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5 Things I Look for in a Great Job Interview

Here is what separates a good candidate from a great one.

By Matthew Swyers |  @TrademarkCo   | Jan 16, 2012


In my career I have reviewed thousands of resumes and conducted hundreds of employment interviews for both The Trademark Company and other businesses for which I have worked. In doing so, I got to see the good, the bad, and the downright ugly in terms of resumes, interviewing skills, and the like. For other CEOs looking to hire, here's what I think makes a great candidate stand out from the good ones.

1.  Attention to detail

How many times have you heard this one, right? Pay attention to detail. Let me say it again: PAY ATTENTION TO DETAIL!

There’s a great story at the end of the movie Coming to America with Eddie Murphy. It goes something like this:

A man goes into a restaurant. He's having a bowl of soup and he says to the waiter, “Waiter come taste the soup.” The waiter says, “Is something wrong with the soup?” He says “Taste the soup.” The waiter says again, “Is there something wrong with the soup? Is the soup too hot?” The man says again, “Will you taste the soup?“ “What's wrong, is the soup too cold?" Replies the waiter.  “Will you just taste the soup?!”  “All right, I'll taste the soup,” says the waiter, “where's the spoon??” “Aha. Aha! ...”

At this point you may be asking yourself, “So what does this have to do with identifying a great candidate?”

Not less than two months ago I received a wonderful e-mail from an applicant seeking to work for The Trademark Company. The e-mail was personally crafted. The note struck a wonderful tone emphasizing capability and a willingness to learn more about what we do here. Most importantly, the candidate emphasized attention to detail. I was sold. I was ready to open up the resume and see what they had to offer. And then, “Aha. Aha! ...”

The applicant had failed to attach a resume. In the blink of an eye, all of the time spent preparing for this submission--researching me, the company, and the job’s requirements--vanished into thin air. Poof!

Some CEOs may have overlooked this and just asked for the resume. But you can’t say you have an eye for detail and then fail to deliver on the point. Everything job candidates do, from cover letter to resume and beyond, must prove that point. Otherwise they are just wasting your time. I passed on that candidate.

2.  Proofread

My contracts professor in law school told this one to the class one day. Although he was an otherwise socially challenged individual, this story has always stayed with me.

It seems that at some juncture he was involved in delivering a speech on some topic that involved a “public option.”  He had written and prepared the speech but had left the PowerPoint slide presentation to one of his assistants.

Well, as he began delivering his speech–a seemingly dry speech–he could not understand why a wave of chuckles and murmurs would, from time to time, arise from the audience. It was not until he neared the end of his presentation that he glanced up at the screen projecting the bullet points of his speech behind him. And right there, right in that moment, he understood with perfect clarity why his speech had evoked the unexpected reaction from the crowd.

If you omit the letter “L” from the word “public,” it won’t be flagged by spell check. It will, however, be picked up by anyone else reading the slides as you deliver your speech on the “pubic option.”

This could very well be you at your next sales presentation: pissed and embarrassed because you overlooked your employee's failure to proofread his resume during the hiring process. So, check the candidate's resume and cover letter for misspellings that spell check might have missed. In so doing you will make sure that you hire someone that's thorough and doesn't rely on spell check to do their job.

3.  Preparedness

One of the first things I always do after an interviewee leaves is to ask every single person who came into contact with them what they thought. Why you might ask? You never know what little windows into your prospective employee this may provide.

Once I asked one of our receptionists what she thought of a particular interviewee. I was very surprised to hear what she had to say. She said she thought the interviewee was pleasant but did have some trouble when she first arrived: It seems that the prospective employee had no idea who she was interviewing with, so the receptionist had to call around the office for 10 minutes until she could figure out who to notify that their appointment had arrived.

I thought this displayed a lack of preparedness on the interviewee’s part, especially as she was interviewing for a job that had primary scheduling responsibilities for me and would require her to know and keep track of all of our most important customers.

In another case, after a 45-minute interview the interviewee stood and said, “Mark, thanks for the second interview.” Big problem: My name is actually Matt. Nevertheless, I shrugged it off--perhaps I had misheard the applicant, or maybe he had simply had a momentary lapse. However, when I walked him to the door he proudly reiterated my name, “Mark, again thanks. I look forward to hearing from you.” Every fiber in my being yearned to reply, “Well, if I meet this Mark fellow, I’ll be sure to have him call you.” I did not. I also did not call him back.

A candidate should know everything about you that they can find out and engage you on a level that you will enjoy and that moves you one step closer to offering them the job.

4.  Phone and e-mail correspondence

Another thing that also gets overlooked is professionalism in e-mail and phone communications. I pay attention to the candidate's e-mail address and how they answer their personal phone.

