Where the Interview Process Breaks Down


I’ve interviewed hundreds of people for positions at every level and have seen some incredible mistakes that can derail a candidate from getting to the next level.

Some of my recent coaching sessions have focused on preparing candidates for the interview process. So, I thought I’d tell you what I’ve witnessed and share some things to consider in preparing for your interview.

As a hiring manager in an ad agency, I interviewed a lovely young woman from the United Kingdom. She was familiar with the agency from a global perspective having seen our creative work in Europe and decided to try to take her marketing background in a different direction to pursue a job in advertising. I asked her what ads had she seen in Europe that really resonated for her and why? What specific products or services does she prefer as a consumer and why? Some basics to open up the conversation. We did what I call the repeat exercise in which she restated my questions to buy time while trying to think of something. Essentially, she had no good answers to these questions and nothing to say, other than she thought it would be really “fabulous” to work for an agency of such worldwide prominence. In response, I thought yes, it would be…however, not for you today!

Your first step for every interview…do your homework! If the CEO wrote a book, read it. Find articles or blogs written by the company’s top executives to get a flavor of how they think and what’s important to them. The interview is a two-way street. You are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. Never start the conversation by saying how much you want the job. First, you sound a bit desperate. And second, you really don’t know if you want the job until you have all the information you’re about to gain during the interview.

It’s really basic, but be sure you know where you’re going and with whom you’ll meet. I actually had a candidate call for the location after the meeting coordinator had sent the address, including cross streets and transportation information. When you get the interview confirmation, write it down or store it in your phone. Don’t start off looking unprepared before you even get through the door!

Know how you want to position yourself and what you want to present. This requires research. It’s not enough to walk through the door and speak only about the job description. Hiring managers are looking for candidates who are capable of doing the job and can be a good fit with the company culture.

As you research the company online, pay attention to profiles and photos for good clues about the working environment. If everyone is in suits and ties and you prefer to work in a more casual, individualistic setting, that company may not be a good fit for you.

Going into the interview, you need to ask yourself, how do I want to present ME to them? What do I bring to the job and to the team? When I ask job candidates what sets them apart from the competition, I’m looking for personality and a little bravado. Just remember, I check references!

One candidate I interviewed used the phrase “I’m so passionate” about a hundred times in every other sentence. She was very passionate about being passionate. She kind of looked like a deer in the headlights when she said it, too! Being passionate is not an original thought anymore. Anticipate these questions and be ready to show who you are, a kick-ass candidate like no other. Even if it’s only in your mind.

Be prepared when the interviewer asks if you have any questions. Ask for the information you need to be sure the job is right for you! Focus on the team. How do they work? What is the manager’s style? What’s the scope of work? How quickly can employees move up in the company? These questions give you a sense of what you’re getting into, and a good interviewer will ask questions that spark the exchange of information. Don’t forget to listen and then respond. I’ve met with many candidates who were determined to tell me what they wanted to tell me without paying attention to my questions. You know what? I’m not going to hire someone who talks at me!

Make an impression. The truth is, hiring managers meet a lot of people. If you look like everyone else or sound like everyone else, we won’t remember you. So, pop that suit with a great color blouse or tie. Be likeable, and hold up your end of the conversation. Have a funny personal story you can share that will help you stand out. It’s all part of marketing YOU.

Be positive. A negative statement sticks in the mind of an interviewer. Avoid saying I can’t, I don’t, or I have not. If you lack experience in a particular area, talk about the strengths you DO have. At your old job, you didn’t make the hiring decisions, but you trained all new hires once they joined the team. We all have weaknesses, but we can balance those with our strengths.

If you have approached your interview in this way, at the end of the conversation, you should have a good idea whether you want the job. And, the interviewer has more information to help her/him see that you’re the right person for the team!

If you feel the interview went well, be sure to follow up. You can shoot a quick email, and also follow up with a handwritten note because they are so rare these days. If you were asked to provide additional information, be sure to include that in the message. Keep it short. Be specific. And, don’t forget to say thank you.

About the Author

Jennifer Randolph is an author and consultant specializing in diversity management, organizational team building and development, strategic partnership development and career coaching. Her current book Coach on Call: A Practical Guide For Getting and Keeping the Job You Want, focuses on key tips to navigate the current job market and offers strategies for differentiating yourself from the competition.