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How NOT to Do an Interview: The Basics

A while back, I was asked to participate in an over-the-phone interview that would be later broadcast online. This is one of those interviews where they ask you to provide a list of questions up front so they know what to ask. Sadly, I don’t even remember who it was or where the interview ran. But, what I do remember is my faltering missteps during the interview. Yeah, don’t pretend it’s never happened to you!

I submitted 17 questions and a few weeks later they called to do the interview. Fortunately, for me, I didn’t have to worry about any trick questions, because I wrote them. Unfortunately, for me, what seemed like an obvious answer when I wrote the questions, somehow escaped me during the interview.

It didn’t help that the questions were not always asked verbatim. But I should have anticipated that. The interviewer has to own the question he’s asking, not just read them from a sheet of paper.

When I wrote the questions, I knew exactly how I would respond. If fact, I even worked in a few “follow up” questions. I’m quite clever that way! The interview questions were written like a good book; it had a beginning, middle, and an end.

But, nothing ever turns out quite as planned. When the questions were asked a bit differently than I had anticipated, it often led to different answers than I had planned. Which means my follow up questions were, well, somewhat out of place. More than once, I found myself having to go back to re-answer a previous question just so I could answer the follow-up question correctly.

Awkward.

And, all of this was totally my fault. As you can probably guess, I aced How Not to Do an Interview 101.

I figure since this was a learning opportunity for me, it could be one for you as well. I’m a big fan of learning from someone else’s mistakes. Here are a few quick pointers on giving an interview:

Know Your Topic

A no brainer, right? Well, not always. Sometimes when a good opportunity for an interview comes along, we jump at it, regardless of how well we might know the topic of focus. It’s all about the publicity!

I was recently asked to be interviewed on an internet marketing related topic of which I had a good amount of knowledge. However, I also knew that I didn’t have enough of a detailed knowledge to be able to give the interviewer competent answers if they dug too deeply.

At this point, there were two options before me: study up on the topic and hope I learn everything that could possibly be covered in the interview, or pass the interview off to a colleague who I knew would be able to answer the questions better than I could. If it’s a topic you should know in that much detail, then go with option 1. If not, then option 2 is good too.

Be Prepared

If you don’t know all the questions that will be asked, then the best you can do to be prepared is to make sure you’re in the right setting. Go to a location where you’re comfortable and distraction free.

Preparation also means having a general idea of the type of questions you’ll be answering. If you’re doing an interview, like I did, where you get to provide the questions, be sure you write the questions in a way that ensures you’ll fully understand the context. As I found out, this is critical to being able to answer the questions competently.

Looking back at many of my questions, I honestly don’t recall what I was thinking. Where was I going with this? What did I mean by that? It all seemed so clear at the time, but several weeks later, when being asked them by someone else… yeah, I got nothin’.

If possible, keep a list of those questions in front of you while you are answering them for the interviewer. This will help you stay on track for those follow-up questions!

Be confident

Confidence goes a long way. Whether the interview is via phone, email, or in person, if you don’t come in confident, you won’t come across strong. Your answers must be thoughtful, well considered, and should sound like you were ready for them (even if off the cuff).

And, if you don’t know the answer to a question, pretending is usually not the best option. No sense risking being found out that you really don’t know what you’re talking about. Be careful faking an answer, because there will be people out there reading or listening who’ll be screaming out, “That’s not right!!!!”

This is why one of my favorite ways to interview is over email. It really gives you a chance to think through your answers. And, if you don’t like the question, re-frame it so you can answer it the way you want.

I’m sure there are dozens of other tips out there that you can find with a good search. However, these three basics can go a long way. To wrap up, I wanted to provide a link to one of my favorite interviews I’ve ever done. It’s a few years old, but still kinda fun. Enjoy!


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Stoney G deGeyter

Stoney deGeyter is the author of The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!. He is the founder and CEO of Pole Position Marketing, a web presence optimization firm who's pit crew has been velocitizing websites since 1998. In his free time Stoney gets involved in community services and ministries with his bride enjoy and his children. Read Stoney's full bio.

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