How to Achieve Success at your Interview–Part 2
We're back in the reception area, you're standing at attention, you're wearing a cute little outfit or some nice, clean slacks. And you are retrieved by a receptionist or an assistant or the actual person. Let's pretend it's an assistant or the receptionist. Always be polite. You are really lucky if a receptionist or an assistant retrieves you to take you back to the conference room. Because here you can get some on-the-ground research. Let's pretend that the assistant's name is Lisa. And you are walking with Lisa who has a pencil behind her ear and is very efficient to go to the conference room. And then you say to Lisa, Lisa thank you so much for coming to get me. Tell me a little bit about Jeffrey. Anything that would be really good to know about him before my interview? And then she'll likely tell you something. Even if it's just a little snippet. It's putting her at ease, you're learning something, and you're going into the room even a tiny bit more confident than you might have b...
een. You might be terrified, but you're gonna get your inner Barbara Streisand (all laughing) and you're gonna do it anyway. Because if she can do it, we can do it. So you're gonna go into that conference room, and if it is the person who you're actually interviewing with, you are going to have a series of questions that you are going to use as small talk. That you will use to get to know that person en route to the conference room. So let's say Jeffery comes out and gets you directly. You need to have a whole slew of things that you wanna ask Jeffrey about. Little innocuous, fun, up-to-the-minute things that are happening in the world. Nothing really deep about what he majored in in college. And you're going to have a list of those things in your head. Years ago, the very first time I ever had lunch with Steven Heller, who was a wonderful mentor to me who is the founder of a number of the graduate programs at the school of visual arts and he's written about 150 books about design and design criticism. I had lunch with him and I was so terrified I actually had a cheat sheet of things that I would talk to him about that I wrote on a paper napkin and had in my lap. So that if I got really really nervous I would be able to look down and see that I had written Louise, his wife Louise Fili, Sagmeister interview. I don't remember what it was at the time, this was about 15 years ago. But I knew that if I had these things that if I choked I could glance down at. So just have a list of things. If you know that perhaps they're really interested in baseball, talk about the local baseball team. Or talk about something that will help break the ice and show the person that you're interviewing with that you're a human being and have range. Have different ways of thinking about the world that aren't just about design. So I've given you the two scenarios. One with the receptionist or assistant, one with the actual person. You walk happily into the room and there's a big rectangular table and you are asked to sit down or make yourself comfortable. What I want you to try to do always, if at all possible, is to sit side by side rather than face to face. This is a really small little niggly thing, but it really makes a difference. You want to try to be able to be on the same side as someone. You don't want to be combative. You're not playing a game of tennis. You're not opposite each other, you're not on different teams. You're actually on the same team. And if you're in a meeting where you're going with a group of people from an agency, for example, don't all sit on one side like you're a football team. You wanna intersperse so that you're all in this together. And it's much easier to show a portfolio when you're sitting side by side than having to look at it upside down. And it's a lot easier to create a mutuality with somebody when you're turning the pages. Or when you're pointing things out as opposed to being opposite. So, just a little trick that I have found works to create an easier rapport when you're showing your work. I want you to try to avoid ever being combative. Most of the time when clients don't like our work, designers think it's their fault. That it's the client's fault. That it's not our fault for doing something they don't like, it's their fault for not understanding our greatness. (all laughing) Right? Like they just don't get it. How many times have you heard somebody say that about a client? They just don't get it. No, that's not the case. They just don't understand what you've done and you have failed at explaining it to them. So, if somebody doesn't like what you're showing them or somebody says what made you decide to do that? You need to be prepared. And one of the other things that you need to do in your preparation is consider every possible scenario. And so you have to imagine what all of the possibilities are in any given meeting. So, let's say they don't like your work at all. What do you do? Let's say they don't like the very thing you were hoping would impress them more than anything else. What do you do? What do you do if they go crazy with glee and joy, how do you respond? We don't think about how people are going to respond. Think about a showing of your portfolio or an interview as a game of chess. You have to not only think about what you're going to say now, but what you're gonna say four steps down the line if indeed this happens. As soon as you need to justify what you're telling somebody when you justify why you did something, you're telling them why what they think is wrong. Not a good way to develop mutuality. So if they don't like something, let them not like it. Let them not like it. If you go away and then you find out that they didn't like it, it's much harder to reestablish trust and credibility than if you know they didn't like it in the meeting. So you want to be able to allow people to have their own opinions about what you did and if they don't like it, you need to be able to consider what your other options are and that's part of preparing. Preparing isn't about knowing only everything about the client before you