Zachary Lopez

Interview Tips

In my 10 year career in Affordable Housing, I’ve had many opportunities to be on both sides of the interview table. In this time, I feel like I have learned quite a bit, both about the things not to do and the things you should do. This post will be an attempt to document the things I’ve learned and hopefully provide a nugget or two for you.

Caveat: obviously this is all style and preference. These are the things that have helped me become a confident interviewee.

You are interviewing the company

As much as the company is interviewing you, you must know that this is your opportunity to interview them. This is your chance to gain valuable information about the position, about the company, about the culture and other pieces of info.

It always read positively when an interviewee is asking meaningful questions about the company. It shows a level of investment that makes me that much more likely to move someone to the next round or hire them.

Interviews are awkward

Interviews are awkward for all involved. It is such an imperfect science to meet with someone for an hour or so and make a judgement call about their future success or failure. Remember that even interviewers get nervous about these things. Several interviewers won’t have much experience and will probably be just as nervous as you.

Do your best to project a confident attitude and make the room as comfortable as possible for everyone.

Participate on Interview Panels

Do this if you can. I have learned more about how to interview by being on the other side of the table, than all the interviews I have gone to as the interviewee.

Take note of the feelings and reactions you have to people. What things make you have a positive feeling about a candidate? What things completely turn you off? How does the resume compare to the person in front of you?

All of these experiences will be invaluable to you as you become the interviewee.

Nervousness is okay

Don’t worry about being nervous. This will actually just make you more nervous. A seasoned interviewer can tell when someone is nervous because of the realities of an interview. Often, I actually see nervousness as a sign that this job interview is high stakes for this person, as in, they want this job and are scared to mess it up.

If you are nervous because you don’t know something, don’t be. Own this and don’t fake your way through an answer. Being genuine and honest goes a long way.

Frame your answers

As much as you can, mirror the language of the questions to make it clear that your story or answer relates. This will also help you ensure that you don’t miss the second part of a question. It is fairly normal to get a question that includes a follow up or secondary question of “why?”.

Framing will keep you on the same track as your interviewer and make it easy for them to follow along with you.

Seat choices

If given a choice, take the center of the room for a panel inteview. This displays confidence and impacts perception.

Also, where possible, do not face windows or other active areas. You will be tempted to get distracted easily during the interview. Do what you can to prevent this.

Eye Contact

Make lots of eye contact. With a panel interview, it is important to scan across the room, making eye contact with each interviewer. In addition to scanning, stay with the person who asked the question.

I’ve even gone as far as to stare into the camera of a laptop because the fourth interviewer in the panel was remote and asked the question.

This creates a connection with folks.

Prepare examples

Think through common questions and prepare examples. For instance, if you are interviewing for a position with people management responsibility then you will most certainly get the following:

“Tell us about an employee that was performing/underperforming. How did you handle it? What would you do differently?”

In this case, you would want to have a positive result example and a negative result example.

Whatever your field is, think through the common scenarios that you would be expected to know. Grab an example from your work history and practice the response.

General questions

Here are some generic questions to be ready for:

  • Walk us through your resume. Tell your story of how you got here?
  • Why here? Why do you want to work for this company?
  • Give us an example of a difficult decision you had to make.
  • How do you work in teams and across teams/departments?
  • What kind of manager do you prefer?
  • What kind of manager are you? What is your management style?

Silence your cell phone

Put your phone on silent mode or better yet, turn it off completely. Most people keep their phones on vibrate during the work day. This vibration if you get a call or a text of encouragement, can throw you off it comes at an inopportune time.


It is better to overdress than underdress. Most importantly of all, be comfortable. If you have a shirt that looks great, but itches your neck, it will show. It will show in your body language and you won’t be aware of this. It can make you seem the wrong kind of nervous.

Arrive early

I like to arrive at least 30 minutes early. This accomoplishes two different goals. First, it makes it that much harder for me to be late because I am targeting to be there so early. If you are late, more often than not, you are probably done with the interview and don’t have a chance of success. I have completely forgone interviews where the applicant was 15 minutes late with a call or email.

Secondly, remember above where I talked about interviews being awkward? This can drive the awkwardness in your favor. It can throw the interviewing company off balance when you are so early. They sort of aren’t mentally ready for you.

Additionally, if they aren’t thrown off, you may just get to take a read of your competition. They may also be in the waiting area or you can see them in the interview room (assuming glass conference rooms).


These are all the little nuggets that have helped me interview over my career. These things help me project confidence and that body language translates into higher rates of success.

Please comment and add any tips you might have.

comments powered by Disqus