3 job interview tricks that you probably haven’t heard before

When you’re interviewing for jobs, you tend to hear a lot of the same advice repeated over and over: show up early (but not too early!), rehearse answers to common questions ahead of time, be polite to the receptionist, and on and on. But here are three tips for nailing an interview that probably haven’t heard before.

1. Read what your interviewers read. Job seekers who are trying to prepare for interviews often read all sorts of advice about how to shine in an interview – tips on answering tricky questions, advice on negotiating salary, and plenty more. What they rarely do is read about interviewing from the other side of the desk. Job seekers should be reading that as well. Seek out materials designed for interviewers, like advice and information for how to conduct an effective interview, advice on how to interpret various types of answers to interview questions, red flags to watch for, what to ask references, and so forth. You’ll get a much better understanding of what interviewers do and don’t care about, what they’re looking for in their conversations with you, and generally how they’re approaching the entire process.

Similarly, you might try flipping a common piece of advice on its head: A frequent suggestion for job seekers is to role-play an interview with a friend or family member in order to practice your answers and get more comfortable with the situation. That is indeed helpful – but don’t stop there. Turn it around and role-play in the position of the interviewer as well. Being on the interviewer’s side of the conversation will help you better understand what interviewers are looking for and what answers do and don’t impress. For example, you’ll probably get a much better understanding of why it’s a turn-off when answers sound canned or overly rehearsed, and why it’s frustrating to have a candidate not answer hard questions head-on.

2. Don’t go into the interview determined to impress at all costs. The stress of job searching – and the financial anxieties that often accompany it – can lead a lot of people to get so focused on impressing their interviewer sthat they forget to use the time to find out if the job is right for them. If you get so focused on wanting a job offer at the end of the process, you’ll neglect to focus on determining if this is even a job you want and would be good at, which is how people end up in jobs that they’re miserable in or even get fired from.

And counterintuitively, you’ll actually be less impressive if it’s clear that you’re trying to sell yourself for the job. Most interviewers will find you a much more appealing candidate if you show that you’re gathering your own information about the job and thinking rigorously about whether it’s the right match or not. (Think of dating as a parallel here. If you found yourself on a first date with someone who seemed determined to win your heart with no regard to how strong the match between you might be, you’d probably be pretty turned off. It’s the same thing here.)

3. Pretend you already know that you didn’t get the job. A lot of job seekers report a weird phenomenon: The interviews where they do the best are the ones for jobs that they’re not that invested in. When you don’t think that you have a chance of being hired or you’re not sure if you even want the job, you tend to relax and worry so much about what kind of impression you’re making. As a result, you’re likely to come across as more comfortable and more personable, and you’re not as likely to get tripped up by nerves. You can use this knowledge to pull a mind trick on yourself and walk into the interview pretending that you’ve heard that the job has already been marked for someone else – an internal candidate, maybe, or the boss’s kid. That means that you don’t have so much on the line – and that might let you shine in ways that you can’t if you’re full of job interview jitters.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 32 comments… read them below }

  1. Volunteer Enforcer*

    Brilliant article Alison, thanks for sharing. Not currently job searching but have saved it for future reference.

  2. NJ Anon*

    Great advice! And also, always ask the “magic question!” I just had a really good phone interview and was asked a question that I had never heard before. “Tell me the biggest risk you have taken in your professional career.” I came up with a good answer (at least the interviewer thought so). But it tells a lot about process, etc.

  3. Lucy Richardson*

    On #3, different strategy but same concept. Always take a few minutes before an interview to think about another opportunity you’ve applied to, no matter how early in the process. Keeping front of mind that there are other jobs out there takes the pressure off acing this interview.

  4. Oryx*

    #3, not exactly the same but when I applied for CurrentJob I’d already been applying for jobs for 2+ years and I had officially run out of f*cks to give so I wrote a cover letter that pretty much broke every rule and sent it off and didn’t care. And then got interviewed and hired!

    1. Havarti*

      Years ago, I got called in for a 2nd interview and I was so wet behind the ears, I didn’t realize that was a good thing. I seriously thought they were just dragging me in again to make sure they didn’t want me so I went in with no f*cks left to give. I acted like myself throughout the whole thing. Went home. Made a sandwich. Got a call asking if I wanted to start in two days. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    2. Lily Rowan*

      Yeah, however you arrive at being relaxed and yourself, it seems like it helps. If nothing else, I want to be sure the interviewer won’t be surprised if they hire me and I show up with my actual personality, rather than my “trying super-hard to impress” interview persona.

  5. Liz Lemon*

    Great advice! #3 is how I landed my current role. I distinctly thought, at one point, “There’s no way you’re getting this job, so just be yourself and don’t sweat it.” They offered me the job the next day.

    My own tip: The night before an interview, I often google “hardest interview questions” and just read through lists, giving practice answers to myself (out loud). It’s sort of like warm ups; the process helps get me ready to be in interview mode, and sometimes the same question you practiced comes up the next day.

  6. Rincat*

    #3 worked for me as well. I had interviewed for a different position on my current team, and realized during the interview that the role wasn’t right for me (needed more technical experience than I have), but I really liked the team and department. I got called in again to interview for a different role, but figured I wouldn’t get that one either, so I felt pretty relaxed. Also it helped that I had interviewed with the same people before. And then I got my current job! And I’m actually doing much of the work already of the first position I applied for…so maybe a promotion is in the future?

    1. Artemesia*

      I know someone who recently knew he had not done well on the technology test for a position that involved coding and such; he call to withdraw from consideration and then said ‘but I am particularly good at doing ‘X Y and Z’ so if you have needs in that area, I’d love to be considered.’ He is now happily working at a technology adjacent position where his strengths shine at this company.

  7. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

    I took #3 to a bit of an extreme for my current job. I…uh….didn’t actually know I was being interviewed. I’d already been considered for two positions under contracts they didn’t end up getting, and I’d sort of written it off. My old boss just called me out of the blue and said he’d seen my resume and wanted to get a little better idea of my background. So I told him that I’d done research on soil microbiology, and then he interjected and asked if I’d ever tried homebrewing because microbiologists tend to make good brewers, and I said I had, and he said he did consulting work for a big Colorado brewery, and then we talked about IPA recipes for 10 minutes, and then we talked a little about my other research on noxious weeds, and what I did when I was with EPA, and it was all very friendly and convivial. And then he was like, “So hey, I think you’d fit in pretty well with my group, when can you start?”

    RECORD SCRATCH AND DANCING STOPS

    “Uh?”

    Then I spent a few seconds mentally reviewing the phone call and realized it was actually a job interview, and I briefly considered dying on the spot, then I realized he’d actually offered me a job so I couldn’t have screwed it up that bad, so I had this weird combination of embarrassment, confusion, and elation.

  8. Casuan*

    Love this!!
    …Especially the suggestion to do some prep from the interviewer’s perspective. It’s a variation of oppositional research, which is always helpful to make one’s own case heard. Alison’s other two tricks are really good too. I haven’t thought of doing either of those things before, yet they make so much sense that I’m kind-of-sort-of-not-really-slightly embarrassed that I never thought of doing them myself.

    When I go an unfamiliar environment I remind myself things probably aren’t as daunting as they appear: there is an order to the chaos & everyone was new at some point so they went through the same uncertainty of fitting into the culture. Doing this helps me so I can focus on my goal, whether it’s an interview or a meeting. That said, for an interview definitely be vigilant to the company culture & other signs that can signal any warning signs.

    My takeaway from AAM’s post is this: My goal should be to focus on my mission. If I’m confident in my work & my ability to present it, there isn’t any need for me to actively try to make a good impression. My demeanour & work will speak for itself.
    For an interview, it will help to keep in mind that my “client” [aka interviewer] is reviewing many “bids” so all I can really do is to be as strong of a candidate as I can be.

    Gotta admit, just now this AAM post has positive impact on my personal life as well as professional.
    Thank you, Alison!

  9. Critter*

    I didn’t know #3 was common! Completely applies to me. Honestly, I barely paid attention during the interview process for my current job, and it’s two years later.

  10. Beloved*

    I read #1, Read what your interviewers read, and said, Yes! Except I was thinking in a different direction. :) I’m in an academic library, and a common weakness among those trying to make the jump from staff positions to faculty positions is keeping up with the field. A common question we have is, “What do you think are some of the biggest issues facing references/instruction/technical services/department in which the position resides?” The recent graduates do fine- they’ve been taking classes which include the professional literature- but the paraprofessionals are often flummoxed. They stopped reading about the field when they got a full time job. As an interviewer, I want someone who shares our professional priorities, who understands our challenges and opportunities- or at least can have a conversation about these things.

  11. A Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks*

    #3 Along those same lines, I pretend that I don’t want/need the job. I had an interview recently where I really wasn’t interested in the position. But I never turn down an interview, so I went. It turned out to be the best interview I ever had. I was so relaxed and really hit it off with both interviewers. So much so, I was asked back for a second interview. But as I said, I was not interested in the position so I turned down the offer of a second interview (I didn’t want to waste their time–or mine).

  12. BePositive*

    When I got my first job, I was fresh out of university and after I got my interview time, my research told me I will never get that job due to lack if experience. I went anyway. Answered everything honestly thinking I wouldn’t make round 2.

    Question: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

    Answer: Though unlikely, my aim is to become CEO or senior at a high tech company.

    I got the job after beating out more experienced candidates. I was the only one demonstrated I was willing to learn from the ground up and make mistakes. That answer was one of the reasons that kept me to go to round 2 and HR told the boss to hear me out.

    I went in round 2 with same demeaner, no way I’m going to get it. I nearly died from shock when I got the job

  13. NJ Anon*

    “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

    On a beach, with an adult beverage.

