Interview Prep Tips

Why you weren’t hired

Bad interviews are not always your fault.

Getting your job application rejected is not always because of what you did or said.

Sometimes the interviewer (or interviewers) bungle the interview so badly, even the most qualified candidate will flunk out.

How do you identify an interview that is going South? How fix it in time, so that your application is still seriously considered?

After 20 years working as a hiring manager across several industries, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly of interviews. Let’s go through several train wrecks of an interview.

Later on, I highly recommend checking out Voomer. It is an AI-powered interview preparation system which you can try for free and get instant feedback on your answers. So on your next interview – you’ll be prepared!

Interviews rely on first impressions

About one third of interviewers decide whether a job applicant is fit for a job within the first 90 seconds of the interview.

Unfortunately for those interviewers, first impressions are not the best predictors of future job performance.

What is a good predictor of future job performance is how job applicants performed in the past. Unlike financial products, for people past performance definitively is indicative of future results!

So how do you hit it out of the park during those crucial first seconds? Research shows the following:

  • Make eye contact: Two thirds of interviewers say not making eye contact is a common mistake
  • Non-verbal confidence: When meeting new applicants, on average 55% of the first impression an interviewers gets comes from how the person walks through the door and acts during those first crucial seconds.
  • Appearance:  Two thirds of interviewers claim that clothes will be the deciding factor between two identical candidates. What this means is that you have to dress for the job. Find out what the dress code is for the company and industry you are applying to and adhere to that.

There is very little you can do here but “play the game” to check all of the subconscious boxes that the interview probably has in their mind.

Infographic with interviewer data
Interviewers usually make snap decisions

Interviews overwhelmingly rely on human judgement

You might think “wait, aren’t all interviews reliant on human judgement”?

Well yes and no.

Interviews are – by their very nature – conducted by humans that ask questions, listen to and interpret the answer. Then they’ll pass judgement on that answer. Unfortunately, relying solely on human judgment is only slightly better than flipping a coin.

If you are an interviewer and all you know about the applicant was discovered during the interview itself, the probability that the interviewer will choose the better qualified of two candidates is a frighteningly low 56%.

Avoid this by using structured interviews, where the same questions are asked to multiple candidates, allowing for a better comparison between them.

Unfortunately, you have little to no influence on how the interview will be conducted!

Therefore, if your interviewer is clearly playing things by ear and not following a pre-determined structure, take charge of the interview.

Proactively suggest the questions you want to answer. If the initial ice breaking session is taking too long, introduce yourself with a executive summary of your career or explain why you want to work at that organization.

Panel interviews aren’t any better

Many organizations claim to conduct better, fairer interviews by running panel interviews – where two or more people interview an applicant.

The theory is that multiple interviewers will listen to your answer, and therefore it more likely that the interviewers will agree on the “truth”, rather than just what they remember hearing.

However, the science says otherwise.

Adding as many interviewers as one might like does not make a better interview.

A paper published in the Journal of Business Research shows that adding two or more interviewers makes no difference when choosing the best qualified candidate for a job.

So what do you do when there are multiple interviewers at your interview?

The paper discusses how the most experienced interviewers tend to have better hit rates than less experienced interviews – who also tend to defer to the judgment of their seniors.

Therefore, focus your attention on the interviewer that appears to be the most senior, make most of your eye contact with that person and do everything you can so that your answers to their questions are outstanding.

Interviewers that rely on pseudoscience

“If you could be an animal, which would you be?”

“What is your favorite color?”

“Which football team do you cheer for?”

Questions like these are painfully common in job interviews.

Interviewers that ask them generally reply with pseudoscientific justifications when challenged on why they insist on using those questions in a job interview.

Those questions – and their answers – have no bearing on anyone’s ability to perform any job to any level of satisfaction.

Person frustrated at interview question
Being asked silly interview questions can be exhausting

Asking questions similar to the ones listed above are a dangerous and lazy crutch that un prepared interviewers will use in the place of well thought out, insightful, open ended questions.

Even asking the job applicants to answer personality type questionnaires is of dubious value . Including established tests like the MBTI questionnaire will return completely different results depending on when a job applicants answers them.

If your interviewer asks a similar question – quickly identify and challenge it. Mention that you aren’t sure how that question relates to your ability to perform the job and talk about something that is relevant to the job.

Interviews that use brain teasers

“How many ping pong balls fit in a bathtub?”

Closely related to the previous point about pseudoscience, interviewers that quiz job applicants on questions that resemble brain teasers are doing themselves and the applicant a disservice.

Questions like the example above also have no bearing on a job applicant’s performance.

Many interviewers still like to use questions like that to catch out applicants and make them uncomfortable.

If your interviewer tries something like that and they really want you to answer the question, just focus on the process.

There are no right answers, so go through how you’d answer the question. Use analogies and comparisons to things you know (for example, you think 30 ping pong balls will fit in a gallon, and you guess there are 100 gallons in a bathtub, so 3000 ping pong balls will fit in a bath tub).

Interviews that gather impressions rather than data

If your interview feels like a conversation, with little or no structure or clearly defined questions – you might be falling into a situation where the interviewer is mostly collecting impressions rather than data. That means you are in an unstructured interview.

Structured interviews, on the other hand, are where the interviewer asks all candidates the same questions. On top of that, they assess candidates using the same method and take contemporaneous notes. Structures interviews are up to twice as effective at predicting job performance than unstructured interviews.

So what should you do when faced with an interview that feels like an unstructured conversation?

When the interviewer begins wrapping up, proactively close with a short statement of why you would be great for the job. That places a clear and organized list into the interviewers mind – sneaking structure into the interview.

Interviews that don’t verify hard knowledge

Many jobs require hard skills to perform effectively and/or efficiently. Those can be skills such as programming, scientific knowledge, knowledge and certifications regarding business processes, etc.

If your interviewer does not test or ask about hard skills – be weary!

They are probably relying on their own impressions rather than hard data collected in the interview.

So if an interviewer does not ask questions about your hard skills, what do you do? And what do you do when these hard skills are a core part to performing the advertised role effectively?

When the interviewer is wrapping up, bring up the qualifications or certificates you have which would allow you to perform the advertised job.

That way, you inject a degree of structure and verifiability into the interview, setting you apart from the other applicants.

Getting ready for your next interview

Interviewers have many hidden biases despite all the training they might have received. These biases cause a disconnect between perception and reality. If you haven’t played your cards right, those biases will work against you.

So what should the job applicant that really wants to shine through do?

Practice, practice and more practice.

Next time you have an interview coming up, give Voomer a try and practice for your interview. Voomer is free to try and you’ll get instant AI-powered feedback on your answers.

Voomer has interview questions for thousands of different companies so you can practice on past and present questions.

Practice will help you project the best version of yourself and ensure you can land that dream job!