Strategies from a true story with a happy ending.
Countless posts affirm what we all know — the job interview process is stressful. It’s a roller coaster of emotions: excitement, fear, hope, nervousness…
Often you’re on multiple roller coasters at the same time, interviewing with more than one company. And of course, life may be throwing a lot of other things at you too. It’s a lot to handle, but you can handle it with some perspective and a few tips.
So, I’m going to let you listen in on a real conversation I had in Slack with a designer interviewing for an exciting role…
Note: I’ve tightened up the original transcript and removed personal information. Sophia is not her real name, but she did give me permission to publish this.
⭐️ If you’re skimming, look for boxes like this, which summarize the tactics.
March 27th — Nerves & Transparency
9:11 AM: Hi Alex! I just got the email that I’m moving forward to the next round for a job I’m very excited about! It sounds like this will be a culture fit interview with some design questions sprinkled throughout. It’ll be a video call.
Do you have any suggestions for nerves during an interview?
This is a product I’m very passionate about and have used for some time so I feel my nerves will be higher than most interviews!
10:05 AM: Hi Sophia, that’s great to hear, congrats!
I think it’s okay to be open about that with the team. I love to hear that someone is excited about the opportunity and I understand that nerves come along for the ride.
Plus, their reaction can give you a good idea of their culture. Do they understand? Are they supportive in helping to ease your nerves a bit or are they dismissive?
That says a lot.
10:09 AM: Depending how nerves impact you, you can give them a heads-up. For example, some people start talking very quickly when nervous, so they might say “Thanks for meeting with me. I’m really excited about this opportunity and the team, and to be honest, that may cause me to start talking quickly, so please let me know if I should slow down.”
⭐️ Handling interview nerves: be transparent and tell the interviewers that you’re nervous. For example, if nerves cause you to speed up, you might say “ I’m really excited about this opportunity and the team, and to be honest, that may cause me to start talking quickly, so please let me know if I should slow down.”
10:11 AM: The other thing, which it seems like you’re already doing is to think about the questions you’ll be asked and practice your answers ahead of time.
I’m a huge fan of practicing your answers out loud. I rehearse my answers, not to memorize them, but to think of key things I want to highlight, capture a good turn of phrase that I can use and catch anything that may sound odd.
Also, it just helps me feel prepared.
⭐️ Preparing for questions: practice answers to likely questions out loud, ideally with a partner, but even solo practice is super helpful.
12:22 PM: Thank you! Yes, I was thinking about letting them know at the beginning in some way!
They want to interview me first thing next week so it’s very quick turn around. I’ll definitely be prepping this weekend. 😀
I’m currently working on answering questions on the spot. I always feel there are a couple questions that throw me off, then after the fact, I come up with a much better answer. Haha.
Any recommendations for answering questions like that?
1:01 PM: Hah, yeah, that happens to all of us!
Give yourself permission to say “That’s a good question, let me think about that for a second…”
It’s easy to feel pressured to immediately answer, but showing you’re comfortable pausing to think and provide a good answer is powerful.
⭐️ When you don’t have a ready answer: Give yourself permission to say “That’s a good question, let me think about that for a second…” and then think through the response. Sometimes “I don’t have a good answer to that” is the best response.
April 5th — Interviews with the Execs
11:20 AM: Hey Alex!! I just wanted to update you that the interview process is super lengthy, but I’m still chugging along.
I’ve got one more video call with the CPO and COO.
I’m super excited. Thank you so much for your help and confidence last week!
11:22 AM: Do you have any recommendations about talking to Execs? The email mentioned a casual call for 45 minutes. Not sure how to focus my interview prep for this round.
2:48 PM: That’s great, congrats and thanks for keeping me updated Sophia!
2:50 PM: The big thing for meeting with execs is demonstrating that you know and care about the business.
Referencing specific improvements you’ve made/driven with bottom-line results is important. For example:
- X% increase of signups
- Y% reduction of churn
- an increase of user sat of Z%
Ask about their business goals, what impact they would expect you to make and how your success would be measured too.
⭐️ Talking to execs: Demonstrate that you know and care about the business by referencing specific improvements that moved a product or business forward with clear, measured results.
4:10 PM: Thank you! Just two more hoops left… Big ones! haha.
I prepped some questions for them about their business and visions/goals.
4:12 PM: I’ll definitely focus on my answers being more metrics driven… although, I don’t have a lot of data I can share for my projects. It’s mostly qualitative feedback from releases.
4:25 PM: Awesome. The fact that you’re talking to them at all shows that they’re invested in you.
12:02 PM: Hiya Alex, I had a great call yesterday with the execs. They had a few questions that surprised me. I knew how to answer, but I just couldn’t get my thoughts formulated well enough until after the call. Hindsight is always 20/20! haha.
I found out I am 1 of 3 out of 306 applicants so I think I should be proud to finally reach this point.
Hopefully, my passion for the role takes me through even if I stumbled a bit.
12:02 PM: Thanks for the support throughout the process!
