This is the smartest thing I’ve ever done in an interview

I didn’t lie or manipulate. Everything I said was true and I only promised what I was willing to deliver on if I was hired. I simply presented the parts of myself that the interviewer would be most likely to resonate with.

I studied my interviewer.

When I applied for my original substitute teaching job, it was because I needed a job and was comfortable around teenagers. Teaching was not my dream job. Nor was this school my dream school. I didn’t have a credential and my degree wasn’t even in education. Sure, I had limited experience with teaching from TAing and tutoring in college, but all of that combined wouldn’t have put me above the other applicants.

By any measure, I wasn’t the best candidate on paper.

But I knew quite a bit about the people in leadership at this school. One was a family friend of my college roommate, another frequently gave speeches that I had attended, and the third had actually assisted me in creating an organizational psychology study on school leadership back when I was a junior in college.

If I had been interviewed by either of the first two, I probably could have pulled out a decent amount of knowledge about them and what kind of candidate they looked for. I might have done all right.


Ladders is now on SmartNews!

Download the SmartNews app and add the Ladders channel to read the latest career news and advice wherever you go.


Luckily, it was the third person that eventually interviewed me for the job. Could not have planned it better if I tried. I literally had a full research paper mapping out how this person felt about their own leadership and what qualities they valued in employees in their own words. Between that and mining the internet for all the things this person had written about teaching and leadership, I had a fairly full picture of what kind of person they were looking for. Relational. High expectation. High support. Transformational.

And then I emphasized those traits during my interview. I worked a mirror of their values into every answer, from how I’d greet students to discipline strategies to religion (it’s a private religious school).

I didn’t lie or manipulate. Everything I said was true and I only promised what I was willing to deliver on if I was hired. I simply presented the parts of myself that the interviewer would be most likely to resonate with.

… There may have been a bit of flattery thrown in as well, albeit only things I truly felt.

Smashing success. I started work the same day, and have worked consistently at the same job for nearly 2 1/2 years now.

This article first appeared on Quora.