How to Ace a Job Interview

During the course of my business career, I have interviewed literally hundreds of candidates for various positions. Some people make the cut. But more often, I wind up saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

I can think of dozens of reasons I might pass on a particular candidate. Maybe she’s rude during the interview. Maybe he shows up in jeans and a T-shirt to meet with me. Or maybe she just doesn’t have that “it” factor I’m looking for.

But many who seem to have the whole package still get passed over when they’re looking for a job. Because of that sad fact of life, young people often ask me for advice about how to ace the interview process. In fact, I got one such e-mail just the other day. Evan from Seattle wrote:

“Thanks so much for continually providing outstanding content and practical advice. Reading ETR is one of the first things I try to do once I get in the office. Thank you for pushing all of your readers, and especially me, to achieve more.

“I am 25 years old and graduated from college in English Literature, just over a year ago. While going to school, I worked for one of the major retail chains, which allowed me to pay for my own schooling. Straight out of college, I landed an internship with a promising but small start-up company. After my internship, the company hired me on full-time in marketing, where I have since been working. Though the company continues to grow, I often feel bored, a bit underutilized, and unchallenged. I have spoken with our CEO and other coworkers to see if there are more responsibilities I can take on, but to no avail.

“I am considering changing companies, and am looking into pursuing an opportunity in a more established Fortune 500 type firm. Being an English major (as opposed to having a specialized Business degree) gives me a certain degree of insecurity when applying and interviewing for jobs. Do you have any rock-solid advice on the job interview process? I know a few of the basics – like remaining calm and collected while selling my best qualities and showing how I will help improve the company. What else might you recommend?”

Here’s my response to Evan. (And if you are in a similar situation, pay close attention.)

First of all, Evan, before you jump ship, examine what is going on in your current position. You say you obtained an internship straight out of college – and after the internship, you were hired on full-time in the company’s marketing department. You also said that you have been out of college a little over a year. So you only have a year’s worth of marketing experience.

If you came to me as a job candidate and you told me all that… along with the fact that your employer’s company continues to grow (during a time where the majority of start-ups are failing)… and mentioned that you have asked others in your company (including your CEO) for more responsibility to no avail, I would wonder the following:

* Are you doing your current job to the fullest?

That means doing the tasks you don’t like to do… and the tasks you may not think are important but are still a part of your job.

Just yesterday, an ETR team member told me that he did not think he was moving up fast enough. During our discussion, I named three very specific responsibilities of his job that he has yet to do on a regular basis or has not done at all. I explained that until an employee does his or her current job to the fullest – and does so with pride and enthusiasm – I will not move them up or assign additional responsibilities. I did, however, make sure he knew why those tasks are important and how, by doing them, he would help our company’s bottom line.

* Do you have a good attitude?

I have written about this before in ETR.

Do you come in and complain about being bored and underutilized? Remember, not only does everyone dislike a complainer… they avoid complainers like the plague.

* Are you a team player?

If you have completed your tasks for the day and you see someone struggling to get work done, do you offer to give them a hand… regardless of how large or small their task may be?

Can you honestly answer yes to all the above questions, Evan? If not, you may want to take another look at how you’ve been approaching your current job. But if you can, then it is time to start looking.

And here’s some advice for your job hunt that will help you impress any prospective boss.

How to Ace a Job Interview

1. Don’t be intimated because you were an English Literature major and not a Business major.

I majored in Theater Arts in college, and that has worked to my advantage throughout my career. My theater background taught me how to look at situations, procedures, and challenges and make them my own. It taught me that things don’t have to be done the same old way. More important, being a theater major taught me how to think clearly and concisely. And that offering an idea that may not be useable at that particular time was better than offering no idea at all. The things I learned as a result of my major have helped me make a conscious decision to surround myself with people and companies that encourage and promote good ideas.

A business degree can certainly be helpful, but it is not necessary. The ability to think on your own and come up with good ideas should be more important than any degree in the eyes of a potential employer.

2. Do your homework.

I am always taken aback when a job candidate shows up for the interview without first having checked out ETR’s website. If they don’t do the basic footwork up front, my feeling is they would not go the extra mile if they got the job.

So before you interview for any position, go to the company’s website. Use the information on the site to get a good understanding of their business. Look at their product line. Study their marketing. If they have an e-newsletter, subscribe to it. If they have a blog, read it.

But that’s not all the homework you should do. You should also go to the company’s competitors’ websites to develop a broader understanding of their industry. In the Internet Age, there is simply no excuse for not knowing this stuff – the stuff that will make you shine during the interview.

3. Be prepared to discuss how you keep up with new marketing strategies.

I love job candidates who read. People who read books on marketing, read newsletters on marketing, and attend marketing conferences and events are clearly interested in the field. Plus, their love of learning shows me they won’t be happy with the status quo.

4. Listen.

I can’t stress this enough. Yes, you may be anxious to answer the interviewer’s questions. But don’t interrupt. You want to show that you respect your colleagues and supervisors.

In fact, interrupting can be a deal breaker for me. I don’t care how smart someone is. If they don’t respect the company and the people who work there, I don’t want them in my organization.

So, Evan, I hope this helps. Please let us know how your job search goes. And remember… I am always looking for smart, enthusiastic marketing people.

[Ed. Note: MaryEllen Tribby is CEO and Publisher of Early to Rise. Learn more about how new grads – or anyone starting out – can get a job or move up the ranks in their existing job in Michael Masterson’s best-selling book, Automatic Wealth for Grads.]

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Mary Ellen Tribby

MaryEllen Tribby is a business consultant and coach to entrepreneurs in the information publishing and digital marketing arena. She led Early to Rise from May 2006 to January 2010 as Publisher & CEO. She has also served as President of Weiss Research, managing divisions of Forbes, Globe Communications, Times Mirror Magazines and Crain’s New York Business. She currently heads up The CEO's Edge and