Interviews – who’s in charge? (being a successful interviewee)

You are about to be interviewed for a job you’d really like to have and you desperately hope you come across well.  Stop worrying about your performance, you just need the right interviewer to bring it out of you.  Worry instead about their performance.

Interviewing is like sex, learning from watching someone else is unusual, and it’s unusual to get feedback on your own performance.  Not surprisingly, standards of interviewing skills are not high.  So stop worrying about how well you are going to do as interviewee, and start entertaining the idea that you may have to, gently, influence the event.

It starts with the job ad.  Most are so full of guff about how wonderful the organisation is that they tell you little about the job and the qualities of the ideal candidate.  So start researching and imagining.  Not just about the job, and the organisation, but the industry that it is in and the pressures on it.  Anybody going for a job in the nuclear world has to know how beset it is with safety regulations, and for a job in a knowledge business like newspapers or libraries, the challenge of competing with free information from the internet.

Not only does the job ad fall short but interviewers have been so busy with the day job that they haven’t had time to figure out what they are looking for.  ‘I’ll know it when I see it’ is a familiar cry.

So have a list** of things that you would be looking for in a candidate in terms of the job, the organisation and the understanding of the industry.  And then rehearse stories of how you fit them, ready to pop out in the interview for them to see.

The second pitfall for the busy, unprepared, interviewer is that they grab your CV gratefully like a safety blanket and proceed to talk you through it.  During the process, when they will home in on gaps, or short duration jobs, they will be playing Sherlock Holmes – making their deductions – rather than asking you to explain and give proof of your abilities.

The third pitfall, although it often drowns the rest, is that they start to tell you about the job, the organisation and their experiences – and never stop.  A lesser but similar crime is to find something that you have in common and have a really good chat.  In a way, this is the worst crime because it can leave both parties feeling that they have had a good exchange but with little evidence to support your case when comparing you with others against the requirements of the job.

So have your list** and, if you have to, draw the conversation back to the stories of how you fit the bill.  No need to be pushy: ‘I imagine that you find (X, Y or Z)  difficult.  Am I right?’; ‘I’ve had some experience of … Would this be relevant?’

And I’ve mentioned stories a few times.  Most interviewers will just ask you if you know about/have had experience of/what you think about …  They may accept reassuring but empty noises – what you have to do is tell them your ‘War Stories’ :

Pull to mind 12 stories about you: memorable stories that illuminate your strengths, particularly in relation to this job.  Rehearse them until you can deliver a 60 second sound bite for each.  Write them down if this helps.  Include negatives ‘We didn’t see the solution straight away’  ‘It was tough keeping the team together’:  the negatives will make the positives believable.

The ability to deliver a corroborative story succinctly will establish three things about you in the minds of your audience.

  1. You’re smart – the stories themselves convey that.
  2. You’re articulate – they don’t know how hard you’ve practised.
  3. You’ve got strength in depth – if you can come up with one example off the top of your head, there must be lots more where that came from.

And if your stories are memorable your interviewer will be able to recall them when convincing management that you are the person for the job – despite you salary demands!

And remember, from your own times as an interviewer, you actually want the candidate to succeed.

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