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Interview Prep Advice For Candidates Who Don't Want It

I've been in the people business for 20 years. That's a REALLY LONG TIME to do one thing. I've done it a lot of different places, but they all have something in common - interviews are hard.

I don't care how long you've been working in your chosen profession. I don't care what your degrees are in. I don't care if you are the world's foremost expert in basket weaving - someone, who has the authority to recommend you for a job, is coming to judge your basket.

Don't you want to know what they're hoping to see?

Candidates who dismiss interview preparation or recruiter advice from the start are doing themselves a tremendous disservice. Don't believe me? Let's meet Cliff (not his real name, but he looks like the guy from Cheers. Uncanny, actually - since he also KNOWS EVERYTHING).

Many moons ago I was a starving agency recruiter searching for a CFO for a solar start up. Our client specifically wanted someone from a utility background, and was willing to train up on the intricacies of solar AND start up world. The role was a tremendous opportunity for someone to come in to the C-suite with a fast track to CEO, as our client was a serial founder and wanted to turn over the reins to his new hire. After much searching, I found Cliff - his background had been primarily in public utilities in the right geographic area - he knew the players and was itching to get into something "new". Win Win!

I talked to the client about Cliff's background and concerns around not having previous start up experience, and the client explained why that didn't matter. What he REALLY wanted to see was energy and confidence that the person could learn. As long as Cliff could deliver THAT, he was IN! His background could not have aligned any better.

I'm STOKED, and can't wait to give Cliff the good news plus share some interview prep. We had some standard prep we sent everyone, but we also targeted certain things we learned / knew about the organizations we were retained with, to help our candidates put their best foot forward. I schedule the call with Cliff, letting him know what we were going to cover. When I called him, I barely get a sentence out when he says -

"No offense, Amy - but I've been interviewing since you were in diapers. I don't need any help."

Now my dumb ass, being a young recruiter kinda new to this exec search stuff, backed down. Big mistake. HUGE. I left Cliff to his own devices, where he promptly went into the interview and shit the bed. When debriefing with the client, he was sad. Cliff had a great background, exactly what he was looking for, but repeated several times "but I haven't worked in solar/start up before". Over. And over. Maybe it was nerves, maybe he thought the client didn't already know that. What I know FOR SURE, was that I could have TOLD Cliff we'd talked about that, vetted it, and how to discuss (be confident in what you DO know and focus on how you'll ramp up!). But unfortunately, Cliff already knew everything and cost me a massive fee.

Sigh. I had to call Cliff, and let him know. Guess what Cliff said. NO REALLY GUESS.

"Gee Amy, I wish you had told me that."


Well Cliff, I tell you what. You've RUINED everyone else's chances of escaping my prep calls! EVERYONE GETS A PREP CALL!

I have never forgotten Cliff. These days, if a candidate tries to squirm out of my excessive prep, I tell them Cliff's story. I tell them MY story - I'm a professional recruiter who interviews people ALL THE TIME, but being on the "other side" of the desk is different! And scary! And hard! Y'all know I'm a recruiter who does this every single day - when it was my turn to be the interviewee - I realized just how little I knew about my now employer's expectations and how they were going to "grade" me. I'm so grateful I listened to my recruiter and soaked up the many prep documents she sent me ahead of time. I also work exclusively with managers, so I get to remind them how THEY are vetting candidates. When you're interviewing someone for your team, don't you want them to have taken advantage of EVERY opportunity to be ready? The answer is a resounding YES.

So for candidates who still think I'm full of shit, here's what I want you to consider before your next interview:

  • You're probably interviewing once every few years at best. You are not a "professional" interviewer. You're a professional something else and probably amazing at it. Please - let us help you with this part.
  • Interviewing is a TEST. I tell my engineering leaders all the time - "you're probably REALLY GOOD at math. You do math every day. Math is your thing, you can do math in your sleep. Now you have to prove it. Remember the SATs? Did you study for those? SAME CONCEPT."
  • With some exceptions, your recruiter wants this as badly (if not more so) than you do. We are literally in the business of delivering offers. We can't do that if you don't pass the interview. Trust us, we don't want to mess this up. We have NOTHING to gain by giving you bad advice or steering you wrong.
  • You CAN ignore us. Maybe the prep doesn't make sense, or you have an inside track (friends at the company, whatever) that completely runs contrary to what your recruiter is telling you. That's OK! You can't ignore what you don't have in hand. Give us a chance. Take what works. Unless the recruiter is a total idiot, they probably have at least one or two helpful nuggets. It's worth your time to take the call.
I am EXCEPTIONALLY lucky that I work with some of the smartest people on the planet. My company has a very high bar, and we offer lots of advice on how to navigate our challenging hiring process. I love when my candidates not only embrace my help, but ask lots of really great questions and take the time (weeks!) to really study up and make sure they're putting their absolute best self in front of the interviewers. If you're going to take the time to meet with interviewers, do yourself a favor and take any and all opportunity to knock it out of the park!


  1. Awesome post. Everyone has gotten a prep from me. Both external and internal. The ones that turn me down, I will direct them to your article!

    1. YES!! :) please do haha if it changes even ONE mind it was worth writing. I'm still salty over Cliff and his shenanigans, 15 years later.

  2. I see having a chance and talk to a recruiter before any interview and get helpful information as a big advantage. I have been in many interviews without even talking to the recruiters first and that was always scary. As a matter of fact one is coming in few days with one of our big brand name company and again the first step got replaced by an automated email and no chance to talk to the recruiter.


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