Welcome back to the Ultimate Interviewing Guide. Last week we made it through the phone interviews. By this point, you’ve had multiple conversations with HR and the hiring team. Being invited for a face to face interview increases your confidence now that the finish line is in sight. Now, more than ever, it is imperative to prepare for the final hurdles to come.
Face-to-face interviews (whether in person or video) may not always be the last step in the process; however, they are usually the most in-depth information-gathering sessions that hold the most weight in hiring decisions. If you “pass” the face-to-face interview, any further interviews should be a piece of cake, comparatively speaking. I am not suggesting that any follow-up phone or face to face interviews should be taken lightly. Every interview should be well prepared for, if not over-prepared for. However, once you clear the hardest test, the rest tend to be much more manageable.
Whether the face-to-face interview takes place in front of a webcam or in person, following best practices will make sure you are prepared, polished, and most importantly, memorable (in a good way).
Innovations in technology have been growing by leaps and bounds. Who would have thought there would be a hockey puck sized device that turns on an off the lights in your house, changes the temperature on your thermostat, and sing your kids a lullaby just by calling out to her name: Alexa. Video interviewing technology has quickly adapted to become mainstream, replacing the need for paying for flights and hotel rooms while being able to connect people from across the globe in a virtual face-to-face meeting at any time of the day. There are major advantages in cost and flexibility. Skype can be used for free while other software packages cost pennies on the dollar compared to paying for in-person interviews. Addressing flexibility, some companies have completely replaced phone interviewing with video interviewing to condense the interview process. Others have saved money by adding a video interview between the phone and face-to-face interview as an extra layer of vetting (prior to inviting candidates in for a much more expensive, face-to-face meeting). The largest impact comes from those who use video interviewing in lieu of meeting in person (which can be extremely cost-effective when hiring remote-based employees or those working in non-local offices).
There are many platforms including Skype, FaceTime, WebEx, and HireVue, among others, although they all pretty much work in the same way. They provide the interviewer and candidate with a link, code, or profile that connects them to the meeting. The programs use your device’s webcam for video and microphone for audio (sometimes companies prefer to utilize a separate teleconference line rather than using web-based audio in order to retain audio quality should either the internet or program lag during the interview). While some technologies allow for the interview to take place on a computer, tablet, or cell phone, it is advisable to use the device that has the most computing power, generally your computer or laptop, as some programs require advanced CPU speeds and can cause distracting delays during the interview if your device isn’t fast enough.
Keep in mind that many video interview platforms allow the potential employer to record the interview for future viewing. There will be a disclaimer that will let you know the interview is being recorded, generally on the email that includes the link and password for the interview. For companies, having the ability to record interviews is an extremely useful tool. First, it allows team members who were not available to attend the interview to review at a later time. Considering top talent doesn’t tend to stay available for long, this flexibility allows for a quicker interview process while allowing all decision makers to provide input on the candidate’s performance. Second, it cracks down on interview fraud. Although rare, there are times when candidates will either a) have someone more experienced interview on their behalf or b) will interview on someone else’s behalf to help them get the job. In other words, one person interviews while the other shows up, either for an in-person interview or, even worse, the first day of the job. Being able to go back to interview recordings has saved companies from keeping fraudulent employees on their payroll.
Regardless if the video interview is conducted as the first step in the interview process or the very last, popper preparation is needed to take advantage of the technology while limiting the pitfalls.
How to Prepare:
Do your homework.
Just like preparing for phone interviews, start with doing your homework. Spend some time on the company website, Google the company’s name and see if there are any interesting updates or news articles, and utilize both Google and LinkedIn to research the people you are meeting with (check out the first part of the Ultimate Interviewing Guide for additional details).
Pick the right time and place.
Be strategic when setting up a video interview. Set a time you are guaranteed to be uninterrupted and make sure you pick the right location. First, make sure the location has proper internet connectivity. Slow or intermittent internet connection will cause the video to cut in and out, making it very distracting to all parties. Second, pick a spot that is not only quiet but has a professional background. This can be a bit more complicated than setting up a phone call which you can take from your car or outside in a quiet location. If you can’t find a private place at work, be transparent about your situation apologize in advance if you need to take the call from your car or another less “professional” location. Try to avoid locations that can be loud or distracting (i.e. - Starbucks).
When conducting video interviews from a home or personal office, make sure that you check your surroundings as the interviewer(s) will be able to see everything in your webcam’s view. A clean and tidy office space will make for a more professional first impression. Test your webcam placement prior to the interview to make sure everything looks the way it should.
Dress the part.
Regardless of where you conduct the interview, look your best. Remember, the interviewer(s) can see you. The rule of thumb for any face-to-face meeting is to dress slightly more professional than what the situation calls for. If the dress code for the company is smart casual, have on your nice suit, or ladies, a nice, professional dress. In other words, ask yourself, “Would I wear this if I were meeting the team in-person in their office?”
Do a test run.
Now that you have a location picked out and your wardrobe ready, it is time for a test run. Most video interview programs will have a test link to make sure everything is running properly prior to the interview. Testing will also let you see what the webcam picks up to make sure you and your surroundings both look presentable, giving you time to make final adjustments. For example, you may need to move the camera around to pick the perfect viewing angle or may need to adjust the lighting in the room to make sure the interviewers can see you clearly.
