Jacob Kaplan-Moss

My interview kickoff script, annotated

When I interview, I say nearly the same thing at the beginning of the interview. It’s a script I’ve practiced and honed over the years . It’s only eleven sentences, but each has a specific purposes. I’ve iterated on this for years, and it’s pretty tightly honed at this point. I published this script in the guide to interviewing I wrote at 18F last year, but never got a chance to break down where it comes from

I have two things I’m trying to accomplish with the script:

  1. Make sure the candidate knows the overall structure of how the interview will go. Much of my interview practice is fairly typical, and many candidates already know this stuff. Still, it’s better to spend a moment saying it out loud, just in case something’s different from what they expect.
  2. Do what I can to put the candidate at ease. Interviews are weird and stressful, and people don’t always give the best answers when stressed out. But I’m trying to hire someone based on their experience, not on their ability to keep cool in an interview! So I do whatever I can up front to drain some stress from the situation.

And, I’m trying to do this as quickly as possible. My interviews are usually 60-90 minutes. The less time I spend talking, the better. (I actually usually time how long I spend talking versus listening, and try to keep my talking time below 10%.)

Before I pull it apart, here’s the script, in its entirety. Click on any sentence to jump to the annotated part.

Hi, I’m Jacob; I’m a Senior Teapot Juggler on the Teapot Services team.

Thanks for interviewing with me today. This’ll be a behavioral interview, which means I’ll ask a series of questions about experiences you’ve had and how you handled them. There are no “right” answers; I’m interested in talking through these situations with you. I’ll ask maybe 5-7 questions, and this will take us about an hour, perhaps a bit less.

Don’t be surprised if others ask the same questions in other interviews; that’s normal. There’ll be times when I ask for more information, dig deeper into your answers, or even interrupt to ask follow-ups. That’s normal, too: I want to make sure I understand what you did and why. I’ll be taking notes, please don’t let that distract you.

I’ll ask you my questions first, and then I’ll leave some time to answer any questions you’ve got for me. I’m excited you’re here - let’s get started!

And now, the annotated version, with an explanation for each part:

Hi, I’m Jacob; I’m a Senior Teapot Juggler on the Teapot Services team.

If things are going smoothly, the interviewee should have gotten an email beforehand with my name and information, so they should already know who I am. Still, introductions are polite, and it’s worth reiterating my position at the organization. That should give the candidate some idea where my questions are coming from.

I don’t typically say anything more about me or my background – the interview isn’t about me, it’s about them. But this is enough for them to look me up on LinkedIn later, or to guide a question they might ask me at the end.

Thanks for interviewing with me today.

Interviewing takes time, and is stressful. It’s important to me to acknowledge their effort!

This’ll be a behavioral interview, which means I’ll ask a series of questions about experiences you’ve had and how you handled them.

I want to make sure that candidates know what kind of questions to expect, and that we’re going to be talking about their experiences (as opposed to technical trivia, or hypotheticals, etc). I go back and forth over whether to use the jargon (“behavioral interview”), but I typically do: for a candidate who knows the term of art, it’s helpful. And for those who don’t, I explain in the same sentence what the term means.

There are no “right” answers; I’m interested in talking through these situations with you.

The goal here is to put candidates a bit at ease, set them up to understand that I’m not fishing for a particular correct answer. By saying this I’m hoping to help them feel more comfortable talking about their real experiences, and not like they need to make something up to fit a particular goal of mine.

I’ll ask maybe 5-7 questions, and this will take us about an hour, perhaps a bit less.

I want candidates to feel comfortable telling their stories in detail… but I also want them to remember to be concise. This reminds them we only have an hour, and that I’m going to ask a few questions. I find when I leave this part out, candidates tend to ramble; when I include this line, they’re more focused.

Don’t be surprised if others ask the same questions in other interviews; that’s normal.

This sentence, and the next two, are all about preparing the candidate for things that might throw them. Most of us don’t get a bunch of practice interviewing, and so sometimes things that are totally normal can seem weird if we’re not prepared. I want to make sure that when these things happen later in the interview, the candidate knows they’re totally normal, nothing to be concerned about.

The first common thing that might seem weird is repeating questions that previous interviewers have asked. When I’m the hiring manager, I’ll typically arrange 3-5 interviews, with deliberate topic overlap. This is by design: we’re trying to gather information about a potential coworker, and getting different interviewers’ feedback on the same topics is invaluable. Further, as the hiring manager my interview is last, and I’ll nearly always be asking questions they’ve gotten before. Hearing the same question again can trip people up if they’re not prepared. So I let them know that it’s totally normal.

There’ll be times when I ask for more information, dig deeper into your answers, or even interrupt to ask follow-ups. That’s normal, too: I want to make sure I understand what you did and why.

With only about 10 minutes per question, it’s important that I get deep enough into the situation to really understand if the candidate’s giving a strong answer or not. To do that, I’ll need to dig and poke at a candidate’s answers. Many candidates will be nervous and tend to ramble, so I’ll sometimes need to interrupt to keep them on track. Letting them know up front that I’m going to do these things makes it less scary when I do.

I’ll be taking notes, please don’t let that distract you.

Typically, I’m interviewing a candidate over a video chat. I take notes by hand, which means I sometimes look down at my notes. Candidates might interpret this as not paying attention, or fooling with my phone, so I want to make sure they know why I’m looking away from the screen. (I’ll usually actually hold up my notebook or pen as I say this.)

Along the same lines, if there’s something else that could be disruptive, I’ll let the candidate know about that here. For example, my dog (like most) likes to bark like a wild thing when the mail comes. If I’m expecting that to happen during the interview, I might warn the candidate to expect it.

I’ll ask you my questions first, and then I’ll leave some time to answer any questions you’ve got for me.

As is typical for most interviews, I leave the last 5-10 minutes for the candidate to ask me questions. Most candidates know to expect this, but I tell them anyway, just to be sure.

I’m excited you’re here - let’s get started!

And we’re off!


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