their skills, but because they haven’t mastered the basics of interviewing well.
And because he knows you’re busy and impatient, he’s put all his best advice into a quick 15-minute read. Here’s what he has to say.
Most of his advice is pretty basic. For instance, he starts out with “Dress up.” No matter what the job is, taking time to dress up shows respect for the company and the opportunity. He also says, “Whether this is your dream job or not, act as though it is.” If this job is your second or third choice, it will show, and you’ll never be a strong candidate. I agree completely, and here’s why: The job isn’t your dream job, based on what you know about it right now. The interview is a chance to learn more, and maybe even shape it into a better fit. Give it your all, because your interviewer may recommend you to others in the company or the industry. Let him see you at your best.
He also tells candidates to do some research about the company and start thinking about what you could do to add value. This isn’t about you, he says – it’s about my company and what we need. Provide examples of what you’ve done, emphasizing teamwork – we want to see how well you play with others. Confidence is attractive, he writes, but arrogance isn’t. Be nice to everyone you meet at the company, including the security guards and receptionists; they’ll be asked for their first impressions of you too.
Next, Tuckerton goes into how to respond. “How you respond,” he writes, “refers to the pause between the question and your response, the tone of your voice, the length of the response, and how concise the answer was. Always pause after a question and look thoughtful [2-4 seconds is good, depending on the complexity of the question]. Candidates who reply too quickly come across as not thinking about the question or not taking it seriously, and mentally, I am already set to hear a canned or unrelated response.”
He’s right about that. I also find that candidates who rush into answers may not even get the context right. Interviewers want to see how your thought process goes; they want to evaluate how you think. If you’re jumping to a quick answer, it may reveal that you’re not a good listener or a deep thinker. In some fields, that’s a red flag. Taking a moment to gather your thoughts is never a bad thing, and you’ll probably give better answers as well.
By “better answers,” Tuckerton means brief, concise, and relevant. Rambling is symptomatic of unorganized thinking (or arrogance again – presuming everything you have to say is amazing.) He also says you need to take note when you hear the same question, slightly rephrased, more than once. It’s a sign you’re not paying enough attention to an important factor. Think carefully about how you might expand your answer, or you’re almost certainly out of the running.
Tuckerton spends a good part of his 44 pages giving examples of good interview answers and how to tell stories that illustrate your strengths. The advice is solid for anyone, but essential if you have a young person who will be graduating and beginning a job search soon. Short, on point, and straight from a hiring manager who’s seen it all.