Nailing an interview isn’t about being the best hire for the job

You’ve got this.
You’ve got this.
Image: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
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This question originally appeared on Quora: I keep failing in my interviews. What should I do? Answer by John L. Miller, Ph.D, software developer at Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and Oracle for 25 years.

In an ideal world people would be hired based on whether or not they will do the job well. Unfortunately this is impossible to measure until the applicant actually does the job they’re hired for.

Employers do the next best thing. They interview people in a way that usually led them to hire good employees in the past. This approach ensures most potentially-bad employees are rejected. As a side effect, many potentially-good employees are turned away. Still, enough good employees are found for the employer’s needs, which is why the practice continues.

If you’ve got the technical skills to do a good job, you just need to work on your interview skills to help demonstrate that you’re not a potentially bad hire.

The most helpful single thing you can do is to practice being interviewed. Practice with friends, and practice by applying for jobs. Make notes of how you think you did in each interview. When practical (e.g. with friends), compare your notes with their perceptions. Use this to get a better idea of how you come across in the interview, and what you should work on.

And remember, not getting a job often means the employer couldn’t get enough information to verify you’re not a bad hire. So, conservatively, you’re not given the job. I’ve been turned away by companies in one interview only to come back and get the job. You will too.

Some specific things to do:

  1. Google for interview questions at the company you’re interviewing at, and solve them while standing up at a whiteboard and talking through your thought process as you solve it.
  2. Read over your resume, and practice talking over the experience and skills it outlines.
  3. Have good answers for standard questions: why you’re leaving your job, why you want to work where you’re interviewing, what you want to accomplish in a year, in five years, and so on.
  4. Read up on the company. Make sure you have at least or or two sensible questions to ask each person who interviews you.

Good luck!

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