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Interview Tips: Stop Playing it Safe

If you've read tons of blogs posts about "how to have the perfect interview," you might start to believe that the "perfect interview" is a real thing—a scripted scene you'll need to play out before you can get past the gates and step into the workforce. But keep in mind that an interview is really just a conversation between two human beings. And even imperfect conversations sometimes lead to great outcomes for both parties.

So the next time you schedule an interview for a job you really want, try leaving the rigid script behind and just being yourself. If you have trouble stepping away from a clear line between correct and "incorrect" behavior, try these moves. They may help you relax, break the mold a little, and allow for a real human connection between yourself and your interviewer (who may eventually become your boss).

  1. Feel free to ask questions. And when you do, really listen to the answers and don't just focus on what you intend to say next. For example, ask your interviewer what she likes about working for this company. Ask how she stepped in the door here and how she would describe the culture in her own words. Ask out of polite curiosity, just as you would in a social setting. If your interviewer doesn't like your questions, or finds them impertinent, you'll know right away. (And you should probably consider this a red flag.)
  2. Don't pretend to laugh at things that aren't funny, and be brave in the face of silences. Even long ones. In social settings, silences can be terrifying—especially for the party who feels a little nervous or has a little more to lose. But go ahead and let each silence unfold at its own pace. Let your interviewer break the pause whenever and however she chooses.
  3. Speak confidently and clearly about your mistakes. As long as you can articulate what you learned from them, your mistakes and failures may be the most interesting thing you can bring to this conversation. Experienced, competent employers will want to hear how you solve problems and face challenges, even—in fact, especially—the challenges and problems that have gotten the best of you in the past.
  4. Tell stories. And don't just tell stories that end with you heroically saving the day. These are boring, and if there's any chance that you might be even slightly (even unconsciously) stretching the truth, your interviewer will see this from a long way off and will start yawning before you have a chance to make your point. Tell real stories. Be reckless with the truth. This can have a surprising impact on your likability.
  5. Be direct and honest about what you want. Don't start talking about salary issues during a job interview (since this can give you a disadvantage at the negotiating table later). But as long as you aren't talking about money, let your interviewer know what you need from this job and where you'd like to take your career over the next few years. Don't make her guess.


Don't Neglect the Power of a Great Resume

Long before the day of your interview arrives, lay the groundwork for an honest and interesting conversation by crafting an honest and interesting resume. Your resume will usually function as a road map through this conversation, and interviewers often take notes in the margins and refer to this document later to remember important details about you. So make this as easy as possible by keeping your resume clear, readable, bold, and honest.

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