Hiring well can make or break one’s career. I’ve seen my fair share of managers whose careers have stalled due to questionable hiring choices.
Whether it’s hiring someone who is unprepared for the job or bringing in a toxic employee who ruins an otherwise strong team, we are judged by the results of our hiring decisions.
So a lot is on the line when I’m interviewing you not just for you, but also for me.
I'm investing in you as a candidate when I recommend hiring you, and ultimately that decision will demonstrate my competence (or lack thereof) to my boss, to my peers, to human resources, and to the rest of my team.
As a hiring manager, my job during the limited time we spend together in the first and second interviews (and maybe a third, if we're struggling to select between two strong finalists) is to figure out three things:
- Do you have the skills and abilities to do the job? I need to quickly gauge whether or not your resume truly reflects your background, experience, and areas of expertise.
- What type of employee will you be? Will you eagerly take on new responsibilities or will you sit and wait for me to find you work? Will you be a good fit for our corporate culture and work well with the rest of our team? Are you someone who can manage your own projects and deliver on time, or do I need to constantly check in and make sure you’re moving things forward?
- Will you be around long enough to make hiring you worthwhile? My company and I are likely going to invest significant time and money getting you up to speed on our systems, our products, and our procedures. If you're not a good fit, or if you're just looking for a temporary paycheck until you jump to a different job, I'll be back here again in six months.
So I have a few hours at most to determine those three things, and then to decide whether to hire you. And the very nature of the interview process makes that even more challenging.
A former boss of mine used to joke that the reason he loved interviewing was because it was nice to see the suits a person owned since he’d never get to see them again after the person was hired. He had a point; in many ways, interviews are like a first date: we're both being cautious with what we say, we’re both on our best behavior, and you, at least, are dressing your best.
There are many great resources out there on how to make a strong first impression during an interview, and that's made it harder than ever to figure out who's going to be a great addition to the team and who's just really, really good at interviewing.
It's just not enough for me to ask the expected questions or look at the standard gauges of your character. If you’re someone worth considering, then chances are good that you’ve done tons of research before the interview on how to answer questions about your greatest weaknesses, what to research about my company before the interview, and why to polish both the front and backs of your shoes. In gambling parlance those things are now table stakes; you’ve stacked the deck in your favor, and I need a way to even the odds.
To do that, I have to use every aspect of the application and interview processes that I legally can to ensure I’m hiring the right candidate. And that means I may be a little bit sneaky. More than one person has called me unfair when I've shared some of my interview strategies. But as hiring managers, we need to get past the fluff and identify the right person for the job.
So at the risk of giving you even more of an advantage, here are five things you may want to keep in mind in order to be more successful before, during, and after the interview:
1. The Interview Starts Before We’ve Even Met
I am going to ask everyone you are likely to come into contact with to note what time you arrive and to tell me about your behavior how you treated them, whether you spend all your waiting time on the phone and anything else that you say or do that I should be aware of. I’m also going to compare notes with the other people with whom I’ve scheduled you to interview.
2. Everything on Your Resume Is Fair Game
While I’m very careful to avoid reviewing a resume with an eye toward race, gender, age, etc., once I’ve decided to interview you I’m going to evaluate everything you’ve provided on that page. I’m going to check your LinkedIn profile, read any recommendations, look at your Twitter account, and research your previous employers so I can properly interview you on your past experience.
I once asked a candidate who said she was a product manager at a particular bank to tell me more about why the company had launched one of its more unusual checking accounts. Her inability to cite any specifics about a major product rollout that occurred in the middle of her claimed employment was the final nail in the coffin of an otherwise uninspiring interview.
3. I’m Judging You Based on What You Claim as Your Strengths
If you assert that you are an exceptional designer, I am going to judge you based on your resume’s layout and style. If you specialize in copywriting, I will be analyzing how well you sell yourself in your LinkedIn profile. If you tell me during the interview that you’re a perfectionist with exceptional attention-to-detail, I’m going to review your cover letter and resume to ensure that they are, in fact, perfect. Any samples of your work (and I will ask for samples at some point) will be analyzed using the same criteria.
4. I Care Less About Your Answers Than I Do About Your Attitude
While I, of course, want to hear about your background and experience during your interview, a lot of what I’m listening for is secondary information. When I ask about your last employer, do you seem resentful or angry? When you talk about a challenge you had, do you sound like the situation exhausted you or are you proud of how you handled it?
If I ask you to walk me through something, I’m trying to understand your thought processes and how you’ll approach the unexpected. If you’re just giving me short answers, you’re missing the opportunity to convince me you’re the right choice.
5. The Interview Doesn’t End After You Leave
Just as your interview doesn’t begin when we meet, it doesn’t end when I escort you back out. If I’ve asked you for samples, how quickly do you send them to me? Do you send a thank you note or an email? Do you follow up with HR with references when requested? And do you take advantage of my offer to answer any additional questions you may have?
Just remember that until we decide to extend an offer, everything you do adds to the picture the hiring manager is building of who you are and what value you will add to the organization. While others may do it differently, ultimately we all just want one thing: to make certain that we are hiring the best people and positioning them to succeed.