Monday, November 3, 2014

Interview the Interviewer

So many people are nervous about the prospect of interviewing. Most of us hate putting ourselves through it and I don’t know anyone who likes to interview. One’s ability to interview effectively comes down to one primary factor – your own level of self-confidence. Fear and indecision is palpable, our basic animal instincts sense fear. Recognizing it, overcoming it, controlling it requires courage, which Hemingway referred to as “grace under pressure”. Though, for most people this takes time and concerted effort to develop. Regardless, there are a few things I suggest you should recognize on your road to building, re-building and galvanizing your own confidence level.  
There is another aspect to consider that few people want to address honestly – and that is, the manay of those who conduct interviews have no idea what they are doing, they’re following a script or making it up as they go along. I have met hiring managers who were dumber than those they were interviewing but, after all, they have a managerial title on their business card and they might have a degree from a prestigious university. That doesn’t mean they know how to interview, much less attract top talent. And for the managers reading this, don’t kill the messenger, it’s already an open secret. For example: senior company managers are voicing concerns about employees (which include managers), who increasingly lack essential soft skills. But, as I recently commented in another blog entry, the problem is increasingly that their own middle managers themselves lack soft skills and, as a result, are incapable of identifying much less evaluating the soft skills of applicants. I am not ridiculing anyone or being nasty, it is simply the truth and, yet, these are the people who are evaluating you when you interview. Note that when you are asked an inconvenient question you are nonetheless expected to answer, however, ask an interviewer a question that isn’t on their little formulaic list and watch what happens. They’ll get discombobulated if you ask a question that isn’t on their departmental or company-issued FAQ list or talking points, from which they recite nicely wrapped and pre-packaged answers. So I suggest, instead of being passive participants, we should help them along a little bit.
Interviews are by their very nature formulaic because it is, after all, a process, a ritual, with some predictable steps that vary from one company to another. Sure, there are different styles and methods but there are similarities inherent to every interview process. For example: the initial interview is meant to validate you are what and who you claim, as stated on your resume. It is also meant to learn the basics about the job you are considering and being considered for. The second interview is for both sides to gain more details as a continuation of the first. It is also from the second interview stage onward as the appropriate time to discuss money - for more about discussions related to money, see my post from 19 October. All remaining steps concern the finer points of the job as well as meeting others, in order to determine if you fit their company culture (and if they match your expectations).
I want to focus on that all-important first interview where impressions are made. Fortunately, it’s this first real step that is the most predictable. Most assuredly they are going to ask you, “What do you know about our company?” And, “Tell me about yourself?” Identifying the end of the interview is also obvious because near to that time they will say, “So, do you have any questions?” If you know it’s coming, if you want to make an impact and exert a small measure of control over your own fate I suggest you get out ahead of the curve, take the initiative whenever possible; don’t be only reactive, but be proactive anytime you see an opportunity; flip it around somewhat and interview the interviewer.
Instead of just sitting there waiting to be told when to roll-over, speak, beg or play dead – actively engage the interviewer. Let’s put it this way, if you are only speaking when spoken to, you’re wrong. Of course, wait your turn and then impress not only with your qualifications but also your interaction. Take initiative and ask insightful questions, which clearly benefit you as well as demonstrate to the interviewer you are in fact more switched-on than most others they meet. What I am suggesting isn’t as radical or aggressive as it sounds. Here are some easy examples of questions to demonstrate what I mean:
  •  “Beyond the basic job description, as the manager, what are your key factors when considering someone for this position?”
  • “Can you describe for me, what a typical day (in this position) would be?”
  • “What happened to the last person in this role?” Followed up by, “And how long were they in the position?”
  • “How long have you been with the company / organization?”
  • “What made you choose to work for this company?”
  • “For someone who performs well in this position, where is the career advancement?”
  • (your final question of the interview should be) “So, what’s next – do you have any concerns - is there any reason you would not advance me to the next step?” (then stop talking, shut up and listen)
These are but a few examples; there are countless more depending on your particular situation and market segment. Although be prepared, some interviewers resent being questioned. I suggest that if they are difficult to deal with during the interview stage, you might not find them particularly pleasant to work with – but that’s for you to decide. Generally speaking, I find that good managers, the kind you want to work for, react positively to this kind of interaction, and for them it is like a breath of fresh air compared with most droids who nod and smile on cue but offer little else during interviews.
So rather than relying solely on the interviewer to know and show you the way, take responsibility for yourself, take the initiative to exert more influence on your own fate. But, if you’re going to take the initiative you should be fully prepared to be able to back up any claims you make, and be able to prove successes if challenged with provable anecdotal or documented evidence. At the end of the interview, if you feel confident you can take it a step further by offering references before you are asked (provided your references have already been warned ahead of time you may refer to them). Do it with confidence, this kind of toe-to-toe active interview participation differs hugely from most everyone else out there and you will stand in contrast to others. As I stated above from the start, it’s about confidence in your own abilities and rejecting the timid approach to which too many people have been reduced by current trends, which are sometimes designed to diminish you.
If you are looking for yet another reason to do what I am suggesting, if you choose to behave like, sound like, the rest of the sheep, when it comes time for a hiring manager to determine who among the applicants will advance to the next stage, why should they choose you?


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