Archive for June, 2011

Two Strong Candidates, One Position

June 20, 2011

Two qualified and capable candidates are vying for a position with an exciting high-growth company.  Both candidates want the job.  Both candidates can ramp up quickly and do the job.  This is a common scenario, played over and over.  Despite their matching competency, someone has to come out ahead. On what basis will the decision be made?  While there are many pieces to the hiring decision puzzle, let’s look at some of the intangible deciding factors likely to sway a hiring executive’s preference towards one candidate over the other.

1.  Preparation

What does preparation entail?  To one candidate, it means reading the company’s website and studying the job description.  As a candidate, can you do this and still get the job?  Perhaps.  Is there more you can do to prepare and perhaps stack the deck in your favor?  Absolutely!

To another candidate, preparedness means taking the initiative to ensure that you’ve left no stone unturned.  You’ve researched the space the company plays in, including learning about the competitive landscape, industry trends, and latest news.  How do the chief competitors position themselves differently from the company you’re interviewing with?  What does the analyst community say about the companies as well as the space in general?

For a candidate who is truly passionate about the company and the space they play in, conducting this research should be a labor of love and thus, ought to spark an insatiable thirst for knowledge.  As a result, this exercise will surface a myriad of thoughtful questions to ask the hiring company – how they’re differentiated from their competitors, why they win deals against their competitors, why they lose deals, how they see the market evolving along with their readiness to capitalize on that direction, what their business objectives are and how they’re performing against them.

Other ways to set yourself apart is to exploit your network to try and get the inside scoop on the company itself.  Use LinkedIn to read up on the employees, not just the executive team.  Perhaps someone you’re connected with on LinkedIn is connected to an employee at the company.  Why not reach out and see if they’d be willing to spend 15 minutes with you on the phone, describing the culture, the people, their general take on employee satisfaction, and the company’s financial condition.  Ask them why they joined the company and what has surprised them the most since they joined.  This is a good question to ask anyone, including the hiring manager.

2.  Energy, Engagement and Rapport

In the interview setting, engagement could simply mean answering the questions effectively.  A candidate could block out all other parameters for the sake of concentrating on answering the questions well.  But, there is more to the picture than merely formulating technically correct responses.

To another candidate, energy, engagement and rapport represent several intangible, yet powerful, elements that could make all the difference in the mind of the hiring manager.  Energy denotes sitting upright, near the edge of your chair.  It means matching the interviewer’s pace and using active language that is delivered with a voice that incorporates vocal inflections, animation, or emphasis where needed.

Engagement means invoking strong listening skills and eye contact while exuding genuine interest – all necessary to stay in sync with the interviewer.  Rapport involves establishing a connection and bolstering chemistry, enabling the interviewer to feel comfortable enough with you to envision you fitting in.

The only way energy, engagement and rapport work to your favor is if they’re real.  You’ll know that they’re real because you’ll find yourself in that zone where the opportunity feels so much more than a job.  It makes you feel like this is your calling.  This is a special opportunity to make a huge difference with an organization that truly resonates with your DNA.  In fact, much of your past experience supports this potential career move, like a story that makes sense.  Anything contrived or forced will come off that way and is likely to backfire.  This can serve as a litmus test for you.  If you’re not feeling it, then perhaps this isn’t the optimal career opportunity for you.

3.  Do the Ceremonial Interview Dance

Some candidates feel they are above having to put up with the interview process – they can see right through all those typical interview questions.  They’d rather gain control and run the meetings their way, especially since they’re interviewing the company as well.

True, interviewing is a two-way street.  However, astute candidates will put aside their ego and go along with what seems to be unnecessary protocol.  Why do you have to fill out an employment application if all the information already exists on the resume you provided?  Why do you have to answer the “What are your weaknesses” question for the third time in a row?  Why do I only get 5 minutes at the end to ask my questions?

If you scribble your way through the employment application out of sheer frustration, leaving some redundant parts blank, doing so can easily say something about your willingness to follow directions, let alone attention to detail.  If you don’t provide an answer to the weaknesses question, it can appear that you may have a deficit around self-awareness.  If you scoff at an interview question like the weaknesses one, then you could be justifiably accused of having little or no sense of tact combined with too much attitude.

At the end of the interview, you aren’t given enough time to ask your questions.  Feeling a bit testy about it?  Just remember, your objective is to close on a next step in the process.  As long as you excel in the interviews and keep moving through the process, you’ll have ample opportunity to ask follow-up questions.  If you shoot yourself in the foot, however, you’ll never have that chance.

Virtually no one enjoys being interviewed.  In our scenario, there are two candidates vying for the same position.  One of you will get to the Promised Land.  It behooves you to be a gracious and accommodating contestant, even if the game isn’t to your liking.  Either way, you’re committing to hours of scrutiny.  As many of our grandparents used to say, “If you’re going to do a job, you might as well do it right.”  In that spirit, I encourage you to go all out and apply yourself.  After all, which of the two candidates do you want to be?


Action items:

1.  Preparation portrays many positive intangible attributes in the eyes of interviewers – sense of initiative, genuine interest, strong committed work ethic, passion, resourcefulness, inquisitiveness, determination, and organization of thought.

2.  Interviews will vary widely, from company to company and interviewer to interviewer.  Be prepared for either a conversational interview style or a more draconian interrogation.  Don’t get lulled into a false sense of security with a conversational interview and in a similar vein, don’t get put off by an interviewer who makes you feel like you’re on the witness stand being cross-examined.

3.  Do the interview dance.  You may not particularly like the dance, but there are many things in life that we must prevail through despite how they run counter to our own preferences.  Following the protocol shows your ability to be graceful and poised under pressure.  Go with the flow and keep reminding yourself of the end-game – close them on a next step.  Besides, it’s their dance.  Let them lead.