Interviewing: Tips from a Manager
I will tell you up front that this will probably get divided into two or three articles. You should be happy about that…it means there’s a lot of good stuff here.
One of my favorite parts of management is doing interviews. In the past I’ve compared being a good manager to being a good parent. If you are doing your job well then you will see the people you are responsible for grow in skill and confidence until they are doing things on their own that fill you with pride and joy. On the other hand, if you are not doing your job well then these same people will grow frustrated with you and will act in a dysfunctional manner that leaves you wondering what’s wrong with them. I’ll indulge myself by stretching that analogy a little further. Interviewing candidates for a job is like getting the opportunity to pick your children. You can weed out characteristics that you don’t like and find the one that seems like the perfect fit for what you want.
Even more than that, I love the chance to give some hard working person an opportunity to grow beyond their current station in life. The only really frustrating part of the process is that most times I have only had one opportunity to give. As such, I need the person being interviewed to bring their very best to the table. It frustrates all managers to think that they picked the wrong person in the long run because the best person for the job didn’t do a good job in the interview.
The purpose of this article is to help you prove that you are the best person for the job. Is it possible to get beaten out if you follow all of these tips? Of course it is. There might be somebody more qualified who already knows all of the same things. However, at the very least you know you’ve given the interviewer something to think about. In fact, the strength of a good interview can be enough to convince a manager to recommend you to other managers with open positions. You never really know what’s happening behind the scenes. The only thing that you do know is that you should give your best effort. That way, if you don’t get the job you can still be proud of yourself.
Over time I’ve come to enjoy being interviewed almost as much as giving them. Yeah, it surprised me too. In the old days I would get really nervous and almost a little angry. I didn’t like high and mighty people judging me from their pedestals. The prospect of failure was devastating. I would have spent weeks imagining what it would be like to work in a new area, make more money, etc., etc. It took me time, but I finally realized that the interviewers are not passing judgment on you. In reality they are giving you an opportunity to shine. They are giving you a stage and a spotlight all to yourself. Do they have to rate you? Of course they do, they owe it to themselves to pick the person they think will do the best job in the open position.
But Jonathan, that means they are judging me against the other candidates!
You can look at it that way if you want to, but it’s nothing personal. When I’m sitting across from job candidates I am rooting for each and every one of them. I always try to take a minute or two to talk about nervousness and try to make them feel comfortable. Now, don’t get me wrong. Once the interview is in full swing I will usually have a frown on my face, I will usually be staring at you and will likely ask follow up questions designed to see how well you think on your feet. I promise this isn’t being done to be mean or to make you mess up. I need to know if you are going to be able to sit across from an angry customer without losing your cool. I need to know if you can adapt to change and flow with a conversation while under pressure.
These are skills that are required for success in the jobs that I’m offering. Could I ask you to give me examples where you have demonstrated these behaviors? I could, but it would waste time and it would give you the opportunity to think it through. I’ve learned over time that the reality of what I see in front of me in an interview has more truth to it than most of the actual answers that I get. For example, if I ask you to give me an example of a time you demonstrated confidence in your position and you answer the question while staring at the table with your shoulders hunched and a trembling voice then I’m going to have to believe what I see over what I hear.
That’s one of the first things you need to know about an interview. It is not just about the questions and answers. You are being socially, physically and intellectually evaluated from the moment you walk in until the moment that you leave. I don’t have an actual checklist, but let me write it out in that format so that you can see what I mean.
Eye Contact? Good, looks confident
Hand shake? Firm/weak (hate the limp fish)/moist (dry your hands)
Smiling? (Can they pretend that they are happy to see me even if they are super nervous?)
Confident? (Scared of conversation? Eye contact? Clutching purse/folder? Trembling hands/voice?)
Appearance? (Clean cut? Dressed well? Can I put this person in front of my boss without being embarrassed?)
Speech? (Do they know how to put words together appropriately? Strong vocabulary? Can they say what they mean?)
There are a lot more, but I think you get the point. I learn as much about you from this kind of information as I do from your answers to my questions. I think this is why you hear the stat that an interviewer’s decision is made very early in the process. I can’t make a positive decision quickly. I need the entire interview for that. But I can make a negative decision in the matter of a few seconds. If I can’t put you in front of my boss without being embarrassed, or don’t think you can handle the social aspects of the job then it doesn’t matter how well you answer the questions, I can’t hire you.
Does that mean that I shouldn’t spend a bunch of time preparing for the interview?
Actually, it means the exact opposite. Let’s say that there are ten people in an interview pool and you are one of them. In my experience at least 5 of those people are going to fail in some key way. Of course, this number shrinks as you apply for higher and higher level jobs. Eventually there is no room for error at all, but if you are trying to earn your first few promotions then this is a good rule of thumb. So, as long as you pass the first impression stage of the interview you will only be competing with four other people instead of 10.
1 out of 5 is much better odds than 1 out of 10 but that is no reason for you not to continue to stack the odds in your favor. If you prepare well you can narrow those odds much further. The key is your commitment to success, your level of planning and your ability to execute under pressure. These are the things that we will discuss in the upcoming articles.
Till then…be blessed!