Tech & Work

You can never be fully prepared for an interview

All of the reference books and blogs in the world can't fully prepare you for an interview. The reason is that every interviewer and every interviewing situation is going to be different.

All of the reference books and blogs in the world can't fully prepare you for an interview. The reason is that every interviewer and every interviewing situation is going to be different.


The hardest thing about writing a blog about career issues is there are so many variables. For example, I refuse to tell people how to dress on interviews since wearing a dark suit, starched shirt, and power tie could downright freak some IT managers out. Every situation is different. Every person is different. To be successful in every interview, you'd have to be able to size up situations instantly and telepathically, and then adapt your behavior accordingly.

Of course, there are guidelines, but you have to be careful even offering those since some folks take them as gospel.

The fact is every interviewer is a unique person with his or her own biases and past experience. While some interviewing practices can be universally recommended, like being clean and friendly, you really can't predict with a shadow of a doubt how the prospective employer is going to take you. You could behave the exact same in two separate interviews, and one manager might read you as confident while another may read you as cocky. Don't underestimate the interviewer's preconceived notions. He or she is not a blank slate.

So I thought we'd have a little fun here and give you a peek into my personal interviewing prejudices. I'm not saying they're wrong or they're right, but they're mine. I'll list the pervasive logic first, then give me your take.

I read a book that says one should have a firm handshake and maintain good eye contact.

If you greet me with a handshake so firm that it vaporizes several of my metacarpals and then complement that with eye contact so intense I feel like I need to take out an emergency protective order, it doesn't tell me you have a strong character. It tells me you've read a book that recommends a firm handshake and strong eye contact. I would really like to have a glimpse into the real you so I can tell if you're going to fit in with the rest of my team.

Now, I will say state this hypocritical fact. Unless there's a medical condition behind it, a limp fish handshake does give me the impression of a meek person. If the position I'm hiring for requires someone who won't back down from pressure, then you may not be the person I consider.

I'm told I should practice and practice and practice my interviewing technique so I don't appear nervous.

What's wrong with appearing nervous? It's a normal reaction. I'd much rather you be yourself than some rehearsed version of yourself. Some people might not be able to tell the difference but I can. I'm much more interested in how you think on the fly than I am in listening to a prepared sales speech. Also, think about this aspect: There are a lot of IT managers who are nervous themselves as they conduct interviews. Your ultra-calm exterior could have the opposite effect and actually make the interviewer feel more nervous. So, later, when he's considering the candidates, his gut reaction may be that you were the one who made him nervous.

I should make myself memorable by mentioning some of my interests.

That's fine as long as anything you mention is not political or religious in nature, something that may inadvertently insult some belief of mine that you have no idea about, or indirectly reveal something like your age, marital status, sexual orientation, or anything else that I am prohibited by law from asking about. In all honesty, except for the legal part, I don't let extraneous details about someone influence my decision to hire them. I don't care if you telecommute from Mars, as long as you can do the job well. But don't assume every interviewer will feel that way. I once worked with a manager who threw a candidate out of consideration because she mentioned she hated cats. Bizarre, but it happens.

So let's hear from other managers. Do any of you have any interviewing quirks that no self-help career course could prepare someone for?


Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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