“Making New Friends (The Interview)” – Part 4 of the series “Choose Me, Hire Me!”


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Part 4 – Making New Friends

Headlines blare: “Why You Should Hire Me.” While times may be challenged, there is work (and jobs) to be had. I’ve been in the people (and teams) assessment business for over 25 years, both as a coach to managers and teams and as someone directly responsible for hiring thousands of people through roles running large staffing / recruiting operations. I’ve designed selection processes, designed and run interviewer training programs, and written and spoken on the subjects of recruiting and selection. From that experience I have a pretty good sense of how and why people get hired. “Choose Me, Hire Me!” is a nine part series on the ways people can improve their chances of being hired. This is the 4th part, focused on the actual job interview

Three stories come to mind when I think of the candidate side of interviews.

 In 1998 my friend Natalie Goldfein and I what did would become the first of eight (and counting) fundraising rides for me from San Francisco to Los Angeles. As we started the week-long event, I groused that hanging out with 2,500 strangers was about as much fun as a job interview. Natalie, ever seeing the upside had a very different take: “Just think – you’ve got a great chance to make 2,500 new friends who you’ll be with all week.”

It may sound corny but interviews are best reframed as making friends. While not every interviewer is friendly, if you make the effort to connect you may be favorably surprised. If you’ve done the things you should have done – shown up on time, thoroughly field tested yourself through informational interviews, and done your research on the prospective employer – you’ll perform in the interviews markedly better and can relax a little and learn about the people with whom you’re meeting.

Apart from have done all your prep work, there are a couple of tips for creating rapport with the people with whom you interview. First – and assuming it’s a one-on-one interview – try mirroring and matching the breathing, speaking rate, and motion of the person with whom you’re meeting. While it’s effective for things beyond interviews, it’s a tool to buttress your interpersonal effectiveness. As appropriate, smiling, sitting up, being up tempo and avoiding laconic are all affirmative suggestions of interest and attention by you the candidate.

 Some organizations give candidates a roster of people with whom they’ll be interviewing. If not, asking nicely in advance (“Any chance I can get a copy of the folks with whom I’ll be interviewing so I spell their names correctly when I send thank you notes?”) can often get names – which you can research via Google or LinkedIn like anything else and ferret out areas of possible common interest or experience.

A second candidate tip is to monitor who talks and who listens in an interview. Research that Richard Nelson Bolles cites suggests that something in the neighborhood of a 50-50 talk – listen match is suggestive of a favorable outcome. If you’re carrying the load talking, or alternately, if the interviewer is spending the time with you pontificating, that’s the behavior you can expect if you work with them. If it’s the hiring manager in either of those two behaviors, quick calculus suggests that you rethink how much you want the role.

A second story comes from McKesson, where I trained field managers in hiring basics. As the last of a long line of hiring managers, all asking for the same information born from worries about interviewing, hit my threshold at one session, someone asked, “But what’s really the “right” question to ask in an interview?” Too swiftly to show appropriate empathy I quipped, “It depends on what you’re looking for.”

So if you think interviews are anxiety provoking for candidates, glimpse the other side of hiring desk: sweaty palms and mistake avoidance plague many a hiring manager. These are the same hiring managers who are focused on finding the one “golden question” to ask, rather than listening well, and understanding what they’re looking for and how to find it. Between legal departments and misguided HR departments, many hiring managers are convinced they’ll hire the wrong person and wait years before they can do anything about it. The solution – over interview and essentially avoid making decisions. Compound that anxiety with people who are less than skillful in behavioral interviewing and it adds up to an interesting dynamic. One candidate I remember well at Barclays Global Investors had 32 interviews before being offered, and turning down, a job.

If you’ve thought through what you know about the prospective role, and thought through examples of how your skills and abilities have been evidenced in past jobs, you should be fine. Job descriptions are usually online, and for senior roles there is frequently a search specification that you can obtain.

Your goal is to be able to able to tell your story in a way that interviewers can hear. In brief, it’s being able to answer or even anticipate a a questions with “Here’s what I did and here’s how I (or we) did it.” If it’s a we, make sure you clarify your part.

The personal narrative that you’ve honed through the informational interview process (see Part 2 of this series) combined with your research (see Part 3) should make it simple to verbalize how your background fits this role with this company – provided it does. If it doesn’t, interview as best you can and keep looking.

Candidates that sparkle are frequently those that avoid slick oversell, and still have a clear personal narrative that seems to resonate. They are able to convey authentic interest, and verbalize how the job they are interviewing fits well for them – and you.

Last, there is a third story that comes to mind, and that is that you never really know what job you’re interviewing for.

In my first job out of grad school, I interviewed for a role at the University of Southern California that ended up going to someone else. Jane Higa was part of the interview panel, and ended up hiring me for a different role in her part of the organization.

Here are some last thoughts:

  • Be clear and be able to verbalize how a job fits in the mix for you, and how your skills and experience apply. Again, if you’ve done Parts 2 and 3 this is a snap.
  • Get the benefit of making new friends in the interview process.
  • Last, take it easy on the interviewers. Hiring managers are frequently good folks trying hard to do well – help them out by providing the information you have in a way they can understand.

PS – And don’t forget to send timely thank you e-mails or notes.

Coming Next: Part 5 – Goldilocks Returns



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