LearnFive Tips for Kicking Ass at an Interview


writes on July 28, 2009

Pie chart displaying how the person spends their time

I’ve interviewed quite a few people in my time, so I thought it would be valuable to share some tips that will help you to really stand out from the crowd. Follow these five tips and I promise that you’ll make a powerful impression at any interview.

Tip #1: Create a Handmade Letter

We weren’t even looking for an intern when I got a package in the post from Trista Myers. As soon as I saw the time and attention she put into creating the letter she sent, I immediately got interested. That’s the key – be different.

Hand-crafting something shows real creativity and pro-activeness. It’s a killer way to get someone’s attention. Don’t be afraid that you’ll come across as unprofessional – if a company doesn’t like something handmade, then they’re probably not going to be very fun to work for.

Photo of Trista's handmade resume

Tip #2: Give a Presentation (Even if They Didn’t Ask for One)

Even if they haven’t asked you to prepare a presentation, you should do it anyway. A great tactic is to call up one week before the interview and say “By the way, I’ve been thinking a lot about an idea that would help company-name to increase sales/marketshare/customer-loyalty/etc. Is it OK if I give a quick five-minute presentation?”

Once they say yes (and if they’re smart, they will), just clarify whether you’ll be bringing in your own laptop or if you’ll need to use one of their machines.

Pro tip: If you’re not a designer, ask a friend with design skills (or pay someone for a day of their time) and to design your presentation slides. A beautiful presentation will really wow the interviewer.

Tip #3: Research, Research and Research Some More

Spend at least a day Googling the company that you’re going to see. Get to to know everything about them, especially:

  1. Date the company was founded
  2. Who the founders are
  3. History and background of the person interviewing you
  4. Primary competitors
  5. Twitter accounts
  6. Blogs

Basically, learn everything you possibly can about the company. This will demonstrate that you’re really passionate about the job and that you know what you’re getting in to.

Tip #4: Get Creative with your Resumé

Screengrab of a resume with charts and graphs on it. Very colorful.

Michael Anderson gets it. No one wants to read another boring resumé, so he took the time to do something really crazy and different. It instantly sets him apart from everyone else applying for the job.

The key is to be creative – it shows the company that you’ll be able to come up with exciting new ideas for them and that you can think outside the box.

Tip #5: Explain Why You Want the Job

Have an answer prepared for the question: “Why do you want to work at company-name?”

Every founder’s nightmare is that a potential employee sees the job as a short-term solution – a bridge to get somewhere else. We need to know that you’re dying to work at the company and that you plan on staying.

The most powerful demonstration I’ve ever seen of this idea, is this pitch by Jason Zimdars for a design job at 37signals.

Screenshot of Jason Zimdars' pitch to work at 37signals

When you put this level of preparation and passion into an interview, I can guarantee you that you’re going to get a second interview, and providing you don’t freak out during the interview, you’ve got yourself a new job 🙂

Your Tips

Please share your tips and thoughts below in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!


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0 Responses to “Five Tips for Kicking Ass at an Interview”

  1. This is a really interesting idea and makes a great home based business opportunity. Many people have dreadful C.V.’s so there is a market for helping people. With employment getting more difficult to find the quality of C.V.’s will become more important.
    Thanks for an interesting article.

  2. As I was searching the web about job interview tips, I stumble upon your blog and found it very interesting and informative. All those tips are very helpful especially for job seekers like me. I like to read more of you blogs. Keep posting.

  3. These are great tips. The thing that always impresses me by applicants (even people who cold call), is a personalized follow up (like your idea of a handmade letter). Even if I get just a simple cold call from a prospective applicant and spend a few minutes talking to them, getting some follow up that confirms that they were listening and engaged and interested in the opportunity really helps keep that person at the front of my mind.

  4. Kudos!!
    Great information! Dare to be different! You are RIGHT ON!!

  5. For sales positions, it’s a great idea to create a 30/60/90 day sales plan, to show how you would “hit the ground running”. This goes along with your helpful advice on standing out from the masses.

  6. Great post, Ryan! Your #1 tip is right on. I discovered an easy, immediate and cost-effective way to send a physical personalized greeting card without going to the store, stamping or mailing. I just started using this system to follow-up after interviews with a high quality, heartfelt card. Of course, the uses are limitless. Please send a card on me!

