Before retiring early at 35, I spent 14 years in technology. In my senior management positions, I interviewed more than 100 candidates. A surprising amount of them didn’t even make it to the second round.
But being good at interviews isn’t just about landing jobs. Developing a rapport with people is crucial in many facets of your professional life, such as navigating relationships, problem-solving, getting clients, public speaking, and negotiating salaries and raises.
Based on my experience, 90% of your early success boils down to your ability to nail job interviews. Unfortunately, most young people are terrible at it. Here are my five rules for getting it right:
1. There is no such thing as being overdressed.
I’ve seen people show up to interviews in a t-shirt and jeans while I was wearing a buttoned-down shirt. Even if they were qualified in other ways, it showed poor judgment and a lack of consideration.
I’ve never thought less of a candidate because they were overdressed. If you’re unsure how professional your attire should be, ask your HR contact about the office dress code. Bringing a notebook and pen will also help you look prepared and organized.
2. Be honest about where you can improve.
When job interviewers ask about your most significant weaknesses, they’re really measuring your self-awareness and problem-solving skills.
The best way to answer is, to be honest about where you struggle and what you’ve done so far to improve. For example: “I tend to rush through projects and sometimes miss the small details, so I’m starting to move at a steadier pace and ask other team members for input.”
3. Emphasize unique problem-solving skills.
Two interview questions I always asked: Tell me about a time when you solved a common problem using an unconventional solution; Could you describe a time when you failed? How did you manage the situation?
Many people got stuck on these because they didn’t want to discuss their mistakes. But I wasn’t worried about them getting things wrong; failure helps us get better. I was more interested in how they assessed loss and recovered from it and how they would do the same on my team.
4. Always ask at least two questions.
Always take the chance to ask questions at the end of an interview. I’ve hired people because they asked insightful questions rather than bailing at the earliest opportunity. The best questions show that you want to be immediately valuable to the team and have a growth mindset.
A few examples: What’s one challenge you regularly face in your job? What are the most pressing projects that need attention? Will there be opportunities for stretch assignments where I can learn and use new skills? Does the company offer training programs to employees?
5. Bring engaging stories with you.
One of the best indications that someone was a right fit for my team was their ability to tell a story. What are your most memorable work experiences? Maybe it’s an unexpected incident that helped you land a client. Or how you used humor to save your company from embarrassment. The best stories are engaging, unforgettable, and spark some emotion. Having a good story also makes the interviewing process more exciting and enjoyable for everyone in the room.
Steve Adcock is a personal finance and career expert who blogs about achieving success and financial independence. A former software developer, he retired early at the age of 35.