Smile, you’re on camera. Like any first impression, it is important to come across as likable and pleasant. Be positive and presentable, not only in your answers to the interviewer’s questions but with your body language. Keep engaged by maintaining eye focus on the interview. If you have ever done a video interview before, there can be a sense of awkwardness on where to look. Most devices have the webcam above the screen. If you maintain focus on the interviewer (who is on the screen) it will appear looking downward. On the other hand, if you stare into the webcam, you won’t be able to see the interviewer. Is it better to look at the interviewer or stare into the camera? As long as the interviewer has your undivided attention, do whatever makes you feel the most comfortable. There is a slight advantage to maintaining focus on the interviewer as you will benefit from reading their body language and reactions, something that you can’t do over the phone. Keep in mind that your body language is being read as well, so be mindful of your posture and body language during the conversation. Make sure to avoid outside distractions as the interviewer will notice every time you take your eyes off the screen/camera (which goes back to finding a quiet place that you can remain undisturbed).
Be prepared if the technology doesn’t cooperate.
Technology is great…when it works. Just because everything worked when you tested your system prior to the interview doesn’t mean everything is going to run smoothly. The video feed might cut in and out. The audio might be a little gurgled at some point. If this happens, simply bring up the connection issue with the interviewer rather than pretending it isn’t happening. Most times, companies will have a backup plan if the connection isn’t cooperating, usually transferring to a phone. call You don’t want to be in a situation where you are asking the interviewers to continually repeat themselves or mishear their questions and go off a wild tangent.
On a similar note, the video or audio may be slightly delayed. Although you might be excited or anxious during the interview, try to refrain from interrupting the interviewer as it can be extremely frustrating and distracting to be cut off mid-thought. This can be especially difficult if there is a lag due to a slow connection. Try to keep a one-second buffer between the interviewer speaking and providing your response. The slight delay not only makes sure the interviewer is done speaking, but it shows that you are processing what they are saying rather than responding compulsively.
Feel free to take notes.
If you plan on taking notes during the call (which is a great idea), be sure to let the interviewers know. This way, they know what you are doing when you are looking away from the screen. Otherwise, they may think that you are not being attentive or are lost in thought.
If you read part one of this guide, you will know that a universal pet peeve that most interviewers have is when candidates do not have any questions for them. Always come prepared with a list of questions and make sure to write down any questions that come to mind during the interview itself. Well thought out and relevant questions make you memorable. Research the interviewers and try to come up with questions that are relevant to their point of view. For example, you may want to find out more about the day-to-day environment from a colleague-level interviewer whereas you may want to learn more about the long-term direction of the department from the director. If you are meeting with multiple people, have at least a couple of unique questions for each person. Addressing each interviewer independently will give you a couple of minutes of one-on-one time, allowing you create a closer. Plus, if you are able to come up with questions based on content from the interview, it will show that you have been attentive and find value in their thoughts and opinions.
Make sure to follow up with each interview via a personalized Thank You email. Depending on whether or not you have everyone’s contact information, you may need to ask for the interviewers’ email addresses or send your Thank You email to the recruiter or HR rep who can forward it along appropriately. Make sure you address the hot topics of discussion, reconfirm your continued interest, and highlight how your experience fits the position.
In Person/Face to Face (F2F) Interviews
Old fashion, in person, face-to-face (F2F) interviews are still the gold standard in thoroughly vetting potential new hires. Even though video interviewing is gaining in popularity, looking someone square in their eyes, putting on a big smile, and shaking their hand remains the most powerful way to create lasting memories.
A F2F interview provides information outside of the typical Q&A during the interview. For the company, it allows the team to come together as a cohesive unit to select the next addition to their group. It also allows the interviewers to better assess cultural and personality fits as well as interpret body language. For the candidate, it gives an opportunity to check out the office, meet the personalities of the team in their work environment, while also allowing them to better interpret body language.
Since F2F interviews are used as the primary information gathering session, they usually include the most influential decision makers. In terms of preparation, think of the interview as the highest hurdle on the track.
How to Prepare:
Do your homework, again, and prepare additional questions.
Follow the same “homework” as before, researching the company and the interview panel. Most likely, the company will provide you with an agenda that will include the interviewer’s names and titles. When doing your research on each interviewer, make sure to have a list of questions prepared. As mentioned earlier, managers find candidates the most memorable when they ask relevant and meaningful questions. Take into consideration the level and perspective of each interviewer and come up with a few questions that are personalized to their specialties. Feel free add/remove/edit your questions during the interview, but you still want to have a set of questions ready at your fingertips (scroll down to the Questions section for more tips).
Present yourself professionally.
Dress for success. Follow the rule of dressing slightly nicer than the office dress code. Come prepared with a portfolio/binder with you to the interview. The portfolio should include:
This interview is going to be full of questions, usually more in-depth and difficult than the previous. Make sure you are prepared to discuss your achievements and provide examples of problems you have solved. Practice for the interview. Take the list of interviewers and come up with five questions you would ask if you were in their shoes (taking into consideration their title/level in the company). Come up with answers to those questions along with details regarding specific challenges you tackled and skills you’ve learned along the way. Although the actual questions may vary, it will be easier to draw from your past experiences now that they are fresh in your mind. Often time, you will find yourself coming up with better sample answers, better examples, and better achievements than if you were to “wing it” the day of the interview.
Don’t be late!
Plan to arrive 15-20 minutes early, taking into consideration traffic and weather. You can always spend extra time sitting in the parking lot conducting last minute preparations. If you walk in late, you are already at a disadvantage. If you are running late for the interview call someone at the company and let them know. The more notice you can give the better (don’t call 2 minutes before the interview is supposed to take place and say that you are running 30 min behind).
Act the part.