    1. Al Lo*

      If I had answered that when I interviewed for my current job (almost 5 years ago), I probably wouldn’t have said “With the CEO trying to give me as much of her job as possible as part of a succession plan.” I didn’t want to stay in my job long term. I came into it as a “eh, this is in my industry, and I’m not the most excited about it, but I think it’ll be a good place to put in a few years” kind of job. I certainly didn’t expect to be on the senior management team within 4 years.

      I still don’t think I’ll stay here forever, but I certainly see it being longer-term than I did at the outset.

  14. JM in England*

    Re #3
    Have ended up on quite a few occasions getting the job when I thought I had totally screwed the interview. Conversely, have not got jobs for which I felt like I’d aced the interview……..swings & roundabouts I suppose!

  15. Julia*

    Pretending you are not in line to get the job and that the interview is practice for next time is great advice. I truly did not think I had any hope for getting a particularly coveted job. My field is small and I had good idea of who had applied for the position. I was so surprised when I made the interview cut. It’s a rotating position (you can only stay 3-5 years) so I went into the interview (phone) with idea that it was practice and was writing down the questions so I would have it for reference when the position came up again.

    Major surprise was that I wound up with the job!!!!

  16. Honeybee*

    #2 works really well for me. Oddly, I do it by talking myself into believing that my task during the interview is to evaluate the job for myself and decide whether or not I want them. That helps to effect #3, too – instead of me working overtime to impress them, I’m instead trying to gather information from them to understand what they’re looking for and whether the position would be a good fit for me.

  17. Dzhymm, BfD*

    I, too had a #3 experience two jobs ago. I was looking to change jobs, and I figured the first interview would be a throwaway. I had no plans whatsoever of actually getting the job, I just figured it would be good practice. I had some nice conversations and one of my references is a major figure in my field, but I thought I had basically bombed the technical portion of the interview. Imagine my surprise when I got an offer two days later!

  18. babblemouth*

    #3: SO MUCH THIS. I found out after getting my current job that I really came ahead of the rest of the pack in my job interview. I went in thinking it was so out of my league I’d never get it, so I was super relaxed believing I was just getting useful experience interviewing.
    Meanwhile, all the jobs I thought I was way better qualified for and I thought I could get? Disasters.

  19. Snazzy Hat*

    Because of a lack of calls and an abundance of applications and anxiety, it’s difficult for me to follow #3 without being self-depricating or depressed. However, I’m currently employed at a pretty good job that pays well but I only work a few hours a week. So I can at least be in the mindset of “if I don’t get this job, it’s okay, I still have a pretty good job.”

    Of course, now I’m in the running for a job I really want at a company I would LOVE to work for, and the interviews (phone & in-person) went very well, including casual interactions, so I would honestly be devastated if I were turned down. Gotta wait at least a few more weeks while they interview other people.

  20. Amelia*

    #3 Is so true! I had been searching for a permanent job while working a temp job at a small company that didn’t have any permanent positions open. Just before a job interview at a different company, someone at my company retired early and it looked like I was going to be offered a permanent position. I went into the job interview more relaxed than I had ever been because I felt like I didn’t need the job, I was going to get an offer at my current company, and I ended up getting the job at the new company! I knew that was my best interview, and now I’m wondering if I was just more relaxed than I was at other interviews, when there was more at stake. I tend to be pretty nervous during interviews and really scared of saying the wrong thing, so this probably helped a lot!

  21. Meh*

    Hey..I hadn’t heard any if these tips…but I did them anyway. My notes from my first interview….”This isn’t going anywhere. Interesting gig, but they probably need deeper experience. Not sure I’d get them what they want. Way too focused on recent experience… I’ll talk to the HM and then see.”

    I was also reading recruiting blogs to see what interviewers were reading, so I had some insight into why they asked what they did.

    When I started the process, I wasn’t super enthused, but I had such engaging conversations in all seven (!) Interviews, I knew I’d like the company. And I do, started last month.

    One tip I’d add: it helped me to go into an interview with ‘practice’ goals. “I’m going to focus on brief answers” or “I’m going to use 3 examples.” So I had a mindset of getting better at the process, not just impressing the interviewers. And, if it wasn’t a great interview, I could get satisfaction from improving my skills anyway.

  22. Lindsey*

    My husband had an adulterous affair with a woman at his job. This ruined my marriage. he left to live with the lady, I was asked by a friend to contact dr.mac@yahoo. com for help and i did and after 3 days my husband stopped his adulterous behavior and started treating me like a queen, he loves more now

  23. Seastar*

    I don’t understand #3. If I convince myself beforehand that I’m guaranteed to fail an interview, I’ll go into it stewing in self-hate and frustration, miserable at wasting everyone’s time, and unable to demonstrate the self-confidence and enthusiasm that had propelled me to apply for the job. Not relaxed at all.

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