How to Interview (Both Sides of the Table)
By: Bruce Hurwitz, Ph.D.
A few times I have been in a "beauty pageant." No, not that kind; one where a business owner considers a number of companies for a project.
If, for example, a company is unhappy with their outside counsel, to whom they pay millions every year to keep them on the straight and narrow, but who nickel and dime them charging for literally everything they do, they might very well invite other firms in to see if they can get a better deal somewhere else. The lawyers, or it could be accountants, parade into the Board Room one after the other. Thus the "beauty pageant" analogy.
But that's not the type of interview with which you are concerned, whether you are looking to hire or be hired. So let's focus on the good ole fashioned job interview. Here's what I recommend should happen.
Window screens are not enough
First, someone should screen the applicant, going through the job description, to make certain the person is, in fact qualified. It seems obvious, but far too often employers are heard saying, "But it says on your resume..." You might want to sit down for this: People lie, exaggerate and misrepresent on their resumes! I know, it's shocking. But it is true. And this is everything from where they live to periods of employment to their academic credentials and professional certifications. So you need to have everything verified by a recruiter, internal or external, before the hiring manager, supervisor, boss, owner, whomever, gets involved. But, let's say that everything checks out and the candidate is honest, as the vast majority are, what's next? Interview them. Here's how:
Questions the employer should ask:
What do you know about our company? This will tell you how well the candidate prepares for meetings and how serious they are about working for you.
Why did you apply for the job? This will, again, tell you how serious the candidate is, but this time it will also show how well they understand the job. And, yes, I have received some very stupid responses. ("The job seems pretty easy," immediately comes to mind!)
Give me an example of a time you took on a responsibility that was not in your job description. This will tell you if the candidate gives 100% or 110%.
Give me an example of your biggest failure and what you learned from it. Believe it or not, I have had people say, "I prepare very well, so I don't fail." End of interview. The person is either totally unaware, a fool or a liar. And then there are those who tell you what their failure was, but don't say what they learned from it. If you have to remind them of the second part of the request, it's either a sign that they do not listen well or that they don't learn from their mistakes. (To be fair, it could also be a sign they are nervous and simply forgot, so be nice!)
Give me an example of your greatest success and what you learned from it. This time they'll have an answer but, again, as before, if they forget the second part of the request, it could be a red flag.
I also like to ask some questions right out of left field: What is the most important thing you have learned in life? This tells me about their values. What are you curious about? This tells me if they are continuously learning. Some of my clients ask questions such as, "What was the last movie you saw?" or "What book are you currently reading?" They want to see how interesting the person is, how good they are at small talk. Some ask a simple mathematical problem to see how well the candidate thinks on their feet. With one exception that I will get to momentarily, there is no guarantee of what an interviewer will ask a candidate.
In any event, the most important question to ask the candidate, and the final question, should be, "What questions do you have for me/us?" If the candidate has none, they are not interested in the job. In any case, even if you did not like their answers to your questions, give more weight to the quality of their questions. Good questions trump bad answers every time. And if the employer does not ask the question, it is a very large red flag: If they don't think enough about you as a prospect to ask if you have any questions, it is safe to assume that they won't want your opinion as an employee!
Questions the candidate should ask:
"Why did you decide to interview me for this position?" This way your part of the interview starts with the interviewers thinking positive things about you, and you will know what they liked about you so you'll know which other qualities you have that you should emphasize.
Show that you prepare well for meetings. Ask, "Why do you follow so-and-so on Twitter? They're a European company. Are you planning on expanding into the EU and, if so, how are you going to deal with the GDPR?" Now you have proven that you research well and know your stuff.
Ask specific questions about the job: "How do you measure success?" "What benchmarks have you established for the position?
Don't ask, "Why did the last person who held the job leave?" That's gossipy. Ask, "What did the last person who held the job do that you would like to see continued and what would you like to see done differently?" That's being a professional.
Ask specific questions about the company: "What is your employee turnover rate?" If they don't know, or won't tell you, that's a big red flag!
No way to predict
It is impossible to know what questions a candidate will be asked, over and above those related directly to the job description (the one thing that I alluded to earlier that you can be certain of being asked). That said, you can prepare for the unknown by having mock interviews, and doing a deep dive into the company so that your questions will be superior to anything your competition will ask. This will also help to make you confident that you can succeed. Nothing is more appealing to an employer than justifiable confidence. (Overconfidence is just obnoxious!)
The key to landing a job offer is differentiation. All things being equal, if your questions are better than everyone else's, you should get the offer and the employer should get a top-notch employee.
The interview does not end when the the candidate leaves. If on the same day as the interview each interviewer does not receive a personalized email from the candidate, that directly relates to that person and is not generic, don't hire them. (There's an easy way to do this, but that's a subject for a future article.)
And if the company's decision making process is such that they don't fulfill their promises, "We'll let you know our decision next week," that pretty much tells you everything you need to know about them. If the company disappears on you, doesn't follow through and doesn't keep their promises, why work for them? That said, things happen, so a week later, on a Friday (so you can wish them a happy weekend), send an email and request an update. If you still don't get an answer, well, that's your answer!
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