It's always interview season in a tight job market, and even more so in college graduation season. With so much interviewing advice readily available, it can be overwhelming. That's why I like to offer my readers advice straight from the front lines, from high-ranking people with lots of experience in making yes-or-no decisions on a long string of interviewees.

So I turned to 13-year Facebook veteran and VP of product design, Julie Zhuo. Zhuo has hired many an intern and other staff and recently told CNBC Make It about the biggest red-flag mistake that she continually sees job interviewees make.

Candidates who say they want the job for status or prestige reasons.

As Zhuo puts it, that mistake is saying they want the job "because it's the next step up for their career."  

Zhuo says she is drawn instead to people who say they want the job because they want to do great work and make a difference, because they want to contribute, or because they want to learn and keep growing.

On the surface, it seems reasonable enough for candidates to tell you they want to work at your company because it's a step up for them, a logical career progression. You can't fault people for wanting to better their status and position.

Except in an interview.

I think it smacks too much of "what's in it for me," and even worse, it does that in a superficial way. It leaves me thinking, "And what happens when you discover a 'next step' after this company?"  

I also think it's a missed opportunity to demonstrate the intersection of what is important to you and what's beneficial to the company that you're seeking employment with. I want people on my team who want to make a difference on day one and to learn and grow and become better versions of themselves. That territory offers much richer ground for discussion in an interview than "Your company is the resume-right next step."  

And I can tell you from experience (I ran a recruiting team for Procter & Gamble for a decade) that when people talk about things like their desire to contribute, to make a difference, and to learn and grow, they can't hide their passion. It's such a fundamentally meaningful topic that as an interviewer, you often can't help but connect with someone sharing such sentiments.

Said another way, this kind of interview answer (the alternative to "it's the next step up") doesn't raise red flags--it raises redeeming qualities.

And that's the whole point for the interviewee.

Published on: May 12, 2019
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