Sep 7 2016
If interviewing skills were offered as a course in college, it would likely not be a 100 level course or even one listed as a lecture series. One person could not stand up before a few dozen (or hundred) students and pontificate as to how one should go about interviewing; or even watch videos of previous interviews that have either won the job or gotten a harsh decline. No, interviewing skills are active and require an equally lively—even proactive—approach.
Yet, the attempt in this column today is to make interviewing for the novice (and even for the more experienced person who is sitting on the other side of the table asking the questions) less nerve-wracking and easier to digest in small chunks. Today’s column will hopefully help make sense of the behind-the-scenes preparations that go into interviews and what many interviewers hope to see when you walk through that door.
While the number of questions interviewers can ask range in diversity from those prompting monosyllabic responses to those requiring a thesis-defense, most interview questions can generally be bucketed into three categories.
1) The Resume Review
I like to call this the lazy man’s interview because it requires no pre-planning or forethought on the part of the interviewer. Usually utilized on introductory phone interviews or for positions not considered a white collar position, resume reviews are exactly that—a review of your resume. The interviewer will ask questions about your most recent job, ask clarifying points about your bullets, and maybe even inquire as to any ancillary or interesting facts placed on your resume. The point is, whatever you put on your resume is fair game so make sure everything is factual and defendable.
I also call this the lazy man’s interview because all of the answers are already on your resume for the interviewer. If you have listed that you were a waiter or a lifeguard or a valet attendant while in college, it’s not going to be a surprise to the interviewer that you waited tables, saved lives, and drove cars. No, what the interviewer is listening for is how does the information presented on your resume jive with what you say? Furthermore, with what level of energy and enthusiasm are you presenting yourself? The interviewer is looking beneath the surface of the words listed on your resume to see if you are someone they want to get to know better in another round of interviews.
Since the resume review only goes over what’s on your resume, you can’t necessarily dazzle the interviewer with extraneous tales of leadership, communication, and teamwork if they aren’t listed on your resume. Hence, the need to ensure that your resume is in tip-top shape prior to applying for the position. For a more detailed synopsis on creating a robust resume, please read my previous column “Resume Steps for the Upwardly Mobile Millennial”.
2) The Situational Interview
Situational interviews are commonly used by interviewers in the technical, scientific, healthcare, and consultancy spheres—along with other industries and organizations that have a hands-on approach with a need for specific and tactical knowledge. Situational interviews generally utilize the word, “would” in their line of questioning because the interviewer wants to know how you actually would handle a particular situation. Physical therapists, nurses, and other healthcare practitioners will be asked about how they would dress, set, or approach a particular patient who presents with a certain case. Mathematicians and scientists will be asked how they would solve individual problems. Those desiring to enter the world of the Big Four will be given hypothetical scenarios in which the candidate must come up with the best likely outcome and solution.
Most candidates will answer a hypothetical question using the word, “would” with another “would.” But, here’s a tip. Don’t do it. At, least don’t stop there. For, as much as you are tempted to answer without giving any of your actual experience, the interviewer really wants to see two things from you: Your logical thought process and how you have actually utilized such a process in the past to arrive at your answer.
Here’s an example: an interviewer asks you how you would improve the quality of a manufacturing facility in Mexico who has seen a 25-30 percent turnover rate in their workforce causing efficiency issues. What would you do? The novice candidate would likely respond, not having ever worked in a manufacturing facility in Mexico, that she would visit the site, interview past employees, and review current hiring metrics and quality standards. But, keep going! You will gain points if you are able to demonstrate how you have employed these types of critical thinking skills in the past. Whether collaborating on a class project, working at an internship or volunteering at a local organization, you can impress the interviewer hosting a situational interview by tying your thought logic into practical and applicable real-life experience. After all, past experience is indicative of future success. And, linking the hypothetical with the real-world application will blow most of your competition—who is only answering one part of that question—away.
3) The Behavioral Interview
I interview several hundred college students every year for various positions within my own organization and I am impressed with the number of students who are aware of the behavioral interview. They may know that it is based upon a certain set of behaviors that the interviewer is looking for. They may also know that to best answer these types of questions, a candidate should employ the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) model of response. Finally, candidates may also consider that behavioral interviews usually contain the word “when” in them. Yet, many candidates fail to recognize two key aspects that are critical to the success of every interviewee answering the behavioral question—one, that “when” requires an exact example and not a generic, hypothetical answer and two, that most of the questions to be asked can be found ahead of time. Let’s see that this looks like.
First, most behavioral questions will start with, “Tell me about a time when…” or “Give me an example of when…” or “When have you…” This indicates that the interviewer is looking for a specific and individual example. Answering one of these types of questions with, “I always,” or “I usually,” or “I would” will not score you any points—quite the opposite! Because the interviewer is seeking to determine if the candidate meets a certain characteristic, it is imperative to give specific examples of how you have met this criteria in the past. Again, answering in the STAR model is the most effective format for answering and will be the topic of another column.
For now, interview candidates can prepare for their behavioral interview in advance by thoroughly reading through the “Desired Skills” section of job descriptions posted on the company’s career pages. How so? Well, in looking through an actual job posting for a Marketing Analyst, I read through the desired skills:
- Strong verbal and written communication skills including public speaking
- Strong decision making skills
- Strong knowledge of social media
- Strong research ability and critical thinking skills
- Good project management and time management skills
- Detailed and team oriented
This tells me that they will likely ask questions to the tune of, “Tell me about a time when you communicated a difficult message” or “When have you had to make an unpopular decision,” or “Give me an example of a time when you were under a tight deadline.” Having answers already prepared for the questions that are likely to be asked will alleviate your anxiety and present you in the best possible light. While the most intricate of the interview types, the behavioral interview is the easiest to prepare for given that much of what you will be asked should be readily available to you!
Reading through job descriptions as well as corporate propaganda can arm interview candidates with much information to align their strengths and successes with the needs of the organization. As I like to say, interviewing and job hunting are exercises in risk management; reduce your risk and reward your future. This means that to a hiring organization who only has a sheet of paper (your resume) and an hour of face to face time (your interview) to make a decision as to whether to spend tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars on you can be a risky proposition for them. Candidates can reduce their risk by demonstrating how easily they will fit into the corporate culture, perform well on the job, and contribute positively to the growth of the company. Articulating all or part of this message becomes central in the interview process; and preparation for any of the interview types and questions can help put you in a new position. Knowing how and what to answer ahead of time will give you—and your potential employer—an excellent interview experience hopefully leading to a productive and profitable relationship for both of you.
The Ultimate Executive Career Guide: Master Your Next Executive Interview
As a senior-level executive, you can use this guide to: