The Art of the Interview

I only briefly discussed one hiring scenario in Welcome to the Big Leagues, as my focus for the book was on what to do (in business and in life) after you have already nudged a foot in the door of a company. So I will use this forum now to share more of my thoughts on this beaten to death subject.

The unemployment rate in this country (although improving) has been high for the last several years; which has kept the job interview as a hot topic. There are hundreds of articles, books, blogs and videos on interviewing that mostly teach the same thing, all with a major emphasis on preparation and execution. Everything from your attire, mood, tone, level of eye contact, ability to establish rapport, knowledge, confidence level to just about anything else could be examined seven ways from Sunday. Therefore, I will try not to go there with this post. Instead, I will focus on a different observation to provide a new perspective.

As one who has interviewed many candidates and been interviewed by just as many hiring managers, I have strong thoughts on both roles.

Whether interviewing or being interviewed, the grade level, rank and overall position of the role matters. Interviews across various roles of the organization should not follow the same canned structure. However, as an interviewee, you must ALWAYS perform your due diligence. There is no escaping this! Perform adequate research on the company. Know everything that there is to know... Industry, earnings, stock price and multiple... Understand the job requirements and why you are perfect for the role. Practice telling your compelling story. Never lose sight of the fact that someone has given you the time to shine, so seize the opportunity to jump into the spotlight (in a humble way, of course).

For those who are fresh out of college and interviewing for their first job, the interview will be a little more forgiving than those with several years of work experience... GPA, college major, internships, special skills, humanitarianism, personal and professional interests should all be part of the discussion. At this entry level, gaining a broad understanding of the candidate's background and character should be of major importance to the hiring manager. A little nervousness going in is natural but don't expect to be grilled or raked over the coals. If the person interviewing you starts reading questions from a list, then please disregard everything I just said as your sitting across from an amateur.

If you are interviewing for a more senior role or management position and have anywhere between five and 15 years of experience, then it is wise to expect some pressure. A good interviewer will ease into the conversation by starting with your resume. This is what you chose to show them, so there's no excuse not to have it dialed in. Expect some grilling! It is not uncommon to be interviewed by a panel as opposed to one individual. Panel interviews can be both good and bad. Good in the sense that the decision makers get to all hear the interviewee's responses at the same time and the panel may be able to provide better questions and answers. To the downside, there is not always strength in numbers. Panel members may not necessarily agree with the line of questioning or what their peers are saying; which can turnout to be awkward and create a negative impression on the company.

Resumes provide a nice highlight reel but the hiring manager or panel will need to peel aware the layers of the onion and drive to the heart of topics. Their focus should be on the "HOW" behind all accomplishments. How did you innovate? How did you receive buy-in? How did you manage change to get the job done? If you understand the "HOW" you should also be able to speak to the "WHAT". What were the obstacles, problems, risks, benefits and more?

Resumes are necessary, so make sure yours looks good, but also remember that resumes reflect what happened in the past. The goal of a good interviewer is to determine what the candidate will bring in the future. Let the facts that you are a self-motivator, agent of change and after continuous improvement shine through.

At this mid-career level, don't be surprised if the interviewer doesn't show enthusiasm for the facts that you had a high GPA or enjoy surfing. The hiring manager should be honing in on the ways you can bring additional value to the team; which is what your clear and concise responses will be selling. An engaged interviewer will also ask about your career expectations and aspirations. After all, you are potentially at the mid-point or growth stage of your career, so the role and success in it should lead towards greater fulfillment. If such questions aren't asked, you could find out how the company cares for its employees by asking an indirect question when given the chance. Even a question like "is this a newly created position?" can reveal a lot, as the previous person may have been promoted or rotated positions. If that doesn't work, asking the interviewers about their tenure with the company will shed similar light.

The last group of candidates are those with more than 15 years of disciplined work experience. I've seen these conversations go many ways, from the incredibly intense (five or more interviews spanning several months) to the freakishly casual (over a cold beer and a handshake). In fact, the best example of an interview strategy for a skilled and qualified candidate was shared to me by a very intelligent executive who was wise beyond his years. He stated that he would look the candidate directly in the eye and ask the person to walk him through exactly what he did throughout the past weekend. This may sound crazy, but I thought it was brilliant. The mere fact that the candidate had a seat at the table already proved that his resume was riddled with the accomplishments and credentials necessary to perform the job. The executive now wanted to see if this candidate was personable, interesting, passionate and the many other attributes that would be unveiled in such conversation, with the ultimate aim of assessing whether or not this person would be a good fit on the team.

To be honest, I'd much rather work for someone who genuinely cared to learn about my weekend, as opposed to someone who asked me "how I would escape from a blender?".

Wherever you go and whatever you choose to do in life be great at it. At the end of the day, we only have our skills, talents and character to go on. Interviewing can be a grueling process but the right job will come and never lose sight that it only take one "YES". Good luck!

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