10 Traits That Separate the Best Interview Candidates from Everyone Else 😇 / by Lewis Lin

Ben Horowitz is a venture capitalist and The New York Times bestselling author of The Hard Thing About Hard Things. Earlier in his career, Horowitz held leadership roles at Lotus, Netscape, AOL, and HP.

At Netscape, he penned a legendary essay titled Good Product Manager/Bad Product ManagerThe essay was riveting. Not only have I referred to it repeatedly over the years, but also it inspired me to pen my own essay, using a similar format, about what good interview candidates do that bad ones don't.

Read on for the entire essay. I hope it demystifies why some people get all the offers while others come up empty-handed.

Conquer those interviews,

Lewis C. Lin

P.S. Thanks to everyone who bought copies of my new book, Secrets of the Product Manager Interview. I'm humbled by your support. Sales have far exceeded my estimates. 😁

Photo Credit: Alex Gorzen

Photo Credit: Alex Gorzen

Good Interview Candidate, Bad Interview Candidate

Good interview candidates apply to a small handful of jobs because they know what they want. Bad interview candidates apply to all jobs because they don't want to miss out.

Good interview candidates write cover letters that are brief, relevant, and when appropriate, entertaining. Bad interview candidates cut-and-paste cover letters, leaving the reader to figure out how they are different from everyone else.

Good interview candidates know the company, the customer, the products and the competition. Bad interview candidates tell themselves that they'll learn about the company, customer, and products during orientation week.

Good candidates anticipate interview questions. Bad candidates don't know what to expect.

Good candidates write interview responses in advance. Bad candidates don't see the value of clarifying their thoughts in writing before they speak.

Good candidates verbally rehearse their written responses so they don't worry about what they're going to say. Verbal practice helps them appear casual, conversational, and relaxed. Bad candidates prepare for interviews by spending countless hours passively reading about the company.

Good candidates know what the hiring manger is looking for. They redline the job description. They've circle all the important keywords including skills and experiences they're looking for. They ask the recruiter (or friends at the company) thoughtful tips and clues about the hiring manager and the position: What is he looking for? What are his pet peeves? What did he like or not like about other candidates or (if applicable) the candidate's predecessor?

Good candidates promote themselves effectively. Good candidates think about the story they want interviewers to share at the water cooler. Bad candidates think about covering every single career moment. Good candidates use the right keywords, using vocabulary and concepts familiar to the interviewer. Bad candidates use language familiar to only themselves.

Good candidates ask the interviewer questions. Bad candidates react to interview questions. Good candidates assume interviewers are really smart. Bad candidates assume that interviewers are dumb and can't tell if the candidate is "winging it."

Good candidates are precise in the words that they use. Bad candidates use business jargon that everyone else uses. Good candidates can explain the meaning behind their words. Bad candidates need more than 10 seconds to do the same.

Good candidates talk about their careers with passion, detail and conviction because they love what they've done, what they're currently doing, and what they will do. Bad candidates avoid talking about their careers. They make excuses for not speaking up, but the truth is that they either don't know what to say or are too afraid to say something that hurts their chances at getting the job.

Good candidates have interview responses that are complete, logical and satisfying. Bad candidates have interview responses that are fragmented or illogical. Bad candidates shift the burden to the interviewer and let the interviewer do the hard work of figuring out what the candidate is saying.

Good candidates explain their careers in a way that sounds fun. Bad candidates explain their careers in a boring way.

Good candidates send thank you notes because they appreciate the interviewer for taking time out of his or her busy schedule. Bad candidates don't send thank you notes because they take the interviewer's time for granted. Or, they don't have the discipline to write a thank you note when they're busy.

Good candidates demonstrate value to the prospective employer before, during, and after the interview. They redesign the company's web page, create a new marketing brochure, or propose a new product and share it — proactively and for free. Bad candidates wait until they are on the job to demonstrate their worth.

Good candidates welcome job offers with excitement and gratitude because they know it's what they want. Bad candidates hem and haw when receiving a job offer because they don't know how a company fits into their life plan.

Good candidates enjoy the new job because they are eager to learn, adapt and change. Bad candidates complain about the new job because it's not comfortable.

Inspired by Ben Horowitz's article