Obvious questions that are often left unanswered in the dramatic whirlwind of interviewing can make or break your chance to land your dream job. Here’s what to know.
BY MARC CENEDELLA
The easiest way to ace a test is to have a copy of the answers beforehand and just prepare yourself to repeat those answers.
It seems obvious, right?
Well, the easiest way to ace an interview is to have the answers beforehand and just prepare yourself to give those answers.
Sure, sounds great, you might say. But where am I going to get the answers ahead of time?
Here’s the best-kept secret in interviewing: Your interviewer will give you the answers.
A job interview should help both you and the professionals interviewing you determine whether you are right for the hiring firm, the role, and your future boss.
What are their specific needs from this role? Is there a particular style they like on their team? Do you match the title, pay, skills, prior experience, communication style, and work cadence that your boss expects for the role? Ensuring there is a match between your qualities and their desires is half the battle.
The other half is determining if the firm is right for you. Interviews are not one-way streets. Too often, candidates allow their questions to be afterthoughts. Does the role make sense as a logical next step in your career path? Does it match up with your ambitions and direction? Does the job meet your desires on company size, culture, and pace?
These are obvious questions, yet they are often left unanswered in the dramatic whirlwind of interviewing courtship. I have counseled otherwise bright and capable professionals who were romanced through a recruiting process to take a job entirely outside of their interests or plans. There’s a reason so many new hires don’t work out, and the “swept off your feet” interview process is a culprit. I’d guess that, by 20 years into their careers, most American professionals have had at least one mulligan job. Has it ever happened to you? If not, you’re stronger than most.
So to get the answers to the interview before you have it: Ask. It’s advice so simple it barely qualifies as advice, were it not for the hundreds of times I’ve asked people going to interviews, “What are the most important things they’re looking for from the role?” only to be met with a blank stare or a mumble.
When you’re setting up the interview, ask the HR person, recruiter, or hiring manager: “Which three things are most important to success in this role?” You only want to know three, because that’ll be about the number of factors you’ll be able to manage throughout multiple days of interviews. It also forces prioritization on their part. Sure, there are dozens of things they’d like from this hire, but indicating which are the three most important reveals their thinking.
The company will willingly, gladly, give you these answers ahead of time. They’ll actually be pleasantly surprised you asked. Because so few people start off the interview process by focusing on the company’s needs rather than their own abilities, you’ll stand out from the start. It’s an encouraging sign to the interviewers that your style is to understand them better, before talking about yourself.
When the HR person or recruiter provides you with the three most important factors, you should do a careful review. Do these three performance factors match up with your strengths and what you’re looking to do next?
Compare these three factors to the bullet points on your résumé. Which two or three bullet points and accomplishments on your résumé best support your ability to thrive in the role? Which don’t speak to any of them? What specific stories or anecdotes about those bullet points can you share to illustrate your capability to do the job?
The best examples showcase your past achievements in an area similar to their three priorities or demonstrate where your expertise brought about a better outcome. Have you trained staff, performed the work, or led specific projects that demonstrate your ability to achieve each of the three indicated factors? Do you want to highlight your grit, pluck, savvy, polish, determination, cleverness, empathy, persuasiveness, or some other characteristic or capability?
Each of your résumé bullet points affords you the opportunity to highlight one or more. Picking two or three bullet points for each of the three critical contributors to success, you can string together an effective story of how you can deliver. The more specificity, with greater detail, that you can provide, the more effective your interview will be.
As you review your résumé, you also want to consider why your future boss mentioned those three factors, and not others, as their priorities. Do any of the three factors surprise you? Are there follow-up questions you can prepare ahead of time? Do you believe, in your professional opinion, that any of the priorities are misplaced? Or indicative of greater opportunities or deeper challenges? What piques your curiosity about the three priorities, and what clarifying questions do you want to explore during the interviews?
By taking the time to review their needs and your accomplishments in advance, you’re able to waltz into your interview and keep it focused on the theme most likely to get you the job: your ability to achieve in their three most important factors for the role. Any time the conversation wanders from that theme, keep bringing the chat back to “And here’s another way I can help you do that,” while sharing another story from your résumé.
It gives you an unfair advantage over the competition because most candidates come to an interview to talk about themselves and their capabilities. And it gives you the fast track to effective, stress-free interview preparation.
So for your next interview, make it easy on them and easy on you. Ask.