The world of job interviews is changing. Five years ago you could get past the interview stage by rote-learning cliched answers to 20-30 standard questions such as “so, why are you applying for the job?”.

Today, both employers and employees are becoming more self-aware; we are all realising that having the “right” answers to get the job at any cost isn’t necessarily the aim.

This is the context I want to set for this article.

I believe that the key to being successful in a role where you thrive, feel fulfilled, build something that you think should exist – all while becoming prosperous, begins with clarity about your own motivations, values, strengths, weaknesses as well as short and long term goals.

With that in mind, avoid reading the following from a place of “how do I pretend to be the person that the interviewer is looking for”. Rather, use it as an opportunity for introspection.

If you feel that you must put on a mask in a job interview, more often than not you’ll find that there’s a mismatch between your everyday actions and your true motivations. Maybe, instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole again, it’s time you found yourself a place you truly fit?

    • Thinking that the interviewer is there to fail you. To the contrary, the interviewer’s main job is to look for a win/win situation by testing for fit. Their success is your success, and vice versa.
    • Having an unpleasant demeanour. If you’re being interviewed by your future boss, the question “do I want to work with this person?” is running through their mind as much as “will this person solve the problems I need them to solve (and beyond)?”. If they can’t see themselves spending days in the same room as you, they won’t hire you.
    • Being arrogant. There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. The difference usually stems from the reasons behind your words. Arrogance is the result of trying to be superior or wanting to prove something. Confidence comes from a place of wanting to solve a problem effectively.

Motivations tend to be consistent across all areas of our life, so a desire to be superior, for example, will show up not only in the context of employment, but in personal relationships, dress sense, etc. Hiring managers smell outward, superficial motivations from a mile away.

  • Showing off. Similar to above. Stems from a desire to look good (serve yourself) rather than look useful (serve the needs of your employer). Remember that the reason the employer is interviewing you is because of a problem they’re having in their business. The best way to show off is to not think about yourself at all, but about their business. If you can articulate the employer’s problem better than they can and show them a possible solution, you will move to the top of the pile (even if your solution is wrong).
  • Lying on claiming false expertise. Never, ever, ever, ever EVER, E-V-E-R, EVEREVEREVER, lie on your resume.  You’ll get caught. And even if you don’t, it won’t serve you in the long run. If you’re stuck, seek services of a professional resume writer.
  • Arguing. There’s a fine line between contesting a point of view and being argumentative. The former usually comes from a place of … you guessed it, a desire to solve a problem. The latter – from a place of wanting to be right.
  • Using cliched negativisms. I suggest you don’t attempt to relate to the interviewer on the territory which in any way brushes the idea of escaping work. For example, if your interview is on a Friday, don’t walk in and say “almost the weekend – you must be glad the week is almost over”.
  • Not knowing enough about the company’s mission. More and more workplaces have culture which is centered around more than just collecting a wage. You need to be clear about WHY they exist and what their values are (of course, you need to ensure that those match your own).
  • Not knowing enough about the position. The interview is not the place to get clarity about what you’ll be doing. Do your research about the role before and research similar roles. Use LinkedIn to speak with other people who have worked at the company and come armed with examples of how you can add value to the business.
  • Not using / trying the company’s product. Companies which have a clearly defined sense of purpose need to know that you have internalised what they’re trying to do. If you haven’t tinkered with their products, are you really that interested in the problem they’re trying to solve?
  • Not asking good questions. It’s not the question itself that matters, it’s your critical thinking around it. Your interviewer wants to know about the background context of your questions. (Your questions give clues to two things. 1. What problems in your life are you trying to solve? 2. What problems are you interested in solving for the company?)
  • Brushing off questions. Being silver tongued isn’t a substitute for preparation. If you didn’t do your research or don’t know an answer to a question, admit to it rather than trying to deflect it (or give a good-sounding, but unrelated answer).
  • Describing your career in a boring manner. When an interviewer invites you to summarise what you’ve been up to, resist the temptation to narrate dates and facts from your resume. You must be able to tell an engaging story in which you share the reasons you’ve done what you have, your successes, failures, challenges and lessons.
  • Being overly agreeable. Employers are looking for team members who aren’t just “doers”. They want people who can contribute perspectives and influence outcomes. If you agree with everything, it might signal that you’re desperate or haven’t yet matured to the point where you have your own opinions.
  • Interrupting the interviewer. “Nuff said.
  • Ignoring people in the room. This happens most often in interview panels, where candidates (mainly due to nerves) make eye contact only with the “most important” person in the room.
  • Making jokes. Humour is a fine line. On the one hand, you want to come across as likeable and easy to get on with. On the other hand, no-one is going to hire you for “being hilarious” alone. If the timing is really right and you feel that the risk is low, throw a joke in, however for the most part, keep your desire to be a “funny guy/gal” well in check.


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