Be the dream candidate — what candidates do to impress the hell out of me

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It wasn’t until I’ve started interviewing candidates that I learned all I know about what makes or breaks a job interview. My experience mainly originates from interviewing candidates for developer positions, but these ideas apply to any field.

This is part 2 in the series — part 1 was One interviewer’s nightmare: the candidates from hell.

Ah, the dream candidate. An elusive creature, seen scarcely in the wild; coveted by all; and well-guarded by those who can obtain one. Gather round and hear my tales of the ones *I* witnessed with my own eyes. Here are the definite Dos of interviewing.

Be Positive

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Find positive ways to say what you need to say. Sure, some things are negative, like failures and disagreements. The best candidates give me examples of things that went wrong in past projects, explain what they should have done better, and take part in the so-called blame: it is never one person’s fault when things go wrong, and a mature candidate knows it.

Be open

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Your interviewer might have surprised you with a question you didn’t imagine being asked. An interviewer will also measure your responses to unexpected questions and sometimes ask about things you are embarrassed about. You’re not perfect, and it’s quite refreshing when candidates own up to their mistakes and simply explain what they learned and share their feelings.

Smile

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It doesn’t have to be all the time, and you don’t have to force it. But keep in mind that when you smile, the interviewer smiles back at you, and if that happens you’ve already started on a positive note. It’s your job to convince an interviewer that you’ll be a great coworker to the rest of the team, so leave no doubt about it.

Be honest

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Interviewers develop a sixth sense that detects lies, inconsistencies, and coverups. If you are honest, it is something in your favor when the interviewer tallies the points. The impression you make is someone that can be trusted to say it like it is, even if things aren’t great. Establishing your trustworthiness is paramount; if you are caught in a lie or misdirection, you will not get the job.

Be prepared (but not too much)

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Going into an interview without any prior knowledge of the company comes off as arrogant. It’s like saying “You need me more than I need you”, and no one wants to feel like that. On the other hand, don’t learn the company website by heart, that’s creepy. Also don’t force your knowledge into the conversation where it doesn’t belong — it comes off as desperate. What you need to do is find a good balance that says “I’m interested”.

Be humble (but know your worth)

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A great candidate knows they’re great. Being humble doesn’t mean diminishing your worth. It means acknowledging that you don’t know everything there is to know in the universe and that you can always learn new things. Definitely take pride in your accomplishments and successes. Absolutely share the best and most impressive things you’ve done. When the interviewer’s had enough, you stop listing. Either you’ve satisfied their list of requirements, or this interview is so terrible nothing will save it. In both cases, there’s no point in doing the opposite of what you’re asked.

Remain focused on the questions

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When you answer the interview questions promptly and directly, you are letting the interviewer know you can tell what is important and you value both of your time enough to phrase it concisely. If you go off-topic too many times for too long, it gives the impression you’re either too wrapped up in yourself to respect the interview's time limits, or you have no idea what’s relevant so you just spew out EVERYTHING. Or worse, it’s both! Instead, say the most important things first. Answer the question right away. Then you can add more details, but maybe you won’t have to do that at all if you’ve already given the most valuable piece of information.

Make time for the interview

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It sounds obvious, but make sure you have time to take the interview uninterrupted. Your interviewer took the time to get to know you and reserved a slot just for you in their schedule, extend them the same courtesy. Make the interviewer feel that this is the most important thing you have going on in your life for the duration of the interview. Switch on the do not disturb feature on your phone, and place it face down so you are not distracted. If you have roommates or family around the house, let them know that you are not to be disturbed for the next hour. Save everything external for later.

If you recognized yourself in one of these, good job! Keep it up.

Being good at interviews is something you learn, no one is born with that knowledge. Learn, grow, improve — and go nail that interview, ya hear?!

Senior Front End Developer @ Bizzabo