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
The One Thing You Need to Do to Nail the Interview (Even if You Are Not the Most Qualified Candidate)
In today’s job market there is a buzzword taking over the recruiting process: cultural fit. There is a clear shift from hiring the most qualified candidate to hiring the best “fit” for the company. In some ways, this makes perfect sense. Just because someone is good at their job, doesn’t mean they are going to represent your brand in a way that aligns with the company’s mission. Some of the most qualified candidates may be lacking in the two areas that you can’t teach: motivation and drive.
While being qualified for a particular vacancy is still a top priority, there is more wiggle room for personality to shine. The question that you need to ask yourself is, “How can I make a good impression to show the team that I can fit into their corporate culture?” Research from behavioral psychologists like Robert Cialdini, who is best known for his research on influence and persuasion, suggests a simple solution that can be complex to execute…be likable.
No company promotes a corporate culture full of needy, greedy, lazy, self-centered, tardy, unprofessional, and difficult to work with staff. Following the principals derived from research by behavioral psychologists, such as the aforementioned Dr. Cialdini, there are actions that candidates can take to increase their likability and, in turn, increase their perceived cultural fit.
Dress the Part
Although no one likes to admit it, appearance plays a part in cultural fit. Research has shown that there is an unconscious shortcut that causes us to assign positive traits to those who are physically attractive. This phenomenon holds true across gender lines even when evaluating someone of the same sex. While we need to work with what our mammas gave us, we can control certain features of our appearance, such as dressing the part.
The general rule of thumb is to dress one “level” nicer than what the situation calls for. Try to find out the dress code and take it one step further. The idea is to take the corporate policy and one up it, just a little bit. If the dress code is business casual (button down and a pair of slacks), then go formal (suit and tie). If the dress code is casual (T-shirt and jeans) then go business casual.
When in doubt, err on the side of dressing more formal. Most companies’ corporate cultures include being detail oriented, representing the brand in a positive way, and working in a team environment. By dressing similar, but a little better than others in the organization, you are portraying professionalism and social similarity which can immediately make you more likable to the people you are meeting.
The only time that dressing formal can backfire is if the corporate culture is ultra-relaxed. Showing up in a suit while others are walking around in flip-flops and tank tops may make the interviewers think you are “stiff” and in turn harder to relate to.
It is probably no surprise that we tend to like people who are similar to us. There are many types of similarities that cause us to be more likable, such as dress (which we just spoke about), opinions (i.e. – which football team to cheer for), interests (i.e. – hobbies), lifestyle choices (i.e. – being a working parent) and backgrounds (i.e. – growing up in the same neighborhood).
How does this translate to being more likable during the interviewing process? We can assume that those who have been appointed to have the authority to hire are trusted to represent and replicate their corporate culture. They are seen as examples of success and have been given the power to replicate their success by hiring the next top performer. The more similarities you can tie to those who are exemplary of what is means to be successful within the company, the more you will be perceived as being successful. In other words, if the hiring managers are seen as being successful members of the company and you are similar to the hiring managers, then you should be successful as well. It is much easier to replicate previous successes than it is to reinvent the wheel.
This is where being qualified for the vacancy helps immensely. Be able to draw similarities from the job description to your job responsibilities and achievements. Talk about comparable challenges that you have encountered that are parallel to those that the company is facing (and offer solutions). Talk about the trends in your industry and where you see things heading. Talk about related technical skills or systems that you have used along with initiatives that you have led that fit with the current vacancy.
Not all similarities need to be business related. Perhaps you and the interviewer used to play the same sport in high school, share the same taste in music, or went to the same college. When traveling with my wife’s side of the family, no matter how far we are away from home someone always comments on my brother in law’s Penn State hat, usually screaming the school chant. Sometimes the most obscure similarities make you the most likable. For example, what are the chances that you and the interview both have a passion for bobsledding or underwater photography? Sharing membership in a small group can have its advantages.
