GUEST POST: Three Rules for a Great Interview

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Posted by Matthew Leon, Ph.D. on 08/15/2017

Three Rules for a Great Interview

Interviewing is one of the most complex and difficult parts of the job search process. Luckily, it’s also a huge sign of confidence from an organization in your abilities. If you’ve made it to the interview stage, you’re already qualified for the job and have jumped over many of the initial hurdles in the selection process (e.g., résumé review, phone screenings, personality/ability testing). Now, you need to manage your stress, present yourself well, and show the selection team that you’re the right choice for a new hire. This is your first date with your new organization, so you need to bring the best version of yourself.

In an interview, your potential employer is most interested in how you will fit their organization and culture. What do you bring to the table that is unique and valuable?  Are you someone that people want to work with? How do you handle problems in a professional setting? Will your long-term goals mesh with the direction of the company?

There are a few general strategies you can “employ” (employ, get it?) to answer these questions and increase your chances of landing that next big job.


Rule 1: Be positive no matter what.

This is easy to say and hard to practice. Interviews are stressful. You’re tired. You’re wired from the extra coffee. You’re nervous. Maybe the drive was bad or the flight was uncomfortable. Put all that aside. If someone asks how you’re doing, tell them you’re great. That you’re excited to be there and thankful for the opportunity. The plane ride was excellent. You like the rain. If someone mentions how bad traffic is, tell them you didn’t even notice.

The worst thing you can do is start the interview off on the wrong foot by introducing negativity. No one wants to work with someone whose foundation is complaining. It’s exhausting. Don’t be that person. Today, your spirit animal is a puppy. You’re a positive force no matter how bad the day is going.

Building on that positive energy, never mention anything negative about your past employers, experiences, or other people. If you’ll talk badly about your supervisor or last job, then chances are you’ll do the same about your next one. Again, be the puppy version of yourself.

Rule 2: Show you want to give, not take.

The interview is about how you add value to the organization, not what you are getting out of them. When asked “why do you want to work at X organization,” I have often heard applicants say that the position will be a great step for their career or will help them learn new things or the culture is great. Obviously, these things are true. Why would someone apply for a worse job? No interviewer wants to hear about how the job helps you. You showing up and wanting the job imply that.  

When you are interviewing, focus on what you bring to the organization. When you talk about the great culture, be sure to talk about how you are going to contribute to it. Look at the difference between these two answers to the question “why do you want to work here”:

“I want to work here because you have a great reputation of treating your employees with respect. My last job didn’t value their people and it caused a lot of turnover. I’m ready to work for an organization that recognizes individual achievement and takes care of their people.”


“Hearing about your incredible work culture and how much your employees love working for X organization was one of the major reasons I chose to apply. I want to be part of that culture and continue to help it grow. Working as part of a team where everyone tackles problems together is one of my favorite things about this field and I hope I can be a positive piece of the organization and the awesome culture you have created here.”   

The first answer signals that someone wants to be recognized and is leaving their old job for not meeting those expectations. While that is a completely reasonable thing to do in many cases, it sends the message that the applicant might be high maintenance. At no point does the applicant mention working in a team, creating a legacy, or being grateful for the opportunities they have had. Moreover, they trash their previous employer. There is nothing wrong with ambition. There is nothing wrong with wanting recognition. However, it doesn’t need to be the focus of your interview because it implies you want to take, not give.

The second answer says that the applicant wants to come in and work with his/her new teammates to make a great thing even better. This applicant isn’t asking for recognition – they know it will come from the successes they create across the organization. At no point does this person indicate they are out for themselves – the answer implies that all boats rise with the tide and this potential employee wants to make everyone better.

Rule 3: Your questions reflect your values.

The questions you ask reflect what you are really looking for in a job. Many of the HR practitioners I work with believe that questions tell more about you than your answers. So, ask questions that highlight your own values, interests, and skills. For example, if you are an avid volunteer, inquire about community outreach opportunities. Ask about the best things a new employee can do to minimize downtime and adjustment (because you want to hit the ground running). If there was a cool program at your old job, ask if you can get something similar started at your new organization provided it fits into the existing culture and priorities.

Do not ask things you can learn about in an offer letter. Stay away from salary and benefits questions. You will learn everything you want about that stuff if you do well in the interview. For example, I was interviewing an engineer who asked absolutely nothing about our company, goals, or how he could best fit into our team. Instead, he spent his time asking about things like employee discounts, gym memberships, and continuing education stipends. The interview turned into a “what can I get out of the organization” time. We provided all of those benefits, but it came off as selfish – he was more than happy to let us know his current discount with his cell phone provider was larger than what we offered.  He left making me feel like he wanted a cheaper data plan more than a job with our company. Gross. Our next applicant came in and asked about mentoring opportunities because he loved developing young talent. Which applicant do you think we hired?

I hope this helps you ace your next interview!

Being positive, showing that you bring something special to the organization, and asking questions that reflect your values are great ways to let an employer know that you are their greatest potential hire. So much of the interview process is in the minutiae, so make sure you are presenting yourself in the best, most authentic way you can. If you have any questions or comments (even if it’s disagreeing with me!), you can reach me at [email protected]!


Matthew Leon is an Assistant Professor of Management in the College of Business at the University of Central Oklahoma and serves on the EYP Steering Committee. His experience includes Human Resources work in customer service, healthcare, manufacturing, and military settings with organizations such as Hertz, Boeing, and the U.S. military.      

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