Sure we all have private lives, but we all have to be professional in dealing with employers--and, most importantly, prospective employers. So if a candidate's e-mail address is "" or “,” think twice about hiring him. Gmail, Yahoo and other companies have a great price point for new e-mail addresses: free. There's no excuse for not having a professional-looking e-mail address.

For me, an interview starts when I call you to set up the interview. Recently I called an applicant, and they must have been at a the reunion tour of Van Halen--because when the candidate answered, all I could hear was “Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love” blasting through my phone. I mean, it was so loud I could actually see people in my office starting to bob their heads to the tunes.

After a few attempts shouting into the phone--“Is [Name Omitted] there?”--finally the music departed and I was able to hear once again. The heads stopped bobbing in my office and the person on the other end said, “Speaking.” Ahhhh. Well, I know they love music...and that they lack judgement.

5.  Honesty is overrated

Yes, you want your potential employee to answer questions truthfully, but answering too truthfully may also show a lack of judgment. For instance, I often ask the hypothetical question, "If you were hired and six months after you were hired another opportunity presented itself, would you go on an interview for that opportunity?" You would be surprised at how many people say they would. Wrong answer!

Let’s take one of my more infamous examples. Once I was asking a prospective employee to explain an 18-month gap in his employment history. To this day I remember his response verbatim. It went like this: "Man, the whole work thing ... ya' know ... like, wow."  I was left mouth agape and speechless. Needless to say: He did not get the job.

7 Ways to Make a Great Impression During a Job Interview

Nov 7, 2010 Danielle Seymour

What are some things that potential employer looks at during a job interview? Here are 7 basic tips to make a great impression during that interview.

Most people think that the things they can do to improve a first impression they make are common sense, but there are a lot of things that are hard to notice if you're nervous before the interview. Here are seven basic tips on how to make a great impression.

Dress Professionally

If you don't own a three hundred dollar suit for an interview, that's okay. Admittedly $300 suits may help if you're applying for a job as an attorney, but that aside, it's mostly about looking professional. That involves the most basic things: physical cleanliness, clean and neat clothes, and a great attitude. Keep in mind, however, that showing up to an interview with a strong after shave makes just as much of an impression on someone as showing up without showering does. Regardless of the job you are applying for, you want the potential employer to know that you are serious about this interview.

Be on Time

It can't be stressed enough to show up on time for an interview. If you have to reschedule, or something comes up, be sure contact the company and let them know that you can't attend the interview that day.

Try to show up early for the interview if possible. That shows that you are interested and that you are prompt. Remember that when you go to an interview you are not only giving your own time, but you are also taking up the interviewer's time. Make the most of it, and make the impression not only a good one, but a lasting one.

Eye Contact

Avoiding someone's eyes implies that you have something to hide, and when you're being interviewed it's no different. Avoidance of eye contact makes people see others as shifty or anti-social. If you have a hard time giving someone direct eye contact, or it makes you squirm, then work on close eye contact before the interview. Instead of staring into a person eyes directly, try looking in their general direction, but don't let your eyes wander wildly. Wandering eyes demonstrate a lack of interest. Maintain good eye contact for the best results with people.

Body Language

Leave your body language open, and willing to converse. Don't sit with your arms crossed across your chest; that implies that you want nothing to do with that person. This is the opposite reaction you want to give a potential employer. Always try to be engaged in the conversation, and pay attention. Most of someone's first impression of another person is through non-verbal communication. Therefore body language is an important factor in a job interview.


Always be courteous with interviewers, even if they tell you that you are not the right candidate. Thank them for their time, and for the chance to interview with them. There is no reason to make a bad impression on interviewers just because they don't hire you at first. If you try again later, and they remember you as a courteous person, it can benefit you. If you don't apply with them again, then you have done nothing but leave a decent impression with someone.

Be Prepared

Always bring two copies of your resume with you, and your references in case they are needed. If the interviewer asks you to bring anything else with you, make sure you have what you need. Keep in mind that most interviewers are going to want to know about your work experience. Think about what you did in your previous jobs, and how you would describe the duties you performed.

For example: If you've worked in fast food before, then you have most likely been in a "sales" position because you have suggested to customers items to purchase, or you have helped them with a purchase. Think of how these things may be skills that are useful for the job you are applying for.


Don't just be courteous to the person interviewing you, smile at them too! A smile can say a lot about a person, and in a job market that is overflowing with customer service jobs, a person with a smile is always in demand.

Keep in mind that when you interview with someone, it's the same as when you meet anyone for the first time. You project an image to people before you even speak to them; make sure it's one that's professional.