As a Hiring Manager …
The purpose of this article is not intended to list the top 10 or 15 tips to ‘ace’ an interview. It is intended to highlight the criteria potentially influencing the outcome of a job interview from the perspective of a corporate manager. As a former Director of Professional Services with the 3rd largest Information Technology Corporation in the world, I was accountable for IT staffing as well as strategic resource planning and client pre and post-sale technical support. Approximately 50% of the resumes received were from candidates referred directly to me through networking channels (banking networks, clients, business partners, strategic alliances, and in-house referrals).
I either met directly with selected ‘short-list’ candidates or passed their resume onto other internal departments for consideration in alternative roles. I met with candidates of ‘interest’ for contingency purposes should potential openings emerge. Whether filling an open requisition or interviewing candidates of ‘interest’, there were several consistent factors which framed the ‘critical mass’ in my overall assessment of the candidate. The purpose of this article is to share the rationale I employed when interviewing candidates. I have endeavored to prioritize influencing factors from worst case to best case scenarios.
WORST CASE SCENARIOS
Poor Initial Impression (The Potential 10 Second Victim)
From the moment I met the candidate and shook their hand, I always presented a positive, upbeat attitude, and, a big smile to place the candidate immediately at ease. An interviewer can easily be influenced and ‘prejudiced’ based upon the individual’s apparel, grooming, exposed body art, and, a myriad of other factors. Unless their appearance is categorized as a bit extreme or ‘radical’, I would extend the same level of courtesy and professionalism that would be afforded to all potential candidates, allowing each of them every opportunity to present and market themselves.
As a matter of policy, most companies are quite ‘image conscious’ and explicitly desire to project a well groomed, professional image to their clients and to the public. If the candidate has totally missed the mark with their appearance, the interviewer must be candid and communicate this information to the candidate (as I would do). The interview would subsequently be rather short! The overall initial impression conveyed to the interviewer within the first 5-10 seconds will invariably dictate the direction and length of the interview. In rather exceptional instances, it’s too late for the candidate to reschedule and head to the nearest shopping mall.
Disastrous Mistakes (The Potential 60 second Victim)
As with every individual, each interviewer has their own unique idiosyncrasies, norms, and guidelines as it applies to the interview. Any candidate can fall victim to a ‘disastrous mistake’ as deemed essential and compulsory by the interviewer. Some of these serious oversights in judgment (in no particular order) are:
- Arriving Late – As a courtesy, a call from the candidate within a reasonable period of time advising me that they would be late is acceptable. Without advance notification, and only if exceptional circumstances prevailed, candidates arriving 15 minutes after their scheduled interview were dismissed. Being on-time for the interview is an excellent ‘litmus test’ for being reliable on the job!
- Lack of Eye Contact – Not maintaining ‘eye contact’ with the interviewer and not smiling, is frankly, perplexing. Every member of an organization should be in ‘Sales Mode’ regardless of their capacity. You can’t sell if you can’t look someone in the eye! Lack of eye contact detracts from developing a rapport and may have a negative influence on the length of the interview.
- Walking Into an Interview ‘Cold’ – Not committing the time to perform your ‘due diligence’ of researching the organization is inexcusable. The candidate may associate the company only with one specific product or service. This attitude does not impart a high level of confidence with the interviewer. Invariably, ‘What do you know about us?’ , is a staple question to expect. Being vague and not concise in your response is not a positive indicator.
- An Unsuitable Match – Your Skills and Experience must be consistent with the content in your resume. A hiring manager or discerning interviewer will easily detect whether your qualifications are consistent with your resume within 2 minutes. Incorporating several keywords from a job description to target your resume is commonplace. Misleading the interviewer with false or erroneous resume content does not bode well for the candidate.
- Negative Remarks about a Previous Employer – Typically raises a large ‘Red Flag’. The hiring manager is looking for a candidate that is positive, self-confident, and enthusiastic. These traits are not consistent with a candidate who criticizes their prior employer. Negative comments are viral in nature and not consistent with a team player.
- Asking Prematurely About Salary – Salary should only be discussed (during the early stages of the interview cycle), if initiated by the interviewer. Salary and benefits will be discussed when the company is definitely interested in you.
