Level Up Your Interviewing Skills

When it comes to ‘selling yourself’, beware that as a candidate: great sellers often make poor buyers.

June 13th, 2017   |    By: George Kassabgi    |    Tags: Recruiting

Having interviewed hundreds of people in positions ranging from developers to sales reps, there are some interesting patterns that emerge.


There are a number of things that candidates focus on which are in the “cannot hurt” category. To be competitive as a candidate these won’t suffice.

Dress for success?

So cliché. Your mom probably told you to “dress for success” but she also reminded you to be yourself. Come to an interview as yourself, if you’re comfortable in ‘business casual clothes’, wear those, if you’re only comfortable in jeans and t-shirt, great. If your confidence in a sales situation is strongest when dressed in a suit, bring it. Be yourself.

Follow-up letter?

“That candidate sent a great follow-up email so they have an edge” — said no quality hiring manager ever. If you’re going to write a follow-up email, make it substantive: furthering a discussion from your interview:

“Enjoyed the conversation today, here are some additional thoughts with regards to …”

Paper Resume?

Nothing says “I’m out of date” like a printed, stapled copy of a CV to hand out. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date and use that as your curriculum vitae, it has more information than any resume. If the company insists on a formal resume, tell them you are happy to craft one specifically for them, and link to your online information. Whoever is coordinating your interviews should be able to include the link in calendar invites.


Here are things you can do for an incremental level-up, let’s start here.

Read up!

Unless the venture is stealth, there should be a fair amount of information about the company and its products.

The interviewers are likely to have LinkedIn profiles you can study, understand where they’ve worked, what connections you might have with them, etc. See if there are recommendations that suggest what people are like. Obviously if some of the company’s products are online and/or down-loadable you should have tried them before coming in. The fact that this is a suggestion is indicative of how low the bar is on this point!

It should take 1–2 hours of studying to properly read-up prior to an interview — and be able to ask intelligent, probing questions.

Often what distinguishes a quality candidate are the questions she asks.

Arrive early!

Arriving 15 minutes early will not only ensure you are not late but may reveal things about the place. How ‘busy’ is the lobby? What’s the vibe there? How do they handle your early arrival? If the interview begins late and you are waiting for a prolonged period of time, how is that handled?

There’s no right or wrong but you need to feel comfortable with the work environment.

Arrive early and pay attention.

This isn’t about being on-time (you should always be) but rather about assessing the place you are considering joining.



If the room your interviewing in has a white-board, use it to explain something you are describing. If it doesn’t: pull out your notepad and draw!

“I’m extremely resourceful” asserted the project management candidate I interviewed in SF for a large software company years ago. So I asked him to work through a problem, “you have 5 minutes to provide the best answer to a simple question: how many feet above street level are we currently at?”. We were on a high floor in the Russ Building on Montgomery Street, with a clear view to the street below. The candidate never got up out of his chair, spent the 5 minutes staring at me, asking clarification questions. Of course no amount of clarification would result in a reasonable estimate to the question! If this is ‘resourceful’ I had no interest in it.

Get up out of your chair and show you are passionate about engaging in the discussion.

Days later another candidate for this position was asked the same question. The young woman got up and ran down the hall to confirm the floor #, then ran back to office and estimated the height of the each floor, writing on the whiteboard her assumptions. Based on the exposed ceiling in the hallways she estimated the height above the drop-down ceilings to the next floor. With 2 minutes left she double-checked her work and then delivered her estimate. She was hired (and proved to be effective in the role).


It never ceases to amaze me how often candidates talk about their work but do not show it, with pride.

The UX designer telling me about her most recent project rather than showing me the designs and their iterations.

The Developer talking about some complex work when the code is on GitHub and he could be taking me through some particularly interesting aspect of it.

The Product Manager speaking about some feature exploration for a product they built that’s on their iPhone, without demo’ing it.

Why not showcase your work?

Bring you laptop to the interview and be prepared to showcase some of your work, this seems obvious but most candidates don’t.


If you want to take your game up much higher…

Brand You!

Update your LinkedIn profile, add links to presentations, online copies of your work, recommendations from colleagues, etc. Add relevant professional links to your profile, eg. industry related social media links.

Your professional brand is the combination of your professional background, your connections, your writing/posts about the industry, etc.

Here are more tips on updating your LinkedIn profile.

Project your brand as a professional.

Act as an investor!

If you join the company you are interviewing with, you will be investing a large percentage of your waking hours, act as an investor — because you are one. Investing money is less of a commitment than investing your “full time” as an employee, yet the typical diligence by candidates pale in comparison to even the most careless investor.

One candidate asked “Is there a path to management in this position?” for an entry-level role. A different candidate asked instead “what expectations does the company have for growth and what are the assumptions around that?” Which one of these acted more as an investor?

The latter candidate, acting as an investor, understands intrinsically that a company that’s not growing won’t be able to offer growth opportunities within, regardless of what a hiring manager might try to ‘sell’.

The kinds of questions investor candidates ask:

  • Company growth plans and underlying assumptions
  • Financials (past and projected), particularly for the role in question
  • Anticipated dilution events, total amount of capital raised, most recent valuation

If the interviewer won’t provide you with some of this information, it’s a chance to gauge how they fail to provide it.

The due-diligence you pursue after the interview is even more important. Find out what you can about the place and the people. Back-channel reference if possible — dig for dirt!

Seek mentors!

No matter what stage of your professional career, there are always people you can learn from, people who can provide mentoring.

Look for a person in the company you are interviewing with that may be a mentor to you. Doesn’t need to be the hiring manager.

Growth often comes not from promotions but from working on challenging projects with really great people.

The loftiest title surrounded by clowns will cause your career to recede. Don’t work at a circus.

“Given what you’ve learned about me and the people here, do you think there’s someone who might be a mentor to me if I join your company?”asked a 20-something candidate for a marketing position.

This question is perhaps the most valuable question a candidate can ask. If genuine: it reveals a lot about you as “always learning”, if the question seems odd to the interviewer perhaps that’s a warning sign.

Interviews are a unique professional ritual, often conducted (by both sides) in superficial ways. “I thought he was a strong candidate” says the inexperienced hiring manager who mostly engages in smalltalk during interviews. “I liked her better than other candidates for this role” says a colleague who is looking at the hire purely from the perspective of subjective team chemistry.

Most interviewers don’t know what they are doing

This common approach to interviewing candidates: shallow, conversational, subjective, is largely an advantage to the high-caliber candidate. You might ‘charm’ your way through the process, but be sure that in the end you will have wasted your time. Your objective as a candidate is also to scrutinize the opportunity.

When it comes to ‘selling yourself’, beware that as a candidate: great sellers often make poor buyers.

About the Author

George Kassabgi

Entrepreneur, Investor, Philosopher, EVP  at Seniorlink, Director/Investor at Mendix, and Founder at Keas. Twitter: @gk_

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