What Interviewers Are Really Looking For?

You’ve been told for years that exhibiting good posture and maintaining eye contact during an interview will exude confidence and generate a favourable impression. And this is indeed accurate: as a seasoned interviewer, these are certainly behavioural characteristics that I look for during an interview. You’ve also been instructed to dress appropriately and not interrupt the interviewer. Again, solid advice. But what are some lesser-discussed attributes that are sure to sway even the most obstinate interviewer?

As someone who has interviewed hundreds of candidates, here are some personal outstanding favourites that have truly impressed me over the years:

Brutal honesty

Somehow, we have all been conditioned to approach an interview in a very formal and conceited manner. We are so fearful of saying something negative that we refuse to do so even when asked. To wit, if you’ve ever been asked “what is your worst quality?” during an interview, I am sure you have managed to weave this into something overwhelmingly positive – and wildly fictitious. But why? Some of the strongest candidates I have interviewed are those who are unflinchingly honest during an interview. I once had a candidate tell me that one of my company’s recent social media campaigns was, in his words, “a total disaster”. When pushed for an answer, he was able to clearly explain why and what he would have done differently. Some people may consider it risky to brashly criticize the work of a potential employer; personally, I consider it common sense (if you are able to back it up, of course).

Get personal

During a recent interview, I asked a fairly routine question about why the candidate had applied for the job. After a fairly uninspiring answer, she turned the question around and asked me why I had chosen to sell my business and accept my current job. Wait, what? It turns out that this candidate had done a great deal of research on my professional background to better understand my perspective and to find some common ground. She was also able to draw parallels between her career and my own professional path. It was clear to me that this candidate had gone beyond the simple corporate research and had chosen to make this interview much more personal. And, given how the great majority of interviews can be quite laborious, this was truly a breath of fresh air.

Get involved immediately

Some of the most engaging interviews are those that function more like a brainstorming meeting than a Q&A session. As a candidate, you are encouraged to ask appropriate questions about the position and company during the interview. However, don’t limit your questions simply to procedural or functional elements. I’d suggest you get stuck in and make it seem like you are already a member of the team. Feel free to create a dialogue about how decisions are made or how projects are run. The hiring manager should be happy to discuss these real-life scenarios with you and should provide you an opportunity to offer your own insights. For example, my team had just concluded a long web development project and was interviewing a new web developer. Rather than ask questions about parking or lunch hours, he asked me questions about our chosen project management methodology and why we hadn’t considered different approaches. We spent the next thirty minutes brainstorming ideas about how to manage the next big project. And, for these thirty minutes, the candidate felt more like a member of my team than a complete stranger interviewing for a job.


You’d be amazed at how few candidates take the initiative to supply an interviewer with additional assets for consideration. For example, the great majority of writers show up to interviews without a portfolio or links to published articles. If I don’t explicitly request writing samples, I don’t receive any. And this does not reflect well on the candidates. If you want to avoid being an afterthought, take some initiative. Some of the most impressive candidates I have interviewed are those who have come armed with portfolios, presentations or other documents to support their candidacy. One candidate went so far as to produce a high-level communications plan during an interview for a social media position.

So aside from the required eye-contact, body language, punctuality and company knowledge, these types of initiatives get you noticed and leave an interviewer feeling that the candidate had put their best foot forward.



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