Poor Communication Skills (The Potential 5 Minute Victim)
Effective communication skills, written and oral, are mandatory in any industry or market sector. An effective communicator must capably broadcast their marketability and inform employers how their qualifications match the job’s description and responsibilities. The interviewer is seeking clarity and a sense of purpose during the interview. If the candidate is not articulate, persuasive, concise, and to the point – it’s unlikely that their prospective clients and co-workers will be influenced and persuaded.
Hypothetically, whether participating in trade shows, internal meetings, or simply sending an email, proficient communication skills are a necessity to market your ideas, establish credibility and earn respect. The inability to communicate effectively is another influencing factor that the candidate can fall victim to after just a few direct poignant questions from the interviewer. Typically, the astute interviewer will always afford the candidate several minutes to adjust and allow the anticipated nervous anxiety to dissipate before proceeding with relevant conversation. Comparable to the scenario under ‘Initial Impression’, poor communication skills will have a direct negative bearing on the length of the interview.
Being enthusiastic is a desirable quality. Being ‘over-enthusiastic’ or ‘overly-aggressive’ can convey a ‘mixed bag’ of emotions to the interviewer such as – being desperate, anxious, hyperactive, and perhaps, troubled. Although you’re actively in the process of marketing yourself, cliches such as ‘I will contribute 110% and make you a more profitable company’, are rather bold, ambitious statements for most candidates unless you’re armed with a track record to prove it! I had the privilege and honor of meeting coach Lou Holtz, former prominent head football coach for Notre Dame, the New York Jets, and other NCAA teams, during a corporate sales rally. One of his many notable quotes is – ‘If what you did yesterday seems big, you haven’t done anything today’. Be careful about being overzealous. A committed ‘team player” is consistently making a contribution to ensure corporate goals and objectives are achieved!
A ‘Positive Attitude’
Employers want to hire someone who is positive, enthusiastic, and able to meet and deal with challenges. A positive attitude is one of those highly appealing traits which is quite contagious and quickly detected by the most discerning interviewer. Candidates with a positive attitude are typically more appealing and exhibit a superior level of self-confidence, poise, and composure. They tend to inspire others with their passionate demeanor and teamwork. Based on my experience, candidates with a positive attitude:
- Readily accept challenges and display a superior level of adaptability.
- Exude an elevated level of self-confidence and versatility.
- Are resourceful and tend to make an early contribution by applying their relevant skills and experience.
- Positively influence other team members with their enthusiasm and commitment.
- Are more aggressive and focused in marketing themselves and their ideas.
Establishing a rapport with the interviewer plays a significant role during the interview process. People want to hire those candidates they feel most comfortable with. Chemistry between the candidate and interviewer is a consolidation of multiple characteristics which include – personality, appearance, composure, a positive attitude and self-confidence. Such qualities instinctively impart a highly positive impression with the interviewer, which collectively can be categorized as the ‘likeability factor’.
Chemistry is a powerful stimulus that will often influence the direction and line of conversation during the interview process. A bond or mutual trust is engaged which often displaces the typical queries from the interviewer. There is no magic formula for instigating this bond. Invariably, armed with the requisite credentials, chemistry will typically have a positive influence during the selection process.
Ask Thoughtful Questions
An interview is not intended to be a ‘one way street’. It’s appropriate to ask the interviewer questions in moderation. The keyword is ‘moderation’ – not reversing roles and making the interviewer the interviewee! As a manager, I valued questions which were thoughtful, perceptive, and incisive. Such questions would bolster my impression of the candidate and their foresight. A few such questions included:
- Consistent record of corporate growth and profitability?
- Is this a new position? (If a result of termination, ask why a person was terminated.)
- What is the process and frequency for performance appraisals?
- What differentiates you from your competitors?
- What is your vision of the corporation in the next 3-5 years?
- What is your time-frame for selecting a candidate to fill the position?
Always be Professional, Courteous, and Prepared. You are marketing yourself, don’t try to be someone you’re not. Remember, in addition to your expertise and skills, your personality is another vital factor that differentiates you from other candidates and influences how an interview progresses. Use it to your full benefit!