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Do you know how to prepare for an interview so that you walk away with a job offer — not scratching your head wondering what went wrong?
In this post, we’ll share the top interview tips from our founder, Ramit Sethi, who’s helped thousands of people land new jobs and impressive salary increases.
To illustrate this – we’ll start with a story from Ramit:
Two candidates walk into an interview.
One has an MBA. He’s wearing the sharpest suit and carrying the sleekest business cards.
The other is a college sophomore. He walks in with none of those things, but he walks out with the job.
How? What did he do that most people — like the MBA — don’t do?
Well, that college sophomore was me, and these are the same techniques I used to get job offers from Google, Intuit, and a multi-billion-dollar hedge fund.
But it doesn’t just work for Ramit. Thousands of people have used these strategies to prepare for interview after interview, and beat out people with 10+ years of experience — getting $50,000 raises like this:
Let us show you how to do the same and prepare for an interview.
1. Put yourself in your interviewer’s shoes
Interviewers have an odious task. They have to work their way through a stack of resumes to find the candidate that not only looks good on paper but can add value to their organization. That’s pretty damn hard.
Most people walk into an interview and only focus on themselves. They get so caught up in their own needs, wants, and concerns that they forget to talk about what the interviewer wants.
This is a huge mistake.
Studies show that a bad hire can cost the company around 30% of the recruit’s annual salary. It’s a big deal. Not just from a cost perspective, but also from a company culture one.
So the interviewer wants to know why they should hire you over everyone else.
That means you need to STOP saying things like, “Well, I’m looking for a job that challenges me. I want something that’s rewarding for the hard work I do.” This is a sure-fire way to land in the “Do Not Hire” pile.
The better way is to talk about what the hiring manager wants.
For example, if the hiring manager asks, “Why should I hire you?” don’t give the classic me-focused rambling answer.
Respond like this:
“Well, based on the things we’ve already talked about, I know there are 3 main challenges you’re looking at.The first one is getting new leads, the second is increasing conversions, and the third is retention.And my experience is in email marketing. I’ve done a lot of work on the conversion side of things and I think could help you guys in AREAS 1, 2, 3.
In fact, the last company I worked with increased their conversions by 26%. I think I can do even better for you.“
BOOM! This is the complete opposite of what most people do, which is talk endlessly about themselves. This is the best mindset to have when you walk into your interview. Put the interviewer’s needs first and you will walk away with the job.
At IWT, we call this The Briefcase Technique – you show up to the interview prepared to offer solutions to a problem you’ve researched on behalf of the company. You pull the ideas out of your briefcase (literally or figuratively) and impress the interviewer with your preparation and problem-solving skills.
2. Give the perfect answers to tough interview questions
Theses are Ramit Sethi’s top interview Q & A tips. Having these answers on hand — combined with the mindset from tip #1 — will ensure nothing in the interview throws you for a loop.
Interview Question #1: “Can you tell me about yourself?”
The average candidates say:
“Great question. I started working at A Company a few years ago. Then I worked at B Company for a while. Now, I’m at C Company, and I’m looking for room to grow.”
What’s wrong with this response? There’s absolutely nothing unique about this. 5,000 people could say the exact same thing. And, in fact, they do! It’s more like reading from a history textbook than creating a narrative of why they should hire YOU.
They ALREADY know that you worked for company A, B, and C — no need to spend so much valuable time talking about it.
Here’s a better response:
“Well, if you look at my experiences, you’ll see that 3 things stand out.
First, I have experience with many areas of selling, including prospecting, consultative sales, and customer relationship management.
Second, I’ve always been fascinated by the business development side of sales, which is why I chose to study marketing, and specifically, outside sales in college.
Finally, I’ve always wanted to take my skills to a larger stage, which is why I moved from A Company, which was a small startup, to B Company, which is a Fortune 100 business. Now, I’m excited to be with you because those transitions and skills fit perfectly with your current needs.”
Why this works: You’re not just chronologically listing off facts from your resume, you’re painting a picture of your growth. If you’ve done your pre-interview homework, you’ll know what aspects are most important from your background to highlight.
(In the example above, Ramit highlighted the business development side of sales because that’s what the hiring manager was looking for.)
Interview Question #2: “What’s your biggest weakness?”
The average candidates say:
“My biggest weakness is that I’m a perfectionist.”
What’s wrong with this response? 99% of people will say something to this effect. It’s completely forgettable. Plus, it doesn’t spin the weakness into a strength, which is the whole point of this question.
Here’s a better response:
“I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my answer to this question because understanding your weakness is important.
Here’s what I think: I’ve spent most of my career working in one industry. In many ways, that narrows the focus of what I know intimately.
Having said that, I actively tried to work in many different departments and pushed myself to take on a variety of roles. In fact, I was promoted faster than anyone else to lead up new projects around X and Y.
Today, I’m ready to take what I’ve learned from industry B to a new industry and continue to grow. That’s why I’m here today.”
Why this works: Almost everyone hates this question. It feels like you’re telling the hiring manager why NOT to hire you.
But if you know how to spin your answer into a strength, you’ve answered this question successfully. They want you to think on your feet without stumbling over your words or making up BS responses.
Interview preparation question #3: “Tell me about a time when you faced a challenge with X?”
The average candidates say:
“One time I showed up late for work. But I was willing to skip lunch that day — so it all worked out.”
What’s wrong with this response? If you guessed everything, you’re absolutely right. Not only does it make the person look unreliable, but also it seems like they think showing up to work late is okay.
Here’s a better response:
“When I first got hired at Company A, it was actually difficult to make it to work on time.
The traffic was pretty bad — no matter how early I left home. And one day, I actually showed up late, which was pretty frustrating for everyone involved.
