How to win at the interview game

Football catch

I like football. And even though I grew up listening to my Dad give his commentary on whatever game was playing on any given late Sunday afternoon when I was growing up, there’s still a lot about the game that I don’t understand.

The one game I always know a lot about is the Super Bowl. Before the big game, I review the starting line-ups of both teams, look at their records and prepare a mental list of random facts about the QB. Why? Well, it’s a forgone conclusion that I will almost always attend or host a Super Bowl gathering (sans 2020) and it’s fun to talk trash with people who really love football!

Similarly, I believe the job interview is something like a Super Bowl. And there are a few things you can do to improve your odds of success on both “fields.”

As a Recruiter for more than 4 years, I’ve placed hundreds of dynamic candidates in various roles, met with countless amazing clients, and truly enjoy being a talent matchmaker. Here’s a glimpse into my playbook for using what you have to help you land the job you want:

Do your research.

As a candidate, there are many unknowns in the interview process. What kind of personality does the interviewer have? Is the job really what you want? How long will the meeting last? Will there be traffic (this is a safe bet in Atlanta)? All of these factors can make one understandably a tad bit anxious. One thing you absolutely can control is how prepared you are for the interview.

Your level of preparedness is not guaranteed to land you the job, but it can make you feel more confident and give you the fuel you need to put your best foot forward. What kind of research are we talking about exactly? Research the company’s website. Look through every tab, read the leadership team and employee bios, the company mission, vision and values statement. Do a search in the news for recent articles. Check out how they’re doing in the stock market. Look at their job board. Do they have lots of new positions? You may not use all or any of the information that you find, however, a savvy interviewer can tell when you’ve done your homework.

A former manager once told me she appreciated that I knew when a company I interviewed with became profitable – a fact I’d read while eating my oatmeal with bananas, almonds, berries and honey the (early) morning of my interview. I got the job.

Key Takeaway: Preparedness is always in style.

Answer the questions asked – then take a beat.

Let’s practice. Please state your name and the city you were born in. Humor me. Please state your name and the city you were born in. Did you pause after you said the city name? Great job Sir or Madam! You took a beat.

Sometimes during the interview, our natural inclination is to answer questions asked and then share answers to questions we haven’t been asked (at all), too. Have you ever caught yourself rambling in an interview but didn’t know how to get out of it? You’re not alone. This unfortunately, doesn’t showcase your ability to follow directives or practice strong listening skills. If you answer the questions asked completely then it’s perfectly okay to stop talking and allow the interviewer to guide you.

I once had a three-hour interview with three different managers for a role I found very interesting. The first two went well. However, I was advised that the last one would be tough. They were right. The interviewer seemed to enjoy asking lengthy, somewhat obtuse questions. He said that I wasn’t a Marketing Specialist – but a Salesperson (more on that later). In my quest to prove him wrong, I proceeded to not only answer his questions, but I created a PowerPoint presentation with my words, and I expounded ever so loquaciously thinking surely, all my extra info would be advantageous. I didn’t get that job.

Key Takeaway: Silence can be golden.

Know your strengths and weaknesses.

Be prepared with what you’re good at, but also know at least one area that you’d like to grow in as it relates to how you do your job. This one requires a bit of introspection, perhaps an online assessment or even a consultation with a trusted advisor.

This is a popular interview question and helps the interviewer learn not only what you believe you do well, but it also helps them to understand if you know what your blind spots are. There are many people in the job market and competition can be fierce. For every one position, there could be hundreds, if not thousands of applicants. That’s the reality, but there’s only one YOU and no one is better at being you than you so own that – and please 1) have at least one strength in mind and 2) don’t list a long list of areas for improvement if you’re only asked for one.

Key takeaway: Be the best version of yourself.

Share something not on your resume.

If you’re asked to share something about yourself that’s not on your resume, please Sir of Madam – share something that is genuinely NOT on your resume. NOTE: You’ll want to brainstorm a few items in advance. Be sure that it’s only about you, is not offensive and reveals something about you that you are comfortable sharing that places you in a favorable light.

If I were asked this question today, I’d say that I once jumped out of a plane (on purpose) and there’s no limit to how high excellent service is with me. You see what I did there? I shared something that I’m proud of, that’s not offensive, that’s only about me, and that highlights the idea that I’m fine with doing something that’s outside of the box – which is not on my resume. Maybe your fact is that you were employee of the month twice or that you volunteered to pick up the company birthday cake every month, that you value volunteering, or love to read. Keep in mind that the interviewer is not your friend, so make sure it’s something relatable in a professional way.

Key Takeaway: Know when to hold them, and when to fold them.

Keep your light on.

Have you ever driven by Krispy Kreme and noticed that the “HOT” sign was on? In Atlanta, this means there are hot, delicious donuts available! In the same vein, it’s important to remain in interview mode during the interview – that is good posture, eye contact, a professional demeanor and an awareness that you have a goal for this time from start to finish.

I once interviewed with several people for a job I was interested in and the final interview was with a VP. On one of the last questions, I decided to randomly share my observation that the company website had spelling errors. I even emailed a list of all of them afterwards. I later learned that this manager was responsible for that site and, even though the information I offered was likely helpful and perhaps even beneficial, in hindsight it may not have been the best time to share it.

I wasn’t applying for a role that required me to edit anything. And though I did nothing wrong per se – I turned my light off for just a second. The 10 minutes I had should have been used to focus on why I was perfect for the position I was applying for, not critiquing their website. After that meeting, I decided to share unsolicited copyediting skills with my employers, not prospective employers (insert smile here).

Key Takeaway: Conserving light is good for the environment, but not the interview. Shine on.

Final thoughts

The biggest interview key takeaway is that we all have different unique backgrounds that weave an awesome tapestry called life experiences. How cool is that? We can learn something from every interview (or from mine) and build on them.

Here at Synergis, I’ve found a role that values both my marketing, sales and recruiting background, and my appreciation for writing. I get the awesome opportunity to share a few tips with you that may, in some small way, make your next interview the one that turns out the way you’d like it to. Cheering for you from a distance. Game on.

And, if you need help in your job search, reach out to us!

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About the author

MJ Martin serves as a Technical Recruiter for Synergis where she specializes in placing extraordinary talent in Infrastructure, Desktop Support and Quality Assurance Test Lead roles. She began her recruiting career in healthcare recruiting in 2016 and moved to the IT space in 2020. A former freelance writer and copy editor, she brings an attention to detail that assists candidates with preparing strong resumes. She is adept at helping candidates enhance their interviewing skills and enjoys learning everything about the Information Technology field. She graduated from Georgia Southern University with a bachelor’s degree in English. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking, exercising, watching reality talent competitions and trying new outdoor adventures including her latest – snow skiing!