How to fail an interview, even if you are super smart

I have done hundreds of interviews by now, interviewing candidates at Microsoft, Google, Slack and even for my own startups. Most of them have been delightful — talking to smart people about hard problems is always fun. By now I have a pretty good intuition about who will pass the interview cycle and who will fail. Following a little introspection, I figured it is easier to see who will fail than who will pass — there are distinct common pitfalls that smart people fall into when doing interviews. In this article I will cover the most common mistakes.

To set the context — I am only talking about interviews in tech companies for mid to senior levels. High tech interviews are long and hard— most candidates need to undergo 3–6 interviews sometimes lasting full days.

Here is a simple guide to failing an interview, even if you are super smart:

1) Come unprepared

Examples:

  1. Candidates do not know the basic public information about the company (LMGTFY)
  2. Not knowing basic public information about your interviewers (assuming you get the list beforehand, also check out Accompany)
  3. Have not used or researched a platform’s API before the technical interview.
  4. Have no notion of what the role entails — Haven’t read the job description or sought out people currently in this role to provide guidance on what’s expected.

When I interviewed at Slack, I came with a printed version of my plans for Developer Relations, this might have been overkill, but you can’t say I wasn’t prepared.

Have a vision for what you intend to accomplish, always have a backup plan in case you run out of power/etc, and work with the recruiter to know what to expect in terms of the interview setup — will you be in a room full of people? Who will interview you?

Also note that companies share a lot of valuable information online: product vision, business jargon, company mission, and company values. All these might be important for you to explore, as the hiring committee might evaluate you by referring to these aspects.

2) Interview for the wrong job

Sometimes you need to take a leap of faith in order to make a career jump, and then you might not be the perfect fit for the role. Make sure you can outline the logical steps for the leap of faith — for example: “I have not managed a team of 100, but I did manage 25 and excelled at that role”.(Also see, being unlucky)

3) Interview for the wrong reason

  1. I want to join the company because my friends told me it is a rocket ship
  2. Do you have massages on campus?
  3. I was looking for a BD role but you just closed it so…
  4. I heard you are very competitive with your compensation
  5. I have worked in a startup for too long and want to rest a bit in a big company
  6. I’m looking to find my lifetime partner here ;)

Other than the last one, I have heard all of these answers to a simple question — why do you want this job? Here is how it might look to a hiring manager:

Motivation and incentive are a crucial part of what a good interview committee will be looking for. If you are not here for the right reasons, save yourself time and do not interview.

4) Be arrogant/ over-confident (or just a jerk)

Here are some examples of problematic behavior:

5) Be dishonest

6) Be unlucky

  1. Role or priorities change
  2. Another candidate did marginally better
  3. You/interviewer had a bad day — yes it happens
  4. Bad chemistry with one of the interviewers
  5. Timing was not right — you interviewed too early or too late

Conclusion

CPO and co-founder of Reshuffle.com

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