Even though I was still getting my work done — by staying late — my coworkers didn’t like having to wait on me to finish.
So I decided to look deeper into the situation. I wanted to see if there was a way to make things easier on everyone.
And I realized that I could actually work on them from home and still do most of the projects being delayed. I put together a proposal for my boss to test it.
And we tried it for a few weeks. Not only did working from home help everyone leave work on time, but it also gave me a huge productivity bump by not spending so much time in traffic. I haven’t had an issue since.”
Why this works: This answer is beautifully done. It takes a really bad problem — being late to work — and shows that the person was in complete control of the situation.
Also, notice that it paints the whole story, not just the issue. He shows the problem. He shows how he looked for a solution. And he shows that he actually came up with a great one.
Hiring managers love details like this. The more specific you can be about what you learned, the more memorable you’ll be when it comes time to make an offer.
3. Research the Company and Role
There’s nothing as thrilling as getting a call from a recruiter after you’ve decided to start your job hunt for that dream job. The fact that you’re called into an interview makes you feel important and sought-after. But don’t keep those rose-tinted Ray-Bans on for too long. You need to get to work and find out as much as possible about your potential employer.
Roll out the cyberstalking, only, this isn’t the Facebook variety. You’re going to don your sleuthing hat, smoke the empty pipe, and work your way through sites such as Glassdoor and Payscale to find out whether employees are happy with the company. While you might get the occasional nut job who will simply hate on every company or employer they end up with, you can place some stock on what these raters write in their reviews.
Warning bells should start chiming when the employee satisfaction rating dips below the 3.5 out of 5 mark. Read through the reviews. What are common nopes from employees?
Things that should make you take a step back, put my photos back on your desk, and place an auto-reply to recruiters, include:
- Remuneration issues – duh right? Who the hell wants to ask to get paid? And, more importantly, why should you?
- Company culture – a quick tip here is to see whether there is a strong divide between management and their subordinates. Are there many complaints?
- Career stunting – raters complain about getting stuck on the totem pole. Little scope for growth. No training. You get the picture?
- Bad to the bone – it’s not just employees complaining. Customers are lining around the block to return products or close accounts.
However, things that should cause you to take a deeper look is when the company shows a strong employee focus. For instance, low staff turnover, CEO satisfaction, and a general sense of cheeriness. Believe me, just a few ratings and you’ll know whether you’re dealing with the next best place to work for or a Gulag.
You might not get all this info online though. You may need to reach out to current and previous employees to get a feel for the company. Having conversations with real people is far more effective than anything you read online.
4. Take Notes From the Job Description
You can learn a lot from where the interviewer is planning to take the interview just by reading the job description notes. Job posters that are worth their salt will have interviewees do some homework first before setting foot in the interview. You’ll also know from the job description whether you want to pursue the interview.
If you’re going to be that guy that doesn’t bother reading instructions before assembling the flatpack, you might want to take a few minutes and read through to the end. Talking points are a big thing and if you’re going to uhm and ah, you might just lose the interviewer’s interest.
A common talking point is talking about something you did that you’re most proud of. This is a tough one and for some, it could be raising their babies, for others it could be attaining a high educational accolade, and for a few, it could be achieving wealth. But you have to understand that the interviewer has an agenda with this talking point, and you need to answer it better than, “Well, I won the sack race at the neighborhood picnic.”
5. Practice With a Mock Interview
You’re going to phone up your friend who has conducted several interviews, and you guessed, have yourself a mock interview. While this might seem a little juvenile, just remember that even attorneys stage mock trials to work through kinks that might pop up.
The more you practice, the easier it will be for you to work through your toolbox. Oh, right, we haven’t discussed the toolbox yet. Prepare to be dazzled!
When we refer to the Toolbox, it’s your personal collection of stories that can be molded to suit an interviewer’s questions. It helps you to stay focused and respond with the right answers. When you’re working through your mock interview, be sure to make notes and change the script where you might be open to uhms and ahs.
It’s also an opportunity for your interviewer to let you know where you’re doing well or need some improvement.
We all know life can be weird, right? So there are going to be those times where you can’t round up a single friend who can take you through this. Put that impressive videoing capability of your latest mobile phone to the test and, cough, video yourself. Now, watch the video. If it makes you cringe, you guessed it, the interview is going to suck. Make notes of things that stick out to you.
- Are you talking too fast?
- Is your posture too slack or too upright?
- What about your body language?
- Are you making enough eye contact? You can make too much eye contact, don’t be Creepy McCreepster!
- Are you… boring?
This advice is not just for a first-time job-seeker. You might not be a strong interviewing candidate even if you’ve been in the industry for several years.
The lack of exposure to interviews is not the only obstacle to consider. There are serial job applicants that seem to tick all the boxes on paper but when they enter the interview room, the interviewer is already thinking about the next interview. You must dig deep and have some honest internal dialogue. Have you applied for a lot of jobs, landed many interviews, but never land the job?
Interview prep also allows you to focus on your objectives. Would you be able to work on a question or two? While you might only know this during the actual interview, it’s worth being prepared.
6. Follow Up With a Thank You
It takes a few moments to send a thank you card or email, and it allows you to stay top of mind. Include a solution to a talking point in the interview or a response to a tip or piece of advice they gave you. Even if you’re not the right fit for this role, they might refer you to a colleague or friend.
Now You Know
We’ve unleashed absolutely every treasure known to teach you how to prepare for a job interview. Take notes, do research, and work on those little kinks that need to be ironed out before impressing the socks off any interviewer and securing that coveted job offer.
Before you land that interview, the magic starts with writing a winning resume and cover letter. Check out our foolproof guide to writing the perfect job-seeking duo.
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