  7. Nice article. Thanks

  8. I have my second interview this morning, despite being a tad nervous I am extremely grateful for the opportunity I have been given and am going to give it my absolute best! I found these tips as soon as I was invited back for a second time, Fab!!

    Thanks 🙂

  9. I have my second interview this morning!! I am extremely nervous but exceptionally grateful for the opportunity I have been given, I hope I wow them today! 😀 Great tips Ryan, I found these as soon as I received an email inviting me back. Fab!!

  10. Shouldn’t #1 and #4 happen much before the interview, wouldn’t these be tips on “how to get an interview”?

  11. These are some good tips I would also like to really draw attention to fashion. Be sure you dress for the job. I was in human resources for 11 years and when people aren’t dressed for the job it really makes me upset. On the flip side if the person goes out of his or her way to dress very similar to what the dress code is I usually give them extra points.

  12. I was applying for a job that was to be the jump from web developer to senior web developer, so for the interview I made a spiral bound portfolio printed on glossy high quality paper. For the design, I did an extensive audit of the companies existing site, and branded myself in a way that was integrated into the existing companies branding strategy. Colors, fonts, page weight, etc. were all improvised.

    At the interview I was asked about it and I explained “I wanted to show that I was capable of producing something that would be in line with what the marketing vision for your company was” and the interviewers response was “this looks way better than anything that has ever come out of our marketing department”

    At that point the conversation shifted from looking at me as a potential employee, to a discussion of how I could help the company to take its next steps.

    I *so* got the job 🙂

  13. Andrew Thomas on July 31, 2009 at 7:27 am said:

    As a developer I have pulled of Tip #2. I was the only one to offer a presentation and it more than impressed. Needless to say I got the job.

  14. #1 and #4 (Getting creative with your letter and resume) is only appropriate if you’re applying for a creative position and even then you have to be careful. Not too long ago there was a blog posting out there, a roundup of “creative resumes” (can’t remember where I saw it), but I thought most of the designs were awful for a resume. They were way too hard to read and follow. It should not require effort to decipher someone’s resume. Ironically, I spent over an hour today going through resumes, I want simple.

    #2 (Give a Presentation), I don’t know about this. Even a short presentation can take some time to come up with and prepare properly. I’d recommend spending that time brushing up on skills mentioned in the job you’re applying for. For example, if the role requires Section 508 and you’re not an expert, spend that time reading up on Section 508 guidelines (and accessibility in general).

    #3 (research) is solid, with emphasis on the people interviewing you.

    #5 (why you want the job) is solid, show real interest.

  15. The tips are awesome and original. I get the point here, it’s not about following what Ryan has suggested, it’s about how you market yourself to differentiate yourself to all applicant’s with the goal of winning the job.

    Ms. M

    • I agree, there are some great tips here. It’s all about how you apply yourself to the task of getting that position, and in nearly all instances within the creative industry I would agree a personal touch definitely helps.

      I kept my CV fairly minimal (www.iamtyce.com/cv) but made sure both the HTML and CSS validate, as that’d my line of work and where I want to impress is in good, clean code.

  16. Great article! These are very useful tips as I’ll be done with school soon and looking for work. I love how your intern sent you that beautiful handwritten letter. Will have to keep that one in mind!

  17. Nice article huh!
    Your right.. for me #1 and #4 is the best.

  18. Its great! For Me #1 and #4 Is the best.

  19. Keith Wolf on July 29, 2009 at 3:43 am said:

    This article is perfect timing as tomorrow I have an interview for a promotion in my company (retail moving up a position). These tips (both the article’s and comments’) will help immensely.

    Thanks and wish me luck!

  20. Another interview suggestion: go to the interview like it’s your first day at work. Years ago, I applied for a production manager job at national magazine. They liked my resume and called me in for an interview. Before the interview, I picked up the latest copy of their magazine and went through it page by page circling ever layout, printing, and typographic error I could find–something I’d be expected to do BEFORE the magazine went to press. During the interview I pulled out the magazine and went over these errors with the designer and creative director who were interviewing me, just as I would do with them during the magazine production cycle. It worked like a charm, and I got the job. Of course, I made sure I didn’t criticize the design itself–that would have just alienated the designer and creative director–I just stuck to the tasks I’d be responsible for at the job.

