I worked in technology for 14 years before retiring early at age 35. I interviewed more than 100 people for my senior management jobs. A surprising number of them didn’t even make it to the second round.
But there’s more to being good at interviews than just getting jobs. Getting along with people is important in many parts of your professional life, like managing relationships, solving problems, getting clients, speaking in public, and negotiating salaries and raises.
From what I’ve seen, 90% of your early success will depend on how well you do in job interviews. Most young people are terrible at it, which is a shame. Here are my five rules that will help you do it right:
1. There is no such thing as being overdressed.
People have come to interviews wearing t-shirts and jeans while I was wearing a button-down shirt. Even if they were qualified in other ways, it showed a lack of thought and bad judgement.
I’ve never given a candidate less credit because they were too dressed up. If you’re not sure how professional your clothes should be, ask your HR contact what the dress code is for the office. Having a notebook and pen with you will also make you look organised and ready.
2. Be honest about where you can improve.
When a job interviewer asks you about your biggest weaknesses, they are really testing how well you know yourself and how well you can solve problems.
The best way to answer is to be honest about where you struggle and what you’ve done so far to get better. For example, “I tend to rush through projects and sometimes miss the small details, so I’m starting to move at a more steady pace and ask other team members what they think.”
3. Emphasize unique problem-solving skills.
I always asked two interview questions: “Tell me about a time when you came up with an unusual way to solve a common problem.” Could you tell me about a time when you didn’t do well? How did you deal with the problem?
People got stuck on these because they didn’t want to talk about what they did wrong. But I wasn’t worried about them making mistakes because mistakes help us learn. I was more interested in how they looked at losses, how they got over them, and how they would do the same on my team.
4. Always ask at least two questions.
At the end of an interview, you should always take the chance to ask questions. I’ve hired people because they asked good questions instead of quitting as soon as they could. The best questions show that you want to be useful to the team right away and are willing to learn.
Here are a few: What’s one challenge you have to deal with every day at work? What are the most important projects that need to be done right away? Will I have chances to work on projects that push me and help me learn and use new skills? Does the company offer programmes for employees to learn new skills?
5. Bring engaging stories with you.
One of the best ways to tell if someone would fit on my team was if they could tell a story. What are some of your most memorable jobs? Maybe something that didn’t go as planned helped you get a client. Or how you used humour to avoid embarrassing your company.
The best stories are interesting, easy to remember, and make you feel something. Having a good story to tell also makes the interview more fun and interesting for everyone in the room.
Steve Adcock has a lot of knowledge about money and careers. He talks about how to be successful and get out of debt on his blog. He used to make software, but he quit early at age 35.