If you are struggling to find shared commonalities to talk about, take a look at your surroundings. See a picture of the interviewer’s family? Bring up their kids and talk about yours. Do they have a mug with a golden retriever on their desk? Ask if they also have a dog. It doesn’t take much effort to find and exploit these similarities. At the end of the day, you are making a living working in the same industry, are most likely working for a competitor in a similar capacity, and interviewing for a specialized role on a similar career path that you share with the interviewing team.
A Little Flattery Goes a Long Way
People like feeling good and like to be recognized for accomplishments. We also tend to like people who like us. Taking this one step further, research suggests that this continues to hold true even when the person being flattered fully realizes that the flatterer has something to gain from their perceived likability.
Armed with this knowledge, approach your interviews with positivity and compliments. Talk about the successes of the company and talk about how exciting it must have been for the interviewers to be a part of the company’s successes. Google the names of the interviewers or research them on LinkedIn. Perhaps they have a publication (or a blog…wink, wink) that you can reference and give praise to. If you can’t find anything, use the obvious. Compliment their outfit, “I love the tie,” or simply compliment the company as a whole, “I have heard a lot of great things about the company and appreciate you for giving me the opportunity to interview for this position.”
Try not to be too overbearing as there is a fine line between dropping a few flattering comments and coming off as being desperate.
Find Common Goals
Achieving resolutions to common problems brings us together. Even our enemies can become our friends when we are faced with a common problem that requires mutual effort to solve the issue, thus increasing our (and their) likability. The good news is that the interviewers are not your enemies, in fact, they may even be your proponents based on previous contact or excitement over the qualifications that you presented on your CV. Throughout the interview process, it is important for the team to feel a sense of perceived comradery where they can envision you as being a part of the team.
To achieve the feeling of comradery, try to identify the team’s pain points and, as mentioned before, offer solutions. A solutions-based approach is the key ingredient to the recipe. The better you are able to identify and tackle challenges, the more the interviewers will perceive you as being part of the team. The best case scenario would be to talk about how you were involved in solving the same or similar problem in your current or past positions. Not only are you offering solutions, but you are showing them that you have experience with an executable plan that can be modified and replicated to bring immediate value.
Relating to corporate culture, most organizations look for employees who are able to work independently, without much direct supervision, while also being able to collaborate internally, either within their group or cross-functionally with other teams. With this in mind, the best solutions involve your individual contributions along with how you would interact with other team members. Perhaps you would delegate and motivate junior level staff while you are off working on a specific task. Maybe you would be meeting with the department heads to create a plan that would split up tasks that best fit each person’s, or department’s, skill sets. Either way, identify the pain point and offer a solution that includes your individual contributions along with your interactions with the team.
Be Associated with the Positives
Another unconscious shortcut that we use is our tendency to associate people (and objects) to their surroundings and actions. For example, if we are driving down the road and we see someone driving a brand new Ferrari in the other lane. Most of us would associate the driver of the car with wealth and success. However, the driver could simply be someone who is valeting the car for the owner, or perhaps it is an admin from the dealership who is moving inventory around. The same is true when it comes to the company we keep. We assume that people have similar personalities and traits to those they keep in their inner circles. What is helpful to know is that the power of association goes both ways, influencing both positive and negative connections.
In the context of interviewing, we only need to associate ourselves with positive outcomes to produce a positive influence. In this spirit, it is advisable to keep the conversation positive and focus on successes. Talk about personal achievement, but don’t leave out team or company achievements as well. For example, working in the drug research field, although you may have played only a small role in the clinical trial, it is powerful to say that you were a part of the team involved in getting ABC drug approved by the FDA. You are surrounding yourself with success which in turns makes you more likely to be perceived as successful.
The principal can also be applied when utilizing internal referrals. Candidates who are referred by internal employees are exponentially more likely to be hired compared to outside applicants. The idea is that top producers keep other top producers in their network and if they the employee is willing to put their reputation on the line by referring a potential candidate, then there is a good chance that the candidate is someone of a similar caliber. Taking this one step further, even if a friend of a friend works at the company, it could be useful to “name drop” in order to make the association. However, keep in mind that this only works when the person doing the referring is perceived in a positive way. Using a below average performer as an internal referral will surely backfire. No one wants to hire the friend of the guy that is about to get the axe.
