The Airport Test (How to Ace that Interview)

Are you looking to take your career to the next step? Do you have the education and experience needed to land that dream job, but feel unsure about your interview skills? Here's the secret you'll need to ace that interview.

The fundamental approach I use when interviewing a candidate, and one that has never failed me, is what I call the Airport Test. Basically, it goes like this. Picture yourself stuck in the airport, sitting at the gate, waiting for your flight that's delayed, probably for hours. You grab your Blackberry and return a few emails, make a few calls, trying to make good use of the downtime. But there's only so much you can do, and besides, the woman sitting next to you wants to talk.

You'll probably have about five or ten minutes to decide if she's going to pass the Airport Test. That is, will the next few hours be sheer torture listening to her drone on as you search for the nearest exit or will the chatty woman sitting next to you be a surprisingly pleasant temporary companion? Whatever the case, the Airport Test has begun.

I use the Airport Test scenario when conducting interviews, and the candidates who are aware of this dynamic are going to be the ones who stand out. Keep in mind, I typically interview half a dozen applicants a day when I'm looking to fill a slot, and I can do that for two to three days in a row. And, remember, every one of these applicants is clearly qualified for the job. Otherwise, I wouldn't have bothered scheduling them for an interview.

Before we get on to the Airport Test itself, a quick review of what you should know - as opposed to what you were taught - is in order. So, before you run out to update your interview wardrobe, consider this - I don't care if you wear a new power suit, as long as you are dressed appropriately. A memorable red scarf or a lovely broach is not going to help me remember you either. And yes, a handwritten thank you sent the next day will let me know that you are well mannered. But none of these things will help you pass the Airport Test and ace that interview.

It's really not that hard to pass the Airport Test. You just need to know what you're being graded on.

  • First, you've got to be more than what's on your resume. Think about it - if we're stuck in the airport and all you're talking about is your job, I'll quickly be looking for the exit. Instead, give me a great reason to remember you. Here's an example: I once interviewed a wonderful, highly qualified applicant for an IT position. He managed, to his credit, to throw in a story about being a licensed pilot. Remember, my whole day was spent interviewing highly qualified applicants. But rather than being just another one of them, this guy was the applicant who knew how to fly a plane. Pretty cool and kind of memorable, right? He got the job. You don't have to know how to fly a plane, but there's got to be something that you can casually mention about yourself that qualifies as pretty cool and kind of memorable.
  • Second, don't take yourself too seriously. If you come across as uber-serious while we are stuck in the airport, I'll likely dismiss you as humorless and dour. Remember, the DC area is filled with people who take themselves too seriously. Instead, be the applicant with the funny, slightly self-deprecating story. An applicant once told me a story about how he tore his pants on the way to an interview. I asked him what he did when he'd realized. He smiled and said he went to the interview anyway. I asked him how the interview went, and he said that he'd let me know in about a half hour. We both laughed as he stood up, lifted his suit jacket and showed me the tear in his pants. And, about a half hour later, we both agreed that the interview had gone quite well.
  • Next, don't monopolize the conversation. Yes, I want to hear about you, that's why we're here. But if we were both stuck in the airport and you never once asked a real, thoughtful question about me - and clearly listened to my answer - then it wouldn't take me long to grow tired of you. The easiest opportunity is when I ask if you have any questions. Instead of saying "no" or maybe asking me the standard canned questions about the company that you could have answered by reading our website, try asking me how long I've been with the company, what I like best about my job, or if I still see myself with the company in five years. Trust me, I'll remember you as the applicant who knew how to ask some good questions.
  • Finally, look for ways to establish rapport. Imagine being stuck in the airport and realizing that the person waiting next to you went to the same high school you did. Instant rapport. Do a Google search with the name of the person who'll be interviewing you, and see what you can find out. Maybe you'll find out that they play on a local soccer team or act in community theater or are active in their homeowner's association. Use this information to establish rapport. Some type of connection with the interviewer could be just the thing you need to stand out from the other applicants.

So, if you've got the education and experience you need to land that dream job, don't stress about the interview. Just remember the four items I mentioned and you're bound to ace the Airport Test.