How not to: Mess an interview

interviewI’ve recently had the good fortune of taking a series of interviews for a position at my organization. These interviews have not only made me question the motivation of those turning up but also why I have never thought of a blog post on the topic. While I have, in the past, written a piece on how to be a great interviewer, I always assumed that the basics for an interviewee were apparent.  Clearly I was wrong. I will save the tales of my experience for another post. For this piece, let’s stick to the basics.

  1. Know your achievements: A lot of interviewers will give you the luxury of leading the interview. They will probably start by asking you to talk about your biggest achievement before it gets into behavioral interviewing. Even if they do not, it is easier when you have a list of 5-6 strong achievements that you can fit into most scenarios. Find these. Speak to those close to you to check if these achievements sound as strong as you believe they do. If they do not, figure why. Add details to help you make a stronger case. And when you have these perfected, look for 3-4 others.
  1. Get your facts in place: While talking about your achievements, ensure that you know the smallest details. I would be surprised if you do not know every single minute fact related to your biggest career achievements. In one of the interviews I took recently, the biggest career achievement put forward was created a retention plan based on four pillars. Not only did the interviewee forget what the fourth pillar was, when asked if it was successful, he said it was. The success measure was 85% retention and the plan resulted in almost 85% retention. When I asked what the exact % was, I never received an answer. Needless to say, there was no coming back from here.
  1. Do not ramble: The SBI (situation, behavior, impact) formula is gold when it comes to delivering interviews. If the interviewer understands these three aspects, you are set. However, I have realized over the last 10 odd interviews that people rarely stick to the flow. The temptation to ramble without getting to the point is an art that most interviewees seem to have acquired. The most annoying part is even when interrupted and specifically asked for the problem statement, people struggle to articulate. Maybe it’s just me, but before you tell me the solution you put in place, I would like to know what the problem you were trying to solve is. And at the end, I would like to determine if you actually solved the problem. If I am unable to do that, everything else in between doesn’t matter.
  1. Review with others: It is a good idea to run your pitch through others. Sometimes what seems perfectly smart to you, may disturb someone else’s sensibilities. For e.g. in one interview, a girl told me about a critical employee retention plan (HR does love retention) she had created. The process involved identifying critical employees and building a customized retention plan for them. I loved it! Then came the follow on questions. How did she identify critical employees? Via 1:1s. What % of the employee base was identified as critical? 60%. At this point, I felt if she had just spoken to one other person about this, they’d likely have asked her to rename the program into a retention plan and knock the word critical out. Or maybe not.
  1. Do not repeat examples: Most interviewers compare notes while arriving at the final decision. If they realize that you have been repeating the same 3 examples in different shapes and forms, they’ll wonder what happened to all the other work that you have done. If you have aced step 1, this will be easy. Even if you haven’t try and avoid repeating examples in the multiple rounds of interviews. Everyone will be impressed.
  1. Ask smart questions: This is truly your time to shine and my favorite part of interviews. Every interviewer leaves a few minutes at the end for questions. These minutes are essentially your unique opportunity to control the conversation. The worst thing you can do is either not ask questions or ask cookie-cutter questions. Don’t. Figure what you really want to know. Show the interviewer how much homework you have done. One question I usually ask is about unique traits of the business and I explain with an example. In a business I used to support a while ago, there were two things I learnt (a) each individual was extremely proud of the work they did and (b) the managers weren’t experts at managing people they’d rather focus on the job than the people. This helped me understand that I needed to move the needle from OK to good and not jump straight to building great managers. It also showed me the best vehicle to leverage to help move the needle. You can strike two birds with a stone here. Not only do you understand more about the role that you wouldn’t find online, but it also demonstrates what you already know (IMO).

While these six tips do not guarantee acing an interview but it does ensure it’s not a complete bust. I’m sure there are more secrets to a great interview out there. What would your tips be?

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