  21. Chris, I think you’re right – #1 and #4 are for getting the door open, but I agree 100% nonetheless.

    I’ve also done _hundreds_ of interviews in my time. Here’s my top five mistakes that will make you an also-ran. They are obvious, but it’s amazing how many people fail these!

    1. Sort yourself out. Don’t be late – don’t plan on 5 mins early – make it an hour! Don’t be scruffy – Treat the interviewer like a client, and show some respect. Don’t be smelly – these people are going to have to work with you. Who is going to be impressed by a candidate that fails any of these?!

    2. Have an opinion! Interviewers want to get to know the real you. Show them! (Don’t worry that they might not agree. If they don’t like the real you, you wouldn’t like the real them either.)

    3. Don’t just say you’re interested in stuff. Show it! If you want to talk about the latest wiz-bang beta release of the ultimate latest Flex/VS/CS/Rails package or whatever, make sure you’ve actually done something with it. It’s common as muck to profess to be “interested”. It’s much rarer to find someone who’s acted on that interest, and can prove it.

    4. Be really good at _something_! No one wants to hire someone who is average. Our profession is a big place, so there are plenty of niches for you to choose. But whatever niche you pick, make sure you really are the best you can be at something. Mediocrity is a ticket to an early bath.

    5. Don’t whinge! Show some enthusiasm, for what you’re doing now, the company you’re looking to join, your profession, your colleagues, your personal life, everything! Make sure you’re a “glass half-full” sort of person. People without that sparkle just sap the joy out of a place, and no one wants to work with them.

    That’s my take on it. If only people would follow these basics, interviewing would be a lot more fun!

  22. Chris Southam on July 28, 2009 at 1:23 pm said:

    Ryan, aren’t most of these more ‘how to get a kick ass interview’?

  23. You’ve listed some hopefully fairly useful tips here, which are some that most “Tips for interviews” style articles leave out, tips that will really go a long way.

    Some of the tips that others have given also sound like good ideas, like those by averagejoe.

  24. Not to forget the basics!

    Choose your time, don’t be late or too early. aim for approx 5 mins before even if you have to wait in a coffee bar over the road.

    First appearances count, judge your attire by what you think the company ethos is. If you are wrong maybe they were not for you!

    Bring something with you, either a printed resume, or a pad to write things down on. It will make you look keen and most of all organised.

    Smile, and be confident. If you are not confident in your own abilities then your potential employer won’t be either.

    Know what you are going to say before you get there. Plan and try to dictate the interview to your style and strong points.

    Hope that helps!

  25. Are these general tips or meant for creative types? In corporate IT (and most other jobs) #2 and #4 won’t even get you considered for the interview.

    • Ryan Carson on July 28, 2009 at 11:50 am said:

      I think you’d be surprised. People are looking to hire smart, creative, hard-working people. Just because you’re in a corporate environment doesn’t mean those things aren’t really valuable.

      • Ryan,

        With all due respect, these tips are great for the creative industries you work in. But you clearly have no idea what a successful job application and interview would look like in other sectors.

        I’m a medic, so a handmade letter would make me look like a complete loser. For your company, it is perfect. For most other industries, that kind of creativity is, I am afraid, a turn-off. Meanwhile, my wife is a journalist, and that handmade letter might translate well into a mock-up front page if she was going for a sub’s job, but as a writer, what they want to see is someone who can write well and source stories. It’s as simple as that. Trying to be too clever can work against you as well.

        And that resume sucks. I’m sorry, but most employers barely have time to read a two-page CV, let alone try to work out what the heck is going on with that guy’s graphs etc.

        You’re clearly a great guy. But stop pretending you’re some kind of employment expert. And make it clear that this blog post is about kicking ass at a carsonified-style interview. You’d actually be surprised how many employers would be distinctly put off by most of your tips. Again, I’m sure you’ve got your industry pretty sorted, but you don’t know how other ones work, so don’t pretend you do.

