How to Handle Interviews Effectively

The interview is your best opportunity in the hiring process to present yourself to an employer. Handled well, it will undoubtedly increase your chances of getting an offer, and ultimately will affect how favorable that offer is. But securing an offer is only one side of the story. Based on the interview, how do you decide whether the role is really the right one for you?

We'll look at the interview from both sides of the table to get a clearer idea of how to handle it effectively.

What is the hiring manager looking for?

The hiring manager usually has just a couple of meetings with each candidate on which to base an important hiring decision. For him to offer the role to you, he needs to be confident not only of your abilities and experience, but also that you share the same goals and values.

It's important to recognize – though often overlooked – that the decision to hire is as much a subjective assessment as an objective one: in addition to weighing your abilities and experience, the hiring manager will be trying to decide how much he likes you, how much he wants to work with you and how confident he is in his decision to hire.

Also worth remembering is that while the hiring manager is probably anxious to fill the position, any new hire is a substantial risk. An ill-judged decision is likely to be expensive and can reflect badly on him.

When you appreciate how much is going on in the hiring manager's mind, you'll realize that the easier you make it for him, the more likely you'll be offered the role.

By the end of the interview, he should feel confident that:

  • You want the job
  • You have the skills and ability to do the job well
  • You have the right personality
  • He wants to work with you

If he’s confident of these four points, you should have a very good chance of getting to the next stage or to an offer.

How does the hiring manager decide?

The hiring manager will base his decision on a number of factors, including assumptions he makes from your resume and from meeting you in person, from the answers you give to questions in the interview, and from his impression of you as a person. It's up to you to make all these things work in your favor.

Assumptions based on your resume and the hiring manager's own experience

The hiring manager will already have a good idea of your experience from your resume, but he will naturally add to this knowledge with some assumptions of his own. These assumptions may or may not be accurate.

Let's take the example of a candidate that worked at a large institution before moving to a small start-up business. The start-up failed and the candidate is now looking for a new position. Depending on his own experience, the hiring manager may see your experience in two very different ways.

He could see the decision as a calculated risk that didn't pay off, but value the courage and determination that would have been required. He may also appreciate that the candidate has learned about how two very different cultures work.

Alternatively, he could see the decision as unwise from the start and as evidence of the candidate's poor judgement.

You won't know how the hiring manager has subjectively assessed your resume until you ask what he thinks of your background, what he likes about it and what concerns him. It's important to uncover the assumptions he's made and to put right the inaccurate ones.

Evidence-based questions

Past performance is the most reliable indicator of future capabilities, so many managers will use evidence-based questions to identify not only knowledge and skills, but also character. For example, if communication skills are important in the role, you may be asked to describe a situation in which there were problems of communication, and explain how you resolved them. Your answer will show the hiring manager how you thought through the problem and how well you understood the dynamics involved.

Riddles and puzzles

Silicon Valley companies and financial firms have a reputation for posing academic challenges to test intelligence. Questions such as 'Why are manholes round?' or 'How do you weigh a jumbo jet without the aid of scales?' In reality, many of these puzzles have become so generic that you can pre-read them on dedicated websites.

Hiring managers that use riddles and puzzles have different motives. Some genuinely believe that a correct answer will indicate the intelligence of the candidate. Others purely want to see how a candidate will analyze a problem to reach an answer. If you discuss the problem through with the interviewer and pose intelligent questions you will demonstrate your problem-solving abilities, even if you come to an alternative or incorrect solution.

Technical questions

Technical questions will always be relevant to your background and are simply designed to test your knowledge.

Motivational questions

In many interviews, questions designed to reveal your motivations are the most important ones to get right. A good manager must understand the emotional connection of each member of his team – the aspects of work they enjoy, how they want to develop their career and their expectations for work-life balance – in order to balance the goals of each individual and those of the company.

Be clear about what your plans are in order to manage the employer’s expectations from the start and prevent potential misunderstandings.

Historical questions

Every hiring manager will want to know why you made key decisions to join and leave companies, and each answer will be used to predict your future actions. Explain your decisions concisely and non-emotionally. Most importantly, never give negative reasons for leaving previous jobs. Explain each move to show a considered career progression.

What do you need to know?

Questions are a powerful tool that will help you separate good opportunities from bad. Intelligent questioning will also mark you out as an above-average candidate by demonstrating preparation and forethought, and an understanding of the obstacles and opportunities that the new role holds. Often, the more control you take of the conversation, the more you will impress the hiring manager, and the easier will be his decision to hire.

What questions should you ask and to whom?

Ask everyone present at the interview as many relevant questions as you comfortably can. Then ask many of the same questions to any other members of the team you meet. Inconsistent or contradictory answers across a team are always a cause for concern. Be persistent but not aggressive.

Build your questions around the employer's business

If the hiring manager sees that you're already thinking about the challenges his business is facing and that you're interested in the business itself, it will make him significantly more confident that you're motivated to take the job. Questions about the volume of business, the seasonal flow, the relative strengths of their business model and their competitive advantage in particular markets will give you valuable insight into how the company sees itself. Assessing how long the team has been together, their budget and their perspective of future challenges are important for you to judge whether their goals are realistic.

Nobody can see the future, but you can form an opinion

Anyone who has been in business for any time has heard wild claims about future prospects for growth or potential deals that are just around the corner. We've all been involved in businesses or projects that have finished late and over budget, just as many others have come in on time and within budget. Through the interview process, you can assess whether the team has the resources, vision and dedication to bring their goals to fruition. Listen to everyone you can inside and outside the business.

Remember you need to impress

Putting questions to the hiring manager in an interview is a new experience for some people, but it's an extremely effective technique. Just don't take it too far. Some excellent candidates with impressive backgrounds walk into interviews with an attitude of "Why should I work for you?" This is not the way to impress the hiring manager, and if he suspects you would join his team with the same attitude he is likely to pass you over, however good your resume.

Keep a balance. Be polite and friendly, be inquisitive and collect the information you need.

If you want the job, close the meeting

Interviews are short and each person involved can leave the meeting with quite different impressions. If you want the job you have to ensure that the hiring manager is left with no doubts. Ask a question like:

“From our discussion today, is there anything that you feel is preventing you from offering me this position?”

If he's unsure about your knowledge in a particular area, you can tell him more about your experience in that area. Your aim is to make sure that the hiring manager leaves the room with their expectations met. And you will leave knowing whether you've secured the next meeting or not.

While the actual interview is down to you, remember that at each stage we will help you prepare for the people you're going to meet, the questions you're likely to face and the reservations that you'll need to overcome. We'll also help you discuss administrative questions that you should avoid in your interviews, like holiday benefits, salary or hours. The closer you work with us, the better we can help you.