One of the most stressful interviews I ever experienced was three hours long. It was for a coding position, and they actually had me write out code on a whiteboard as they asked me aloud how I would code certain solutions. By they, I mean a room of three men who were senior management and coders at the company where I was interviewing.
It was the most intense corporate environment I had ever stepped foot in — you could hear a pin drop in that place. But I had also never gone through this style of interview before, and it felt sort of degrading. Especially as a coder, when there isn’t much context of the solutions you are asked to code, besides the coding language you are asked to write in. And on a whiteboard?
I was already nervous, and I blanked halfway through almost every question they asked me. It felt like they were setting me up to fail.
To be fair, I focused too heavily on HR-related interview questions in my own preparation instead of the more technical questions, which ended up being the bulk of the interview. It was definitely one of the more difficult interviews I had ever been in, but you have to be prepared for whatever they are going to throw at you. Even if you do have the tendency to psych yourself out — like I do.
I didn’t tank this interview because I didn’t have enough experience, nor did I do anything blatantly inappropriate. Mostly, I just made some common mistakes that are easy to overlook.
A couple of friends who worked in human resources spotted exactly what I was doing wrong. There are ways to practice being more comfortable and less awkward in an interview so you can nail the process and land the job. Here’s what I learned:
1. Not being fully prepared
Preparation seems like an obvious interview requirement, but I can’t stress it enough. Even when you feel the most prepared you can be, there might be something you are missing. I try to be as prepared as possible for all of my interviews, even when they are remote.
My normal research process includes surfing the company’s website, reading their about page and mission statement, and anything else I can soak up about the company. I recommend reading about the company on Glassdoor, including salaries reported for certain positions and reviews from past employees. Lastly, I look up information on the employee’s competitors and any history of the company I can find online.
I’m a visual learner and usually have to write down what I read over and over in order to retain it. Thus, I make flashcards of all the information I want to remember about a company. Again, Glassdoor is great for finding practice interview questions. In the search box, type in the company you are interviewing with, and then filter by “Interviews.” I then write those questions on flashcards and practice answering them with my wife.
On the other hand, you also don’t want your answers to sound rehearsed, so keep that in mind during the interview. I loosely rehearse these answers so I feel prepared, mostly thinking about how I’ll structure them. It’s a prepared way to “wing it.”
2. Pay attention to your body language
When I first started job hunting after my first lay off, it had been a couple of years since I’d interviewed. Being a good interviewee is just like any other skill. If you don’t keep practicing, you’ll get rusty.
During interviews, I get extremely nervous. It doesn’t matter how prepared I am; my anxiety takes over. When this happens, I tug on my hair or crack my fingers and fidget quite a bit. When I demonstrated this to my peers who work in human resources, and they pointed out that I have a habit of avoiding eye contact and not smiling. Of course, as a woman, I hate hearing people tell me I don’t smile enough. But during an interview, smiling goes a long way. The point is, body language matters, and my friends suggested that I practice more calm body language, including avoiding crossing my arms and fidgeting or playing with my hair and helped me do this with mock interviews.
At that same time, my speech speeds up through my interview answers and general conversation with the interviewer. I can be hard to understand this way and some interviewers may interpret it as me being in a rush and that the interview doesn’t matter to me. They could also interpret this as me being unprepared.
My newfound interviewing confidence
No one likes to hear they’ve done anything wrong. Especially during something as important as an interview for a new job. But in recognizing what I’ve done wrong in the past, I was able to correct my behavior, ace an interview, and land the highest paying job I’ve ever had.
These days, I feel much more at ease during an interview. This newfound confidence has also helped me visualize and communicate my own career goals more effectively. It’s all part of the process.
And, of course, every interview and hiring manager is different. You might click with one interviewer, and be completely disconnected with another. Not every interview is going to go perfectly, but being armed with the right knowledge will massively increase your chances of crushing it.
Daniella is a 30-year-old Latina software engineer and entrepreneur. She created the site iliketodabble.com a little over 2 years ago to help others grow and manage their income on the path to financial freedom and finally registered an LLC for her side business this year. Daniella and her wife live in St. Louis, MO, with their 5 cats, 2 dogs, and a couple of tarantulas (they aren’t pet hoarders..they swear).
Image via Unsplash