There’s a common saying when interviewing, “Act like the job needs you, not like you need the job.” For the most part, this quote is pretty accurate. When you walk into the conference room, waiting for the lineup of potential bosses and coworkers to meet you and assess if you’d be good for the team, you need to keep a cool head and pull a left turn: flip the tables on them. Make them want you.

You need to become the one asking the hard questions, to make them fall in love with you.

By flipping the script and interviewing your would-be peers, you’re letting everyone know that you mean business. Answering questions with thought out replies is a significant part of the interview process, but by keeping a few questions in mind to ask when feeling out how the team and company moves shows you’re thoughtful and that you care about the position.

Confidence and composure are what the team is looking for, not how your resume reads. By creating conversation, or bouncing ideas off one another in an admittedly awkward environment relieves some of the tension but also shows that you can assume control of a situation that you’re not entirely comfortable with. People enjoy being engaged, it’s not Pavlovian, but we react in kind when an interviewee volleys the questions back and thus creates an honest dialogue vs. a rehearsed call and response.

We asked some folks who’ve been on the hiring side of the interviewing table what they’d love to hear when looking for their next great teammate, what makes them raise an eyebrow or catches them off guard. In the world of the job hunt, it’s all about impact and standing out, not just answering what you think the interviewer wants to hear.

“The interviewee should have made time to conduct strong research on the company, role, market, and form ideas about how they will add value. The most compelling candidates do their research and ask relevant questions.” – Brian, CFO/COO

It’s important to come to your interview prepared and know the company, their space and what you think they’re trying to accomplish. By asking about how the company is positioning itself against natural industry evolution, it shows you’re trying to plan the next move and instead of trying to come from behind and jump in mid-stream. Granted, no one expects greatness overnight, but it helps to feign commitment to developing the future instead of relying on status quo.

Others are all about goals and successes, finding out ahead of time where you could fit in and what is expected of your role. By asking what metrics can be hit for the most effectiveness or how you can be a major contributor to the team makes a case for an objective-minded person:

“I want them to ask about team dynamic. If they aren’t asking about what level of autonomy they’ll have, what the feedback process looks like, and how we typically communicate, then they likely aren’t looking to be engaged in the way we need them to be.”

– Beki, Project Manager

“What are the KPIs for the position, how are they measured (if not obvious), and is there a bonus in exceeding them?” – Victorio, CEO

“I also now ask what success looks like for the role. And add a time frame, like six months. It makes the interviewer distill the real aim/purpose of the job. What they say first is very telling about what they care about, e.g., You have met all your performance targets, or you’re successful in your team, or you’re taking the initiative on new projects.”

– Claire, Technical Writer

Other questions are straight ahead and get down to the brass tacks, looking to strip away any fluff. It’s important to keep the smaller, more direct questions at the forefront, too. Every question doesn’t have to be a big picture narrative, there’s plenty of room for the inquiry that strikes to the heart of why would I want to be on this team?

Can I meet some of the people that I will be working with, or managing? – Heather, Writer

What surprised you most about joining this team? – Elena, Product Marketing Manager

Heading into your interview with a few questions about the position will only help drive the point home that you’re the person for the job. It doesn’t matter if you’re trading stocks, cleaning toilets, or writing blogs, the important lesson here is to drive engagement between you and the people interviewing. You want them to see you as effective, informed, and ready to be an impact player on the team. You made it all the way to the in-person round; they like you, it’s up to you to seal the deal with some extra pizazz.

And if all else fails you can be weird and ask something like “Would you rather fight 100 horse sized ducks or 100 duck sized horses?” We don’t recommend it, but Michael, a quirky CEO went there. Don’t blame us. We’re just trying to help.

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Higher learning can be a magical time. College students are essentially dropped face first into a real world-flavored place where no one is accountable for their lives, except, you know – them. Mistakes are made in college, but it’s a place where learning to correct those mistakes is just as easy. But, there’s one part of the college experience that means more than your GPA or how much you showed up to your English 301 class: it’s your internships.

Everyone needs to pull their weight at an internship. They offer a portrait of staff dynamics, but also teach humility and let a student know how much effort a 9-5 entails.

Hiring bosses won’t be impressed that you got cheese plates for the most powerful real estate company in Austin, nor will anyone care that you got to write code for the front end of for EA for a semester. In reality, you need something different that you’re not thinking of. You need to go the road less traveled.

It’s critical for students to think about real life goals and what the plan in a post-school world could be. Students need to look at the companies on the back pages of the book, the companies who are not flashy and receive a 10th of the inquests of their acclaimed classroom competitors. The real unpolished diamonds lie are in these places.

By applying to smaller companies or less flashy ones, the chances of you getting real, meaningful work are higher. An internship is meant to teach a student life skills and offer a view into X industry. By getting hands-on experience at an internship instead of just the crap work no one else wants to do, you’re given a front row seat to check out what’s behind the Great and Powerful Oz’s industry curtain.

INTERNSHIPS ARE THE GREAT EQUALIZER

Consider this example: you’re a fashion design student at Tulane University. You love clothes, and you want to work in New York. You read all of the fashion blogs, have curated a fashionista Instagram feed and you’re always looking for the next new trend. You want to be seated at the right hand of Michael Kors or Calvin Klein. They don’t realize it yet, but you’re going to be a force, you’ll be the one to breathe new school style to the tried and true brands of the last decades. At least, this is how you see the world in your head. You need to get a few internships before anyone will take you entry-level serious.

You’re killing it in school. It’s time to search for an internship. But, not all opportunities are created equal. You don’t live in New York. You live in New Orleans. New Orleans has a fashion community. Albeit small, there are people putting out exciting clothes. Naturally, you want to go with them, you want to apply yourself to the biggest name in town, or at least work for one of the shirt companies who design all of those pieces all of the locals and tourists alike gobble up. You want to be aligned with that company making the cute dresses they sell on Magazine Street or maybe even try to work at one of the city’s fashion-minded publications. It’s you and a sea of other students who also live in one of the most art-obsessed cities on earth. The competition will be tough. There are only so many spots.

You can put in the application and hope to be called. Alternatively, there’s another route to take. Instead of hoping to do some social media posts around the new shirt with the trumpet logo, you can design something. Look for the little clothes companies, the one’s who are branding shirts for the beer league softball teams, or the company who has a small locally sourced clothing factory. Installing zippers on prototype hoodies isn’t glamorous work, but it’s impressive because you can speak to actual function over fashion. These teachable moments are what the working world is comprised of – it’s not all glitz, there’s actual work.

MAKE THE SMARTER INTERNSHIP CHOICE, NOT THE FLASHY ONE

Chances are, if you approach a place like this, they’ll be happy to have you on board. A blue-collar clothing factory would love an intern.

A hiring manager sees a bazillion applications for a job. They’re looking for experience, or at the least something interesting if you’re right out of school. Having that big name clothing company looks cool, but when you’re asked about what you did, what can you tell that hiring manager? That you sent out of a few tweets and got a lot of coffee? Maybe worked a handful of events and handed out t-shirts?

By taking the gig that’s less flashy, you can talk about how they gave you meaningful projects or that you were given carte blanche on a design project. Typically, the smaller the company, the happier they are to have your contributions. Because you can cite some real-world experience and likely walk away with stories of being challenged, or even just deal with a demanding boss, you’ve solidified yourself as a better candidate for a job.

Experience is everything in the working world. Give yourself the leg up and apply to intern at the places who offer the best shot at actually doing the work. Make the connections, and do the work. Let someone else worry about getting coffee.

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