12:28 PM: That’s great news Sophia! All of your preparation looks to be paying off. 😃
I’ve definitely stumbled in an interview only to come up with a perfect response later. Most of the time interviewers don’t even notice, so I bet you’re in a good spot!
April 12th — The “Casual” Interview
9:35 AM: Heya! I made it to the final round.
I am flying out to meet with one of the Design Managers on Friday and it’s meant to be a super casual lunch and chat with a colleague type of scenario. Crossing my fingers it goes well!
9:38 AM: Do you have any thoughts on such a “casual” interview?
These folks know me pretty well at this point and I know a lot of this will likely be culture fit and my thoughts on the current state of design etc.
10:23 AM: 💥 That’s excellent news, congrats Sophia!
My only advice is be yourself. As you said, you’ve been talking with them a lot, so this is a good opportunity to validate that you’ll like working with them and to gain a deeper understanding of their culture.
10:26 AM: One of my favorite questions for these situations is “If you had a magic wand to fix anything at the company or your team, what would you change?”
It may sound silly, but it provides a ton of insight..
⭐️ Navigating the “casual” interview: Be yourself. Seriously, you want to be sure this is a match. To get an insightful view into the team and company ask the question “If you had a magic wand to fix anything at the company or your team, what would you change?”
5:35 PM: That’s a great question!! Thank you. I’ll let you know how it goes.
9:38 PM: Sure thing! I bet they’ll be excited to talk with you in person and it will be a fun and informative time.
April 18th — Negotiating the Job Offer
9:14 AM: Heya Alex!! I got the job! I am so excited!!
9:20 AM: Excellent!! Congrats!
9:21 AM: Thank you!
9:22 AM: I did have an offer question for you. It’s a little different of a situation than I’ve experienced before.
9:24 AM: These folks are very honest, kind and upfront. They’d given a range at the beginning of the interview process.
When the COO gave me the offer, he took his time to explain they do hiring very differently, want to avoid the back and forth, give a fair etc. He also mentioned the offer may be lower than I’m used to, but the benefits of the company are the people you work with, the remote aspect, etc.
The offer was lower than I expected and at the mid-point of the range they gave me initially (he said this was rare, but given my skills they thought it was appropriate). He said he hopes the offer is respectful to me, etc.
Is there a polite way to counter and not put them off?
I’d just like to see if they can move even a few K up and not make it seem like I am negotiating or ignoring his initial spiel he gave me. I knew it would be a step down monetarily, but I hoped a little less than it is.
9:27 AM: Hi Sophia, it’s definitely fair for you to negotiate. It’s great that they gave you a range up front, which helps to understand where they’re comfortable.
It sounds like you feel that you are above that midpoint..? If so, it’s fair for you to explain that even their high-end is a step down, but you’re excited about joining them, so you’re willing to find a middle ground.
9:28 AM: That said…
They’re very excited about you at this point. They’ve invested a lot and they clearly feel like you’re the right candidate, so you have room to maneuver.
9:31 AM: When I’m excited about a company and we’re close, I like to use language along the lines of:
“This is really exciting, thank you for the offer! This doesn’t quite match up with what I’m looking for, but if you can get the salary to $X, I’d be happy to accept the offer today.”
That last part is key, it gives them confidence that they’ll get what they want (you) without a lot more back and forth.
⭐️ Negotiating when an offer is lower than you expect: It’s okay to push back, so long as you’re honest and polite. At this point, they’re excited to have you join the team, so you have room to negotiate. Use a clear statement to communicate what you’re looking for. For example: “This is really exciting, thank you for the offer! This doesn’t quite match up with what I’m looking for, but if you can get the salary to $X, I’d be happy to accept the offer today.”
9:32 AM: Yeah, I would say hitting the high end of their range would put me at a really good place. I just didn’t know if it would upset them because he is being very transparent.
9:32 AM: Would you say it’s best to do this over the phone or via email?
I asked to have a call with him later today. I just felt maybe my tone would help in communication
9:33 AM: Phone is definitely better. I wouldn’t expect them to be upset about it. If they are, that would be a red flag 🚩.
Negotiating salary is part of hiring and the COO’s job is to negotiate
9:34 AM: Yes, agreed. I guess I’m a bit blinded at this point because I’m so excited. This is a dream job for me
9:34 AM: Yeah, just remember that they’re as excited as you are!
9:35 AM: Thank you for the reminder!
9:35 AM: It can be hard to remember that when we’re the candidate
9:37 AM: As the company is very big on transparency, working that into your reply may help…I’d say something like
“Thank you for being so transparent throughout the process. That’s hugely important to me. In that same spirit, I’m excited about the offer, but it’s not quite where I need it to be. If you can get the salary to $X, I’d be happy to sign today.”
9:40 AM: Perfect! Thank you
9:42 AM: Happy to help! I bet the call will go well
6:33 PM: Just signed today! They were able to negotiate a bit which was really nice.
I am over the moon! Thank you again for all your help and support.
6:42 PM: That is tremendous news Sophia, congrats! All of your hard work paid off. 😀
There’s a lot to take away from this, and every situation is different, just remember that the interviewers are hoping that you are the next great member of their team.
You got this.