The 3 Things That Matter the Most In An Interview

I’ve been getting so many questions via email and Tumblr about job, college, and internship interviews. To be completely honest… they’re not my forte. At all! The handful of interviews I’ve done for jobs have always been sources of stress for me. And, I’m rusty. So… I turned to my friend Jaime who always has the best advice. Jaime is a former recruiter and currently works in Human Resources in the Fashion industry (pretty awesome). She launched The Prepary in 2012 with the goal of sharing reliable and straightforward job search advice and helping people get jobs & internships. And let me tell you, she knows her stuff.
Whether your New Year’s resolution is to look for a new job or you’re getting ready for a college interview or you have a great internship interview lined up, I hope you find this post by Jaime helpful!
When I think back to interviewing for my first job, I remember feeling completely overwhelmed by the amount of things it seemed I had to do.  Flash forward six years, I’ve sat on the other end of the table as the recruiter and now have a much better idea of what interviewers really care about.
There is so much advice and information out there (hey, I write a lot of it!) but at the end of the day, if you are clearly the best candidate for a job, it probably doesn’t matter what color your nails are (I still say keep it neutral) or if you accepted the water when asked (I think you should) or how early you arrived at the interview (5-15 minutes prior is the perfect sweet spot).
Really, if you can nail these three basic things, the other stuff becomes background noise.
Know the Job & Why You’d Be Great At It:
Even if a job sounds cool on the surface, make sure you spend the time reading through all sections of the job description. If you’re unclear about one of the responsibilities listed or skills required, Google it or ask a friend in the field. 
Once you’re familiar with what the job entails, you need to be able to articulate why you’d be great at it. Giving examples of relevant past accomplishments is the best way to drive this home.
For example, if a responsibility is to “Assist in coordinating press events and presentations” you should be talking about the time when you managed logistics for an event and executed it flawlessly.
A good exercise is actually to print out the job description and write an example of a related accomplishment next to each task. Don’t worry – you don’t need to have direct experience in every task listed in the job description. If you have some but not all, your eagerness to learn can make up the difference. Which brings me to my next point…
Have the Skills & Experiences (or Know Your Plan to Get Them):
If you’re interviewing for your dream job and it requires you to have proficiency in Excel, make sure you have it! If it’s not something you’ve learned already, no problem. There are tons of resources out there to learn new things.
Whether you take a formal class, ask a friend who is an expert, or even watch a really solid YouTube tutorial, learning the skills required will show a ton of initiative and makes you a more qualified candidate at the same time.
If there is an industry-specific program or system that you don’t know and can’t learn, make sure you come across as eager to learn. Sharing examples of times in the past when you came up to speed on a new skill or program quickly can go a long way.
Go Above & Beyond In Preparing:
Honestly, the amount of effort someone puts into preparing for an interview is a direct reflection of how much effort they’re going to put into a presentation, or planning an event, or sharing a business update at a meeting. Work ethic is huge and cannot be taught so proving that you have it is so important. When I think about preparing, it’s about a few things.
It’s doing due diligence on the company and knowing about not only what makes them successful, but also why you’d be successful in their environment and culture.
It’s about preparing for some of the more common interview questions and not being stumped when someone asks you about your proudest moment, biggest mistake, or biggest weakness. You’re human, so be prepared to talk about the good as well as the not so good.
It’s about preparing your materials (copies of your resume and maybe even samples of your work), thinking about what questions you have for your interviewer, and even learning a little bit about your interviewer ahead of time.
Preparing will enable you to feel calm and confident in the moment.
The thing to remember is this… If you got called in for an interview it means someone looked at everything about you on paper and thought to themselves, “this person could be the one.”
So the interview isn’t about recreating your experience or who you are. It’s really about showcasing it, staying true to yourself, and bringing that resume off the page.
They already think you can do the job… so prove it!

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Taylor Cunningham

Great info! I recently went through a really grueling interview process, it was so not pleasant to prep for all of the interviews, but I walked out at the end with an awesome internship – so worth it!

Jennifer S.

Question: I totally agree about being prepared, and if there is a skill that I know I can pick up but don't have, I feel like that shouldn't prevent me from getting the job. However, if you have an interview scheduled quickly such that you are not able to learn the skill before the interview, should you lie and say you do know that skill (like Excel), knowing you'll be able to learn it before the job starts, or should you say you don't know it now but can definitely learn it before the job starts. This was a dilemma my boyfriend had a few months ago and I've been wondering about the better approach (as far as getting hired) ever since! Thanks!


Jaime Petkanics

Hi Jennifer, thanks for your comment! I think the best way to handle that type of situation is not to lie, but to share the current experience you do have related to a particular skill or program even if it's not extensive, but then add the steps you are planning to take to learn it (i.e. planning to take a class in the upcoming weeks). It's also good to add on that you're a quick learner and share any skills or knowledge you worked to build in the past (through school, through an internship, etc.) The risk with lying is that the interviewer may ask you more in depth questions about that skill – in this example it could be "walk me through a project you used excel with" and then you might find yourself unable to answer. Hope that helps!


I wish I had had this info a month ago when I was interviewing for what would have been a really good gig, but now I know, because my interviewing days are definitely not over by any stretch.

Julia Jean Kennedy

These tips are insanely good advice – I would recommend all of them as well! If I could super-emphasize one, it's the last one. Especially preparing for the questions like, "What's your biggest weakness?" Answering, "I'm a perfectionist to a fault!" is a terrible answer. Instead, speak about a specific time when you made a mistake, and what you did in order to fix it or to capitalize on learning from your mistake in the future.
Thanks so much for all of these tips Jaime! Definitely heading over to your blog to follow!

Jaime Petkanics

Very much agree! That type of canned answer can come across as disingenuous. For me, authenticity goes a long way – especially if you can show that you've learned from past mistakes and grown from them.

Samantha Levine

This is such great advice, particular the one about printing out the job description! I do that for cover letters as well and it really helps me hone in one the specific experience I have that will help me do the job. The Prepary looks great and I plan to forward it on to many of my friends who will start job-hunting soon!