Don’t be the candidate who got away

(Photo: Screenshot from "Step Brothers" a Sony Pictures film)

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Even a fantastic interview will not overcome the scenario where a person is not qualified to do a job or when they simply don’t click with the hiring manager or team. But what happens when you are the best candidate and still don’t get the job? The interview might be where it fell apart. 

If you think you can walk in and wing a job interview, save yourself and the interviewer a lot of time and just skip it altogether. If you’re not willing to put in the time it takes to prepare for an interview, step back and reflect on whether you’re truly interested in the role. As many people are painfully aware, the competition for good jobs in this economy is ultracompetitive, and most of what makes an interview successful is the result of what happens before an interview is ever scheduled. 

Hiring managers will tell you that good interviews are rare and that great interviewees really stand out. Candidates who shine on paper have a better chance of getting in the door, but mediocre interviews can cast a dark fog over even the best résumés. Every day, candidates who are perfectly qualified on paper will be rejected after they interview because they were unable to connect themselves to the position they are applying for, they couldn’t articulate themselves, or they created some kind of doubt in the minds of the interviewers. In all actuality, they may have been the best person for the job-but unfortunately, that doesn’t count for much in this scenario.

It’s not enough to have a stunning résumé and know in your own heart that you are the best candidate for the job; you have to make someone else believe it, person to person, word by word-and every detail counts.

Interviewing is a skill that can be learned, even mastered. And at certain points in most of our lives, it will become the most critical skill to have in order to land a job. There are do’s and don’ts that haven’t changed in 50 years, and there are some new imperatives to consider. These days, you might be interviewed by 10 people for one job. The first interview should have the same energy as the last. 

It all comes down to this: The interviewers are deciding if you are a match for three things-the job itself, the people you’ll be working with and the company culture as a whole. After the interview sessions are over, the interviewers will all get together and calibrate. You want to be the person who gets the most thumbs-up.

Whether you are prepping for your first interview after college, a midcareer move, or anything after or in-between, I hope the following tips will serve you well on that journey. This is by no means an all-inclusive list. But the tips below are pulled directly from conversations with hiring managers across a multitude of industries, and although you may think, “Wow, these are obvious,” hiring managers and HR professionals will tell you that these suggestions are constantly neglected by very qualified candidates.  

At this point, I assume the following: Your résumé is solid, you nailed the phone screen, and you have been invited to do an in-person interview.

Get the basics right
-Use a professional-looking email address on your résumé. All the interviewers will be looking at it. I’m looking at you, “[email protected]

-Dress professionally and wear muted colors. Do not wear cologne or perfume.

-Bring a professional-looking portfolio and a pen, as well as two copies of your résumé. Take notes.

-Send a handwritten thank you note with a personalized takeaway or comment to every person you interviewed with.

-If your college career center offers mock interviews and people from companies are volunteering to interview you, go!

-Everyone knows and talks to the front desk person. Be nice to them. They might not let the interviewer know how great you were, but they will definitely let them know if you were rude or condescending. 

-Do not name-drop. It means so much more if the person reaches out to the interviewer and recommends you directly.

-Accept that silence during an interview is not a bad thing. Pause and let the interviewer reflect, especially if you have provided a lot of information.

-Be friendly, but do not let your guard down. Many interviewers will act casual with you to establish rapport.  

Go beyond the basics
-Throughout the interview, be prepared to properly synthesize questions. One formula is this: Based on X, I’m hearing Y; could you help me understand Z? This exemplifies the invaluable skill of asking good questions.

-Google “behavioral interview questions,” print them out, and use your phone to record yourself answering the questions. Watch the video and dissect it. This is what you look like when you interview! Rinse and repeat until you are happy with the result.

-Brainstorm experiences you have had in your personal and professional life. When describing these experiences, use the STAR technique: situation > task > action > result.

-Exude passion.

-Focus on the value you offer the company and not on how much the job means to you. 

I can’t promise you’ll get the job if you do these things. But you will have differentiated yourself in a powerful way.

Brad Bingham is an aspiring human resources thought leader who is passionate about organizational behavior, professional development and the art of leadership. You can follow him here on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not or its employees.

Updated @ 8:40 a.m. on 2/23/15 for clarity.