The interview process can be incredibly stressful and time-consuming.
And a not-so-surprising statistic even states that a whopping 93% of people report feeling anxious before a scheduled job interview, and it's not unusual for even the most confident and qualified of those people to be left drained of energy after facing an onslaught of continuous rejection.
But today I'd like to share specific interviewing techniques you can use to:
- Impress your prospective employers so well that they move you to the next round on the spot
- Not only feel confident and at ease during interviews, but secure in knowing you're coming across as competent, without being stuck in your head the whole time wondering if you're saying "the right things"
- Show up so prepared that the interview doesn't even feel like one--it becomes a meeting where you can share ideas with the people sitting across from you as if you already work with them
- Ask powerful questions that prospective employers aren't expecting so you can stand out from other candidates while confidently highlighting your unique strengths
- Get called back for so many jobs you'll actually have to start turning most of them down
It had been six years since I had a job.
And it was time to find one.
For the record, I was a freelance copywriter during that period, but an unfortunate mental health crisis in my life hit right when my biggest client had to cut the cord.
I was also ready to find more permanent work, especially on a team where exponential results could be realized through concentrated group efforts.
And a side effect of coming off a specific medication I had been taking was an increased appetite.
So I decided that with the time I had, I'd hit the gym and get fit while I searched for work.
- I made it to the final hiring round for almost all the positions I interviewed for, with huge VC firms, automotive companies, and innovative healthcare departments.
- In one instance a university scheduled me for the three-round interview process over a three-day period during the initial phone conversation (because they didn't want to waste any time moving through the process).
- And I regularly turned opportunities down that didn't interest me, and used multiple offers to negotiate higher salaries.
I also got into the best shape of my life.
And everything I discovered about the body, and its ability to transform with proper training, bore a striking resemblance to the strategies I was using to gain an extra edge during interviews.
Here's how you can take what I learned and nail even the most stressful job interviews.
01. Get Clear On Vision & Function
A back injury in 2008 led me to believe I'd never run again.
But I didn't give up, and I ran a marathon in 2022, and two half-marathons this year already.
The vision I had for myself was clear (becoming a marathon runner), and from that vision stemmed the functional approach I took to make it a reality.
Just like a bodybuilder who wants to compete at the Mr. Olympia contest trains a certain way to one day walk across that stage.
Or someone who simply wants to lose weight must focus on caloric expenditure and other functions that serve their goal.
And if you want to impress your prospective employers so well when interviewing that they invite you back for the second one on the spot, or you get so many callbacks that you actually have to turn some down...
The same applies.
If you want to enter a particular industry, or you want a specific role, then your vision and goal will define your functional approach to interviewing.
This means asking yourself:
How do I want to show up during an interview?
Do you need to showcase highly specialized knowledge? Do you need to communicate how your network can be of benefit to the company? Do you just want to show them you're competent and qualified for the position? Or do you need to convince someone that you are the best candidate even though you followed a less traditional career path?
A marathon runner doesn't want to put on 200 lbs of muscle like a bodybuilder. It would make them too slow. So their training will differ.
If you want to showcase your education and academic experience in an interview (governmental policy work for example), rather than personable charisma and precise measurable outcomes (like that of a salesperson), what will be your functional approach?
The former might use the introductory portion of the interview to highlight a list of career accolades, while the latter might open with an amusing anecdote and/or story to express competency in building rapport, getting to the details later.
If you just want to feel confident during an interview and walk away knowing you made an impression, what will be your functional approach?
Maybe running through mock interviews with a friend or family member can help alleviate any social anxiety.
And you can design thoughtful questions to ask your interviewer that would allow you to gauge their interest in what you shared.
Like fitness goals, the more clear you are on what you hope to achieve, the more clear you'll become on the necessary functions to get there.
02. Dial In Your Nutrition & Consume The Right Stuff
I didn't get to a third-round interview with a huge VC firm by eating 200g of carbs before the first round.
But I did run a marathon that way.
What I did for the interview was consume the right information needed to help me stand out to the interviewer.
