Being your authentic self while trying to impress!

New Year, possibly time for a new gig? I have had the pleasure of working with a number of fabulous people in search of their next career squiggle, so I thought it was time to dust off my notes and share some thoughts on how to ace your interview. I will write separately on how to get an interview but first, what do you do once you are in the hot seat?

Start-ups are looking for a very specific person. We run a tight ship, pivot quickly, and spend a lot of time together. Hiring is hard, it’s a distraction and honestly it’s a scary – we can’t afford to get it wrong.

My best advice is to be yourself, gloriously. I want to feel that you are genuine and trustworthy. I also want to know you are the kind of person I could handle being stuck in an airport with.

Nervous is totally cool, pretension sucks.

So what else? Some general words of advice:

- Know the company but please don’t tell me how to run it. Don’t act like you would have it all under control in a few days. Even if true, no one likes a know-it-all.

- Don’t badmouth your previous or current employer. Or anyone. It shows your lack of character, not theirs.

- Be cool. Startups heavily rely on the strength of their culture to get through good and bad times. They want to know you will also be calm under fire.

- Don't ask about vacation, sick leave, personal leave, flexible hours, travel, birthdays off, etc. Working at a startup doesn’t involve punching out at 5pm. Ever.

- Have a great story on hand about the time you had an almighty disaster to deal with and how you coped. Start-ups are often fire drill upon fire drill and rely on their team’s tenacity to navigate through the crazy.

An amazing young lady I know has just followed the same path I once did, moving from New Zealand to work in New York. This is not an easy path. Here are her reflections on what worked for her:

  1. Prepare like you have never prepared before: Often we invest our time thinking about the specific interview questions (and answers) and we forget to consider how we want to project and the impact we will make.  Think about the two to three descriptors that you want the interviewer to use to describe you when you walk out of the interview. Maybe “Wow, she has a ton of drive”, “What great initiative!”, “She is really smart”. Then identify the behaviours you will display in the interview, or examples you will insert into the interview, to showcase your skills.

  2. Remove any obstacles to hiring you: Think from the recruiter’s perspective, what might the potential barriers be to hiring you? How you will put these issues to bed during the interview? For example: “She may only stay a year, and we waste time/money training her”: how can you demonstrate you have longer term goals at the company?

  3. Maintain your motivation during the job hunt process: It can be a brutal process, do something self-fulfilling every single day to keep yourself motivated and upbeat for both the process and your interviews. Double down on your growth-mind set, be more interested in what you are learning through the process than per-se whether you are getting interviews or jobs. And always mention growth-mindset in your interview, be sure not to say “I love to fail” but more “I love to learn”. Work on something you can start to see results from, maybe this is running, working on a creative project, setting some reading goals, getting out to museums (a great idea in NYC). This not only will allow you to see achievements but also will make you a more interesting interview candidate..

  4. Follow up post interview: Send a note (handwritten is excellent but an email is also great,) convey your gratitude for the recruiter making the time to meet with you and if this applies to you this is a great time to pop in a quick sentence on anything you didn’t quite nail in the interview. Keep the note short, no one likes a stalker, and definitely use this as an opportunity to reinforce the descriptors from point 1. If you didn’t get the job position you were interviewing for, apply the golden feedback rule again. Send an email along the lines of the following: ‘Thank you so much for giving me a chance to interview at your company, I’m still a big fan and if you need anyone short-term, know that I’m here; and if it’s not too much to ask could you send a couple of tips on what I could improve on?’.

At the end of the day if I am interviewing you I will assume that you are smart and capable of doing the job, otherwise you wouldn’t have made it this far. At this stage the interviewer wants to make sure this is a job, and a team, where you can do your best work.The best interviews, and the best hires I have made, are when the interviewee as a person shone through. When I left the interview really knowing who that person was.  So don’t go into an interview trying to ‘win’ the job or you might end up with a job you hate at a company that is not a good fit.