To get the job you really want, you have to do well in the interview. This may sound like common sense, but many people walk into interviews unprepared. As a result, they fail interviews not because they lack experience or qualifications, but because they didn’t present themselves effectively.
Remember – no matter how qualified you are for a position, the company conducting the interview will be meeting lots of other people very much like you. This is why the interview is a make-or-break moment – it’s the best opportunity in the hiring process to present yourself to an employer. Done well, it will increase your chances of getting an offer, and will ultimately affect how favorable that offer is.
However, securing a job offer is only one side of the story. After the interview, how do you decide whether the role is really the right one for you? Let’s look at the interview from both sides of the table to understand what employers and hiring managers pay attention to in an interview and to get a clearer idea of how to handle interviews effectively.
1. Understand what hiring managers are looking for.
The hiring manager usually has just a couple of meetings with each candidate before making a decision on who to hire. The decision will be based on a number of factors, including assumptions made from your resume and meeting you in person, the answers you give to interview questions, and their overall impression of you as a person – and it’s up to you to make all these things work in your favor.
For a hiring manager to offer the role to you, they need not only to be assured in your abilities and experience but also to believe you share the same goals and values.
By the end of the interview, they want to know that:
You want the job
You have the skills and abilities to do the job well
You have the right personality
They want to work with you
If they are confident in these four points, you should have a very good chance of receiving an offer or getting to the next stage.
2. Know the factors in the decision-making process.
It’s important to recognize that the decision to hire someone is as much a subjective assessment as an objective one. In addition to assessing your credentials, the hiring manager will be deciding how much they like you, how much they want to work with you, and how confident they are in the decision to hire you.
For the hiring manager, filling a position could be seen as an opportunity or a problem. 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 them.
When you realize how much is going on in the hiring manager’s mind, you’ll understand that the easier you make it for them, the more likely you’ll be offered the role.
3. Learn what your resume says about you.
The information on your resume will give the hiring manager a good idea of your experience and credentials, but naturally, he or she will combine this knowledge with his or her own assumptions, which may or may not be accurate.
Let’s take the example of a candidate who worked at a large institution before moving to a small startup that failed, which is why the candidate is now looking for a new position. Depending on his or her own experience, a hiring manager may see your experience in two very different ways:
- He or she could see the decision as a calculated risk that didn’t pay off, but value the courage and determination behind it. They may also appreciate that the candidate has learned about two very different work cultures.
- Alternatively, they could see the decision as unwise from the start and as evidence of the candidate’s poor judgment.
You won’t know how the hiring manager has subjectively assessed your resume until you ask what he thinks of your background, what they like about it, and what concerns them. It’s important to uncover the assumptions they made and to correct inaccurate ones.
4. Prepare for a variety of questions.
Don’t just expect standard interview questions about your strengths and weaknesses, future goals, and the like. Depending on the company and industry, you will be asked different kinds of questions.
Of course, even standard questions require preparation. You don’t want to be fumbling around for answers during the interview. Always be prepared for questions about your employment history. 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 moves and decisions concisely and objectively to show career progression. Most importantly, never give negative reasons for leaving previous jobs.
In many interviews, motivational questions, questions designed to reveal your motivations, are the most important ones to get right. A good manager must understand the emotional connection of each team member – the aspects of work they enjoy, their desired career progression, their expectations for work-life balance, and more – 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.
Here are some other questions to look out for:
Relevant to your background, these questions are simply designed to test your knowledge.
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 to the role, you may be asked to describe a situation in which there were communication problems and 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 testing candidates’ intelligence and capability for quick thinking by asking challenging academic or logical questions such as, “Why are manholes round?” or “How do you weigh a jumbo jet without using scales?” In reality, many of these puzzles have become so generic that you can read them on many websites.
Hiring managers who use riddles and puzzles have different motives. Some genuinely believe that a correct answer will indicate a candidate’s intelligence, while others simply want to see how a candidate will analyze a problem to reach an answer. If you discuss the problem with the interviewer and pose intelligent questions, you will demonstrate your problem-solving abilities, even if you come to an alternative or incorrect solution.
5. Ask relevant, intelligent, and insightful questions.
Towards the end of the interview, you will usually be asked if you have any questions. Be sure to ask everyone present at the interview as many relevant questions as you comfortably can. Questions are a powerful tool that can help you distinguish good opportunities from bad ones.
Intelligent questioning will also demonstrate preparation, forethought, and an understanding of the obstacles and opportunities that the new role holds – marking you as an above-average candidate.
Be persistent but not aggressive. If possible, 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.
6. Ask about the company.
It is important to ask about the employer’s business. If the hiring manager sees that you’re interested enough in the business to already be thinking about the challenges that it’s facing, he or she will become significantly more confident in your motivation to take the job.
Often, the more control you take of the conversation, the more you will impress the hiring manager, and the easier his or her decision to hire will become.
7. Think of the interview as your chance to assess your prospective employer.
Use the interview process to assess whether the team has the resources, vision, and dedication to bring their goals to fruition.
Anyone who has been in business for any time has heard excited claims about future prospects for growth or potential deals that are just around the corner. We’ve all been involved in projects that have finished late or gone over budget, just as many others have come in on time and within budget.
Questions about the volume of business, the seasonal flow, the relative strengths of the company’s business model, and its 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 will help you judge the feasibility of their goals.
8. Do the research. Form an opinion.
Be resourceful. Find as much information as you can from sources inside and outside the business. Information gathering should not be limited to the interview.
Once you have collected the relevant information, assess it logically, reasonably, and realistically. It is important to see both sides of the issue. This process will help you develop an opinion and defend your position.
Being able to talk through the thought process behind your opinion is important to any hiring manager. Almost all roles require the ability to analyze a problem and develop a solution.
9. Impress the interviewer.
Asking the right 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. If they suspect you might join the team with an arrogant and entitled attitude, they are likely to reject you, no matter how qualified you may be.
10. Close the meeting. Get the job.
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 holding you back from offering me this position?” If they are unsure about your knowledge in a particular area, you can tell them more about any relevant experience in that area.
Your aim is to make sure that the hiring manager leaves the room with their expectations met, so that you will leave knowing that you’ve secured the next meeting. Maintain a balanced style. Be polite, friendly, and inquisitive, and collect the information you need.