I love this question, so I came up with a story to try to answer.
I sit in the airport. Around me, there’re people waiting for flights, people getting off flights.
A woman comes up, is looking for seats. I sit a little straighter, pull my bags closer.
She walks toward me.
“Hey,” she says to me. I pick up the slightest bit of an East-Indian accent. “Can I use this seat?” She points to the empty one beside me.
I scoot over. “Sure.”
“Thank you,” she says. Pulls her luggage over, takes a seat. “Can’t believe how busy it is.”
“Big flight,” I say. “Probably busy because of the bad weather last night. Lots of cancellations.
“Yeah. I hope it’s not canceled today. I really can’t miss it.”
Same here. “Yeah. I’ve got a big work thing tomorrow. Seven people to interview.”
“Do you interview people?”
“Sure,” I say. “Lots of times. Few times a week.”
She nods. Pulls her jacket around herself. “Do you have any tips? I’m actually flying to New York for an interview.”
“Oh, nice,” I say. “This flight’s to D.C., though.”
“I know. It’s the next flight. I’m early.”
I lean forward, twist so I can see her better. “Every time I remember someone I’ve interviewed, it’s because they’ve done a few things. Being early is one of them, so good job.”
She pulls out her phone.
“Oh, no,” she says. “Keep going. I’m just going to take notes.”
I point at her phone. “That. That is another thing they all do.”
She smiles. “That’s great.”
“They take lots of notes. It’s great because I know they’re paying attention, and they’ll remember what I say. The next thing they do is make sure they’re making eye contact when they’re not taking notes. If it’s an online call, they’re looking at the camera, not the screen.”
“Because the camera’s higher.”
“Exactly. Another thing I’m impressed by is when someone’s done their research on my company beforehand. If they read a blog article and point that out, they’ll stick in my mind because they cared enough about my company to look at my website.”
“What’s your website?” she asks.
I tell her what it is. See her write it down.
“Be prepared with questions, too. That’s really impressive. Ask something like, ‘What made someone a rockstar in this position, and what made someone subpar?’ ‘What does a normal day at your company look like?’ ‘What’s your favorite part about working here?’ Those type of questions get the interviewer talking about themselves, and that’s what you want.
“The best interviews are conversations. If you can be open, if you can get them talking about their personal lives and asking you back-and-forth questions, that’s impressive, because people rarely do that.”
She looks at me. “Okay, here’s a question: I’m meeting with the founder. Can I hold a normal conversation with him?”
“You’re coming in as a peer. He’s not above you; he’s just got a bigger title. Founders are humans, too.”
“Listen to what they’ve got to say. And remember, even if the job doesn’t work out, make the interview count. Networking is good. Be yourself–people like people. They’re just trying to figure out if you’re a nice person to work with, and if you’re ready enough to do the job they’ll need you to do. That’s all.”
The overhead speaker announces my flight is about to board. “And if you’re not incredibly experienced in the role, that’s okay. Just be willing to learn as fast as you can.” I gather my stuff, stand. “You’ll do great tomorrow.”
She looks up at me, waves her phone to say goodbye. “Can’t thank you enough for this. Have a safe flight!”
I board my flight. As soon as I settle into my seat, my phone buzzes.
It’s an email from my new friend, thanking me for my advice. She says she found my email from my company’s website and highlights a few of her favorite tips.
That was fast.
I’m incredibly impressed. And I know I’ll remember her long after my flight is over.
TL;DR: Here’s what I’ve heard and seen to be the most impressive in interviews.
- Do your research on the company beforehand
- Be prepared with questions
- Take notes (and show you’re taking notes so they know you’re still paying attention)
- Make eye contact
- Make the interview a conversation
- Be yourself
- Email afterwards, always