The Effective, Ethical, and Less Stressful Job Interview

You risk failure if you sit there passively and give canned answers.

Posted Mar 25, 2015

Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain
Source: Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

As in a mature first date, your job in a job interview is to present yourself fairly—yes, mainly your beauty marks, but also a wart or two that the employer will need to accept if you're both to be satisfied with each other.

This, the ninth installment in a 12-part series on your career, offers an effective yet ethical approach to interviewing for a job.


Learning about the employer. Yes, learn something about the employer but don't overdo it.--and not just because it's time-consuming. Knowing too much about the employer and your interviewer can seem invasive or that you're desperate, so eager that you've spent hours learning about an employer that you may never end up working for. A quick visit to the employer's website, a Google Search, a stop at, and perhaps a query to your network is all that's needed. 15 minutes and done.

The four things every employer is evaluating you on. Every interview assesses four things: Is the candidate intelligent? Has the skills? Is motivated? Is easy to work with?  Intelligence is unlikely to be changed between now and your job interviews. If you worry that your skills are inadequate, the fastest approaches to getting up to speed are to read articles, practice the skills, and/or get tutored. If your motivation is iffy, remind yourself that all ethical work is worthy work and that being employed is far more virtuous than not. If in the past, you've been difficult to work with, high-maintenance, ask yourself if it's worth trying to change.

Now, how to display those four attributes in an interview:

  • Intelligence: Asking thoughtful questions shows your intelligence without appearing like a know-it-all. So prepare a couple thoughtful questions, for example, "I've noticed that you've recently expanded into Latin America. What implications might that have for the work I'd do in your HR department?"
  • Skills.  Even in an interview, you can bring a job sample and ask if the interviewer(s) wants to see them: a report you created, a piece of code you wrote, screenshots of a website you designed, etc.
  • Motivation: In addition to sprinkling the interview with a few questions, you show motivation with your tone of voice. If you're monotonic by nature, speak as dynamically as you can comfortably but don't push beyond that--It will come off as phony. Certainly, use body language that shows interest: Sit up straight, lean slightly forward, and, if it doesn't distract you, use your hands slightly to accentuate points.
  • Easy to work with. If necessary, psych yourself up to be cooperative, not complaining. This isn't the time to complain—about the traffic getting to the interview, current events, let alone that lousy boss or coworker. Sure, you can briefly explain why a previous boss was a poor fit—"He supervised everyone closely and I thrive when given a lot of autonomy" but that's about it. And even if you're a fount of constructive criticism, that's to be used like a spice--not too much. Many workplaces could stand improvement but bosses or coworkers rarely have the psychological or practical bandwidth to incorporate many suggestions. So in an interview, youy might tactfully and tentatively suggest one or maybe two things but not more. The kind of framing I'm talking about: "Obviously, I know your company less well now than if I were employed herel but I'm wondering whether X might be a good idea. What do you think?"

A tool for conveying all four of those attributes is the PAR story: It's an acronym that stands for a Problem you faced, the smart or dogged way you Approached it, and the positive Result.  Prepare three PAR stories that would likely impress your interviewer, each told in under a minute, ready to present when it feels right.

Prepare answers to one or two questions. Prepare answers for the question or two you're most afraid they'll ask. For example, if you've been unemployed for a long time, come up with an answer that puts the best yet honest face on it. For example, "After my last job, I decided to take a few months to explore: I did some traveling, rebuilt a boat, and took a couple courses. That turned out to be a mistake because when I applied for jobs, employers were nervous that I wouldn't be motivated to return to work. I really am." Rule of thumb: Give short answers to hard questions. That leaves more time for easy questions.

Prepare for the salary question. Best is to preempt it. Right after you've given the first answer you sense the interviewer(s) liked, ask, "By the way, what salary range has been budgeted for the position?" If the interviewer throws it back to you, for example, by saying, "It hasn''t been firmed up. What are you looking to make?" Your answer should be something like "X to Y (with X being what you deem fair and Y being 20% more) depending on the nature of the position" or "Maybe we should put that aside for now. If we end up wanting each other, I'd guess we'll come to a fair agreement."

The fear factor

Job interviews are less scary and more effective if you recognize:

  • There's always another job opening. And if you don't think there is, the problem isn't the interview. It's that you're not doing a thorough-enough job search.
  • It's a first date—You're both checking each other out. Even if the employer wants you, you don't want that employer unless the job's a good fit and your boss and coworkers are reasonable.
  • Instead of trying to snow them, recognize that presenting your truth will get you rejected by the wrong employers and accepted by a right one offering you a job at which you're likely to succeed and thus be less likely to be let go and, again, having to look for a job.

In the interview

From the moment you enter the building, pretend you're the best self you've ever been. Alas, shallow things like posture, eye contact, and a confident stride and handshake.

In the interview, focus less on yourself and more on connecting with the interviewers. If you really listen and react naturally, connection is likely to occur.

If you're really listening, you'll become curious about things. Ask a question or two, perhaps one you've prepared, perhaps another that emanated from the interview. Asking questions shows intelligence and enthusiasm.

As appropriate, take charge of the interview so you can show, not just tell, what you can do: Ask if you can offer an example of something you did in the past that illustrates that you can do the job. Even better, show how you might approach a problem you'd be encountering if hired. If appropriate, go to a whiteboard or demo it on your laptop.

At the end of the interview, if true, say you're more enthusiastic than ever about the job. Say why and ask how they feel about your candidacy. That may give you a chance to counter a concern.

Then walk, no, stride out.

That day, write, not a thank-you note but an influencing letter. Don't just say thank-you and reiterate your enthusiasm for the position. Use the letter to add content, for example, "I've thought more about your question about X. (Insert your new thought.) If appropriate, add a piece of collateral material: a proposal, a work sample, etc.

The takeaway

A job interview will never be as relaxing as hanging out but it won't be unduly stressful if you prepare as recommended above, plus realize that it's far from the end of the world if you don't get the job. If you're prepared but not scripted, remain human, speak with integrity and listen well, you've maximized your chances of finding a well-suited job.

Here are the links to this series' other installments:

A Holistic Approach to Finding Your Career

An Analytical Approach to Finding Your Career

Getting Well-Trained for Your Career

Networking for People Who Dislike It

The One-Week Job Search

A Contrarian Approach to Creating Your Resume and LinkedIn Profile

Ethical (and Effective) Letters by Job Seekers

Using Recruiters (Headhunters) Wisely

The Effective, Ethical, and Less Stressful Job Interview (this article)

A Contrarian Approach to Negotiation

Getting Off to a Good Start on Your New Job

A Contrarian Approach to Succeeding in Your Career

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia.