If you’re reading this, you’re likely looking for advice on how to kill your next interview.
Well, I’ve gone through the interview process at Gorilla 76 twice: Once for a summer internship and once for a full-time writing job.
Writing this post today, I can tell you I was offered both positions. I don’t say that to brag — interviewing isn’t exactly a glamorous process, and I’ve been rejected from my fair share of jobs.
Interviewing well takes a lot of work, and I’m certainly not a natural. But I have a few tips to help you avoid mistakes that’ll get your resume thrown in the “no” pile.
I’m going to give you a candid recount of my experience interviewing for a marketing internship and full-time position at Gorilla 76. Scattered throughout this guide will be actionable takeaways you can use to nail your interview — and make sure the job you’re applying for is the right fit for you.
Basically, I’m pulling back the curtain and giving you a glimpse into some of the most nerve-racking experiences of my life.
How to nail your interview: The internship edition
My very first interview with Gorilla 76 happened at 3:30 p.m. in a Jimmy John’s parking lot.
It was for a writing internship. I was a college kid working three jobs — two magazine internships during the day and waitressing at night. Strapped for time between jobs, that parking lot seemed as good a spot as any to park my car and talk to one of Gorilla’s founders —Jon Franko— over the phone.
At the time, I didn’t know anything about marketing. So in preparation for the interview, I had spent hours poring over the content on their site, reading blogs, guides — anything and everything I could get my hands on. I’d written pages of notes on everything I read so I could reference them for the interview.
I even read an entire book on marketing —All Marketers are Liars by Seth Godin— just because they had recently written a review of it on their blog. I figured it would be a good talking point and, even if I didn’t get the job, it wouldn’t be a waste if I learned something. I wanted to show that, without a doubt, I was prepared, hard-working and the perfect intern candidate.
Your takeaway: Preparation is key. Make sure to read about the company. Comb through their site, learn about what they do, compare their values against your own and think about how your talents will fill their needs. Not only will it help you stand out in the interview, but it will also help you see if the company is a good fit. The interview process is as much about you screening them as it is about them screening you.
Preparation paid off. At the end of the phone screen, I got asked to email them a few times that worked for an in-person interview.
Fast forward a week or so, and I showed up to the Gorilla offices about 30 minutes before my interview, parked and reviewed my notes and the writing samples I had submitted. I believe I might’ve even done a couple of jumping jacks to calm my nerves.
About five minutes before the scheduled time, I walked into the office, shook the interviewer’s hand and my first in-person began.
Your takeaway: Be. On. Time. It’s a sign of respect, and nothing reflects more poorly on you than showing up late. A good rule of thumb is to show up 30 minutes early, but walk into the office 5 minutes before the scheduled time.
I’d asked, so I knew it was only going to be Jon (the co-founder I spoke with on the phone) in the room. Before the interview, I’d done my due diligence, looking him up online to find out his work history, education, etc., to see if I could find common ground. It wasn’t a background check or anything — just a cursory Google search so I had some talking points for our conversation.
Your takeaway: Ask who’s going to be in the room: It’ll prepare you for the situation, whether it’s one person or ten. And if you know who’s in the room, you can better address each of their pain points. Talk to the project manager about how you’ll meet their deadlines. Talk to the owner about how you’ll work hard. Etc., etc.
After about a minute of banter, we got down to business. He started asking questions, and I started answering them. I answered each question as best as I could. And about an hour later, it was over.
Here are the questions I remember being asked:
- Walk me through how you wrote this cooking column (a writing sample I’d submitted).
- What’s your working style like?
- What’s your GPA?
- Tell me about your experience at your past internships.
Your takeaway: Answer each question honestly. If you say you have a 4.0 and you don’t, they’ll find out eventually. If you say you can write a 1,000-word blog post in 20 minutes with no errors —and you can’t— well, they’re going to find out eventually. If you’re a good fit, you’ll get the job. And at least you’ll have gotten it honestly.
From there, I got assigned a test article. The topic was spread option offense in college football. I knew nothing about football. Still don’t. To make matters worse, there wasn’t much information online about it either.
It seemed if I wanted to learn about it, I’d have to go to the source: My college’s varsity football team. So there I was in the lobby of my college dining hall interviewing Truman State University’s quarterback about the ins and outs of football strategy.
After two interviews —one with the defensive end, one with the quarterback— I felt comfortable writing an article, complete with illustrations of the different “options” involved in the play. (Pistol and shotgun, in case you were wondering).
As the current features editor of my school paper, I called in a favor and had the copy chief take a look at the article. She gave me a couple revisions, and I sent it off.
Your takeaway: Take tests seriously. You can bet the company will — and if you don’t impress, you likely won’t make the next cut. So take risks. Interview the football team. Or whatever the equivalent is for the test you’ve been asked to complete. Basically, just do your best work.
A bit later, I got a call — I’d gotten the internship. In retrospect, I’d probably over prepared by about 300%. But that over preparation helped me advance to the in-person interview and, eventually, get the internship.
