The Best Job Interview Tip You’ve Never Heard

When I was looking at interviewing for my first job out of university I read every article on “The Top 10 Interview Tips” that has ever been written and none of them gave me the advice that ultimately won me the job. That tip came from my cousin who works as a political staffer and does a lot of interviewing for various government positions. He also went through a period where finding work was tough, so he has been to a substantial number of interviews on both sides of the table. My cousin is a very bright guy, so I trusted his analysis completely and here is what he said that will forever change the way I look at job interviews:

“They are not looking to hire the most qualified candidate for the job. They are not looking to hire the person whose resume adds up to the highest point total, or whose GPA was higher by a tenth. The vast majority of jobs are given to the person that the interviewers believe thinks the most like them, and will make their lives the easiest. If you can convince the people that are doing the hiring that they will enjoy working with you, and that you will help solve their problems, as opposed to being “high maintenance,” then you are 75% of the way home.”

No One Wants To Hire A High Maintenance Staff Member

Best interview tipThe more I thought about it the more it made a lot of sense. The only time I can see it not working quite as well is when you have an HR professional hiring on behalf of a huge company, and even then I think it has value. In terms of my own situation, where I was being interviewed by principals and head teachers of schools that I hoped to teach at, this advice was directly responsible for me getting a job in a terrible jobs market. I’m not saying that having qualifications isn’t important – obviously you need a basic level of them in order to get your resume to the top of the pile and get the interview in the first place. Once you start dealing with real human beings however, GPA numbers and the amount of bullet points you have don’t make you stand out very much.

Ultimately I’ve found that people follow the past of least resistance. If administration believes that someone would be really good at their job, but they would require a lot of extra work or attention from the management side of things, they rarely get the job. You need to make a personal connection with the people that are interviewing yourself, and make them realize that you are very competent, and will require as little attention from management as possible in order to accomplish your job.

Read and React!

So how do you do this? Well believe it or not, my cousin has found that the most underutilized part of a job interview is the 5-10 minutes that start when you enter the room, but end before the first official question is asked. There are so many ways to have canned answers for interview questions, that the real work gets done during the unscripted parts of the interview. I found it useful to do as much pre-reading as possible on the potential individuals that I felt might be interviewing me. I know this might sound creepy and stalker-ish, but a quick Google check of someone’s name might reveal they are a successful football coach, or a former top piano player. This is great information to make reference to and relate to when asked to cite examples of various situations in interviews. Then, use the first few minutes to get your interviewers talking as much as possible, and PAY ATTENTION. If you want to give a few jot notes about yourself that’s fine, but remember the idea is to try to get a handle on what kind of person they are, and what makes them tick so that you can try and use this to your advantage later on. The more information you can pick up on how they view the industry, or what they think about the latest news of the day, can be very useful in determining how to best slant your answers going forward.

Stand Out By Getting The Personal Connection

The old interview clichés and adages might have worked in job markets where there was always a high demand for basic, qualified candidates. These days however, being qualified is just a prerequisite, what you really need to seal the deal is a way to stand out. Bolding a certain part of your resume (related: Resume Tips) is mildly important, but it can only take you so far. When you internalize the fact that being the highest achiever isn’t the primary goal, being the best candidate in the specific mind of your interviewer/the person in charge of giving you a pay check is, then the interview process starts to look a lot more simple. Think about who you would choose if you were sitting on the other side of the table and had talked to 89 people that day? Keep in mind that making the personal connection (you want the interviewer to believe that not only are you smart, but that you think like them) and being low maintenance is key, and you’ll do just fine out there.

About Teacher Man

TM is a self-professed nerd about all things related to personal finance. He can be found writing for My University Money, Young and Thrifty, and Canadian Personal Finance Blog. TM blogs in order to continue his quest for lifelong learning and hopefully to help others along the way.

21 Responses to The Best Job Interview Tip You’ve Never Heard

  1. krantcents says:

    I agree! The interviewer will hire the person who makes that connection. The connection may be likeability, common interests or just fitting in the team. It is probably all of the above. You should go out of way to connect suring the interview.

  2. Poor Student says:

    I always try to make it clear in job interviews that I will not need to be micromanaged and that I work hard to make the lives of the people above me as easy as I can. I just noticed that when I help those I work with they like me more, and I figured that the same held true for those doing the hiring.

  3. I can’t agree more. When I look for someone I look for a personal who take take the ball and run with it. I don’t want to have to hold their hand through everything.

