Archive for June, 2013

Think Twice about Interviewing Advice

June 19, 2013

Whenever a couple announces they’re expecting a baby, an interesting phenomenon occurs.  It seems that everyone and their mother rushes to the couple’s aid, providing a deluge of unsolicited advice.  All topics are fair game:  names, diaper brands, breast milk vs. formula, bathing, sleep strategies, cures for colic (FYI – there are none!) – you name it.  It’s enough to make your head spin.

This leads to the only advice I ever give expecting parents:  Take all the advice you receive with a grain of salt, because invariably, half the advice you receive will directly conflict with the other half.

The same thing happens online when researching product reviews.  No matter the brand or price point, there’s bound to be someone who hates the product and advises you to consider other brands, counterbalancing those who swear by the product.  It’s gotten to the point where online reviews no longer carry much weight.  It’s too easy to get overwhelmed and paralyzed by the rival factions of pro and con.  I couldn’t believe the angst I experienced researching which stupid lawnmower to buy.  It almost came down to which brand and model had the fewest knocks against it.

Such diverging advice holds true in the world of interviewing as well.  Between job hunting blogs du jour, well-intentioned family and friends, and social networking sites, candidates are peppered with conflicting suggestions every day.  Here are just a few examples:

Don’t wear a suit to an interview if the environment is less than formal.  –  You’ll never lose points for dressing up for an interview.

Body language is important, so always sit up straight and on the edge of the chair to show that you’re engaged.  –  Body language is important, so always mirror that of the interviewer.  If they’re relaxed in their chair, you shouldn’t be sitting up straight and appearing stiff and unnatural.

If the interview has been going well, use the presumptive close, “So, when would you like me to start?”  –   If the interview has been going well, let the interviewer discuss any next steps.  And whatever you do, don’t try to close with the highly presumptuous, “So, when would you like me to start?”

Always come to the interview with a prepared list of questions already printed out.  It will demonstrate forethought, initiative and preparedness.  –  Do not show up to the interview with a list of questions.  It comes off as contrived and gives the impression that you can’t think extemporaneously.

Always follow-up by sending a handwritten note in the mail.  It’s a more personal touch.  –  Always follow-up by sending a concise email.  It’s immediate and to the point.

The list of conflicting advice goes on for miles.  Yet, in many cases, there is no one right answer.  However, there will always be one right answer for you.  In other words, the more you stay true to yourself and do what feels natural – all while keeping in mind the many traditions, protocols and best practices inherent in the interview process, the more likely you are to choose the right course of action.

Not surprisingly, conflicting advice makes its way to interviewers as well.  For years, a recruiting mentor of mine always said, “An effective interview is an interrogation, not a conversation.”  His point was that the interviewer’s goal is to gain information and do so in a consistent, controlled manner.  Just today, however, I came across an interviewing best practices article written by an Inc. Magazine columnist.  In it he states, “The best interviews are a great conversation, not an interrogation.”  OK.  I get it.  As an interviewer, you want to establish rapport, keep your candidate comfortable, and see how well they conduct themselves with back and forth dialog.  So which side is right?  As is often the case, perhaps a melding of the two suggestions could bring us to the promised land.

The bottom line is, whether you’re a candidate or an interviewer, research and preparation will serve you well in determining how to conduct yourself.  I’m amazed by the number of candidates that don’t research the people with whom they’ll be meeting.  There’s plenty to find out about someone.  Even a quick perusal of the interviewer’s LinkedIn page can give you some clues.  Is their profile’s content succinct and to the point or is it fairly descriptive?  What do the people who recommend the interviewer have to say about his/her style?  Do you know anyone who either works at the company or knows someone who does?

You can find out a lot about the company’s environment, culture, people, and interview process.  If you’re going through a recruiter, then they should know their client company exceptionally well and in turn, provide you with valuable insight.  There’s nothing wrong with turning to those you trust and asking for help.  However, at the end of the day, you’re better served to seek out data points, not advice.

Action items:

1.  Advice is usually not based on objective thought processes.  Someone’s advice to you could very well be based on an experience that is unique to that person and may not apply to you.  Thus, take advice with a grain of salt and consider the source.

2.  Research and preparation will help you give yourself the advice you need.  But if you really need advice from others in preparing for an interview, seek out trusted members of your network, your recruiter and mentors for their perspective.

3.  Remember, if given enough advice, half of it will likely conflict with the other half.  Don’t let that paralyze you.  Seek out data points, not opinions.