The second time around: Interviewing for full-time
Since I’ve already covered the basics —preparing fully, answering questions honestly, showing up early— I’m going to focus this section entirely on how to impress at the most important stage of the interview process: The second in-person interview.
A lot of people get weeded out in the phone screen. Even more get weeded out in the first in-person. The second in-person is where you need to shine.
By this point, you’ve likely completed a test, answered questions about ability and proved yourself worthy of another hour of company time. All you have to do is keep the momentum going and show you’re the right culture- and talent-fit for the job. Easier said than done.
The day of my second in-person interview for Gorilla’s open writing position, I came armed with everything I thought I needed to prove I was the right girl for the job:
Ten copies of my resume.
There were only supposed to be six people in the interview, and I had emailed my resume (and all of these documents) the night before my interview — but I wanted to be prepared. And I’m glad I did. When I showed up, there were eight people sitting in on my interview, two of whom hadn’t received the email.
Ten packets of my best writing samples.
I knew no one was going to read these during the interview, but I wanted to leave everyone with something to look at when they were considering all the candidates after the interview. I printed out my two best samples and gave everyone a copy.
I’m not a good off-the-cuff speaker. The night before, I’d typed out talking points for every question I thought I might get asked so I could reference them if I got tongue-tied. I used my computer as a teleprompter when I was answering questions and as a notepad as everyone answered my questions.
A list of questions — at least one for each person I knew was going to be in the interview.
Like any sensible person considering a major life change, I had a lot of questions. How much do you write in a week? What’s a typical day in the office like? What do you define as a successful writer here? I tried to have at least one question for each person I knew was going to be in the interview.
I knew I was going to be asked a lot of tough questions, and I wanted to be prepared with an appropriate and honest answer for each of them.
The night before the interview, I’d talked on the phone with my older brother, running through possible interview questions until I had satisfactory answers to everything they might ask.
It went something like this …
My brother: How do you approach conflict?
Me: Um, I try to avoid it. By … uh … being nice. And by being aware of other people’s needs, anticipating them and helping them out when I can.
My brother: Grace, that’s not handling conflict. That’s being respectful. I’m going to ask again: How do you approach conflict?
… And on and on for about two hours until I had answers for the toughest questions that might be thrown at me.
I was thankful for my brother’s tough love, because the next day at the interview, I was prepared for every type of question that might arise — and answered in a way that I was proud of.
Your takeaway: Think of answers to common interview questions before you show up. That way, you won’t get flustered or tongue-tied when questions like “Why should we hire you” come up. Instead, you’ll impress with a well-thought-out, concise and impactful answer. Here’s a good list of questions to prepare for.
At the end of the interview, they asked if I had any questions. Which I did. A lot of them. While I didn’t have time to get through my entire list, the questions I asked gave me a better idea of the company’s values, my ability to perform the job and where I would fit in the company’s vision.
I was shaking, my palms were clammy and I’m pretty sure I sweat through my shirt, but because I’d prepared so extensively, I was able to make it through, and live to tell the tale. And because I was passionate about the position and the company, I came across excited and eager.
Your takeaway: Be passionate about the job and the company you’re applying for. With any position, you’re going to work hard — make sure you’ll be doing something you love with people you respect. If you believe in the company’s mission, it makes all those tough projects and tight deadlines worth it.
Your (second) takeaway: Always have questions prepared for the end of the interview. It shows enthusiasm and preparedness. Plus, it’s a good way to engage with everyone in the room.
When I got home after the interview, I looked at the notes I’d taken. I realized that there was still some concern about my technical writing ability, and I wanted to address it. I sent a follow-up email to everyone who’d interviewed me thanking them for their time and providing links to various articles I’d written about technical topics. Then I mailed off handwritten thank you notes and waited.
Your takeaway: The interview isn’t over when you leave the office. Make sure you address any lingering questions the company might have about you as a candidate. And, whatever you do, don’t forget to send a thank you note. Write a unique note to each person who took time out of their day to consider you for the position.
A couple days later, I got the call. I’d gotten the job. And, because I’d done so much research and asked so many questions, I was sure it was the perfect fit for me.
Let’s review your key takeaways
We covered a lot of ground, but don’t worry. It can all be summarized in nine easy steps:
- Prepare for each interaction like it’s the last chance you have to impress the company. It very well might be.
- Show up early, but walk in on time.
- Find out who’s going to be in the room and do some background research.
- Answer interview questions honestly. It’s better for the company and you in the long run.
- Take tests seriously. If you don’t impress, you likely won’t make the next cut.
- Think of answers to common interview questions before you show up.
- Be passionate about the job and the company you’re applying to.
- Always have questions prepared for the end of the interview.
- Follow through. Answer any lingering questions and write thank you notes.
Follow these nine steps, and you’re sure to kill your next interview, from preparation to follow-up. If you’re interested in joining the growing Gorilla team, check out our open positions. Even if we’re not actively hiring for your position, we’re always accepting applications from driven, talented professionals.
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