|Interviewing is like sex: Everybody thinks they’re naturally gifted at it and everybody hates to be told differently.But in interviewing, as in sex, some people do perform better than others. So how can you improve upon your natural endowments when it comes to interviewing?In interviewing (or sex) it helps to be well equipped.Here are 6 ways to impress your partner:
- prepare in advance
- prepare takeaways
- frame the formals: chart your questions and their answers
- seek the “Story Behind the Story”
- openness begets openness
- appreciate your ignorance
1. “Prepare in advance” means “don’t wing it.” Sure, there’s room for spontaneity at interviews but it’s only useful when occurring within a structure. Spontaneity occurs naturally when it’s prepared for beforehand.
Even professional interviewers forget this rule. I’ve seen it firsthand. Many times I’ve seen senior execs ‘wing it’ when interviewing candidates with embarrassing results. (It’s why I insist on attending those interviews. Often, I’m the best prepared person in the room.)
Years ago as a candidate, I endured 7 interviews in pursuit of a job, which I won. Weeks later, without training, supervision or preparation, I was thrust into the role of interviewer. (Ironically, my employer at the time was a large recruitment company, supposedly staffed by expert interviewers.) I learned an important life lesson: the quickest way to look stupid as an interviewer is failing to prepare.
What makes an interviewer proficient is not how long they’ve been interviewing but how well equipped they are to hold the interview.
2. Identify Takeaways
A takeaway is what you as the interviewer need to extract from the interview, ie, what you really need/want to know. The takeaway is the crucial information with which you leave the room. So identify it before entering the interview room.
Takeaways are clear, concise, and sharply defined. Rather than ask “could this person work for me?” ask “do I want to work with this person?” The former question elicits useful information, the latter question elicits essential information.
You also want to give a takeaway to the person being interviewed. What piece of crucial information do you want them to possess as they walk out of the room? If you wish to impress candidates that your company is a great place to work, then demonstrate it by giving them a takeaway that proves it.
Once, while shopping for a new car, the dealer informed me that he was the “Dealer of the Year” and showed me the tough standards he met in order to win the national award. He gave me a clear takeaway by documenting his competency. I was impressed not because he told me but because he showed me.
The point is: you can’t always control the impression you make upon others when interviewing but you can certainly influence it by using takeaways.
3. Frame the Formals
Before interviewing, construct a table or chart of the formal requirements of the position. A formal requirement is anything that’s necessary for the role, eg, an Accounting degree is necessary for a job as an accountant, a driver’s license is necessary for a job as a taxi driver, and so on.
Place the formal requirements into an easy-to-read, simple chart, grid or table. Do it by hand if you must, it’s for your eyes only anyway. And all it does is keep you on track and ensure that every person interviewed gets asked the same questions (pretty useful if you’re interviewing 8-10 people a day). Then, as you interview, simply tick off the questions as you cover them. Oh, and it’s smart to note the answers to those questions too.
Say you’re interviewing candidates for a sales role. Have in front of you a simple checklist of basic but specific requirements (eg, education, age, sales experience, knowledge of call plans, budgeting, and reporting, etc.) to guide you.
It ensures that you capture the relevant information for each candidate and that you don’t forget to ask something (a common error).
The benefits to you are:
- all candidates receive the same basic interview
- you capture the essential information for each candidate
- you don’t forget to ask important questions
- you end up with an easy, accurate comparison chart of candidates by which you can now objectively assess them
Plus, by framing the formals in this way, you’re never at a loss for something to say.
Framing the formals keeps you on track and allows for spontaneity because the formal requirements frame the interview.
4. Seek the “Story Behind the Story”
This means getting behind the facts, hunting the soft data, and laying the cards on the table at the right time. This is the time-consuming, self-disclosing part of the interviewing process.
It may not occur during the first interview. Sufficient mutual interest between the interviewer and candidate must exist before the harder questions can be posed successfully.
Seeking the “story behind the story” is asking such questions as: why did the candidate really leave the last job? How did the personality conflict with the last boss manifest? How was their salary constructed? What was the feedback on their performance reviews?
5. Openness Begets Openness
A psychiatrist once said that an interview is a conversation in which one party is slightly less nervous than the other. Overcome this by being open.
The more self-disclosing you are, the more self-disclosing will be the person being interviewed. A renowned psychologist once bragged that he got his patients to reveal their innermost secrets by first revealing his. It’s true; people self-disclose more readily when the other person does too.
I’m not suggesting that you blab away company secrets or bleed all over the other person. But an honest, forthright, human communication about business is much preferred to a poorly acted charade.
My personal approach when interviewing job candidates is to start with a short, pithy, warts-and-all description of the job, company and the boss. After finishing I may ask, “still interested?” If the candidate says no, then I’ve just saved us both heaps of time. If the candidate says yes, we then proceed on a realistic basis in which the chances of a good fit have been significantly increased.
Sometimes, of course, candidates ask tough, hard questions to which you don’t know the answers. The rule here is simple: don’t fake it.
6. Appreciate Your Ignorance
Nobody knows it all, so don’t pretend to. Trying to appear invulnerable, all-knowing, while being reluctant to reveal your ignorance is a sure-fire way to fumble an interview. The only person who unreasonably expects you to be omniscient, dominant, or flawless is you. Your efforts to appear so will work against you and stultify the interview.