For those of you who may not know what I do, or maybe you know vaguely what I do, but it’s kind of a long title and I’ve never explained it to you because it takes me a while, and I get embarassed talking about myself in-person for more than 30 seconds: Hi, I’m Laura, I’m 23 and I am the Head of Human Resources and Communication for a real estate photography startup based in Atlanta, Georgia. Essentially, in my day-to-day, I help lead a small team of people, run a couple social media accounts, come up with marketing plans, recruit, interview, hire, and then check-in with employees on an on-going basis to make sure people like their jobs and are getting along well with their team! I work remotely in Brooklyn, New York, so I take a lot of phone calls and conduct video chats on almost a daily basis. And, on to what you really care about, that’s where my experience interviewing comes from! I hire photographers, editors, and office staff, but all-in-all, I hire team members for a pretty specific company culture we have built. Today, a friend asked me for interview advice, and here’s what I came up with.
1. Interviewing is a two way street. Maybe this sounds obvious, but I think it's really important to remember that as you are interviewing, you are also there to interview the company, too. They should be trying to win you over as much as you are trying to sell them on the idea of you as a team member. Have questions ready for them like "how would you describe your team culture?” “What is your personal management style?” “what is your goal, as a team, long term or at the moment?" If you're not feeling it, don't feel like you need to be working harder or put the pressure on yourself. Remember that you have some control, too! Positions and companies can be a bad fit, and that doesn’t mean that you are not simultaneously a great person who deserves a great job.
2. Some people I interview don't really answer my questions. I think they get nervous, so they kinda dance around the topic, or over-explain. Be direct first, and then if you feel that there's room to chat about the answer futher, that's totally fine. If your interviewer needs to know more, they’ll ask a follow-up! So don't feel the need to lay it all out there at once.
Example: "What's your availibility?" "Well, what kind of availibility does this roll need? I'm fairly flexible, but I do have another job, and at that job, they need..." Slow down! I just want, "I can have two weekdays free, and I could make this weekend morning work, but I do have another job." Then, I have my answer. If I need to know what that job is, I can ask, but in this case I probably won't. Your time and my time hold so much value, and being direct is good!
3. Know something about the company that you find exciting! I like when people ask me how the company started, and I love when they have read about us online, taken note of our 5 star rating, ask me about specifics of our services—basically anything that shows they have done their research. I will always hire someone who wants to be a part of our team over even a more qualified person who just needs a job. If someone says, "I followed you guys on instagram, and I would be really excited about connecting the way your staff does." I automatically get excited. Interviewing all of a sudden is fun, and it gives me the opportunity to brag on my team mates, which is cool. Ultimately, every (healthy) company is proud of what they’ve got going on, so they'll feel wooed. And if they don’t get excited, it tells you that maybe the employees aren't happy! So it's another way for you to gauge your own opinion, too.
4. I usually open with "tell me about yourself," and personally, I don't want to dive right into why a person would be good for the job; I genuinely want to know what stage of life this person is in, are they well-rounded, do they have interests and depth? It shouldn't be too long of an answer, but ideally someone would say "I'm 28, I've lived in Houston for 2 years, I studied biology in college, but now I want to work in a creative field! I love rock climbing. I have a dog!" What a breath of fresh air! I can paint a picture of this person now, but they didn't rush the interview and they didn't say too much.
5. Positivity is rad, and being confident without being cocky rules. I usually ask people "how would coworkers describe you?" because it is the only way to get people to brag on themselves, and I want that! Saying things like, "I'm really great at xyz…My team excels with my help because of blahblah…I'm reliable, dependable, goal oriented, and a self-starter," isn't rude! It helps people understand what you value and where your gifts are. Plus, preaching over yourself can help calm nerves! It's like, the more you say, "actually I'm super awesome" the more you'll believe it then and there, too.
6. Don't be afraid to tell a story or make a connection. I just had a call where a woman told me she knows she excels under pressure because once she shot a wedding and the minister passed out, she had to revive him, and find an ordained minister in the crowd while the bride freaked out. It was impressive and personal, I got a sense for her story telling, and it was funny! I won't forget her story, which means she sticks out in my mind! Our call took an extra 15 minutes or so, but I enjoyed it and was still able to bring the conversation right back, because I think that's my job, not hers.
