Over the years I’ve been involved in many professional interviews, on both sides of the table. Some have been the kind of slog that tests your patience and equanimity. Some have been so exhilarating that I hardly noticed the time passing. The vast majority have been somewhere in between. If nothing else, interviews are an excellent way to learn about other people, what they do for a living, and what they’re passionate about.
Since I started my career I’ve gotten some great advice on how to conduct myself in interviews, from mentors, colleagues, and others. In this post I’ll try to pass on three bits of wisdom that have helped me immensely.
Show your interest. Whether you’re the candidate or the interviewer, don’t be afraid to show genuine interest if you feel it. Too many people act like they’re playing high-stakes poker. Showing interest is just a version of the Golden Rule: if you want other people to show interest in you, you need to be the first to do it. Conversely, if you’re not genuinely interested in the people you’re talking with and what they do, have the courtesy to politely decline further interviews rather than trying to fake interest you don’t feel.
Ask questions. When I was finishing grad school I asked my classmate Sriram Srinivasan, a decades-long veteran of the IT industry, how to approach software engineering interviews. He advised me to “turn the interviews around” by asking questions. That approach has worked wonders for me. Thoughtful questions show your interest, demonstrate your understanding of the subject, and impress other people much more than boasting about your achievements. At the same time, everyone loves to answer those questions. Don’t you?
Listen more than you talk. Listen at least 50% more than you talk, ideally closer to 70%. Conversational turn-taking is emotional intelligence 101. If you’re like me, with an analytical mind that’s also prone to passionate nattering, start by counting the number of complete sentences each person in the conversation says. It will feel awkward at first, like counting time while you’re learning to dance, but will eventually become second nature.