Making a positive connection can be extremely helpful in determining cultural fit. Using the principals of association, the referral coming from a top producing employee most likely shares similar traits of the referrer. This is probably the easiest of the shortcuts to determine cultural fit because a positive association is created from very early in the process and it is harder to change an impression after the initial one is made. It is important, however, to continue to exude those traits throughout the interview process to add validation to the assumptions. Another benefit of having an internal referral is simply being able to pick their brain on what challenges the team is facing, which will allow you to get a jump start on creating a possible solution to offer.
Lastly, it is worth mentioning the importance of being cognizant of the reputation of those who you provide as professional references. In accordance with the association principal, you want to be associated with others that will provide a positive influence. Avoid providing references from those whose opinions are not well respected, even if you are confident that they will sing your praises. You want to be perceived by others as walking amongst giants.
After discussing some of the ways to be perceived as being more likable and aligned with corporate culture, the most important tip is to be yourself. It shouldn’t take a lot of effort to be likable. If it is, then maybe the position (or company) is not right for you. The worst thing you can do is to pretend to be someone you’re not during the interview to then have to assimilate yourself with a company that doesn’t align with your wants and needs. The more you are interested in a company/position, the harder it is to detach yourself from the short-term benefits which, in turn, makes it more difficult to assess long-term happiness. Luckily there is a telltale sign that things may not be as perfect as they appear.
There will be a lot of emotions floating around during the interview process. It is common to feel nervous or critical of yourself, second-guessing some of your responses. It is normal to want the position more the further in the process you become (which is partially to justify the time you spent with the interview process). Regardless of the emotions that pop up, it is important to identify the nature of the feeling. One of the telltale signs that a position may not be right for you is when you are trying too hard to be liked. There will be a feeling in the pit your stomach, either when you are knee deep in the interview or afterward when you are reflecting on the conversations. If something doesn’t feel right, it is worth evaluating all of the emotions bouncing around your brain to see if your “want” of having the job matches your personal “need” of finding satisfaction with your career. Remember, an interview is a two-way street and the company has to be likable as well, aligning with your goals and personality. There is no harm in giving yourself an advantage by being a little more likable, but the key is to do so in a way that protects your career interests.
Learning to think like a recruiter will help you make impactful decisions to better your career search. To better understand what we do, let’s walk through the typical recruiting process from receiving a new job order to preparing candidates for the first day on the job.
Steps to the Recruiting Process
Step 1: Detailing the Vacancy
This is probably the most important part of the process as it sets the stage for everything else. Even a short five minute Q&A session the hiring manager can save countless hours “route recalculating” the recruiting GPS. Detailing the vacancy means finding out what the hiring manager/team is actually looking for, both inside and outside of the job description. Example questions are:
Step 2: Outreach
Outreach can be done in many ways: searching databases and calling/emailing candidates that have the “must have” qualifications, advertisements and job postings to attract active candidates, cold calling, networking on social media, and working on a referral network among others.
Working with referrals is a great way to identify talent. For example, if I trust you based of your background, personality, and job experience and you say, “Give John a call because he is amazing, has the skill sets you are looking for, and is open for a change,” then John is someone I want to speak with. I know and trust you, you know and trust John, and therefore I should know and trust John. In the simplest way you are giving him a brief positive reference.
Regardless of the method, the interview process can’t begin without outreach. People can’t interview for a job they don’t know exists.
Best Practices: Even if the person you are thinking of referring isn’t looking, it would still make sense to pass the information of the vacancy along. Recruiters specialize in working with passive candidates and I have personally had countless of referrals who were eternally grateful for the introduction.
Step 3: Initial Phone Screen with Recruiter
The first phone call between a potential candidate and a recruiter should be a mutual exchange of information. The potential candidate wants to learn more about the job opportunity while the recruiter wants to know more about the candidate’s qualifications.