When you are being greeted by each interviewer, make sure you stand up, maintain eye contact, and give an old-school hardy handy shake. Sit up tall and maintain proper posture. Body language says a lot, so make sure you are projecting confidence and professionalism.
Be consistent, but have a variety of examples to share.
When meeting with multiple interviewers maintain consistency in your answers. The interviewers are going to debrief afterward and will compare notes. You don’t want them finding discrepancies in your responses. It is recommended, however, to provide different examples and achievements throughout the interview. Giving multiple examples shows that you have a wealth of experience rather than relying on the same example over and over again.
The interview panel will be assessing more than just your abilities. Cultural fit and personality are just as important as being able to add value to the team. In other words, not only do you have to be qualified, you also need to be likable. Let’s pretend the roles are reversed. You are in charge of hiring someone that will report directly to you. You have two final-round candidates. The first has the most experience of all of the applicants but has a difficult personality. The second still meets the minimum requirements but is more junior. What they lack in experience, they make up for in passion and drive. They are open-minded, flexible, and moldable. Who do you hire? The nature of your vacancy may dictate your answer, but you can see how personality and drive play into the decision making process. It is not uncommon for personality to trump experience. If you have both, you will maintain the greatest advantage.
We had discussed the importance of having questions prepared, but what type of questions should you ask? Since F2F interviewers usually include multiple interviewers spanning different levels and departments it is important to customize your questions. For example:
Human Resources: Benefits, company culture, company mission statement
Colleague level interviewers: Day-to-day operations and position/project-specific questions
Managers/Directors: Departmental level questions, the direction of the company, and the problems they are looking to solve
Executive level: Direction of the company and bigger picture corporate goals
You may have spoken with one or multiple team members prior to meeting them in person. If this is the case, make sure you have newly prepared questions. The further along in the interview process, the more specific your questions should be, taking into the account what you have learned along the way. You may want to ask each of the interviewers about their thoughts and opinions on a certain topic or task. You may also want to refer to previous conversations with other interviewers. For example, if HR stated that the company has been rapidly growing, you may want to get the hiring team’s perspective the positive attributes that have led to the growth spurt. Perhaps one of the managers mentioned the team is going to be implementing a new computer system in the near future. If so, does a colleague level interviewer think the upgrade will help make their job more efficient? These questions are simple conversation starters that show you are an active listener.
Just as before, take the time and send each interviewer a personalized Thank You email that references some of the details from the conversation along with confirming your mutual interest in the company/position. Provide your contact information should they have any follow-up.
Becoming a good interviewer is a learnable skill. Some people are naturally characteristic and have a supernatural ability to sell others on their abilities. For others, especially those who are more introverted, it can be a bit more difficult to navigate highly technical conversations in a foreign environment. Regardless of your comfort level with interviewing, the more you practice, the better you will become. If you are struggling with the interview process, practice with a friend or loved one. Come up with more examples and achievements that you can use during your interview. Go on more interviews, even when you are not necessarily looking. In short, it is just as important to focus on what makes a positive impression as it is to avoid creating a negative one. Your resume, personality, level of professionalism, qualifications, and interview performance are all factors you control.
Good news! If you read this far, you are clearly the type of person that is willing to work hard to become better at what you do. Just by analyzing your interview skills, you are on the track to a future full of success.
Congratulations! Your resume passed the first test and you are set up for a phone interview. Just because you passed the first hurdle doesn’t mean it’s time to slow your pace. There are many hurdles to come and when it comes to interviewing, the first hurdle you hit will be your last as you become disqualified from the race. While it might be tempting to plan out the entire interview process from start to finish, it is more important to focus on the next hurdle ahead.
Preparing, planning, and practicing your interview skills can be the difference between moving on and falling flat. A unique aspect of interviewing is that each course is different. Every company has their own vetting process which usually consists of a mix of phone, video, and face to face interviews. Some interviews may be “easier” than others, but the most successful interviewers prepare like each hurdle is the highest. It is better to leap high over a low hurdle rather than splat to the ground, underestimating the amount of effort it takes to clear the obstacle.
The goal of interviewing is to receive an offer, while the goal of each interview is to get one step closer to an offer. It important to be on your game at all times. Remember, you can always turn down an offer that you don’t want, but until an offer is extended, the choice isn’t yours to make. Being offered a position not only validates your experience, achievements, and interviewing skills, but it also gives you a taste of what competitors are offering, making sure you are being paid a market competitive rate for your talents.
By focusing on each interview, one at a time, I am going to break down each stage of the interview process and offer best practices for preparation and execution. Properly following these steps should increase your interview to offer ratio, giving you more potential paths to take your career. There will be several recurring themes that apply to all interviews, though some will be specific. Regardless of the type of interview, keep in the back of your mind that those who are over prepared are more likely to receive favorable feedback than those who are just winging it. Let your competition fly solo.
Phone Interviews: Internal Recruiters/Human Resources
Internal HR led phone interviews (either by internal recruiters or a human resources representative) are usually the first step in the interview process. It is common for companies to have their internal recruiters or HR reps handle multiple types of positions, spanning across different skill sets. Based on the ebb and flow of hiring needs, it is beneficial for most companies to train their recruiting representatives to be jacks of all trades, being able to work with different internal departments on an as-needed basis. Since these teams work across many different skill sets, phone interviews tend to be less detailed than the hiring manager interviews to come. They mainly focus on qualifying candidates. Conversations tend to revolve around making sure applicants have the minimum experience required, a walkthrough of previous job transitions, providing insights into the company’s corporate culture, and aligning salary expectations. The ultimate goal of this interview is to make sure that only viable, qualified, and interested candidates are presented to the hiring manager as the hiring manager’s time is best spent running their department, not interviewing. These initial phone interviews are meant to weed out candidates.