        For anyone reading this, you get the top, dream jobs by showing you’re absolutely incredible at your job. That includes references from top figures in the industry, even if you just did work experience for them; a portfolio which sparkles (so for medics, that might be the number of procedures you have done, top marks in your professional qualifications, or courses you teach on – patients don’t give a monkey’s about your creativity. Or for journalists, it’ll be an online cuttings file full of scoops and pieces in quality publications). That’s going to take you further than a pretty drawing (no offence to your intern, cos she looks like she did an awesome job for you guys, and was perfect – but you’ve got to realise Ryan that she was perfect for your industry). And in case you think I’m talking out of my backside, I’m a medical consultant, and my wife works for a national newspaper. Go figure.


        • Ryan Carson on July 28, 2009 at 4:27 pm said:

          What you’re saying is that you only need to be creative, in the ‘creative industry’. I say ‘bullshit’ to that.

          Just because I work in the web space doesn’t mean I don’t know about other industries, or what people look for when they’re hiring. I think you’re forgetting that as a founder of a company, I have a unique perspective (compared to you, as an employee) of what business owners are looking for.

          It’s simple: everyone is looking for hard working, smart, creative, trustworthy people.

          My wife was a Senior Editor at Future Publishing, one of the biggest magazine media companies in the UK, and she’d heartily agree that anything you can do to be creative and set yourself apart from the crowd is an absolute must.

          I’m happy to have you disagree with me, but I’m going to respectfully disagree right back at you 🙂

          • Yes but wasn’t your wife working for some web magazine? Point is, you both work in the WEB industry. I’m sure you have a unique perspective on what works in your industry, but let’s face it, you’re not in HR, you haven’t worked in loads of other sectors.

            And if you actually read what I wrote, I said ‘that kind of creativity’ was a turn off. As in, poncey CVs. I’m not referring to creativity full stop. Of course everyone’s looking for hard-working, creative people. That’s a no-brainer mate.

          • Ryan Carson on July 28, 2009 at 7:31 pm said:

            No – she worked on about eight different magazines. Also, why is it “poncey” to create an interesting, well designed, creative CV?

          • p.s. consultants are responsible for choosing all the employees junior to them so I do a fair amount of interviewing as well. I may not have founded the best company in the world like you clearly have, but I’m not a total worm.

          • Ryan Carson on July 28, 2009 at 7:33 pm said:

            I’m sorry if I implied your position was low in any way – that’s not what I meant. I’m simply saying that being the company founder (and I’ve been an employee as well) gives me a unique insight into the decisions that go into hiring people. Feel free to ignore my advice – no worries.

    • If you’ve got 50 CVs to wade through, and 49 of them refer to 2 years CSS, 1 year Flex, 4 years HTML, 4 years working in a handful of normal IT positions, and a 2:1 degree from wherever in whatever, and then you get 1 CV that looks like #4, I’d give the guy a chance for a chat – no doubt at all.

      In all my years in corporate IT (responsible for recruitment for 15 of them!), wading through thousands of CVs for all sorts of IT roles, I’ve not once seen anything as remarkable as #4. Usually, the most remarkable thing is that the CV has gramatically correct english!

  26. Nice tips. I’d add that you should always turn up with a hard copy of your work. You never know when there’s gonna be a connection problem and it gives you chance to do show some stuff off as print work.

    • Yes, totally agree. It’s well worth the time & money to have comps of your work mounted on foamcore. They last forever if you keep them out of the light, so you can do them additively rather than all at once.

  27. Nice article.

    Did you ever had a presentation within your interviews or do you know someone who did one?

    Regards, Benedikt

  28. Good post, but something to add to the pro-tip on #2 – make sure to credit the design to whoever produced it. Do NOT try to pass it off as all your own work as it will only come back and bite you in the ass. Plus, it shows you have decent contacts that can help you out in a jam.

  29. Nice tips, great work shown.

    I think when going for a job its always good to remember that not every job is perfect for everyone. Therfore, being yourself is very important, as is being honest about your goals. i.e. If you don’t want to be a salesman but you think the job requires it, don’t pretend you love sales. You’ll end up in a job you dislike.

  30. Phil Ricketts on July 28, 2009 at 8:29 am said:

    Great article Ryan! Inspiring read, know one or two I will pass this on to.

    Btw, you probably already know this – but this page could do with a print stylesheet – I went to print and it listed the whole nav unstyled (FF3.5). I just omitted the first page, so not a prob, but thought I’d let you know anyway. Love the new site.



  31. Jbcarey on July 28, 2009 at 7:27 am said:

    Some amazing tips, I especially was impressed by #5’s work….

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