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6 ways to ace a job interview, according to these business leaders

If you want to land your dream job, you need to be a stronger candidate than the next person in line. Here's how to ensure your interview is a success.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor
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You've got an interview for the job you always wanted -- now you need to impress the hiring manager. While a great resume can help you get your foot in the door, six business leaders tell us the interview techniques that mean you'll stand out from the crowd.

1. Show excitement for the role

Bob Michael, head of data at retailer DFS, says he looks for people who are excited about the role and are likely to get the same kick out of work as he does. 

"You want people to be able to have those inquisitive moments, where they think, 'I'm going to do that because that's actually really interesting,'" he says.

Also: How to flawlessly answer the 'Tell me about yourself' interview question

Michael also says work/life balance is crucial. Yes, he wants people who enjoy their job, but he doesn't want new entrants to live and breathe work every moment of the day. 

"I'm looking for somebody who's enthusiastic and wants to do it," he says. "Then, even though they may not necessarily have all the skills or may not be the best at doing that role, I'm going to be prepared to give time to work with them so they can excel."

2. Bring a sense of curiosity 

Mary O'Callaghan, director of technology engagement at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), wants people in her charity who are curious. 

"If someone comes to me and says, 'Oh, someone should do something about this problem,' I want their next words to be, 'So, I'm going to do something about it.' I don't want people who think someone else should deal with the issues they find." 

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As well as being open to all possibilities, O'Callaghan says people applying to her organization should be purpose-driven and motivated by its charitable cause, especially as BHF can't compete with high-paying companies, such as financial services and big tech firms.

"I look for attitudes rather than specific experience," she says. "We invest in training and development, so we can give you the experience and skills. But it's the attitude that you can only bring yourself."

3. Be honest and open

Zarah Al-Kudcy, head of commercial partnerships at Formula 1, says she's looking for people who know their subject matter and are honest about what they know -- and what they don't.

"You don't always get that, but that's something I relate to well because it opens up an element of trust," she says.

Al-Kudcy recognizes some people might find the thought of being completely honest in an interview process a bit daunting. However, get the right tone and the job is yours. 

Also: How to nail the 'Do you have any questions for me?' part of the interview

"I think you can see through it when people aren't engaged, and their interactions are staged -- maybe more now than ever before. It's certainly what I look for," she says. 

"We've just hired several people, and the ones that were more honest and open were the ones that ended up with the jobs. Authenticity is key. And if people don't like the thought of that, then this probably isn't the right workplace for them."

4. Demonstrate your conceptual strengths

Rajeswari Koppala, senior manager of DevOps at United Airlines, looks for people who have the capacity to grasp concepts rather than searching for a defined set of technical skills.

"If I'm interviewing you, you might have worked with entirely different tech tools than I have experience with," she says. "Then interviews can get tricky, so I focus on concepts rather than tools. Tools can change, but concepts remain the same."

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Koppala says people who show the right aptitude will be able to learn whatever new technologies or processes come their way -- and she tailors her interview questions to allow people to show their ability to grasp fresh concepts.

"I try and understand the candidate's resume, and I ask questions based on their background rather than my experience," she says. 

"That focus on exploration and capabilities is really important in DevOps or platform engineering because whatever we know today is likely to be outdated tomorrow."

5. Be courageous without being crafty 

Stephen Wild, engineering manager for observability and automation at gambling company 888 William Hill, says appealing candidates have just the right amount of chutzpah. 

Also: How to use ChatGPT to build your resume

"The best way to go into an interview is confident, but not too confident," he says. "If somebody comes in and tells us they're experienced in a particular field, that's often good enough. They don't have to be experts -- we'll train them on everything that they need to be trained on."

Wild says one thing he really doesn't appreciate is someone who starts guessing -- or worse, lying -- during the interview process: "I don't want somebody like that because they're going to make mistakes when they're actually working with me."

He gives an example of one person he interviewed who had a fantastic resume. The candidate even came across well during an initial 20-minute chat. But things unraveled quickly when it came to the technical stage of the interview process.

Also: 5 ways to be a better manager

"You could actually see him Googling the answers," he says. "You could hear him tapping away on his keyboard. And it was very difficult, especially when he was getting questions wrong, even though he was using Google. So, that's the worst way to have an interview." 

6. Prove you're a rounded person

Athina Kanioura, chief strategy and transformation officer at PepsiCo, says it's nice to hear smart questions from candidates, especially when they're focused on personal priorities.

"I had someone ask me what makes me happy at work," she says. "The question was less about work and the expectations associated to the role and it was about more the individual satisfaction that you get from being in our workplace."

Also: New job? Here are 5 ways to make a great impression

Kanioura says modern employees, particularly from younger generations, feel differently about work in the post-Covid age. Smart managers recognize that change in attitude and are on the hunt for candidates who strive for happiness outside the workplace, too.

"People need to have other things that they do and targets that they aspire to," she says. "It's nice to know you're speaking with someone who's self-motivated in all areas of life and not just their day job."

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