In addition to the general screening process, the hiring team may provide a list of specific questions for HR to ask each prospective candidate. These questions are usually more detailed and technical in nature. HR will usually type up the answers and pass them along to the hiring team to review. These are the key questions to pay special attention to as these are the questions that represent the key skills and problems that need solving. The more confident the team becomes in your ability to solve their problems, the better chance you will make it to the next step of the vetting process.
How to Prepare:
Do your research.
Start preparing for the HR interview by researching the company. Take a look at their website and do a quick Google search. Scroll down the first page or two to see if there are any interesting or relevant articles, updates, and industry news that might be able to help familiarize yourself with the organization. Using Google’s News tab can be effective to stay on top of recent updates. Perhaps the company had recently published an exciting press release, or maybe one of the executives just posted a status update on their project. Interviewers like when candidates are well informed. It shows that they have done homework, are interested in the position, and is a sign of professionalism.
Know your strengths and your weaknesses.
Beyond doing your research, make sure you are confident in your strengths and be able to promote your successes. At the same time, realize your limitations and how to combat them. Put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes and figure out what you would want to know if you were them and have well-thought-out answers prepared. Having answers prepared, or potential stories to tell will help your conversations roll more smoothly. When an interviewer asks a question, the less you need to search for an answer, the better.
Find the right place to take the call.
When scheduling a phone interview, make sure you commit enough uninterrupted time to complete the call. Generally, 30-60 min should be efficient unless otherwise noted. If you plan on using a cell phone, make sure you pick a place that offers adequate reception and privacy. Since most phone interviews will occur during normal business hours, there is a good chance that you will have to take the call during work hours. Find an unused conference room or sit in your car. Try to avoid taking the call in a break room where others might pop in or sitting outside in busy public places. Outside noise can be a distraction, both to your performance, but also to the interviewer who is trying to pay attention to your answers.
Use your resume as a cheat sheet.
Be prepared to walk through your career history by having your resume in front of you. One of the main goals of the HR interview is to align your job responsibilities with the vacancy’s requirements and, most likely, you have a lot of experience to share. If you haven’t interviewed in a while it can be surprisingly difficult to recall all of your past experiences. It is common to slowly forget specific dates of employment, job responsibilities, and even key achievements. Having your resume in front of you is like a voice-actor having their script in their hand, relieving the need to memorize the lines. Keep in mind, no one can talk about your experience better than you can. It is your responsibility to execute a well-delivered speech.
There is a good chance that the interviewer will start the interview by walking through your job history. The conversation may begin by talking about your education or discussing how you got started in your industry. From there, prepare to talk about each job, starting with your first, working your way through to your current position. The interviewer will be assessing what led you from point A to B, the skills you have mastered on the way, your achievements, and reasons for change.
Be prepared to talk about gaps in employment and short-term positions as both are red flags to employers. Part of the preparation process should include the creation of well-scripted responses to, “Why did you leave that position after six months?” or, “How come there was an eight-month gap between this position and the next?”
If available, have the job description handy as wee. It is common for the interviewer to focus on comparing the job description with your current and previous job responsibilities. If you have questions regarding the description, HR may have some answers, but the hiring managers are usually better able to answer more specific or technical questions.
Be the expert the team is looking for.
Present yourself as an expert. If you are interviewing for a position that requires a special expertise (indicated by a minimum years of experience), you should know more about the day to day responsibilities and duties than the internal recruiter or HR rep. I am not suggesting that they are unfamiliar with your job, but there is a good chance that they haven’t worked in your shoes. The more confident and knowledgeable you present yourself, the more comfortable the interviewer will be with the conversation and the more likely they will recommend moving forward to the next interview. If you are struggling to draw parallels between the job description and your resume, there is a good chance the interviewer will pick up on the lack of confidence and will become less confident in your abilities.
Be prepared to talk about dollars and cents.
Salary history and salary expectations may also be discussed; however, many states are starting to prohibit employers from asking candidates about current salaries in order to protect against salary discrimination. In order to make sure salary expectations are aligned, be prepared to at least talk about your salary expectations to make sure they match with what the position is offering. Refusing to talk about salary (including salary expectations) will generally throw up another red flag. Hesitancy to talk about compensation is usually the result one of two situations, both of which generally lead to things not working out. First, the salary for the position is so much more than what you are making now that there is a good chance your experience is too light for the role. Second, your salary is well over what the position is paying, but you are hoping that after the team meets with you that they will be so smitten by your awesomeness that you will be able to negotiate a salary outside of their range. Sure, once in a blue moon either of these situations may turn out to work in your favor, but 95% of the time salary discrepancies lead down a road to wasted efforts.
Ask questions during each and every interview. Each interviewer has a different perspective of their organization as well as the vacancy so take their perspective into account during your interview preparation. For example, HR is better at discussing company benefits, PTO, and other compensation related items. They are also able to shed light on corporate culture along with the company’s mission. Besides interviewing candidates, they are also responsible for representing the company’s branding image so you can get an idea of the type of image that corporate is trying to portray.
Working with an Agency Recruiter:
Internal recruiter/HR interviews should be a piece of cake if you are represented by a staffing agency. The agency recruiter should be able to prepare you for everything that HR is going to discuss. Since the phone interview with the agency and the internal team can be very similar in nature, it is not uncommon for hiring managers to bypass the initial HR phone interview and move right to a discussion with the hiring manager.
