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There’s a lot less science involved in most interviewing decisions than job-seekers realize. I wrote an article for LinkedIn a few weeks ago, Five Things You Must Not Do in an Interview and Five Things You Must, to help job-seekers avoid the most common interviewing blunders and improve their interviewing skills. These were based on my book, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired. Once job-seekers have mastered these five basic DOs and Don’ts, they can further improve their interviewing odds by altering how interviewers make hiring decisions.
When evaluating candidates, most interviewers emphasize a candidate’s level of direct skills and experience, and the quality of the person’s interviewing presentation skills. From this, they make judgments about the candidate’s overall ability, team skills, work-ethic, resourcefulness, cultural fit, and future potential, among others. While these factors are useful indicators of on-the-job success, there’s a lot of guesswork involved when making the actual assessment.
For candidates who aren’t a perfect match on the skills side, or don’t possess the “right” interviewing personality, there are some ways to proactively shift the interviewer’s decision towards a more balanced assessment. It starts by recognizing that when interviewers make their assessments, they focus on just a few of these five sources of information.
How Interviewers Make Their Hiring Selection Decisions
The Amount and Quality of the Skills and Experience: if a candidate has enough of the raw skills and experiences listed on the job description, the better interviewers will attempt to determine the candidate’s competency using the skills. For candidates who are weak on the absolute level of skills listed in the job description, but strong on the ability to learn related skills, they’ll need to quickly reframe the discussion by asking targeted questions related to how these skills are used on the job. Some ideas on how to frame this question and answer it properly are provided below.
First Impressions. There is no evidence (repeat none, nada, zero) that first impressions in an interview predict on-the-job performance. However, there is ample evidence that first impressions affect the interviewer’s judgment. For interviewees prone to nervousness, or concerned about their first impression, being phone interviewed first will help. When invited onsite based on a candidate’s accomplishments and past performance, the natural tendency for interviewers to overvalue first impressions is lessened.
The Quality of the Answers. The length and quality of an answer is just as important as its content. Generic statements are quickly forgotten, e.g., “I’m a real problem-solver.” Specific examples of accomplishments demonstrating skills and strengths are remembered, especially when details, dates, facts and metrics are used. A good answer is generally 1-2 minutes long. Interviewers have no way to assess communication skills when the answers are too short. Candidates who talk too much are considered too self-absorbed or boring.
The Quality of the Questions. This is a very powerful tool that few job-seekers fully utilize. Interviewers are impressed when the questions are insightful, probing, and important. The best questions involve getting clarity around the job and how it relates to the business. Self-serving questions are detrimental until the interviewer has signaled to the candidate that he or she is being seriously considered.
Interview Personality. Many conclusions are drawn about leadership, work-ethic, cultural fit, potential, intelligence, and team skills based on how assertive, affable and articulate the candidate is during the interview. People who don’t naturally possess these three “A”s, but are fully capable, are going to be misjudged. Asking probing questions early in the interview is a better way to demonstrate true personality, assertiveness, insight and communication skills.
The best way for a candidate to be more fairly assessed is to ask questions to refocus the interviewer’s attention toward factors that actually predict performance and away from those that don’t. Asking questions early in the interview about the job itself, the challenges involved, the resources available, how it became available, and how it relates to other areas of the business is the best way to make this shift. Just asking the questions brands the candidate as assertive, insightful and responsible. Knowing what the job is really about allows the candidate to then provide detailed 1-2 minute examples of comparable accomplishments. As part of this, it’s important to describe how new skills were learned and used, if there is a gap on this measure.
Box-checking skills and making important hiring decisions based on personality and presentation skills, preclude a lot of great people from getting hired for jobs they’re fully capable of handling. Focusing the assessment on factors that better predict success will not help a person get a job he or she doesn’t deserve, but it will certainly help these people get one they do.