  4. While I was definitely qualified I think this played a role in getting my current job. I fit in really well from the beginning of the interview and I think it definitely paid off. My qualifications didn’t hurt either as they were higher than normal for the area but people want more people like them to work with.

    • Teacher Man says:

      It’s amazing to me how little of a role merit and qualifications play in most job scenarios. Connections and basic “like-ability” psychology are much more important the majority of the time from what I can tell.

  5. Echo says:

    One of my best qualities (I think) is that I’m able to connect and converse with just about anyone in any scenario. So whether I’m in a room full of frat boys or in a boardroom full of executives, I can usually pick up on how I need to speak and act in order to fit in. I guess I’m a bit of a chameleon in that way, and it’s helped to successfully get me through job interviews before.

    In fact, whenever I interview potential employees, I make sure to ask questions that will help me figure out if I like this person or not. I’d rather hear what you like to do for fun when you’re not at work then hear some canned answer about their biggest weakness.

    • Teacher Man says:

      I completely agree about the uselessness of canned answer Echo. I used to hang around in a lot of different social circles, so I find that I have similar “chameleon-like” characteristics myself.

  6. It’s so true! I definitely think the key to succeeding at an interview is being personable, likable, friendly and also a good listener.

  7. Great advice, building rapport is key to succeeding in interviews. I’ve never failed an interview and I put it totally down to “getting on with the interviewer”. I think part of this is feeling comfortable to talk about other non-interview related topics before the interview begins and after it is completed.

    • Teacher Man says:

      Never failed an interview?! That’s quite an impressive record. Maybe that means your not applying for high enough jobs! I’d be tempted to keep pushing my luck.

  8. Somebody I used to work with and who used to be one of the directors of a major international pharma company told me the same. He said: ‘we are not looking for technical competence – people either have it or they will easily pick it up. We are looking for how well people fit in the company.’ I believed him so haven’t try to change jobs – if I am going to rock the boat it is better done where I am (and universities are generally an exception because research always combines conformity and dissent).

    • Teacher Man says:

      It’s funny because I’ve read so many articles that figure they have all the magic canned answers to the usual interview answers, and they believe this will make the difference. I’ve seen people try to memorize an entire script. I can only imagine that this usually turns out very badly.

      • Goes to show what happens when people forget to talk to the people who matter – writing an article like that on the basis of experience as an intervewee would be so much different than one as interviewer. What you mentioned is a pandemic – universities, for instance, think that they should teach specific skill to make grads employable; when I talk to emloyers they all claim they want people who can think and that they will teach them to think about specifics. Crazy world, uh?

        • Teacher Man says:

          That’s how all jobs are becoming these days IMHO. With everything becoming so specific and specialized, what you’re looking for are broad critical thinking abilities, not the trick of memorizing stuff. Universities have to promote themselves some way though right?

  9. Gerard says:

    I think universities (or at least profs!) would prefer to teach broad skills and processes, but “consumers” (students, misguided funding agencies and governments, and worst of all, parents) think it’s all about completing a checklist of specific skills… usually the ones that are about to be made redundant by technological advances.

    wrt the main column, yes, I think you’ve nailed it. I’ve just finished being dragooned into a search committee, and we definitely went with the person we could see ourselves working with for the next decade or two. One candidate actually started talking during the interview about how she/he wouldn’t do things the way other department members did… guess who didn’t get hired?

    • Teacher Man says:

      I definitely agree on the whole idea of parents wanting a checklist. I guess maybe this is how people were “qualified” when they were in the job market? There is no real rationale for it that I can think of!

      I can’t believe someone was blatantly dumb enough to admit to you they wanted to rock the boat that much in a basic job interview. Crazy…

  10. Thad P says:

    Stand out by making it apparent you want to (and are very capable of) helping them do what they already want to do. Excellent tip from your cuz!

  11. Absolutely agree. That’s why the whole concept of “it’s not who you know but what you know” has such traction – when you have a personal connection to a person (because of someone you both know, or a shared alma mater), there’s a sense of identification, a sense that “this person knows me, gets me, thinks like me.”

  12. Your cousin is right with a number of points. The most important for me is that the best qualified most time don’t get the job. It’s really easy to meet a graduate with good grades wandering in desperate need for a job after several attempts. They rely alot on their academic qualification which is only a fraction of what is required of them.
    I hope a lot of people get to learn.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Ikenna

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