"Looks great on paper. Bad interviewer."
Of all the feedback a recruiter can get, these words can be the most disheartening. Even if you've found someone with ideal experience and tremendous potential, a candidate who struggles in the interview can leave too many open questions to accept.
So what should candidates do if interviewing isn't their strength?
I went to HubSpot Recruiter Emily MacIntyre for her advice. "The truth is, no one is intrinsically doomed to fail at interviews," she said. "Anyone can interview well, it really just comes down to knowing your strengths well and being cognizant of your foibles. If you're self-aware, then you can adapt your approach to fit your personality."
Said differently, you don't have to fit into some pre-determined mold to interview well. You just have to know your style and shape the interview to amplify those strengths. Below are some tips for interviewing better depending on your personality and career goals.
Introverts vs. Extroverts
For the Introverts
While meeting a ton of new people may be exhausting, interviews are still mainly a one-on-one conversation. And hey, introverts are good with one-on-one situations. The trick for introverts in job interviews is learning how to stand out without needing to shout-out.
Treat each interview as a conversation through which you'll learn more about whether the job is a fit for you and, in turn, be able to convey your strengths as a fit for it. Introverts tend to be good listeners, so put those listening skills to work and ask good questions throughout. An interviewer can learn a lot about you by the questions you ask.
If you're introverted, but your interviewer is outgoing: Don't let yourself feel rushed in the interview, particularly if the interviewer is dominating the conversation. Go into the interview knowing the essential points you want to convey. If you haven't hit them by the end of the meeting, make sure you carve out the time in a final point. For example, "Before we wrap up, there's one more thing I'd like to underscore about my fit for this role ..." Follow-up communications and thank-you emails can also play in your favor, but don't rely on them entirely. The conversation is still key.
For the Extroverts
You love social situations. Each person you meet brings you a shot of energy.
In many ways the traditional interview format plays to your strengths, but there are still techniques here to keep in mind. In an interview, be careful not to dominate the conversation. Interviews should be a two-way exchange of information. Asking questions demonstrates the research you've done as well as your cultural fit for the team.
If you're outgoing, but your interviewer is introverted: If you notice your interviewer is on the quieter side, try to build opportunities into the conversation to reconnect. Pause in your narrative and check in to see if what you're saying resonates or if it triggers any other questions.
Open-Minded vs. Highly Focused About Your Future
For the Open-Minded
Where do you want to be in five years?
If that question just made you squirm a little, don't worry. A quick Google search will reveal hundreds of thousands of posts and articles aiming to address this one common interview question. So why does this one trip so many of us up?
For starters, five years is a really long time. Whole industries can rise and fall in that time period. While you may attribute your stammering on this question to indecisiveness, it's more likely due to a desire to see and experience as much as possible. In interviews, use this open-mindedness to your advantage by focusing on what you want to learn rather than what you want to "be."
If you're open-minded, but your interviewer is highly focused: Recognize that even though you may not have everything planned out, details act as footholds in the conversation and give the interviewer something to work with. If you don't know what you want to do, provide examples of some of the concrete skills and experiences you hope to pick up. For example, you could say, "One of the things that has me excited about this role is the experiences I'll pick up to broaden my skill set. In the next few years I'd like to become adept at managing a budget and get to work on a major product launch."
For the Highly Focused
You know exactly what you want. In fact, you've had your next five years planned for the last ten years. In an interview, professional drive should be a strength. It shows focus, discipline and ambition, but be careful it doesn't come across as rigid. Companies, particularly fast-growing ones, need employees who can adapt and wear many hats.
Even if you've known you want to start your own business from day one, focus on the aspects of this role that are exciting to you in addition to your long-term career path.
If you're highly focused, but the job is more general: Talk about your long-term goals and then tie them into the skills you'll develop as part of the role at hand. Recognize that your interviewer wants to be sure you don't see this as an interim or placeholder job, and convey your level of commitment and excitement to the role as it stands.
Auditory vs. Visual Learners
For the Auditory Learners
In elementary education, teachers are trained to look for students' individual learning styles. Some students are more auditory in the way they consume information, while others learn better through seeing or experiencing the lesson at hand.
These learning styles stay with us into adulthood and continue to influence the way we process information. Being an auditory learner makes you a natural fit for the standard interview format that relies on the exchange of ideas through conversation. You'll be able to synthesize points as you hear them, forming conclusions and opinions quickly.
If you're auditory, but your interviewer is visual: While you may be soaking up every word, your interviewer may learn better through visual methods. Odds are this won't hurt your interview at all, but you could leverage it. Getting up at the whiteboard to diagram a complex idea or key point can demonstrate your ability to jump right into a problem and address it.
For the Visual Learners
If you're a visual learner, you may also do better illustrating your points as you explain them. As such, don't be afraid to bring paper to the interview or use a whiteboard if it helps you think clearly.
Keep in mind that some topics adapt better to visual representation than others. Scoping out the phases of a project you worked on, for example, or explaining how you reduced friction in your last marketing funnel both translate well to visual representation.
If you're visual, but your interviewer is auditory: It's pretty difficult to tell if your interviewer is an auditory learner, but it doesn't hurt to verbally underscore key points you've drawn out and make sure you've got a good balance of conversation and illustration.
The most important thing to remember in an interview is that it is an opportunity for both sides to get a feel for how the position would work out. The best interview advice I ever received was to pretend you already have the job, and treat the interview as the first planning meeting for the work you need to do to advance company goals. Once you let go of seeing an interview as a personal trial and move to treating it as a genuine conversation, your strengths will naturally arise.