By Chandra Turner
I spend a good chunk of my day interviewing folks. The interviews I enjoy the most are the ones that are the most like conversations at a cocktail party — remember those? sigh — where the back and forth is easy and there are a lot do-you-know-such-and-suches, colorful on-the-job anecdotes, and even a bit of professional flirting. The challenge is having that kind of rapport with someone when you don’t have a drink in your hand (although I do recommend beta blockers if you’re prone to severe anxiety; they got me through many a TV appearance when I was an editor!). So how do you strike the right tone, show off your personable self, and prove that you are a unique fit for the job? Here are a few things I recommend:
- Engage the small talk. Yes, time is tight for all of us. But before we get down to the nitty gritty of your experience and qualifications, I want to get a sense of who you are first — and this is just as important as if you know how to use GA or have a background in UX. In my chatter about silly new items (Bernie memes!), the weather (How much snow did you get?), and quarantine life (What are you watching on Netflix?) what I’m really after is a sense of you. Yes, I enjoy talking to you for my own benefit (usually!), but more importantly, like any good matchmaker, I’m trying to get a feel for how you will fit with the company, with its culture, with the team, and with the person who could be your boss. That chat about the weather or your phone’s area code (my favorite small talk fodder) also allows for us both to laugh a little and speak more freely. Like you would chat to a new friend, rather than someone who could be the conduit to your next big career move.
- Be Honest! This seems like a good time to bring up the fact that you should not fake your way through this conversation. Don’t pretend to love fashion if you think it’s the cause of the Earth’s tears. Don’t say that you know SEO when you only know what it stands for. You don’t have to be 100% qualified for this job! It’s OK if you aren’t good at everything — it’s statistically impossible — but as a recruiter I need to know your weaknesses so I can downplay them and play up the things that make you shine. Just be honest. I love it when people say, Actually, that’s the one thing I’m not so good at. Noted! No surprises later; I’m ahead of it and can balance it out when I pitch you. After all, I want this hire to happen too. I have cash money riding on it!
- Let loose your fandom. Speaking of weaknesses, a lot can be overlooked if you are a genuine fan of the brand. Hiring managers come to recruiters because they want unicorns they can’t find themselves. They expect me to turn over qualified candidates, yes, but also candidates who are experts or enthusiasts of their brand and “get” their audience or their consumer in a way that the average person does not. So if you gush in the interview about how you’ve been a loyal subscriber since 2014 or that you don’t miss a live episode on Instagram, I’m taking notes. In fact, I’m probably quoting you verbatim so I can include it in my pitch about why you’re worth an interview — even if you fall short in other areas.
- Prepare your wins. Find points in the conversation to showoff specific examples of your achievements and successes. Too often I talk to candidates and they just answer what I ask like a polite robot. Have you ever been through a website redesign before? What did you learn from it? Answer: Yes. It requires a lot of communication. Don’t make me say, How so? What impact did it have? Share an example without my asking. Or, if you don’t have a good answer, be ready to spin your answer to talk about another success. (Ever watch a politician interviewed on TV? Like that!) Tell a story about, say, how you launched a new lifestyle vertical. Or you refreshed the visual style guide across social media. And how that work was received, the impact it made — either on the end consumer (ideally) or on your boss.
- Ask questions. And ask what you really want to know, not just because you know you’re supposed to ask questions. You are talking to a recruiter here, not a member of the team. (Of course make sure that this recruiter is not an in-house recruiter in which case, adjust accordingly). Use that to your advantage. Ask: How’s the company doing financially? What’s their maternity leave policy? What is the breakdown of diversity in the company, or in leadership positions? Are there any support staff on the team? How big is the freelance budget? I want to hear your legit questions — and yes, even your concerns — so I can make sure that this is the right role for you. And so I can address them with the hiring manager, if needed. There have been jobs that I have successfully changed the titles, the salary, and the responsibilities based on honest feedback in early interviews. Speak up!
- Ask about salary. Actually, if you are interviewing with me, I will bring this up at the end of our call no matter what. But not all interviewers like to talk money on the first date. As far as I’m concerned, they aren’t doing their job. Don’t let that stop you from asking! Better to be clear before your time or theirs is wasted on subsequent interviews or god forbid, an edit test. It can be a delicate discussion (need tips? check out my interview with Cindy Medina Carson, founder of Wager), but it’s best to just be direct: What does the compensation package look like for this role? She may bounce it back to you, What are you looking to make? Again, be honest. Even if you over shot the mark (as indicated by a gasp on the other line), you can always walk it back and say you’re “open to conversation” or “flexible for this role.” I truly want you to be fairly compensated. Similarly, for those who have seriously undersold themselves, I’ve been known to say, I’m sorry there was some noise on the line, would you like to repeat that?
Chandra Turner is founder and CEO of Ed2010 and Talent Fairy. She is a talent recruiter specializing in editorial and content roles. She also offers personalized career coaching for editors and content creators at all stages of their career.