The above advice is decent. However, If you face a well trained interviewer¹ with only that much preparation, it will be you trying to get the dents out of your posterior afterward, not the interviewer.

The key to success in a job interview is to realize that an interview is not a conversation. It looks like one, it feels like one, but it is not. It's a sales meeting. Treat it as such.

We are trained to use the conversational model in almost all of our dealings with other people. It's the wrong approach here, even though both sides pretend otherwise. An interview is about the transfer of information, both ways. It's about making the points you want to make, and getting the answers you need. Sometimes it's about suppression of information², too.

It’s important to be polite, and personable, and to make a positive impression, of course. You do want to show that you can hold an intelligent conversation. But you have to be in control of the conversation - not commandeering the full agenda, but you have to be talking about what you want to talk about at all times.

Think about a politician giving a press conference. He (or she) is there to give out certain information. He's probably determined not to give out other information. He won't lie (if he's smart) because he'll be caught, but he will avoid areas he doesn't want to discuss and will constantly steer the discussion back to his topics. When you listen to a skillful politician answer a difficult question, you'll realize they don't answer it at all, they just return to their core messages.

Core Messages

Core messages are the things you want the interviewer to remember about you. They should be succinct, distinctive, and relevant to the job at hand.

Go in armed with three to five core messages you want to convey. Depending on the job you may be stressing technical skills, people skills, perhaps even physical attributes. Think about what you have to offer that makes you unique and valuable.

Stay away from fluff such as "dedicated" and "quick to learn". Almost every person I interview says those things. I expect them, in the same way I expect a pulse and respiration3. Bring things that are related to the job as advertised, or the core values of the company. Bring things that will actually set you apart from other candidates. Bring things you can back up with real experience.

You should be prepared to deliver each message at least three times during the interview. Until you become skilled at it, it may seem a bit awkward. But if you can do a decent job of it, the interviewer will recall those things about you afterward.

If the interviewer opens with a vague question like "tell me about yourself", you can hit all of your messages at once, right there. You should also be able to work each core message into discussions of your past experience. Ideally, that’s where you developed each skill or trait you want to raise. And you almost always have a chance to sum up at the end, and you can repeat them all again. If you’re not offered the chance, close with it as you get ready to leave.

Difficult questions

Some questions should not be asked, and you don't have to answer them. Sexual preference, marital status, religion, and so on4. See Improper interview questions.

If you’re asked to comment on a negative experience, it is critical that you refrain from criticism of previous employers or coworkers. This will reflect badly on you. You can talk about situations, but never use words like "wrong," "stupid," or even "misguided," or talk about personalities. Explain as dispassionately as possible why you didn’t like the situation. Be prepared to talk about what you’d have done differently. You want to seem analytical and observant, but not bitter or looking to assign blame.

Why did you leave a previous situation? Focus on personal growth, improved opportunities, or if necessary a situation like a layoff. Don’t focus on conflict, failure, or bad feelings. Express regret that things didn’t work out, and talk about the next thing.

There may be questions asked which are quite legitimate, but which you don’t want to answer. Core messages are your line of retreat if the interview goes awry. If you find yourself going to a Bad Place, go back to your core messages. Sometimes you can do so smoothly, other times you might have to say "I don't think that's relevant. I'd rather talk about core message #3." That's all right. Most interviewers will recognize and respect your restraint.


It is imperative that you know as much as possible about the company and the job. It shows you care, you’re interested, you’re not above making a bit of effort. Know what the company does, what its products are, who the customers are. Know what the job’s responsibilities are as described, and how that stacks up against similar jobs. And yes, have some of the above questions ready - but listen to the answers and try to ask an intelligent follow-up question that shows you’re paying attention, and thinking.

Tell me about a time…

Interviewers looking for certain skills may ask for a specific instance where you showed that skill. Creativity? Tenacity? Being Faster than a speeding bullet? You claimed to have it, so back it up.

Your interviewer is looking for three things in this kind of question: What was the task or situation you were faced with? What action did you (personally) take? And what were the results? If you can give a concrete example with all these elements, you’ll score major points.

Negotiating? Well, the local gang had taken over the local soda shop, and no one could get any ice cream. The heat was on, and people of Townsville were suffering. I convinced the local gang to come outside by telling them how much better their ice cream would taste in the sunshine. Then the girls and I kicked their butts!

If you have a few of these prepared in advance, you can usually find a way to use them, even if the interviewer never asks this exact question. These miniature stories are also good places to bring up those core messages, if you can make the answer include one or more of them.


Lastly, be ready to discuss this. Don’t dissemble or try to duck it. You’re trying to sell something. Don’t be ashamed of it or sell yourself short. There’s no reason that you shouldn’t know roughly what you want your new salary to be. Your prospective employer will respect you more if you ask for a fair price for your services

Final notes

Take a gander at the remarkable hard interview questions. Programmers may also want to check out Interview questions for OOP programmers.

Now you've got yourself some size 12 interview ass-kickers. Good luck!

A testimonial

discofever says:

"Using Lord Brawl's interviewing techniques, I have one job offer in hand, and one likely offer on the way! I'm happier, healthier, and my gums have stopped oozing black ichor! Thanks, Lord Brawl!"

  1. Like me. Don't tell anyone that I helped you, or they'll take my washroom key away.
  2. Oh, my, how shocking. But true. You don't want to get into the boss you hated, the bad review you got six years ago, or that time you and the foreman's sister had that adventure in the packing peanuts.
  3. OK, I'm flexible. Undead Java developers or QA specialists, willing to work the night shift, are welcome to email me.
  4. I returned to this topic in Improper interview questions, after a longish pause. :)