go into the meeting, it's also about knowing every possible response that you could have to any question that they might ask. So that you feel prepared. That's what being prepared is. Knowing what to do if this thing happens. The last thing you want to do is to be asked why you did something or why you made this choice and be like, I don't know. It looked good to me. That's not the reason. Now if somebody doesn't like something, ask why. Why did you do that? If they ask you that question, it means they don't like it. What made you decide to choose that typeface? You can say well I thought, this particular reason, and is it not quite working for you? How come? What do you hate about it? Put it right out there. Most people try to avoid being told that something isn't perfect about what they do. If you get the sense that somebody thinks that what you do is less than perfect, ask them why. And then they'll tell you, they'll tell you, and then you'll grow and you'll learn or you'll disregard it and move on. But you don't want to be combative when somebody tells you something about your work because it's information that is helpful. Or it's a good screener for not a good fit for me. And you know that you don't wanna work there. So I don't want you to take what people say at face value. You need to listen to what they mean. And if you're not clear, ask questions. The more information you can get in an interview, the more likely you are to do well in that interview. Because you'll have done enough preparation prior to be able to take that new information and make connections that nobody else would be able to make. And that's how you show how well you think. Thinking really fast and well is something that really impresses people in an interview. What seems to be effortless, on-your-feet winging it is actually the result of hours and hours and hours of preparation. And that's when really good dialogue can happen. I want you to be aware, very aware in your interviews of body language. Yours and theirs. An interview is a constant juggling of scenarios. You have people talking, you have people moving, you have portfolio pages being turned. You have temperature you're thinking about, lighting, people coming in, people going out, people looking at their iPhones while you're trying to show them work, heart crushing. Most of the time you can see that behavior as that they're bored. I hate to say it. People that are really really engaged in your work will likely not be tempted to look at their iPhones. But the minute somebody goes to an iPhone it means they're not engaged anymore. The minute somebody moves back in their chair, leans back, it means they're a little skeptical. They're putting a little bit more distance between you to be able to assess. Somebody leans in, obviously they're much more interested. The surest way you'll get a job is if somebody picks up your business card. It's almost infallible. When somebody picks up your business card. Why do you think that is, when somebody picks up your business card? It means they're interested in knowing more about you. So if somebody picks up your business card, they're looking for more information. And so feed off of the energy of the people that you're meeting with. And if people are skeptical, lean into that skepticism. Try to show more about what you're doing as opposed to pontificating. Give them more reason to believe what you're telling them by giving them more facts or figures or proof that something did well in the marketplace or something was successful in this particular industry. I want you to try if at all possible in a meeting to avoid giving away your power. And what I mean by that is I never ever ever want you to ask how much time do we have? Why do we need to know that? Assume that your interview is gonna be anywhere between 30 and 60 minutes. If it goes really well, 60, if it goes okay, 30. If it's a disaster, 15. (all laughing) Never ask about how much time you have. Because immediately you're giving that person an opportunity to take something away from you that you've already earned. You also don't ever want to apologize for anything except being late. But you are never ever going to be late to an interview because you've already prepared enough to know how long it would take for you to get there even in the worst possible traffic. So you don't apologize. You don't apologize for something being wrinkled, you don't apologized for something being dog-eared. You don't ever have those things in your portfolio to begin with. Anything that you feel like you have to apologize for, anything, the color not being right when it was printed, the quality of the paper, whatever it is, if you have to apologize, it shouldn't be in your portfolio ever. You should only have things in your portfolio that you love. That you can talk about to the end of time about why and how you made the decisions that you did to have the result that they now see in front of them. But the minute you have to apologize for something, you are giving away your power. Assume you have between 30 and 60 minutes, do not ask for permission for anything. You don't have to, you're there. But when you're showing your work, I want you to again always consider to be seeking out criticism. So you want to ask every single person that sees your portfolio, everyone, what is the one thing that you would recommend that I take out of this portfolio. First of all it'll show people that you're open to understanding what you aren't perfect at doing. Second of all, you're gonna get really good information about what people really think about your portfolio. Because in addition to telling you what they think that you should take out, they'll tell you what you absolutely, positively have to leave in. And it'll give you a sense about what they think about your work in general. So you always wanna ask, that doesn't mean that you have to do everything anybody tells you to do. But if you go to 10 interviews and 10 people tell you in those 10 interviews to take those same thing out, you might wanna consider the possibility that it's not as good as you think it is. Just something to consider.