Archive for June, 2009

The Big C

June 4, 2009

Whether you are the interviewer or the interviewee, there are some fundamental principles worthy of consideration.  They all funnel up to “The Big C.”  No, this does not stand for “Coaching,” “Communication,” or “Comprehensiveness.”  Rather, The Big C denotes a quality all-too-lacking these days in the business world:  Common sense.  How has this come to be?

Self-reliance and self-awareness are two vital traits that help to compose one’s level of common sense.  First, the utter scarcity of self-reliance has evolved from two primary impacts on the human experience in the business world.  One such phenomenon is management by accountability and structure at the cost of true empowerment combined with enabling creative experimentation.  Sadly, there’s just no room or time these days for trying new ideas on for size and accommodating potential mistakes.  Thus, all endeavors must follow formulaic processes and be managed accordingly.  With this in mind, employees have become skittish, insecure, and self-conscious to a fault.  After all, how can they rely upon their own intuition and foresight if their company doesn’t foster a true culture of trust and empowerment?  And, as always, this deep rooted ailment starts at the top – executives who simply can’t let go and/or believe their way is the only way.

Self-awareness, on the other hand, is less tangible.  Yet, its shortage results in people not realizing how they interact with others, how the nuances behind their actions and word choice impacts others’ perceptions, and how their own strengths and weaknesses can be best addressed.  The less attentive you are of your surroundings and how you mesh with it, the less effective you’ll be in navigating through the many twists and turns that invariably await you.

Why this treatise on common sense?  Simple.  It permeates every facet of business life, including both sides of the fence on interviewing effectiveness.  As an interviewer, are you taking the easy way out by scrutinizing a candidate’s interviewing prowess?  Thus, are you trying to hire someone who can get the job instead of someone who can actually do the job?  It’s true that one school of thought dictates that if candidates cannot sell themselves, then they certainly cannot sell or market a company’s solution.  Yet, candidates, just like interviewers, are not professionals at interviewing.  They don’t do this all the time and they likely haven’t taken courses in effective interviewing techniques.

Asking a candidate to describe their strengths and weaknesses, for example, has limited value.  Instead of gauging how good a candidate’s spin is to this question, try finding it out for yourself.  To ascertain whether a candidate can actually do the job, consider delving into some common sense areas, such as the transferability of skills and their prior experience making such transitions; their past accomplishments and at a granular level; how they found success and managed through mistakes combined with what lessons they learned along the way; why they made the career moves they made; what kinds of people they work best with and why; and what is their true motivation and passion (i.e. fire in the belly).  Covering these less tangible areas will tell you volumes about a person’s character, interests, decision-making skills, ability to execute, self-awareness, and strengths/weaknesses.

As a candidate, you must also gain control over the common sense aspects of interviewing.  First, make sure to prepare for the interview.  This means, covering every square inch of the company’s web site, researching the market and their competitors, reviewing every bullet of the job description while tying your experience and ability to each of the requirements, and forming a healthy list of thoughtful questions. Once you’re at the interview, beware of your nerves.  In general, when candidates get nervous, they tend to ramble, going off on tangents and talking way too much.  It’s imperative that you keep your responses articulate, yet concise and well focused.  In addition, you want to come off as personable, even keel, and professional.  Make sure to gauge your audience and without getting out of character, match their demeanor.  Having said that, exuding of (controlled) energy and enthusiasm will rarely cost you points.

Keep in mind at all times that the interviewer is trying to envision you fitting in and successfully doing the job.  Don’t leave that up to their imagination.  Help them establish that vision by providing them the necessary information about your skills, background, and interests that correlate with the role and its associated responsibilities.  Finally, assuming the meeting is going well, don’t leave without going for the close.  Ask them for the next step.

Self-reliance and self-awareness are crucial capabilities throughout the interview process.  You must rely upon your intuition, all the while remaining tuned in to the nuances of your interactions.  At the end of the day, common sense will stand out and win out, whether you are deciding on the next crucial hire into your organization or vying for a promising career opportunity.

Action Items:

*  As an interviewer, take it upon yourself to be the private eye – dig in to a candidate’s make-up and background to determine the fit while exposing potential flaws.  In other words, don’t just judge candidates on their answers to those typical interview questions.

*  In interviewing a candidate, focusing more on the intangible qualities will likely give you a fully picture of the candidate’s fit.

*  As a candidate, preparation is key, followed by staying self-aware during the interview.  If you feel yourself getting out of character due to nerves, reel yourself back in and regain control.

*  Ask good provocative questions that are focused on the position, the company and its market, the people, and the culture.  You’ll always have time to cover compensation and benefits either down the road or with your recruiter.

*  The ultimate way to express interest in the opportunity is to go for the close and ask about next steps.

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