Before I learned the secret to interviewing, I was rejected from 25 internships that I applied to during business school.
I received just one offer — and it wasn’t very competitive. But it was my only offer. So I took it.
And I felt like a complete failure.
How had I interviewed so many times and walked away with only one offer? And how did some of my classmates at Stanford Business School have so many offers — at companies I dreamed of working for?
People often think that having a certain degree or company on their résumé will ensure lifelong job search success. Not true. In fact, the way you interview may count for even more. It’s competitive out there, and you must know how to effectively interview to get multiple offers — and ultimately a job you would love, as discussed more in Art of the Job Search.
Turns out that many of my classmates knew something I didn’t at the time: the secret to interviewing.
I really wanted to know how they did so well in interviews. So I asked a friend who got offers at multiple top firms and startups: What was his secret.
He shared this life-changing piece of wisdom:
"Act like you are interviewing them."
Initially, I thought his advice was crazy. But then I realized that I had nothing to lose by trying it. My past interviewing approach had been highly deferential — and highly ineffective.
During my next search, I decided to take this approach, and the results stunned me.
I received offers for five of the seven jobs that I interviewed for — an offer rate of about 70 percent, or five times more offers than I received during my prior job search.
Or to get even more hyperbolic, since my initial success rate was only 4 percent, this new success rate was 17 times higher.
Why You Should “Act Like You Are Interviewing Them”
After taking this approach, I realized that it made sense for a couple of key reasons.
For one, when you act like you are interviewing the company, you’redisplaying ownership and confidence — two of the top traits hiring managers seek.
In a recent survey in Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager, top managers were asked what they seek in job candidates. They responded, “We want people who are problem solvers and are willing to take initiative. We want people…who act like they own the place.”
What better way to show these qualities than in your interview style?
Additionally, you should be interviewing them for your own purposes, not just to demonstrate ownership and confidence.
Most people approach the interview as a one-sided thing: impressing the company. But you should be interviewing the company to gauge their impression on you, too.
Even if the company really wants you, you will have to know if you actually want to work there. The interview is your opportunity to figure this out.
5 Ways to “Act Like You Are Interviewing Them”
1. Own the Introduction
First impressions are critical — the first 15 seconds of an interview can determine whether you get the job. Often, people wait for the interviewer to initiate the handshake and conversation. But you should do this instead.
To make a strong first impression, take control of the interaction with each person you meet. Each time you meet someone new, stand up and offer your hand first — and give a strong handshake. Ask them a rapport-building question like, “How’s your day going?” Be enthusiastic. And smile.
This approach not only shows your interviewers that you are the confident team member they seek, but it also sets you up for success by making you more confident. Acting confident leads to actual confidence — which will make you more effective in the rest of the interview (see #4).
2. Ask More Questions During the Interview
During my failed job search, I viewed the interviewers as the question-askers and myself as the question-answerer. I politely waited to speak until addressed. And this approach failed miserably.
Instead, make each interview a two-way dialogue. This is probably the most effective way to act like you are interviewing them.
So, how do you turn the interview into a two-way conversation?
Ask questions during the interview. From the moment the interview starts, make it a conversation by asking lots of questions throughout the conversation. For example:
Beginning: Ask how your interviewer is doing when they sit down.
Middle: Ask questions about the role or your interviewer’s background.Ask questions as they come to you during the conversation.
End: Ask good questions that you’ve prepared in advance (see #5).
Think about the interview as a conversation with a friend. In other words, if you were chatting with a friend, what questions would you ask her?
In one interview where I asked a lot of questions, the interviewer never got around to asking me a single interview question. I led the conversation, and it ended up being a very casual, informative, and enjoyable conversation. And I got the job.
Note: Interviewers are usually receptive to the two-way dialogue approach (probably 80 percent of the time), but sometimes more-formal interviewers like to stick to their script. If you sense that the conversational approach is not working, let it go.
3. Form a Connection — And Show Your Personality
At a past company where I worked, one of the top ways we assessed a candidates was by asking ourselves: “Would you want to be stuck with this person in an airport for eight hours?” Because we traveled a lot. And, well, it happened sometimes.
Feel free to be yourself and show some personality. It’s okay to laugh — and even to enjoy the conversation. You don’t always have to be serious in interviews. Seriously. Take a cue from your interviewers — if they seem more relaxed, then it’s okay to be more informal.
Research also shows that people like people who are like themselves, which is why you should aim to find connections with your interviewers. Research your interviewers on LinkedIn beforehand to find things you have in common (like the same school, past employer, etc.), and then try to subtly drop this into the conversation during the interview.
4. Exude Confidence
Admittedly, this is a tough one. It’s hard to feel confident when you feel nervous and want to impress. But it’s possible.
In her TED Talk, Amy Cuddy, a professor at Harvard Business School, suggests that your body language can make you more confident. Go into the bathroom before your interview and spread your arms to the sky (no one will know)—strike a power pose. Continue to act confident even if you don’t feel it, or to put it more simply: fake it till you make it.
My friend listened to his favorite Pearl Jam song — “I Believe in Miracles” — before every interview he’s ever had. Do whatever it takes for you.
A confident verbal communication style is important as well, and the best way to nail this is to anticipate questions and practice your answers in advance—here’s a good list to start to use in preparation.
The most important question is “Can you talk me through your résumé?” or some variation thereof. It’s almost always the first one you’ll be asked in an interview — and it’s your chance to make a great first impression.
The key to this question is not to tell your life story in chronological order.Instead, highlight the themes in your background that make you a great fit for this particular job — and keep it short (no more than a few minutes). If interviewers want to know more, they’ll ask.
A few other tips for exuding confidence: Make eye contact, mind your body language, keep your answers concise, and cut the filler words (the “likes” and “ums”).
5. Ask Good Questions at the End
Always be prepared to ask questions at the end of an interview. Asking questions demonstrates your interest in the position and that you’re thinking about how you can contribute to the team.
Plus, this is your opportunity to continue interviewing your interviewer. What do you really want to know to help decide if the role is right for you?
Top questions that can offer good insight into the job include:
What do you like most and least about working here?
What are your top priorities right now?
What are your goals for this year?
What’s the team structure? How does this position interact with other people on the team and within the company?
Can you tell me about some of the projects you’re working on?
A Job Is Only Great When It’s a Match on Both Sides
While taking the approach of “acting like you are interviewing them” will lead to more job offers, it won’t always get you the job. Sometimes, it’s just not the right fit.
During one interview, I couldn’t seem to connect with my interviewers regardless of what I tried. And I didn’t get the job. Even though my interviews felt “off,” it still hurt to get that rejection call.
When I was finally able to get over the disappointment and be honest with myself, I realized I wouldn’t have wanted that job. Not being hired was a blessing in disguise—I later found a job I loved with a team that I really enjoyed.
A job is only great when it’s a match on both sides.
So, continue to own your interviews — and act like you are interviewing them. Because, after all, you are.