Phone Interviews: Hiring Managers
Speaking with the hiring manager (or hiring team in some circumstances) is the first real test. Of course, you were well prepared for your call with HR (leaping high over the first hurdle), but that was just the warm-up. If there is one person you need to impress during the entire interview process, it is the hiring manager who, in many cases, will wind up being your future boss. By now, you should be familiar with the company and the position. Don’t get too comfortable because this interview takes the cookie-cutter Q&A session with HR to a whole new level of detail.
Want to know a dirty secret? Hiring managers stress over interviewing. They are busy with their “day jobs” so any time spent interviewing takes them away from what they do best. By this point, they already were debriefed by HR that you met the minimum requirements and they already reviewed your resume. The goal of the hiring manager interview is to nail down on specific skill sets and qualifications along with assessing personality fit with their group. Be prepared to talk about your experience, but more importantly, be prepared to talk about your achievements. Put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes and ask yourself, “Why would I hire myself over any other candidate?” If you can answer that question successfully, you’ve got the hiring manager’s attention.
The goal of this interview is twofold. First, you want to clear the hurdle and move forward to the next interview. Second, you want to get a better idea of the position, department, and company to see if the opportunity aligns with your career goals. The hiring manager is better equipped to provide specific details on the position and are prime targets for questions regarding day to day duties, challenges, or expectations.
How to Prepare:
Do your homework, again.
Just like before, spend some time researching the company. It never hurts to re-familiarize yourself with the company website and review any new news articles before each interview. When interviewing with anyone on the hiring team, do some research on each interviewer to get a better understanding of their background. One option is to simply Google their name (you may want to add the company name to limit search results) to see if there are any interesting articles that they may have posted, industry events they attend, or publications that they have written. A second option is to do some sleuth work on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a phenomenal tool that, more times than not, you can find their career history, education, and even their list or hobbies and interests. All of this information can be used to your benefit, giving you the upper hand compared to your competition. Perhaps you both play tennis. Maybe your son is currently attending the manager’s alma mater. Similarities create instant comfort, immediate bonds, and make you more memorable after the interview concludes. Furthermore, it is easier to prepare for the conversation by having background details on the other party, keeping in mind they already know quite a bit about you. This background information will also help you prepare better questions. For example, you might prepare different questions when talking to someone who has been at the company for the last 23 years compared to someone that just started a couple months ago.
Be specific with examples.
Since this interview is about diving deeper into your experiences, make sure to prepare solutions to their problems. If the team is looking to hire someone, it literally means that their team is not running a peak efficiency. Identify the gap and give examples of how you can fill it. Don’t speak in generalities. Be prepared to detail specific and relevant achievements. Walk through actual situations that you have encountered. Describe the situation at hand, the task that needed to be completed, the actions you took, and the results of those actions. Speaking vaguely equates to not having the experience. Giving detailed step by step accounts of the situation, details that only come from having completed the task solidifies your knowledge and experience.
Have questions prepared.
One of the biggest pet peeves that hiring managers have is candidates not having any questions for them. Changing jobs is a life-changing decision, one that greatly impacts your livelihood. To go into an interview without any questions is basically saying, “I just need a job and don’t really care that much about the details.” Obviously, this doesn’t create a positive perception. Beyond showing mutual interest, questioning the hiring manager gives you the first real opportunity to vet the position, making sure it is aligned with your career expectations and goals. Keep in mind, you will be getting answers straight from the horse’s mouth. Just like your HR interview, have a list of questions prepared. Some, or even most, of your questions might be answered during the conversation so make sure to add questions that may not be so obvious. We will discuss some examples a little later below.
Block out enough time.
As before, make sure you block off enough time on your calendar to remain uninterrupted during the duration of the conversation. Sometimes these interviews are on the longer end, lasting well over an hour (the longer you are on the phone with a decision maker, the better). Sometimes they are tight on time and may only have 15-20 minutes. Try to find out the expected duration of the call beforehand, and plan for it to run 50% longer, just in case. Just like with HR, make sure you find a location that is quiet, private, and offers a clear cell signal if you are using your cell phone.
Be a listener and note taker.
During the interview, listen carefully and let the manager finish what they are saying before interjecting. No one likes to be cut off when they are talking and it doesn’t look good to project impulsivity. Take notes as the manager is giving you pertinent information about the position while making special notes of the underlying problems they are trying to solve. When it is your turn to do the talking, be able to give specific situations, specific achievements, and offer solutions to their pain points (which you should have practiced during your pre-interview preparation).
Have your cheat sheets handy.
Have your resume, the job description, and if possible, the company website open as all are helpful tools during this interview. The manager might ask what you know about the company, testing to see if you did your research. They may ask specifics regarding certain positions you have held or certain achievements listed on your resume. They may also reference the job description, offering you an opportunity to interject with questions regarding specific duties. As a recurring theme, it is better to be over prepared rather than not prepared enough. You can see how a conversation could slowly tumble downhill should a manager ask, “What questions do you have about the job description?” only to be met with awkward silence.
The interviewer will usually allow you to ask any outstanding questions at the end of the interview. There may also be times during the conversation where you will have the opportunity to interject while discussing specific topics. Prepare a list of questions and have them in front of you throughout the call. Cross out any questions the manager answers during the natural flow of the call and jot down additional questions that pop up during the conversation. In fact, having questions based on the content of the interview shows the manager that you are fully engaged in the call.
