I’ve conducted well over 1000 interviews at multiple companies including Amazon and Facebook. One thing I’ve repeatedly said is that being skilled enough to be successful at a job does not necessarily mean being skilled enough to be hired for a job. Passing an interview is a skill itself. Some people are certainly better at interviewing than doing their job. Others would be outstanding at a job if they could only figure out how to pass the interview.

Passing an interview is sometimes about doing the right thing. Knowing the important skill, having the right experience. Other times, getting past the interview is about not failing the interview. If you have the skills necessary for the job, there is still a list of ways to fail the interview process. I thought I’d write that list down.

In no particular order, here is Interview Mistake #1.

Running Your Mouth

… an interview going a bit long …
Me: “I understand your job responsibilities, I don’t need to know more about them. I would just like to know-”
Candidate: “Yeah, but after 6 months my responsibilities changed! After that point I was… <words, words>”
Me: “I appreciate all the information, but we do have limited time. I wanted to know-”
Candidate: “Yes, I understand, I’ll finish quickly. So after my manager stepped down..”

I’ve had similar conversations dozens of times. Candidates seemingly unable to let me ask my questions. People stuck on what they want to communicate, rather than listening to what I want to know.

The Structure of Interviews

At most companies, interviews are organized into competencies. These competencies are lists of topics that each interviewer needs to assess. They’re are a relatively short list of important skills and/or personality traits they’re looking for in an excellent candidate.

One interviewer might need to see if the candidate is comfortable taking risks and proposing new business ideas. Another interviewer might need to assess the candidate’s familiarity with the latest accounting regulations.

Each interviewer has to cover a few important topics, or they may leave the interview not knowing if the candidate fits the job. I assure you that the default answer is always going to be -no hire- if we were unable to finish our assessments.

What Should You Do Instead?

  1. Start with the assumption that a question needs to be answered quickly.

You don’t know their planned schedule or how many questions they have. This could be intended to be a 3 minute question. If the interviewer wants more information, they will usually let you know. It’s easy for an interviewer to say “Tell me more about X.” It’s uncomfortable to say “Please, please stop talking.”

2. Offer to elaborate.

If you have two great examples rather than one, tell your first story. Then you can say “I have another example if you’d like me to explain that one?” That offers the interviewer the option of choosing to get more information, or getting to their next question.

This has a secret benefit. Lets say the interviewer thinks your first example was not great. They won’t ask you to move on if you’ve offered to give a better answer, so you’re provided a second swing at getting a positive result on this interview. If they think the first answer was great, they’ll probably save time and ask you to move on.

3. Explain the meat of your answer before giving details.

Your interviewer knows their schedule, not you. Answer their question, and then elaborate. “Tell me about a time you had a big idea.” should start with something like “In my last job, I proposed that we drop our lease for our headquarters and move to full remote. We saw no drop in productivity, and saved $3.7 million in costs. If that example works, I can walk you through the details?”

This also has a secret benefit. You don’t waste time explaining an example which won’t get you the job. If your example isn’t what the interviewer is looking for, you may get an opportunity to provide a better one.

I hope this can help someone in their quest to find a new and better job. If you are interested in more workplace and interview advice, take a look at my other articles!