To Have a Good Interview, You Have to Do More Than Show Up

I love David Mamet. Acerbic, insightful, master of drama, and apparently, knows a thing or two about the art of the interview.  Of course, Mamet is discussing the audition process, but there are many parallels with interviewing.

In his book Bambi vs. Godzilla, Mamet laments the interview process as “demeaning” and “damn near useless,” explaining that “the best way to determine the applicant’s skill is to watch his work.” In essence, “the ability to act (code, troubleshoot, etc) is not always paired with the ability to audition.”

As a hiring manager, I completely get what Mamet is saying. Yes, the interview process is not really a fair indicator of actual future performance. We can tease out that the applicant has a good understanding of technical concepts, and we can draw out assumptions that the person, in the past, has completed tasks that probably indicate he or she will be able to do the job they’re being screened for. At the end of a “good” interview though, all we can really conclude for sure is that the person interviews well.

There are some schools of thought (Spolsky, 37signals, etc.) that suggest a more auditionesque interview, where developer applicants actually write some code to solve a problem. I’ve done this with support positions, walking interviewees through a troubleshooting scenario to see how they attacked a problem and spoke to the client. These tests are sometimes helpful, but again, to Mamet’s point, they illuminate the applicants that are good at tests under jury conditions.

Having said all that, the truth of the matter is that the talking juried interview is the pervasive zeitgeist, and you’d better be, as they say in the entertainment industry, “good in the room,” because it’s the key skill that will push you over the top and secure the job offer.

Good in the room means that you interview well. To interview well, you have to be comfortable interacting with complete strangers that are judging you from the very first e-mail response or phone call. We’ll judge your resume. We’ll judge writing skill and etiquette. We’ll make assumptions based on what you wear to the interview and what time you show up. We’ll look for tell-tale signs of bullshit as you answer our questions. That’s the truth of it, so get comfortable with it, and get good at dealing with it.

I’ve written quite a bit about the “getting good” part of things on this blog, so plug in the way back machine and check out the links below.

The (Martial) Art of Interviewing
The Art of the Phone Interview
Tips from a Hiring Manager
Interviewers Want You to Be the One; Use That to Your Advantage
Three Questions To Ask During an Interview

– Chad Broadus

Chad
Broadus is a writer and tech professional living in the Pacific Northwest.

Comments

  1. BY chris says:

    Just be yourself, and most importantly, make sure that you and the interviewer are both equally as comfortable. Both, in the sense that you, the interviewee and your potential future boss are both physically feeling nice, like you’re in a soft chair and a warm inviting room. Plus, you must also realize that the two of you should be on the level and see eye-to-eye on things. Putting yourself in the same place as the other person makes them drop their guards down and be more apt to want to say what’s on their mind.

    The analogy stated above is what we all feel like until we meet someone who is actually very kind, considerate and possesses a fun loving attitude. Sometimes, we create our own inhibitions which makes ourselves become like the monster.

  2. BY chris says:

    Just be yourself, and most importantly, make sure that you and the interviewer are both equally as comfortable. Both, in the sense that you, the interviewee and your potential future boss are both physically feeling nice, like you’re in a soft chair and a warm inviting room. Plus, you must also realize that the two of you should be on the level and see eye-to-eye on things. Putting yourself in the same place as the other person makes them drop their guards down and be more apt to want to say what’s on their mind.

    The analogy stated above is what we all feel like until we meet someone who is actually very kind, considerate and possesses a fun loving attitude. Sometimes, we create our own inhibitions which makes ourselves become like the monster.

  3. BY alan says:

    Rather than offer useless advice like this, you should help job seekers by asking them to vote Republican this November. Acting and giving bullshit answers aren’t needed in a good economy because there are more jobs than candidates…simple supply and demand. There was a time when showing up to the interview WAS all you needed to do. I long for those days…wait, maybe we can get government jobs where there are no interviews…yeah, I like that idea better.

  4. BY alan says:

    Rather than offer useless advice like this, you should help job seekers by asking them to vote Republican this November. Acting and giving bullshit answers aren’t needed in a good economy because there are more jobs than candidates…simple supply and demand. There was a time when showing up to the interview WAS all you needed to do. I long for those days…wait, maybe we can get government jobs where there are no interviews…yeah, I like that idea better.

  5. BY Mark says:

    Hello Chad -

    Thanks much for this and your other articles; good stuff; have bookmarked for future reference.

    I am currently laid-off and job-seeking. I am an IT Support and webmaster with 15 years experience in the computer industry.

    I am wondering if we can connect via LinkedIn. I can’t afford the upgrade to find you via references at this time, otherwise would make the connection request there.

  6. BY Mark says:

    Hello Chad -

    Thanks much for this and your other articles; good stuff; have bookmarked for future reference.

    I am currently laid-off and job-seeking. I am an IT Support and webmaster with 15 years experience in the computer industry.

    I am wondering if we can connect via LinkedIn. I can’t afford the upgrade to find you via references at this time, otherwise would make the connection request there.

  7. BY Jon says:

    There are some schools of thought (Spolsky, 37signals, etc.) that suggest a more auditionesque interview, where developer applicants actually write some code to solve a problem.

    I have always wanted to see more of this. It should even be used as the first step to narrow the candidate pool. Not one single candidate should ever be screened out without having a chance to demonstrate their knowledge. Even a multiple choice online test would be fine. Cheating on these tests would be a waste of time as an in-person test would be given at a later stage of the process.

    Honesty and humility should not be counted as a vice, Ever!

  8. BY Jon says:

    There are some schools of thought (Spolsky, 37signals, etc.) that suggest a more auditionesque interview, where developer applicants actually write some code to solve a problem.

    I have always wanted to see more of this. It should even be used as the first step to narrow the candidate pool. Not one single candidate should ever be screened out without having a chance to demonstrate their knowledge. Even a multiple choice online test would be fine. Cheating on these tests would be a waste of time as an in-person test would be given at a later stage of the process.

    Honesty and humility should not be counted as a vice, Ever!

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