If you are struggling to come up with questions or if the manager already answered everything on your list, here are a few examples of questions that help continue the flow of the conversation, showing the manager that you are vested in the conversation and their insight:
The next step in confirming your interest in the position is by following up with a Thank You email. The email should be short and sweet, something that the manager can read in around 30 seconds and leave with a smile and a nod. Include some of the notes that you took from the conversation, highlighting how your experience is relevant to the key qualifications of the position, or better yet, offer solutions to their problems.
It is important to note that the goal of a Thank You email is not creating a laundry list of reasons why you should be considered. That is what the interview was for. If you bombed the interview, don’t think that a seven-page letter dissecting each line of the job description and pairing each bullet point with your experience is going to change the hiring manager’s mind. That said, there may be a time where you forgot to mention something during the call or there wasn’t enough time to finish the discussion due to hitting the time allotted for the conversation. In these cases, it would be appropriate to mention, “When we were speaking about [topic], I forgot to mention that I had [talk about your experience or achievement]” or, “Time flew by while we were on the phone, we didn’t get a chance to talk about [topic], but want to mention that [give a brief summary about your experience or achievement]. I would be happy to discuss further in a later interview.”
…To Be Continued
Understanding how the inner workings of the staffing industry can give job seekers and employers a massive advantage. Let’s face it, changing jobs is stressful for the candidates and hiring is extremely is expensive for employers. There is a risk on both sides of the coin. Candidates dedicate most of their lives to their trade and a bad job move can create a miserable experience five out of seven days per week. Meanwhile, employers are paying their employees salaries which, in a sense, is like they for paying their mortgage, all living expenses, and (hopefully) adding a little every month to their savings/investments. There is a risk of spending company money on someone that doesn’t turn out to be profitable to the business. There is also a cost of having the vacancy open. After all, the position is available in the first place because it will add value, not take value away.
One of the important goals of a top producing recruiter is to save time and money while lowering risk for candidates, hiring managers, and human resources, while maintaining quality deliverables. Working with a soft recruiter can be as painful as waiting in line at the DMV. In order to consistently maximize efficiency, recruiters need to be able to properly represent their clients/hiring managers and their candidates, fully understanding both party’s intentions by asking the right type of questions and providing follow up to their promises. It can be difficult to differentiate the empty promise keepers from the top producers. How do you find the recruiter that is loyally willing to fight in your army every step of the way, reducing both risk and stress?
Keep Away from Soft Recruiters
There are times when every recruiter walks away from a conversation beating themselves up for forgetting to ask a certain question or with their tails between their legs due to their hesitancy to ask qualifying questions. If this happens once in a while, not a big deal. The problem manifests when these one-off situations become more consistent and commonplace in the recruiter’s general practices. There are two terms that describe recruiters who have gotten comfortable with being soft, the Order Takers and the Paper Pushers.
The Order Takers are the client-facing recruiters or business development representatives who, like manning the headset behind your favorite fast-food drive through, have a habit of taking new jobs from their clients without asking any questions. The customer drives up to the window, places their order, and the recruiter throws the vanilla job description into their system and lets the team start on their goose hunt. This may sound inefficient because it is. The lack of Q&A can be caused by many factors. The recruiter doesn’t want to seem unknowledgeable and wants their client to feel assured that they know everything about their vacancy, not needing to ask further questions. I call this the “Don’t worry, I got this” approach. The problem is that the lack of information leads to more trial and error, less efficiency, and longer time to fill ratios. Another reason for the lack of questions is the fear of rejection. The recruiter may be focusing on hitting their metrics by bringing in a certain number of new positions, even if they aren’t qualified. The need for “more” outweighs the need to add value to their clients.
The Paper Pushers are the recruiters who approach the search process with two goals in mind, find as many candidates that meet the minimum requirements as possible and sell them on the position until they agree to be submitted, leaving out important information that would otherwise cause the candidate to lose interest. Conversations are kept as brief as possible in order to limit the candidate’s questions, usually covering the very basic qualifications on the job description. As long as the candidate meets the bare minimum of requirements, they pass the CV along to the hiring team for review. This is another inefficient approach that leads to wasted time and can damage relationships. The recruiter-candidate relationship can be damaged because without being fully vetted, there is lower chance that the candidate will make it through the hiring process, only receiving rejection (or lack of feedback) from their recruiter. The most common reason why candidates stop working with a recruiter is because the recruiter was never able to provide feedback, most likely because they were submitting unqualified candidates. The recruiter-employer relationship can take a beating as well since the volume of unqualified candidates leads to more of the employer’s time being wasted by reviewing and rejecting candidates. In short, the less efficient the recruiter, the less value they add to candidates and employers. Similar to the Order Takers, the Paper Pushers are motivated by limiting rejection and playing the volume game. They expect the law of averages to work in their favor. If they send a bunch of CVs over, a few are bound to stick. Some may, but at what cost?
It is fair to note that stereotyping a recruiter as an Order Taker or Paper Pusher may be a bit extreme as the staffing industry tends to weed out those who are not productive, but there is a common trend of not asking (or being scared to ask) qualifying questions in order to reduce rejection. In the short term, it may seem like they are being more productive, bringing in more new openings or submitting more candidates, but there needs to be a balance of “selling” the candidate/employer while qualifying the CV/vacancy in order to maximize efficiency and nurture long-term relationships.
Balancing the Scale of Selling and Qualifying
The staffing industry is filled with rejection (the old saying that 90% of sales comes from 10% of effort is pretty spot on), and over time constant rejection can make it easy to lose focus and motivation. More likely than not, 90% of potential candidates and potential new clients are either not interested, not qualified, aren’t looking, or already have a recruiter (or a number of recruiters) they are working with. Constant rejection leads to the natural instinct to soften up, focusing on gaining acceptance in order to minimize further rejection.