A bodybuilder who wants to lose 50 lbs of body fat while retaining as much muscle as possible needs a nutrition plan. So does a regular Joe who just wants to lose a few extra pounds before going on vacation. The two plans won't be identical, but the point is they'll both have a plan to follow to see the desired change in their bodies.
And what you consume before your interviews will have a huge impact on the impression you make.
Take the VC firm I mentioned for example: it was in the mental health space, somewhere I hadn't really worked as a copywriter.
But I did have lots of experience writing what they needed in different industries.
So I looked at their portfolio companies, saw the types of pieces they needed, and created a mockup to show them how I would approach their specific industry.
What I didn't do was focus on their history, mission, or values--I consumed only information that would help me get to my goal: to show them I was able to do the job even if I didn't have a ton of experience.
The information you focus on and what you do to prepare for an interview should serve one purpose: to move you closer to the point of getting hired by showcasing your expertise and authority.
If you're a project manager interviewing for a role in IT, you're not going to ask your friend who works at a law firm how best to interview for the position.
You'd reach out to others in the field and ask what's most important to decision-makers at a company like the one you're interested in.
If it's demonstrated ability to map out and hit KPIs and evaluate staff performance, now you can focus on showing them you know how to do just that.
A much more dialed-in and specific plan can easily set you apart from other candidates.
Here are a few ways to put this into practice:
Know what's important to the company you're interviewing with and how you can build a bridge from that point over to your knowledge and experience. When I interviewed for a position in healthcare dealing with highly sensitive information, I mentioned the short time I worked in entertainment. Why? Because I dealt with celebrities to whom privacy and confidentiality were non-negotiable, knowing how valuable that experience was to the company interviewing me. Look closely at what companies actually care about, then frame yourself as the best choice based on your findings.
The wrong opportunities can waste weeks of your time. A dialed-in nutrition plan is clear about what NOT to eat too. When you say no to potential employers that don't meet your standards, it shows high self-worth and gives you more confidence going into subsequent interviews with preferred companies, which means more time spent talking to people you get along with better, increasing the positive outcomes for all involved.
Staying Up To Date
Understand what's going on in the industry you're looking to work in. If AI is all the rage, know how to bring it up during the interview to show you're educated on the subject. If you're in an industry where compliance laws are constantly evolving, or what you can/can't do is dictated by government policy, show up to the interview with fully realized plans of action for any potential shifts on the horizon. Imagine how that'll make you stand out against the other candidates your potential employer is already considering.
03. Push, Pull, Legs: Optimize Your Routine
I made the unfortunate decision to drop out of college due to health reasons, and after a few months of recovery, instead of re-enrolling, I got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a job in the music industry.
So I took it, and I got to work with platinum-selling, Grammy-award-winning artists, including some of my heroes, as a result.
But something happened...
I realized I hated it.
This is how I always start my story when I'm asked to share about myself during interviews. It's not my favorite detail, but I've learned over the years that it always elicits a laugh or a curious gasp.
People want to know more.
All interviews generally follow a structure: they tell you about the role, you tell them about yourself (or vice versa), they ask you questions, then you ask your own.
They may differ slightly (some may include a live showcasing of skill or know-how), but once you know the rhythm you can optimize how you approach an interview as a whole.
To hit every part of the body methodically, bodybuilders often use a PPL split: pushing movements one day, pulling movements the next, and leg exercises on the third day. They do this over and over, allowing them to work every part of the body with sufficient recovery time between muscle groups.
Legs are always done last, seen as the hardest group to work on, just like many people see the last part of an interview as the hardest (when given time to ask their own questions).
But by optimizing how you approach the routine of an interview, you'll become more relaxed each time you sit down for one.
And you'll exude the calm and cool demeanor of someone who knows how to do their job confidently.
04. Choose The Right Exercises (And Ditch The Others)
If a back exercise is causing pain in your spine you should probably stop doing it and focus on another.
And if one exercise leads to more results, like bigger biceps, than another more popular one, you should stick with what's working.
A question I'd always ask during interviews was about communication styles, and how the company dealt with scenarios like a new hire mistake or a process breakdown.
