Archive for March, 2014

Interview Preparation for Both Sides

March 28, 2014

This last week, one of my candidates did a dry run drive-by to the hiring company’s headquarters a day before her interview. On the surface, this may seem needless, but on several levels, I see her taking that extra step as brilliant. It got me thinking about the secret sauce both candidates and hiring managers use for effective interview preparations. Let’s talk about candidates first.

For better or worse, the interview is like a dance. If you don’t follow the right steps, you’re not doing the dance correctly and your dancing partner will be thrown off and frustrated. As silly as it may be, many hiring managers assess candidates on how well they do the interview dance (i.e., follow interviewing protocol). It’s rather unfortunate that despite their best intentions, these interviewers end up hiring people who can get the job instead of those who can do the job.

Regardless, there’s much candidates can do in preparation for the big dance. First, there’s the matter of having answers ready for those all-too-trite interview questions, such as “What is your biggest weakness?” or “Where do you see yourself in 3 years?” I’m not going to spend time on these and the other typical interview questions. Candidates can Google “interview questions” and in short order, see the common ones appearing on multiple lists. The point is that it’s important to have well-thought-out answers ready to be recited on a dime.

More importantly, candidates need to conduct deep dive research into the company. They need to take the time to fully understand its solutions and associated value prop/key differentiators, the markets it targets, the competitive landscape, its people, its financials, and latest news/press releases. When an interviewer asks, “So, what do you know about our company?” candidates should be ready to provide a clean and crisp response.

Moreover, it behooves candidates to research the interviewers. It shouldn’t be hard to find their LinkedIn profiles or executive bios. Speaking of LinkedIn, candidates should see who in their network or extended network is connected with employees at the company. Those people could potentially give the inside scoop on both the role and hiring manager. And of course, candidates that have the benefit of working with a recruiter should tap that resource to gain insight into the interviewers’ personalities, interviewing tendencies, past hiring decisions, and current hot buttons.

After all that research, the next step for candidates is to anticipate role-related interview questions and prepare specific examples that substantiate a solid job fit. After all, a candidate’s job is to help the interviewer envision a fit, both with the role and with the company’s culture. For example, for a technical support position, the interviewer may ask, “How do you diffuse a frustrated customer?” Instead of answering with generalities or philosophies on handling irate customers, candidates would be better served to give a specific example from their past. Briefly outline the situation, explain the task, point out the specific actions taken, and give the result (hopefully a turned around happy customer).

Finally, candidates should prepare poignant, thoughtful questions to ask interviewers. Questions should vary from day-in-the-life inquiries about the role, to current events (e.g., latest news about the company, current financial performance, company culture, biggest company challenges, etc.), and on to forward-looking matters such as company direction, product roadmap, anticipated growth, and career advancement opportunities. I always recommend that candidates print out these questions in advance. Not only does this demonstrate preparedness, forethought and organization skills, but since candidates tend to get at least a little nervous in interviews, it’s helpful to have a cheat sheet. Naturally, other questions will likely come about from the discussion itself. Yet, it’s nice to have plenty of questions ready to go, if needed.

Speaking of nervousness, it’s imperative that candidates really tune in to their demeanor. The more self-aware, the better control. Generally, nervous people tend to talk too much. Thus, I regularly advise my candidates to keep their answers concise. They can always ask the interviewer if they’d like additional detail. My rule of thumb is if it feels like your answers are too short, then they’re probably about the right length. Nervousness can be channeled into enthusiasm and positive energy, if properly harnessed. And as for the candidate who did the day-before-the-interview-drive-by, that left her with one less thing to be nervous about. On the day of the interview, she knew precisely where to drive and where to park. The building was familiar, too, making it appear less intimidating.

Interviewers are not exempt from preparation, although many seem to think they are. Viewing the candidate’s resume 5 minutes before the interview does not constitute preparation. I recommend taking the extra time to fully examine the candidate’s credentials. Beyond perusing the resume, review the recruiter’s synopsis and visit the candidate’s LinkedIn profile to spot any additional (or conflicting) information as well as seeing if there are any contacts in common.

Next, interviewers should formulate specific questions to help flesh out any concerns, holes in the story, or simply areas that need probing for greater detail. Use experience-based behavioral interviewing questions to explore how the candidate dealt with relevant situations. This also helps to give insight into a candidate’s thought process.

Ask them what they love to do and take note of their heightened enthusiasm. Generally, people cannot fake passion…and they can’t hide it well, either. Ideally, the things they love doing tie in to the position they’re interviewing for. Ask about times they received critical feedback and what they did with it. Along the same lines, explore their self-development goals and what they’re doing to achieve them. These kinds of questions help to shed light on intangible qualities, such as self-awareness, personal drive, initiative, coachability, and positive mental attitude.

For candidates and interviewers alike, preparedness doesn’t foster staleness or over-thinking. Rather, it signifies that considerable care and thought have gone into the interview, making it clear that this is a high priority event. And who wouldn’t want to feel like the person on the other side of the table considers this meeting to be a high priority? Progressing one’s career and making a critical hire are right up there in the pantheon of major life events. To progress through the interview with the desired outcome, effective preparation is the not-so-secret sauce – a lot of little things add up to increased focus, greater organization of thought and bolstered confidence.


Action items:

1. Interviews are by nature unnatural, contrived and protocol-ridden events. The more candidates and interviewers conduct effective preparations, the more productive and less nerve-racking interviews will be.

2. I’m amazed by how little research is done on the people with whom both candidates and interviewers will be meeting with. Between LinkedIn and other online resources, there’s a wellspring of information and potentially valuable insight to be gained about the person. Aside from the professional implications, this can also help with the personal side insofar as helping to establish rapport.

3. Preparation can make a big difference, helping to diffuse nerves while bolstering both poise and confidence. That extra bit of research about the company, taking a bit more time to anticipate interview questions, and printing out thoughtful, poignant questions ahead of time, can help to give an edge.