Although most people think of recruiting as an HR function, it is more of a sales position with people being the merchandise. The difference between selling a tangible item, such as a car, versus “selling” a candidate is that the paying customer (the employer) and the product (the candidate) need to be mutually interested in one another. In other words, you need to pick the car and the car needs to pick you back. I have often analogized recruiting to a professional matchmaking service where success and compensation are based on the number to matches that turn into meaningful relationships. Since the recruiter is representing both parties, a successful “match” requires a balance of selling and qualifying each party.
To some extent, early conversations with a potential client/employer or candidate start out with the sales pitch. Here is what I have to offer, is it something that you find value in? In reality, it is not so much “selling” as it is identifying a problem and trying to provide a solution. Since the customer (whether it be internal or external) and candidate need to be in mutual agreement, the focus is on aligning problems with the right problem solvers. For the employer, recruiters need to identify, attract, and vet candidates in a timely matter, leading to further interviews (and hopefully job offers). For the candidate, the recruiters need to make sure each job opportunity checks off their list of must-haves to make the career transition worthwhile. Whereas a soft recruiter ends the vetting process after the candidate shows interest, the tough recruiter takes the process to the next step further vetting the candidate by asking qualifying questions.
Qualifying Jobs and Candidates
Qualifying a candidate and qualifying an employer’s job requirement starts by asking the right questions to fully understand one another’s needs and wants. When it comes to the employer, it is important to find out what are the top requirement on the job description as well as any of the “nice to have’s” that may not be listed. Are there certain skill sets that are more important to the team than others? Who is their top performer that is currently in this role and what makes them so successful? The type of questions will be tailored to the position, but regardless of industry or vacancy, the best results come fully understanding the hiring team’s vision to the point where the recruiter can clearly represent the company’s best interests and intentions. Although it may be a good place to start, just being given a job description (which often times is vague and only offers minimum qualifications) is not a sufficient means to qualifying position. Further Q&A needs to take place to make sure the recruiter (whether they are internal or from a vendor) are on the same page. A 15 minute Q&A session will shave off countless hours of sourcing and interviewing, reducing the time to fill, saving both time and money for all involved.
Qualifying a candidate is not much different. Once a candidate is interested in a position, the recruiter needs to ask the right questions to make sure the candidate’s skill sets have the ability to solve their client’s problem. Not only does their experience need to match the job description, but they should be able to take the information from the Q&A session with the hiring team and make sure any other special qualifications are being met, such as personality fit or proper soft skills. Further understanding the candidate’s reasoning for their transition will lead to a more efficient and pleasant process. Just because a candidate is qualified for a particular position, doesn’t mean it is going to align with their career goals.
There needs to be a balance of selling and qualifying which, when done correctly, results in maximizing efficiency and proper representations of both parties. To better illustrate, think of a teeter-totter with “selling” on one side and “qualifying” on the other. They should be perfectly balanced on “efficient results” sitting as the fulcrum. When the scale is balanced you will see more interviews, more offers, more acceptances, and less time wasted. When the scales are tipped in either direction, you get wasted time, loss of trust, and damaged reputation.
It is important to mention that the balance of selling and qualifying need to be done throughout the process. Recruiters need to continue representing their client by selling the candidate’s qualifications, and vice versa. In the perfect scenario, the employer and the candidate are selling one, identifying mutual interest and natural fit. That said, the rules of supply and demand heavily influence the vetting process. When there is a high supply of candidates with a low supply of jobs, the employer will tend to be more selective, trying to hold out for the best of the best. When there is a lack of talent and an abundance of jobs, the coin is flipped, with the candidate now in the driver’s seat. Knowing the state of the job market will help you navigate most effectively.
Asking the “No” Questions
Every new recruiter is trained to ask the “yes” questions. People tend to be consistent with their behaviors and one “yes” is more likely to lead to the next. The idea is that the first yes will lead to a series of further agreed upon requests until there is a sale. While selling focuses on “yes’s” qualifying focuses on the “no’s.”
Asking the “No” question simply means taking the conversation further until you ask the question that produces a “No” response. For example, the job description may be asking for 10 years of experience. Would the team consider someone with a strong background with 9 years of experience? How about 8? If a candidate is targeting $100k to make a move, would they consider $98k for the right position? How about $95k? These questions are not geared to talk the employer down from their qualifications, nor to talk the candidate down from the salary requirements. Instead, it is a way to clarify how much weight they place on each of their decision making factors.
The hiring team might not care if they find someone with 8 years of experience instead of 10 because the years of experience is not what is important, having ABC experience is what is important, and ABC comes with experience. For example, if a position has line management responsibilities and if someone has proven abilities to successfully manage a team, a two-year difference in overall experience may not really matter that much.
In the candidate’s case, the goal isn’t to pinpoint the candidate’s monetary breaking point, instead, it’s to determine how much salary is a motivating factor. The candidate may be asking for a 10% increase, thinking it is a standard request, but they would realistically accept a lateral move for a perfect position that offers X, Y, and Z. This is great information to have, because now the focus is on X, Y, and Z instead of just dollars and cents. On the flip side, if dollars and cents are the motivators, there is a need to make sure that the employer is able to offer such compensation, avoiding any attempts of a lowball offer.