Each time I asked a version of it the person(s) interviewing me would describe how they choose to communicate and why, which they were always very passionate about (usually because it's an area where they get to express how their values and larger mission influence day-to-day activities).
It was a hit, but it also allowed me a better understanding of what working there would be like, in real terms.
During interviews, if a certain approach, tactic, story, or statistic is getting a positive reaction, then keep using it.
And if something else isn't working, like a reference to past experience, no matter how important you believe it to be, drop it.
Focus on what works.
For example, I interviewed for a position with one of the largest and most well-respected names in the automotive industry.
Their company throws a massive event each year, which experts and enthusiasts flock to.
It's like all the people who work in IT ending up at the same tech conference, but for cars.
Before I interviewed for the role on their marketing team, I looked at their calendar to see what they might already be discussing during their marketing meetings.
When I showed up to the interview with their VP of marketing, I shared with them several ideas they could use to increase ticket sales to their annual event, with specific copy updates they could make to their sales page right away.
I do this all the time when I interview, and it always sets the stage for the rest of our relationship.
I'm not even a car enthusiast, nor do I have a ton of automotive industry experience.
But I know what works.
An example of what doesn't work for me is case studies. I've got a bunch that show off some really great results.
But I can't get them to read a full case study, and unless the story is really juicy, their eyes start to glaze over when I walk them through my methodology.
I get it. It's kinda like trying to give a presentation to a crowd that didn't ask you to present them anything.
So I don't try anymore. If they ask, I let them know I have multiple case studies to choose from, then I get back to doing what I know will work every time.
05. Honor Yourself Through Movement
My own mother came to me for interview advice recently.
She was searching for a new position around the same time as me, and while I was acing all my interviews, she'd hit a wall.
On top of specific tactical advice, I shared with her what I believe to be one of the most important mindset shifts to embrace if you want to be good at interviews:
Remember that you're also interviewing THEM.
It's a two-way street, and just like you are to them, no matter the role or the company, they should be trying to prove their value to you.
For an exercise to produce the best result, there are two key parts of a muscle contraction: the concentric and eccentric movements.
Basically, lifting or moving the weight from point A to point B (concentric), then releasing it back to point A (eccentric).
Everyone mostly focuses on the first part of the movement (lifting or moving the weight), but to get the most out of any exercise the second is just as important, if not more so.
The same goes for your interviews.
Even if you're going for a position you desperately want, maybe at a company of high regard, how the job meets your needs is just as important as what you can do for them.
When you approach interviews with this in mind, you communicate to the prospective employer a belief in your own value and what that value would bring to their organization.
Plus, what the company or role has to offer may not mesh well with what you're looking for.
Which is something you'll want to know right up front.
Even if it's a prestigious role or company if you were to find out as a parent that dropping your kids off at school or leaving early to attend their dance recital would be frowned upon, would you still want the job?
Don't look at an interview as an interrogation. You'll be nervous and preoccupied with saying "the right thing."
Instead, honor yourself and your goals by focusing on both sides of the equation: what they want and what you want.
06. Talk To Your Gym Crush (Or Don't)
Anyone who’s ever spent a considerable amount of time in a gym has had a gym crush.
Even if it wasn’t one of those debilitating crushes where you’re head over heels for someone, you at least admired someone else specifically, maybe giving them just a quick glance from afar every now and then.
And admiration from a distance is one thing, but approaching that person and striking up a conversation is another.
If you ever do work up the nerve to talk to a crush (of any kind), though, there are two things to remember when making a first impression: be yourself and don’t sound like everyone else.
You should want to stand out, and highlight the unique characteristics of your personality that no one else has—and you want to ask questions that give you insight into who your crush actually is, not the romanticized version of them you created in your mind.
You should not (please!) use canned pickup lines, or turn the interaction into awkward small talk.
If you do, it’s likely they’ll lose interest in you, after they see how unoriginal you are (unless you’re extremely attractive, but even then, there are limits).
Don’t waste your chance to make an impression!
And that’s another way to look at one of the most important parts of any interview process: when an interviewer gives you a chance to ask questions.
Hopefully, you made a good impression throughout the whole affair, but when they give you the opportunity to lead the conversation, it’s your time to shine.
