The interview: don’t become a 10-second victim
As a hiring manager …
The purpose of this article is not to list the top 10 or 15 tips to “stand out” in an interview. Its objective is to highlight the criteria that can influence the outcome of a job interview from the perspective of a corporate manager. As a former Director of Professional Services for the world’s 3rd largest Information Technology Corporation, he was responsible for IT staffing as well as strategic resource planning and pre and post sales technical support for the customer. Approximately 50% of the resumes received were from candidates referred directly to me through networking channels (banking networks, clients, business partners, strategic alliances and internal references).
I met directly with selected candidates from the ‘short list’ or passed their resumes to other internal departments for consideration in alternative roles. I met with candidates of “interest” on contingency grounds in case potential vacancies arose. Whether it was filling out an open application or interviewing candidates of “interest”, there were several consistent factors that framed the “critical mass” in my overall evaluation of the candidate. The purpose of this article is to share the rationale I used when interviewing candidates. I have endeavored to prioritize influencing factors from worst case to best case scenario.
WORST CASE SCENARIOS
Bad initial impression (the potential 10 second victim)
From the moment I met the candidate and shook his hand, I always presented a positive, optimistic attitude and a big smile to reassure the candidate immediately. An interviewer can be easily influenced and “biased” based on dress, grooming, exposed body art, and a myriad of other factors. Unless your appearance is classified as a bit extreme or ‘radical’, you would extend the same level of courtesy and professionalism that would be provided to all potential candidates, allowing each of them every opportunity to introduce themselves and promote themselves.
As a matter of policy, most companies are quite “image conscious” and explicitly want to project a well-groomed and professional image to their clients and the public. If the candidate is not completely correct with his appearance, the interviewer should be honest and communicate this information to the candidate (as I would). Afterwards, the interview would be quite short! The overall initial impression conveyed to the interviewer within the first 5 to 10 seconds will invariably dictate the direction and duration of the interview. In quite rare cases, it is too late for the candidate to reschedule and head to the nearest shopping center.
Disastrous mistakes (the possible 60 second victim)
As with each individual, each interviewer has their own unique idiosyncrasies, norms, and guidelines that apply to the interview. Any candidate can be the victim of a “disastrous mistake” that the interviewer considers essential and mandatory. Some of these serious oversights at trial (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 will be late is acceptable. Without prior notification, and only if exceptional circumstances prevailed, candidates who arrived 15 minutes after the scheduled interview were fired. Being on time for the interview is an excellent ‘litmus test’ to be reliable at work!
- Lack of eye contact – Not maintaining ‘eye contact’ with the interviewer and not smiling, is frankly disconcerting. Each member of an organization must be in ‘Sales mode’ regardless of your ability. You can’t sell if you can’t look someone in the eye! Lack of eye contact prevents developing a relationship and can have a negative influence on the length of the interview.
- Walking towards a ‘cold’ interview – Not committing the time to perform your ‘due diligence’ to investigate the organization is inexcusable. The candidate can associate the company only with a specific product or service. This attitude does not confer a high level of confidence on the interviewer. Invariably, ‘What do you know about us?’ , is a basic question to wait. Being vague and not concise in your answer is not a positive indicator.
- An unsuitable partner – Your skills and experience must be consistent with the content of your resume. A demanding hiring manager or interviewer will easily spot if your qualifications are consistent with your resume in 2 minutes. Incorporating multiple keywords from the job description to guide your resume is common. Tricking the interviewer with false or flawed resume content does not bode well for the candidate.
- Negative comments about a previous employer – Usually raises a big “Red Flag”. The hiring manager looks for a candidate who is positive, confident, and enthusiastic. These traits are not consistent with a candidate criticizing their previous 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 (5 minute potential victim)
Effective written and oral communication skills are a must in any industry or market sector. An effective communicator must skillfully convey his marketability and inform employers how his qualifications match the job description and responsibilities. The interviewer seeks clarity and a sense of purpose during the interview. If the candidate is not eloquent, persuasive, concise, and direct, prospective clients and co-workers are unlikely to be swayed and persuaded.
Hypothetically, whether it’s participating in trade shows, internal meetings, or just sending an email, competent communication skills are a must to market your ideas, establish credibility, and earn respect. The inability to communicate effectively is another influencer that the candidate can fall victim to after a few poignant direct questions from the interviewer. Typically, the astute interviewer will always give the candidate several minutes to adjust and allow anticipated nervous anxiety to dissipate before moving on to the relevant conversation. Compared to the scenario in ‘Initial impression’, poor communication skills will have a direct negative influence on the length of the interview.
Being enthusiastic is a desirable quality. Being ‘overzealous’ or ‘overly aggressive’ can convey a ‘mixed bag of emotions’ to the interviewer, such as being desperate, anxious, hyperactive, and perhaps worried. Although you are actively in the marketing process, cliches like ‘I will contribute 110% and I will make you a more profitable company’, they’re pretty bold and 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 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 great to you, today you have not done anything’. Be careful not to be overzealous. A committed “team player” makes a consistent contribution to ensure corporate goals and objectives are achieved!
A positive attitude ‘
Employers want to hire someone who is positive, enthusiastic, and capable of meeting and meeting challenges. A positive attitude is one of those very attractive traits that is quite contagious and quickly detected by the most demanding interviewer. Candidates with a positive attitude tend to be more attractive and exhibit a higher level of self-confidence, poise, and composure. They tend to inspire others with their passionate demeanor and teamwork. In my experience, candidates with a positive attitude:
- Easily accept challenges and show a higher level of adaptability.
- He exudes a high level of self-confidence and versatility.
- They are resourceful and tend to make an early contribution by applying their relevant skills and experience.
- Positively influence other team members with your enthusiasm and commitment.
- They are more aggressive and focus on promoting themselves and their ideas.
Establishing a relationship with the interviewer plays an important role during the interview process. People want to hire those candidates with whom they are most comfortable. The chemistry between the candidate and the interviewer is a consolidation of multiple characteristics including: personality, appearance, composure, a positive attitude and self-confidence. These qualities instinctively convey a very positive impression on the interviewer, which collectively can be classified as the “liking 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 established that often crowds out typical interviewer inquiries. There is no magic formula to instigate this bond. Invariably, armed with the required credentials, chemistry will typically have a positive influence during the selection process.
Ask serious questions
An interview is not intended to be a “one-way street.” It is appropriate to ask the interviewer questions in moderation. The key word is ‘moderation’: do not reverse roles and make the interviewer the interviewee! As a manager, I valued thoughtful, insightful, and incisive questions. Such questions would reinforce my impression of the candidate and his foresight. Some of these questions included:
- Consistent record of business growth and profitability?
- Is this a new position? (If it is the result of termination, ask why a person was fired.)
- What is the process and frequency of performance reviews?
- What differentiates you from your competitors?
- What is your vision for 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 promoting yourself, don’t try to be someone you are not. Remember, in addition to your experience and skills, your personality is another vital factor that sets you apart from other candidates and influences how an interview progresses. Use it to your maximum benefit!