Interviewing 101 with Mark Achler

January 23, 2012

I’m 20, a sophomore at University of Wisconsin studying Political Science with an interest in International Relations. I’m starting to look for an internship for the summer. It would be fair to call me new to interviewing with large corporations. This was in fact, my first time. My Uncle who is an Internet industry veteran is beating into to me the importance of networking. He hooked me up with his colleague and friend, Mark Achler, an senior executive at Redbox and also a successful tech industry veteran. And guess what - networking really works. Mark is open to talking with me.

I called his cell phone on a Saturday and was prepared to make an appointment for later in the week. Mark picked up out of breath… was this the right guy? He was in the middle of his work-out and suggested I meet him in two hours - not what I was expecting.

1st lesson: Plan and prepare

So I made sure to get my directions down where we were supposed to meet and luckily it was a Starbucks in a town nearby me. Unlucky for me it was a town with two Starbucks and I was at the wrong one. Lesson one – mistakes happen, be sure to give yourself enough time to solve for them. Also – always verify and confirm appointments – both time and location. Being late is never acceptable for any reason.

2nd lesson: Put yourself in the Interviewer’s shoes…

I figured I was being interviewed so the questions would be about me - wrong. What I learned was to start thinking about how I could help Mark and Redbox vs. the other way around.

My shoes: This company would be so cool to work for. It’s in tech which is where I want to be and I need to show I would be a really good worker.

Mark’s shoes: I need someone I can trust, who will work hard for us and won’t embarrass me. I run a division and my job is to keep this company growing. I need someone competent who can be part of our team and step up without too much hand-holding. When I asked him what he looked for in an employee he said:

1. Good problem solving skills.
2. Street smarts – not necessarily just book smarts.
3. Outstanding communication skills – both oral and written.
4. Integrity – is everything. If you say you are going to do something – you do it. No excuses. You show up, you work hard, and are dependable.
5. Initiative. You need to have the drive and ability to solve problems on your own and take the initiative to do so.

3rd lesson: Interview tips

You can’t just show up for an interview and say, “Here I am”. What is it about you that makes you special, and more importantly, a good fit for the company you are interviewing for?

1. Articulate your passion – and make sure your passion is aligned with the company’s needs.

You must be passionate about the job that you are applying for. Don’t waste their time or yours. If you don’t care – don’t apply.

2. Research, research, research.

You need to know everything about their business you can possibly read up on. Research, research, research – in this internet age there is never an excuse for coming to an interview unprepared. You should devour every page on their website. Use their product if possible. Come prepared with questions. Talk to customers. Talk to channel partners. If you are interviewing for a sales job, actually go out and try to cold call a potential customer – and then come to the interview armed with that actual experience.

3. Talk about your values

You don’t have to pretend you’re perfect but it is important to talk about your values during the interview. Give concrete and specific examples of situations that you were in that demonstrate the values you are describing.

4. Support your claims with evidence

You can say you’re a hard-worker but how do you prove it in an interview? Have a story or a scenario ready. Give links to your previous projects that will give a good example of what you’ve done.

5. Ask good questions

An interview is a two-way street. Come prepared with intelligent questions about the business. This will both demonstrate your hard work and diligence as well as your intellectual curiosity about their business and the industry.

Mark said most people my age simply show up for an interview and say, “here I am”. What I learned was that it is a tough competitive market out there. If I’m going to get a job, I’m going to have to outwork and out-hustle everyone else. I’m going to have to network like crazy, become more focused and directed, research like crazy, and really put myself in the interviewer’s shoes – not my own.

What do you think? Would love to hear your thoughts – and more importantly your ideas for landing a rewarding internship this summer.