Ross was tired and frustrated. He’d spent six months battling Zoom fatigue, going on job interview after job interview, always hopeful and always getting the same result: “Thank you, but you’re not the right fit for us. We wish you luck in your search.”
Now he was interviewing for a digital marketing gig with one of the biggest and best-known tech companies in the world. But he was sick of doing what he called “the dance.” In addition to being a brilliant SEO guy and coder, Ross is flamboyant and outspoken—a world traveler, a musician, and a connoisseur of weed in his civilian life. But he’d been dialing back his personality and style in all his previous interviews, hoping not to offend anyone. His results? Nada.
Screw it, he thought as he got ready for his interview. He was done playing by the rules. What did he have to lose? Instead of a suit, he threw on his finest Hawaiian shirt and set his Zoom background with Lego sculptures. In the interview, he talked about his travels and his guitar playing. He and the interviewer started vibing. They shared a passion for anime. The interviewer defined the culture and what kind of teammates thrive there. The result? Ross landed the job.
The rules have changed
That was in 2019, when employers like this still had the upper hand. Now, after the Great Resignation, companies have millions of vacant seats to fill, and they’re desperate for talent. That puts Rare Breeds like you in the driver’s seat. You don’t have to follow the dusty, timid, conservative job interview rules of the past. Thanks to remote work, side hustles, and generous stimmy checks, employers need you a lot more than you need them.
This is your moment to break the rules and crush that interview for your dream gig by being the bold, brave, unapologetic original that you are. Following are some musty interview must-dos dating back to the eight-track tape era, along with the Rare Breed rules that will give you an unbeatable edge in today’s post-apocalyptic labor market.
Old rule: You want any job.
Rare Breed rule: You want the right job. You’re there to find out if this company is a fit for you.
The Great Resignation happened because millions of people figured out all at once that a paycheck wasn’t enough. They wanted flexibility, family time, purpose, and a respectable pay and benefits package. As a Rare Breed, you’re looking to land somewhere that fits how you think, what you love, and the way you express yourself. So turn the tables. The interview isn’t just a chance for the company to learn about you; it’s your chance to glimpse the company’s soul and guts. Ask hard questions and don’t settle for pat answers. If the gig or culture isn’t a fit for you, don’t rationalize. Keep looking.
A few questions to ask:“How will this role challenge me?”“How long did the previous person hold the role?”“Can you describe a typical work day or week in this role?”
Old rule: Dress for the job you want.
Rare Breed rule: Dress professional, but reflect your unique fabulosity.
An old marketing adage says, “You can’t bore people into doing business with you.” It’s the same for hiring. We’re anti-conservative attire because instead of reflecting a person’s authentic self, it reflects their fear of standing out from the herd. That’s not you. Let what you wear to your interview—whether it’s a Cuban shirt, an Indian sari, or a vintage Hepburn LBD—tell your interlocutor all about who you are, what you care about, and your level of self-love and self-confidence. Stand out and be memorable.
Tip: Obviously, some common sense is in order. If you show up to an interview in dirty or ripped clothes looking like you just fell out of the back of a garbage truck, you stack more of the cards against you.
A few questions to ask:“What values are important to you as a company?”“What are the best characteristics of the employees that thrive here?”“Do you have a dress code? If so, what are the expectations?”
Old rule: Answer every question, even the dumb ones.
Rare Breed rule: Turn the tables and propose a better question.
You’ve heard (or been asked) inane interview questions like, “What’s your biggest weakness?,” right? In the past, you probably felt bound to answer them. Not today. You’re in the driver’s seat, so if you get hit with a dumb question, try this gambit: “You know, I’ve been asked that question before in interviews, and I don’t think it’s very useful. Mind if I suggest a different one you can ask me?” If the interviewer agrees, suggest a question that’s more provocative or revealing, something like, “If I was your boss and you thought one of my ideas was terrible, how would you tell me?”
Tip: Be courteous. No one wants to be told their question is moronic, even if it is. If the vibe in the room tells you to answer the question before suggesting your own, turn on your inner diplomat.
A few questions to ask:“What kind of value do you place on the role I’m applying for?”“What is the leadership style here?”“How will you measure my success in this role?”
Old rule: All positive, no negative.
Rare Breed rule: Know the company and show your insights.
Right now, savvy managers are looking for sharp operators with minds of their own, not yes men and women. That means you can come to the table wearing your critic’s hat, show that you’ve done your research and know about the company, and even more important, show that you know the industry. Pre-interview, go deep on the business and learn all you can, and have critiques ready, especially about the department you’re being interviewed for. A smart leader or HR person won’t care if you’re all sweetness and light if you show up with valid, precise opinions about what marketing or IT did poorly in 2020 and what it could do better.
Serve up the reliable “shit sandwich.” Include praise and positivity, with a center of criticism and finger-wagging, topped with a layer of ,”if you did it this way, I think your outcomes would be 200 percent better.”
Tip: Don’t just slag the company though; that’s not productive.
A few questions to ask:“How is criticism handled within the company?”“What are the top 3 initiatives the company is tackling at the moment?”“How do you recognize your employees for their contributions?”
Old rule: Be safe, vanilla, and inoffensive.
Rare Breed rule: Surprise your interviewer and be memorable.
If a position is desirable, even in a tight labor market a manager or HR staffer might talk to hundreds of candidates before winnowing the field down to a dozen finalists. As a Rare Breed, do you want to be thrown in with everyone who gave boring answers, told lame jokes, or kissed ass? Of course not. Be yourself. Take a photo of a handwritten card and send it in email. Tell that story about your MMA phase or the time you got arrested at a Black Lives Matter protest. Wear a lime suit and make a rap video like Chase Zreet did for a gig at Sprite. Make sure you’re the one everyone remembers.
Tip: Read the room, for heaven’s sake. It’s one thing to be edgy and weird if you’re up for a gig at Apple or Rockstar Games; it’s quite another if you’re sitting down at a hospital chain or the Catholic archdiocese. Calibrate your “memorability” accordingly.
A few questions to ask:“What’s the most audacious thing the company has done in the past year?”“When’s the last time someone broke the rules? Did they get fired for it?”“Do you think there’s a high degree of psychological safety here?”
Old rule: Be humble.
Rare Breed rule: Swagger and humility.
In the past, it was safer in an interview to keep your head down, downplay your accomplishments, and interact with no one but your interviewer unless asked. God forbid people should see you as audacious. Guess what? Bold works, as long as you’re also kind and charismatic. Greet everyone you meet with enthusiasm and respect, like you’ve been waiting all these years just to meet them. Radiate confidence and feel-good energy. A gentleman who spent decades as a manager with a major hotel brand told us that when he interviewed job candidates, he would introduce them to assistants or other staff just to see how they treated these strangers they might never see again. The applicants who were charming and respectful usually got a second interview, while the ones who were dismissive were . . . dismissed.
Real humility always works, so show some where appropriate. Be confident and strut because you’re awesome, but when you’re talking about why you work or who you work for, your talk should be all about the team, the community, your family, and so on. Remember, at the end of the day, we’re all here to serve someone.“How would you describe your culture?”“What would surprise me most about working here?”“What’s the work rhythm here? Fast paced? Is there high stress?”
Old rule: You’ll be grateful to be hired.
Rare Breed rule: They’d be lucky to get you.
Employers need people like you more than ever. So while it’s important to show appreciation for the opportunity, remember that you’re a Rare Breed. You bring something valuable to the table. Any company should feel lucky to get you, not the other way around. Carry yourself that way, with pride in who you are, what you’ve done, and what you can do.
Now, go get ’em.
This article first appeared in www.fastcompany.com
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