It is helpful if the recruiter has an updated resume prior to the call so they can collect their questions. If they are “flying blind”, the first phone call will generally be very brief and one-sided.
Using the information gained in Step 1 the recruiter can paint a better picture of the company, the position, the expectations, the interview process, and answer most questions candidates have in order to identify whether the opportunity fits with their career expectations and goals.
Once the candidate is interested in the job opportunity, the recruiter needs to make sure that the candidate meets the “must have” qualifications prior to moving forward with the submission. Candidates should be prepared to answer very specific questions regarding their backgrounds/experiences, be able to walk through their job history and reasons for change, and discuss salary history and expectations.
This process may take more than an initial phone call. In fact it could take a handful of calls going back and forth to get to the point where both parties are comfortable in moving forward.
Best Practices: Be upfront yet professional during your calls with your recruiter. They should know the truth about your situation at all times to be able to best represent your candidacy. This is a topic we will tap into in the weeks ahead.
Step 4: Submission
Once there has been a mutual agreement to move forward from the initial phone screen(s), the recruiter will then forward the resume and notes from your conversation to the hiring team.
If your notes make it to the hiring manager, it means that the recruiter feels you are qualified for the position.
Step 5: Scheduling the Interview
Once the hiring team shows interest in scheduling an interview, the recruiter will usually be the liaison to help set everything up by collecting availability and confirmation contact information along with confirming the interview once set.
Step 6: Interview Preparation (only when working with an agency recruiter)
If you are working with an agency recruiter, before every interview there should be a call between the candidate and recruiter…no exceptions! This is your inside track to nailing the interview. First, this is an opportunity to ask any questions that have come up since your earlier call(s) to get a better picture of the opportunity. Second, it gives you a chance to learn from prior experiences. Learn why other candidates made it through the process and why others didn’t. If you are working with an internal recruiter, they will most likely be unable to provide such information.
Step 7: Interview Debrief
Your recruiter will debrief with the hiring manager(s) to discuss next steps. If there is continued interest they will facilitate next steps. If not, they will let you know of the team’s decision not to pursue.
Step 8: Assuming Interest: Repeat Steps 5-7 Until the Interview Process has Been Completed
Step 9: Offer Negotiation
Once the team decides to move forward with an offer, the recruiter will work obtaining internal approvals and will then extend the offer to the candidate. Usually, the verbal offer will come first, allowing for any negotiating to take place. Once the verbal offer has been accepted, they will then work on getting out a formal written offer (which may take a couple of days to produce depending on whose signatures are needed).
If you are working with an agency recruiter, they are master negotiators who should be trying to fight for the best possible offer. After all, their fees are usually based on a percentage of your first year’s salary. Higher salary equates to higher commissions.
If you are working with an internal recruiter, they may also be able to help guide your salary expectations as they are motivated for their positions to fill, a metric their performance is based on.
Step 10: Preparing for the First Day
Whether starting a new permanent position or a contract assignment, recruiters should be checking in with both the candidate and the hiring team to make sure everything is ready for the first day. Background checks and references should be completed. IT should have all computers and systems ready to be accessed and email should be up and running. HR should also be able to provide information regarding what time to report, where to go, and who to ask for.
Candidates should be completely done their previous position prior to starting their new role (part time contractors are an exception), have their first day info, have any office equipment ready (if relevant), and any pre-onboarding paperwork filled completed. At this stage it is common for the candidate and their new manager to be in touch directly, but the recruiter should always be there to help as needed.
Thinking like a recruiter means planning for the long game. Getting an initial call back is your first goal, but make a plan to the nail each interview, plan for an offer, and get ready for your first day. Hiring is largely an insider’s game. The more you know the rules, the better the advantage you have. Don’t hesitate to pick your recruiter’s brain. The information they provide might just be the difference between offer and rejection.
The Headhunter Guide is RECRUITER WRITTEN'S way to provide insider's knowledge to candidates and employers alike. Enjoy!