The Single Most Important Interview Secret

By: Alan McMillan

I recently read a great book for young people who are transitioning from college to career. The Bigs, by Ben Carpenter, offers some of the clearest thinking and ‘how-to’ advice I have come across for 18-24 year-olds. In addition to his book, his website is full of valuable information accented by 13 short The Bigs Videos that are must-sees for every emerging college student (and their parents as well).

Let me give you an example (and I am paraphrasing), of when Ben was asked about job interviews:

 “The single most important secret is that the interview is not about you and how great you are. Young people have to understand that the job interview is not about solving your problem, which is you getting a job.It’s all about solving the interviewers' problem, which is finding the best person for that job. So that every word that comes out of your mouth has to tie back to that theme.”

That is right-on-the-money advice. How do you do that? It starts with research and planning. Research is the single most important interview secret.

Prior to engaging with a prospective employer, you need to know:

  1. What do they do
  2. Why you are interested in the role
  3. A couple of very good questions (this should include discovering the problem they are hiring for)

Once you know what their problem is, then you can position yourself as a very strong solution. One you have fully researched, you have unlocked the most important interview secret.

Research and Preparation

Prepare for your interview by leveraging the following resources:

  • Knowledge you have gained from interactions that have gotten you this far.
  • Your network. Both who you know as well as who they know. Reach out to alums who might have knowledge about the organization and the space in which they operate.
  • General internet research (including setting Google alerts to flag you when information about the organization is released)
  • Make certain you budget enough time for getting ready. It is not an understatement to say you need to devote 6-8 hours to preparation if you want to be your best on an interview.

Preparation does two things:

  1. It makes you stand out and have a more productive interview
  2. Even more important, it gives you confidence so your best self shines through


Many candidates ‘wing’ the interview. They don’t sufficiently prepare. You come ready to put your best foot forward. And remember, it is not about YOU it is about THEM (the company, the hiring manager, the recruiter). If you take care of THEM you will more adequately take care of yourself.


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