Asking the “No” question is the sticky grease that both eliminates and causes friction. You can’t have a repeatable, efficient process without identifying motivation and you can’t identify motivation until you ask tough questions. Unfortunately, tough questions can be uncomfortable to ask and if not phrased correctly can raise the defenses of both candidates and employers. Often times, intentions are misread. Using the previous examples, the employer may think recruiters are attempting to talk them down from their minimum qualifications or the candidate might think that they are being pushed into a position under their desired salary range. Recruiters become soft when their lack of clarity in their intentions results in a fear of asking questions leading up to the “No” question. It’s like each question they ask is another round of Russian roulette where, at some point, they are going to hear the word “no” and not know how to respond. Qualifying questions are simply confirming the best interests of the candidate and employers to make sure that they both aligned.
The “No” question is a time-saving tool that increases efficiency which both candidates and employers should appreciate. If an employer is looking for a set of qualifications that is unrealistic, they need to be coached on the market to see what qualifications they might be able to flex on. If they continue to be unrealistic, then save time by declining to work on the position. There is too much time wasted searching for hypothetical purple squirrels. Regarding efficiency, the quicker a recruiter is able to identify that a candidate is not a fit for the position or vice versa, the better. Less of the candidate’s time is spent interviewing only to receive a rejection letter, less of the hiring team’s time is spent interviewing a candidate that they wind up declining. This frees the recruiter to spend more time finding a better fit. One thing that I have learned very early on in my career is that every No is one step closer to the next Yes. Get the No’s out of the way as early and efficiently as possible.
Fueling the Flame
It is clear that proper representation requires recruiters to lose their fear of rejection, but what is fueling the widespread flame of softness? Sure, being turned down is uncomfortable, but if a recruiter can’t deal with rejection then they either picked the wrong profession or need to toughen up. Another potential cause stems from how candidates and clients approach recruiters, especially after having a poor prior experience.
Poor experiences cause candidates and clients to approach recruiters with reservations. Whether they felt misrepresented, didn’t get what they were promised, or otherwise walked away with a poor taste in their mouth, it can be easy to approach recruiters as if they are guilty until proven innocent. As the saying goes, “fool me once...” The problem is that even the best recruiters need to step on eggshells in order to gain enough trust for the conversation to open up. Since it is a lot easier to gain trust by being asked the “yes” questions, recruiters start selling more and qualifying less, leading to more wasted efforts and poorer experiences for both candidates and clients alike. This fuels the cycle to repeat itself, steadily breeding “yessers” rather than doers.
One of the trends within the staffing industry is the removal of the hiring manager-recruiter relationship in favor of implementing vendor management systems (VMSs) that automate the recruiting process. Once a recruiter is approved to supply candidates, the VMS system starts sending out newly approved job descriptions and funnels all applications through online applications. There is no access to management and very rarely an opportunity to ask meaningful questions to gain further qualifications for the position. What you see on the job description is what you get. In many ways it is no different than a candidate applying to a position on the company’s website, holding onto a wish and a prayer that they will get a response. For large corporations, their motivations are to keep their managers focusing on their day job rather than fielding recruiter calls, but it creates a poorer experience for both candidates and recruiters. Feedback is scarce resulting in a lack of trust in the recruiter, which ignites the flames yet again.
How to Man (or Woman) Up
Very rarely are recruiters truly classified as a Paper Pusher or an Order Taker. In reality, the industry spits them out as they become irrelevant as newer, hungrier talent takes their place. That being said, it is important to recognize when soft behaviors become more frequent as the cause is generally caused by a slow incremental tip of the selling-qualifying scale. Specifically, actions, or more accurately the lack of actions, start to become more prevalent due to the fear of rejection. When the action is governed by fear, the first step to getting back on track is acknowledging “fear got to me this time.” Keep track of how often this happens. If it is a once in a blue moon lack of judgment, then there isn’t anything to be worried about. If it the trend picks up in frequency, then it is time to take action to reverse the course. Most time, if we write down the potential logical outcomes of our fears, the worst case scenario is not that ground shaking. In the case of recruiting, asking tougher questions might result in a short-term dip in new openings or fewer candidates submitted, but overall, it will lead to less wasted efforts, increasing efficiency and filling more positions. This increase in efficiency strengthens relationships with both clients and candidates and leads to less rejection.
Another important rule of thumb is to leave assumptions at the door and make sure to qualify every new position and candidate during each conversation. The one thing that is consistent in the staffing industry is change. People change their minds all of the time and it is important to keep track of these changes as the interview process matures. For example, if a candidate is interviewing elsewhere, a slow-moving employer may be less attractive over time as the candidate becomes more vested with the others companies that are moving more quickly. Qualifying new positions is even more important to maintaining efficiency. Sourcing candidates is the most time-consuming process of the hiring process. It is not rare to see positions that have been open six months to a year…think of all that wasted effort. Just because a recruiter has a relationship with their client it doesn’t mean they should pretend like they know more about their needs than the employer does. Asking the “No” question will keep the recruiting team on track, focusing on the must-have qualifications, getting a better understanding on what the hiring manager is looking for to fill the gap in their organization. If they have filled similar positions in the past, simply ask, “Is there anything else we should be looking for this time around?” Just having that confirmation means they are on the right track. You would be surprised how many times the team has a different intention for the next hire. Moral of the story: You don’t know until you ask.
Finally, recruiters should strive to better their candidate’s and client’s experience. The more candidates and clients are exposed to resourceful and efficient recruiters, the more accepting recruiters will be accepted with open arms. Recruiters need to tailor their services to put employers and candidates, not themselves and gain trust by being efficient and productive. Sometimes a little tough love goes a long way in helping those we care about.
The Headhunter Guide is RECRUITER WRITTEN'S way to provide insider's knowledge to candidates and employers alike. Enjoy!