Before I retired early at 35, I spent 14 years working 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. Knowing how to develop a rapport with people is crucial in so 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 nail job interviews. Unfortunately, most young people are terrible at it.
Here are my five rules for getting it right:
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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 judgement 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 biggest weaknesses, what they're really measuring is your level of 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.
- Describe a time when you failed. How did you manage the situation?
A lot of people got stuck on these because they didn't want to talk about 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 failure and recovered from it, and how they would do the same on my team.
4. Always ask at least two questions.
Never pass on 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 that you 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 you a client. Or how you used humor to save your company from embarrassment. The best stories are engaging, unforgettable, and spark some sort of emotion.
Having a good story also makes the interviewing process more interesting and enjoyable for everyone in the room.
Steve Adcock is a personal finance and career expert who blogs about how to achieve success and financial independence. A former software developer, he retired early at the age of 35. Follow Steve on Twitter @SteveOnSpeed.
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