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Marcus Blankenship
Marcus Blankenship

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Four interview mistakes (and what to do instead)

I’ve been helping a client hire Engineering Managers the past few months, so interviewing (on both sides of the table) is on my mind.

Here are four mistakes to avoid when interviewing for a job.

Oh, and if you’re the one conducting interviews, ask yourself how you feel when people do these things.

Mistake 1: Talk too much

Imagine this: you’re in a 60m interview, and the first question is “Tell us what you’ve been doing lately.”

Do not spend 18 minutes answer this question. You just burned 1/3 of your time answering a question that was the equivalent to a grocery cashier asking you “How’s your day?”

Talking too much is a big no-no – learn to give shorter answers (under 5min, IMHO) and then ask “Is there anything you’d like to hear more about?”

Don’t fear dead air – it’s the interviewer’s job to keep things going. Instead, you should fear talking so much that the interviewer forgets what question they asked.

This can easily be the death of the opportunity.

Mistake 2: Answer a different question than was asked

I am shocked how often people appear to forget what question was asked… and instead, answer the question they wish we’d asked.

Instead, FOCUS on the question asked – and answer THAT question.

I award bonus points to candidates who write down the question and refer back to it to ensure they keep on track. This makes the interview productive and focused, which I love.

And what if you forget the question?

Simply pause, smile, and ask, “I’m sorry, I got off on a tangent. Could you repeat your original question?” I never take off points for this, as it’s SO SO SO much better than taking me on a ride I wanted to get off.

Mistake 3: Claim to be an expert when you’re not

We don’t care if you’re an expert in Rails, React, Clojure, Elixir, or anything else. But, when you claim to be an ‘expert’ in something, you’re inviting us to dive in on that topic. You’re opening the door for us to ask the hardest question we can think of, in a weird version of “stump the expert.”

I suggest you avoid referring to yourself an “expert” unless you indeed are. Douglas Crockford can say he’s an expert in JavaScript, and Brian Goetz can claim to be an expert in Java. Unless you are the inventor or core contributor, be careful claiming this, as it has almost no upside.

Mistake 4: Apply with LinkedIn (or some other awful tool)

I end with one which breaks my heart. When you’re applying for a job, you might be tempted to click the Apply With LinkedIn (or similar system.)

Please don’t do this. Seriously.

You probably have no idea how much my eye’s bleed looking at the horrid formatting, incomprehensible organization, and walls of unreadable text which these “convenience tools” generate.

They might be convenient for you, but you’ll lose points with the human who has to read it.

Please don’t tell me, “Marcus, the only thing that should matter is the content of my resume.” That’s bunk. The only job of your resume and application is to get you an interview with a decision maker.

Pissing off the Assistant to the Assistant Recruiter, no matter how far beneath you they are, doesn’t contribute to this goal.

So, take time an create a simple resume that’s not too cute, not too fancy, and just plain clear. You’ll be glad you did.

Do you have an interview tip to share? Or, a pet peeve about how candidates/interviewers act? Leave a comment on my blog.

Take care, and have a great day.


The upcoming Software Leader Seminar teaches you how to become more self-aware and avoid these kinds of mistakes. Who wouldn’t want that?

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