Here are a few ways to ask questions that will make you stand out.
Ask Questions To Show You’ve Done Your Research & You Care About The Role
“From what I gathered from your site, and also what you shared with my about the company today, it sounds like you're looking for someone who can do X, Y, & Z? Are there any other characteristics you're looking for in an employee that we've yet to cover?”
Preface With Praise
This is also a time to be thoughtful and share praise. Before you ask a specific question, pick something they shared with you and tell them what you appreciate about it, then pivot into your asking.
For example, this is how I framed a question when interviewing for a university healthcare job:
“Thank you so much for sharing what you did about communication styles, and how you’d approach the different scenarios—I can tell you are really committed to an environment that’s co-created by everyone here like you also said. That brings me to my next question, actually, which is again about communication: When it comes to the inevitable mistakes we all make as humans since none of us are perfect, I’d like to know, how does leadership go about addressing mistakes made by others on the team, and how do they address those they make themselves?”
It’s a tough question, so I softened it a bit by honoring their obvious commitment to an important team value.
Address Common Questions In A New Way
You can also address common questions with stronger more specific language in a way that highlights your work ethic.
Like asking the question:
“What would be my core areas of focus in the first 30, 60, and 90 days, and what would executing them with excellence look like to you?”
“What are your expectations for me in this role?”
The former example conveys a commitment to performing the specific duties that they will then lay out for you with excellence.
Ask Questions Based On Your Needs
Remember, an interview shouldn't feel one-sided. You’re interviewing them just as much as they are you, so ask questions to see if you share similar values.
If you have children and want to get a feel for how the company might view schedule alterations to accommodate your family life, you could ask:
“Does leadership take into consideration the schedules of those with families and young children? If I were to give proper notice, would the occasional schedule change due to my commitments as a parent be welcomed?”
One question I always asked when interviewing for copywriting positions was about processes. I needed to know if there were streamlined processes in place, so I’d ask:
“I have a very specific set of processes I follow in my own workflow, and they’re very important to both the quality and quantity of my output. That being said, are there systems and processes in place in terms of how I’ll receive feedback, signoff, implementation, etc.? And if not, would it be my responsibility then to set those processes up?”
Knowing What Not To Ask
I wouldn’t talk to my gym crush if I saw her working out with a romantic partner.
Nor would I talk to a gym crush if she had a hoodie pulled over head to tune out the world, or any other similar sign of not wanting to be approached.
There are tons of specific questions to avoid if you search around on Google (hint: don’t ask anything that you could have easily looked up on their website), and these are important to know, but so is being able to read the room.
You definitely don’t want to ask a question that might seem hostile or elicit a negative response (“How do you think your company compares to [competitor]?”).
And you may have to alter a question you had written down to better suit the mood, or you might have to just cut out whole questions altogether.
It all depends on how well things are going.
Crushes aren’t relationships, and interviews aren’t cross-examinations.
You can tell pretty quickly if you want to get to know someone a bit more, and when it’s probably a better idea to just part ways.
But at least you went up and talked to them.
07. Grow Your Interview Muscle
Most people desire a specific outcome when they begin a fitness journey.
Maybe it's the six-pack, the nice behind, the broad shoulders, or just an overall toned and athletic body.
But getting there requires muscle growth of some kind.
And stimulating muscle growth requires taking exercises or workouts to a place of near exhaustion if not total failure.
That's when your body adapts and rebuilds itself to be stronger.
As is the case for most things in life.
To be great at interviewing you have to treat it like a muscle: push through the uncomfortable and stressful moments then take time to recover and adapt.
You'll grow stronger and more confident as a result.
Interviews that go poorly, rejection letters or emails, late nights spent wondering if you said/did the right thing--these moments are commonplace for everyone. But it's what you learned from those moments and how you used the lessons that make you better.
And every great success story always features some sort of failure or rejection along the way.
The bodybuilder lives within the results of their hard work, represented through a physique all can see; a career may not define your life, but it can in many ways represent how you value yourself and your future.
So respect the process, and embrace the growth that comes along with reaching your goals, whatever those goals may be.