7. Asking for next steps and when you can expect to hear back is a POWERMOVE. If someone says "what are the next steps," one, I'm like “dang, you want this job.” And two, then I have to tell them. Let’s say the next step is a video interview next week. Then, in their thank you email, they can say "thanks so much for the interview! I am available these times next week for the video interview, and I look forward to speaking with you.” I feel all the more ready to schedule them and move them along through our process. Pretty much anyone who is that direct is going to have the idea of being interviewed again at the very least presented to them, sometimes simply because I am not ready to reject anyone. And, on that note, I am impressed when people thank me for my time after an interview is over, within the next 24 hours or so. I always appreciate people following up on their application. I work so many different rolls, and persistence is genuinely extremely helpful. No one has ever annoyed me by wondering where their application stands. HMU! Sometimes when people don't do these things, it gives me the opportunity to think, "maybe they didn't want the job."
8. If there's an in-person or video interview, people really throw me off when they wear their most formal clothes. I usually interview in a t-shirt, as do my counterparts. So I think knowing how to dress for the company you're interviewing with is huge. It's a great thought to look your best, absolutely, but it makes me question team-fit. Show effort, but I would usually really rather someone just show me who they are in their day-to-day. And that's definitely not all jobs, but also, you can ask over email or phone beforehand! Sending a quick "Great! And is business formal preferred?" is not unprofessional! I think it shows thoughtfulness.
9. Asking about pay isn't bad in my mind, especially during a phone screen, but if it's jumped to in an in-person, I start thinking, "ok, this person just wants a job, and they might not care about specifically this job" People will even ask me, "is pay every week or every two weeks?" and my brain always stalls out...I mean, is that really the thing you're dying to know about our whole company. I don't want anyone to waste my time or to waste anyone else's time, so asking is a smart idea! Staying on that topic however can get awkward because it sounds like you’re being presumptious that the job is already yours or maybe just that your priorities are moneymoneymoney.
10. If someone asks you why you are looking or why you're leaving a job—this is basically just, "why do you want to work for us?" I'm straightforward, so I don’t make this a trick question, but you will hear people ask it so many different ways that I think it can easily become one. Always answer these questions with how specifically and seriously you want the job you're interviewing for! You don't have to touch on why you don't like what you've been doing or how you've been looking in the whole market, even if you are just looking to move on to anything else. In this interview, it is all about this one job. Whatever job is on the table is the holy grail of jobs for the next 30 minutes. Their company is the fountain of youth. Other jobs? Don't know her.
I don’t think you have to be dishonest, but I think this is also a healthy mindset because you can simply repeat back what you’ve learned that most excites you. It’s a good way of checking your heart and staying positive in your job search. If answering this question feels like lying, why do you not want this job specifically? Is it a bad fit?
Applying for jobs and not hearing back, or hearing back something that you did not want to hear, can be very exhausting. I know firsthand that it feels like rejection, and it’s very easy to turn away introspective, thinking “what did I do wrong?” And from my perspective, truly, probably nothing. If you’re following these tips, gaining work experience all the while, and trying your best, it might be that the company you’re applying to is weird. They might be a big bunch of weirdos. They might be thinking “she’s too nice and qualified and wonderful, and we’re a big ol’ bunch of weirdoes so we only want to hire people with scary voices, who burp a lot.” My point being, you can’t know. It’s not worth thinking about, at all. It might be that they had ten amazing applicants including you, and it literally came down to the fact that they already have a Laura on the team, so hiring another Laura would be confusing, and Stephanie had the same availibility, but a different name. So rather than stressing over why you weren’t a good fit, repeat after me, “that company was not a good fit for me.”
Wishing you all the best! Go out there and get that bread! Unless you’re gluten-free, in which case, go out there and get that fruit salad. Just...you know, just go out there and get whatever it is you need, and get it specific to you.