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Anatomy of an Interview

Conducting yourself in a way that reinforces your legitimacy as a candidate for the job really comes down to nothing more than intentionality.

“You can’t judge a book by its cover”.

Well, sometimes you actually can, and one of those times is in the interview arena. If you’re the person conducting the interview, you can draw some reasonable conclusions after only a few minutes with the job candidate. If the person you’re interviewing decided to roll out of bed half an hour before the interview, didn’t bother to shower first, and opted to show up 5 minutes late, no brilliant resume or stellar list of previous achievements can ever hope to make up for that poor first impression.

Even well beyond obvious missteps such as those already mentioned, other, more subtle actions can end up silently communicating things that reveal much about the character and true nature of the candidate. Failure to make eye contact with the interviewer might be indicative of an introverted personality type, but it could also very well be the byproduct of someone who has delved into a bit of creative writing in their resume, stretched credentials to make them appear a little more attractive, or otherwise used some form of misrepresentation. The astute interviewer has to be ever vigilant so that any revealing word or behavior can be picked up on at the first occurrence and held in proper context as the rest of the interview unfolds.

But what if you’re on the receiving end of those questions? What if it’s you hoping to make a positive impression on the interviewer, or possibly even a panel of interviewers pummeling you with a ceaseless barrage of questions on a variety of topics? Responding well and helping those who are conducting the interview to have a solid understanding of who you are and what you can offer can be easier said than done. In the moment, with so much being said and so many seemingly unrelated questions being fired your way, it can seem like an overwhelming prospect to try to keep a clear head as you rummage for the best possible responses to what’s being asked.

Conducting yourself in a way that reinforces your legitimacy as a candidate for the job really comes down to nothing more than intentionality. The random approach will never work, and failing to land a job after a grueling interview certainly won’t do anything for building your confidence. If you keep messing things up during interviews, you’re likely to start fostering frustration, impatience, and even more apathy, and any future interviews will suffer due to the net result of all this negativity. If you’re willing to put the necessary homework into properly aligning yourself before attending an interview, even if you end up not getting the job, you’ll be in a much better place mentally and emotionally when it comes time to face the next interview. Adopting a constructive and intentional approach is easier to do if you focus on several precepts that fall under five key categories:

Number 1: Demonstrate who you are. The most important thing you can do is to create an excellent first impression on everyone you meet, from the minute you walk through the entrance of the company where you’re interviewing. Take very seriously the importance of showing up on time (or, preferably, a few minutes early) and interacting pleasantly with anyone you engage with prior to the interview. Once you’re actually seated with the interviewer and the conversation has begun, be purposeful about maintaining eye contact as the discussion unfolds. Make sure that you are conveying who you are, not who you wish you were.

In the interest of being forthright, don’t pad your resume with exaggeration or fluff, and be sure to balance this by not overselling yourself. If you promise something in the interview that you can’t deliver in the job, you’ll always look foolish and manipulative. And an undertone of desperation won’t do you any favors, either – no employer wants to bring someone onboard who is literally begging for the job. Two of the easiest ways to show your character are by dressing professionally and respectfully engaging with the interviewer. This will demonstrate that you put value on adhering to rules and regulations and that you can esteem and relate to others.

Number 2: Take things seriously. The comedian Jeff Foxworthy once joked about bringing a beer to a job interview. That may be an extreme example, but it’s important to revere a professional interview for what it is: people in the company are giving up their time to meet with you in the hopes of potentially offering you a position. Everybody is busy, so don’t negate the fact that someone else may be sacrificing hours out of their schedule for something that could end up benefiting you. One of the best ways to respect the interviewer’s time is by not looking at your watch – don’t ever convey the impression that you have somewhere else more important to be.

Remember that this is a business meeting, not coffee with a friend. Be relaxed, but don’t be so casual as to chew gum, tap your fingers on the table, or empty the contents of your pocket on the desk in front of the interviewer. Make sure that you never answer your phone during the conversation, and ideally you should silence or turn it off. Also be watchful about body language – things like folding your arms or rolling your eyes might be completely innocent, but they can be off-putting gestures to the person interviewing you.

Number 3: Let the interviewer drive. Think about a job interview like it’s a first date. You may have “asked the employer out” by submitting a job application, but it’s now up to the person conducting the interview to determine whether or not they want to take you up on it. Just as asking someone out is not a date, nor is an interview an employment position. This is a “getting to know you” phase, and it’s up to you to convince the interviewer that you are worth taking a chance on. In light of this, make sure that you clearly answer any questions asked during the interview, but also be careful to not take the conversation off-topic or to wreck the flow.

Many of the questions you’re likely to be asked during an interview are specifically designed to evaluate how you respond to things. Some may be hypotheticals, but others may be in regard to real-life events you’ve encountered in previous job scenarios. As a result, make sure you don’t make negative commentary about some past employer or position. Always be on a quest for positivity in how you relate your experiences, whether good or bad. Also, don’t get defensive if the interviewer asks a tough question – remember, they want to gauge what kind of response you provide. You likewise need to be on your guard as they describe the position you’re applying for. If something doesn’t sound particularly appealing, don’t emote something frustrated or sour in response.

Number 4: Invest in the company. One of the ways you can be an attractive candidate is to show that you understand the employer’s purpose and the services it provides. Take as much time as you can in advance of the interview to research the company so that you’re familiar with its origin, its basic structure, and what its mission is all about. This has the added benefit of helping you to frame everything the interviewer says in the proper context. To aid in this, look for logical opportunities to ask questions that will show the interviewer that you’re already thinking about how you might contribute to the company.

An employer taking the step to hire you is looking for a “value add” for them, so find ways to share previous experiences that will help to solidify your potential benefit to the company. Also, asking about the potential for growth within the business will demonstrate that you’re looking to commit for the long haul. An interviewer will be much less likely to select you if they’re under the impression that you’ll just be doing this until something better comes along. Discussing long-term opportunities will help to convey your dedication and seriousness about pursuing the job.

Number 5: Come prepared. It may seem incredibly obvious, but basic preparation is crucial for having a successful interview experience. Always bring extra copies of your resume; even in this digital age, having printed materials you can provide if needed can help to facilitate the interviewer bringing someone else into the process. It’s also imperative that you be ready to specifically answer any questions about your available days and hours, as well as a firm start date you can commit to. If you have any special constraints that could pose a possible conflict with your job duties, now is the time to discuss them. Look for ways to explore options that would be mutually beneficial to both you and the employer.

It’s rare for specific salary and compensation information to be discussed during an interview, especially because it’s so common for there to be at least one follow-up interview should the employer express interest in you. Nevertheless, determine in advance what your needs are and what would be considered a “deal breaker” so that you’re ready at whatever point that topic of discussion comes up.

An interview can be one of the most nerve-wracking, stressful, and anxiety-ridden experiences in life, but careful preparation can help you to present yourself in the best possible light. Every interview can be beneficial, even those for jobs you don’t end up getting, as all of the cumulative experience can be directed in helping you to grow and mature, both personally and professionally.


If you'd like help preparing for an upcoming interview or creating a resume that ensures you stand out from the crowd, ValorExcel can help! Visit or call us at 240-329-9387 today! Also, be sure you check our recent videos on YouTube by clicking HERE. Each episode is designed to inspire, empower, and transform you and/or your organization.

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