For me, it’s very exciting to see all the attention being paid to interviewing. It’s truly a critical skill and more people should understand the process, both as candidates and as hiring managers. That said, adoption of “interviewing core competencies” is still quite variable.
Hiring manager interviews come in three general flavors:
Doesn’t know how to interview or doesn’t care about it. Talks a lot, spends most of the time telling you about the company (or showing you), asks some token questions about your resume, tries to get at who you are by asking where you’re from, if you know so-and-so from your alma mater, and the like.
Strong interviewer. The conversation is easy, and things generally flow, but now and then you get a question that puts you back on your heels, and there are a few uncomfortable pauses in the discussion while the interviewer waits for you to provide more information. You can’t tell if you’re making a new best friend or if you’re shooting yourself in the foot. You feel naked, in a sense. Meanwhile, for all the interviewer shares, you realize that you’re not being told very much at all.
Formulaic. The interview is clearly being driven by a script, and attempts to engage the interviewer are met with a school marm-like look of warning to get back on track.
Remember, each one of these is a sales opportunity. Your job is to quickly ascertain which type of “buyer” you’re dealing with and then tailor your “pitch” to meet the person’s expectations. Here’s how to handle these three manager types:
Selling yourself to the weak interviewer: Smile the whole time. Nod. Say things like, “Uh huh,” “Oh!” and “Tell me more!” I’m not kidding about this. Your job is to survive this interview, not to sell yourself. The real decision will be made by someone else in the organization—in the meeting when they discuss you, the weak interviewer will say things like, “Yeah, she’s great, I like her. I dunno.” Meanwhile, this person will judge you largely based on intuition, which typically means that s/he is looking for ways in which you are similar to him/herself to determine if could do the job. Literally parrot this person. Borrow facial expressions, adopt their posture, and incorporate their pet phrases into your answers. If this sounds manipulative, it’s not. To work with this manager moving forward, you will have to accommodate to his/her style. Demonstrating your ability to do just that in the interview will provide a big clue as to your ability and willingness to do so. (And by the way, if you can’t do it, you’ve got you answer as to whether or not the job would be a good fit!)
Selling yourself to the strong interviewer: The stage is yours, hit it! Fill the room with your presence, dazzle the person with your capabilities, ask questions, jockey for control of the interview. Don’t take any of the process personally, but never let up off the charisma accelerator, either. This person will point you in the direction s/he wants you to go. You get there with as much drive, focus, and energy as you can. Open and close strongly, with a firm handshake, eye contact, and a sentence that begins or ends with the person’s name. If nothing else, show this person that you’re a human being with some spine.
Selling yourself to the formula follower: Never challenge this person directly. In fact, think about starting at least some of your answers with, “I like that question. You’re making me think.” But at the same time, do not show any doubt or hesitation. No, “I guess I’d have to say…” or anything like that. If you need to think, stare at this individual right in the eyes for at least part of the time while you do so. Answer as directly and confidently as the questions are coming at you. This person is actually using a similar technique as the good interviewer, but executing it poorly… or at least, executing it without the savvy. We can assume that this person—like the first—will let personal biases cloud his/her judgment, despite the professed rigor of the process. Therefore, answer the questions as best you can, but do so in a style that mimics this individual’s clipped, organized, and direct style.
This is all IN ADDITION TO the material covered previously in this Foundation.
Read my blog post on my own experience getting sized up for clues about what a great interview feels like. Then, ROLE PLAY. If you are lucky enough to have a friend with some acting talent, have said friend take on the personas of different potential bosses and try to mimic his/her style. Otherwise, tonight, turn on the TV to a news channel such as CNN, and imagine yourself interviewing with the people you see on the screen. While they’re talking on screen, copy them: make their facial expressions, use their tone of voice, speak their words. After a minute or two of that, deliver your elevator pitch while still in character. Spend some time on this—at least 30 minutes. It’s harder than it sounds, and also incredibly valuable in learning to understand other people’s perspectives.
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