A recruiter, a marketer, and an engineer teamed up to share what they’ve learned from 1000s of interviews at companies including Slack, Facebook, Apple, Walmart, and many high growth startups.
Table of Contents
TL;DR: Do your research.
The best way to nail an interview – whether it’s remote or in-person – is preparation. When you do your research, you show that you’re interested in the opportunity and you respect the person’s time. No amount of intelligence or experience will help you fake your way through an interview you’re not prepared for.
Set aside at least 30 minutes to do your research. Not sure where to start? Here’s a checklist for your next interview:
1. Be able to give a 2-3 min narrative of your background including WHY you made each job change
A good interviewer has read your resume and is familiar with your background. But your career adds up to more than can fit in a document. (Speaking of resumes, make sure each role and set of responsibilities you describe are impactful moments in your career that have prepared you for the role you're interviewing for). You should be able to talk about your experiences, your career progression, and why you made changes in a few minutes.
Spend less time on older, less relevant experience and more time emphasizing the work you’ve done that makes you qualified for the role you’re interviewing for. Since you’re remote, it’s good to have your resume, portfolio, and other relevant content open and ready to share so you’re not scrambling in real time. Not all companies use Switchboard for interviews (yet!) and you should be ready to share your screen, if necessary. Gaps in your resume? There’s nothing to be embarrassed about – just be ready to explain them.
2. Be ready to articulate what you want to do next and why the role you’re interviewing for is a great fit
A hiring manager can smell apathy from a mile away. It’s important that you show genuine interest in that company specifically, not just getting a new job generally. Besides “just exploration,” think about what made you take the call. Be ready to explain why you’re a fantastic fit for the job you’re interviewing for. It can be hard to establish rapport over a screen and being specific about your enthusiasm can help create a more personal connection.
Perhaps you want to apply what you’ve learned so far at a different company. Maybe you’re ready to take on a new challenge and your current company doesn’t have advancement opportunities. Or you just love the product! Whatever the reason, be sure to tie it back to the job and company. Don't bash your current employer, but be able to explain why you're intrinsically motivated to seek employment at the company you are interviewing with. It’s better to run towards the opportunity, not away from your current situation.
3. Go to the website
This may be an obvious one but you should spend time on the company’s website, and not just the homepage. Go deep – there’s a treasure trove of information. Take notes while you’re reviewing the website and come up with questions you want to ask in the interview. Meeting with more than one person? Divide questions based on their functional area. Once you’re done with the website, be sure to visit the Help Center or read the FAQ. You’ll find the real answers (and potential company red flags) there.
4. Try/buy the product, if you can
The person you’re interviewing with cares about their company’s product and/or service and you should too. If the product is free, low cost, and accessible to try, there is no excuse not to sign up or purchase it. Why? One, you’ll learn more about the company by getting hands-on experience with their product. And two, it shows you’re taking the role seriously. It’s a huge red flag for hiring managers if it’s clear you haven’t tried to understand the product. If the product is too expensive or it’s impossible to try before the interview, ask if the company has a demo video (if there isn’t one on the website). If not, don't be afraid to ask for a demo before your interviews.
5. Read all the news about the company
Thanks to the internet, there’s no excuse not to do thorough company research. Do a Google Search for the company and see what you can find. Be sure to click the news tab in Google to get the most up to date media coverage. Social media is also a great way to learn about the company. If they don’t have links from their website, look on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and even TikTok to learn more about the company. If a company recently made a big announcement, you want to have that knowledge heading into an interview.
6. Look up bios on LinkedIn
LinkedIn is practically made for interview research. You can, and should, look up each person you’re interviewing with. How long have they been at the company? Where else have they worked? What do they post about? Do you know anyone in common?
Getting to know about a person before the interview will help you break the ice. If you share a former coworker or are from the same hometown, it’s a great way to make a connection early in the conversation. Again, it’s harder to read body language over a screen than in person. If you can make the person you’re talking with feel more at ease and more connected to you, do it if it feels authentic. And it’s totally okay if you have nothing in common – it’s just not okay to have no idea who you’re talking with.
7. Understand the market including competitors
The company you’re interviewing with is keeping an eye on competitors – you should too. You don’t need to go in depth but having a sense of the competitive landscape is helpful. This won’t just serve you well in the actual interview but should help you decide whether the company is a fit for you. For example, are they the leader in their category or just getting started? Are there a lot of companies doing the same thing or is their product unique? And going back to the product prep, look into advantages their product has over others. Having trouble identifying who they’re competing against? Ask in your interview.
8. Think about your questions ahead of time
When an interviewer asks if you have any questions and you say “no”, that’s another red flag. The person interviewing you may think you’re not curious, not prepared, don’t care, or perhaps all three. Interviews go both ways: think about what you want to learn about the company based on your research. You can ask things that will impact you directly like structure of the team or what kind of person thrives at the company. One great question is, “What are your biggest challenges this year, and how can someone with my background help?” You can also ask about the person’s role, including how you will work together or what they find most interesting about their job. Other great questions are about priorities for the next year, how they celebrate wins and navigate failure, and what hours people typically work.
Print out your questions or have the document open and easy to access during your interview. Since the interview is conducted online, you can have other resources open to reference (transparently, of course), like the company's website, an article, or the product itself. You are interviewing the company as seriously as the company is interviewing you, so your interviewer should be able to provide honest and straightforward answers. But please don’t ask questions that are easily answered on the website.
9. Have a point of view
Similar to being ready with questions, you should formulate your thoughts on the company and the role. Come up with ideas and suggestions that are related to your functional role. What can you add to the company? How is your background relevant to the work they’re doing? Be prepared to answer what you think is compelling about the product and company. Gather your thoughts on why you think the company is well-positioned to succeed. Ego stroking? Maybe. Sounding prepared? Definitely. And if there's something you think you can improve, you can ask why they took their current approach.
10. Send a thank you email afterwards
Please please please do not skip this step. It takes about 5 minutes per interview and will make you stand out versus other candidates. Within 24 hours of your interview, send a thank you email to every person you spoke to. The email doesn’t need to be a novel. A good structure to follow is: say thanks, reference something you spoke about (and build on it, if you can), reiterate your interest, say you look forward to next steps. Not interested in the role? It’s still good to say thanks and let them know that you’re not interested in the role. Again, you don’t need to send your life story – just send a note that shows that you appreciate their time and a quick reason why you’re not interested (not ready to leave your current role, doesn’t feel like a good fit at the time, not the direction you want to take your career right now, etc).
Last but not least: set your environment and equipment up for success. Test your computer camera setup, check your microphone volume, and clean up your setting to avoid any awkward moments in the beginning of the interview. Join the call a few minutes early in case there are last minute technical issues and to make sure your camera is facing you directly and not the side of your body. We strongly recommend taking an interview from your computer and not a phone or tablet.
In summary, do your research, be prepared, be helpful, and be polite. Follow these steps and you’ll be sure to nail your next interview. Knock ‘em dead!