Friday, June 19, 2009

Ace the Interview by Being the Right Person for the Job—

(Not by Memorizing Answers to “10 Interview Questions You Absolutely Must be Prepared to Answer Right Now in the Current Economic Climate.”)

Articles coaching candidates to ace employment interviews sometimes leave me feeling a bit alarmed.

Sure, it’s great to be well-prepared. It’s essential to know resume and interview protocol. But I often feel the articles are somehow missing the point. Beyond the basics, the best way to ace the interview is to be the right person for the job. But in what seems like a short-sighted move, many job search articles tell you how to be the right person for the interview. As an HR person, I wonder: So what if you’re the best person for the interview? The interview only lasts an hour! But the job, if you land it, continues for months or years; are you going to keep up your perfect interview persona for the duration of your job?

Lets think first interview as analogous to first date. What would happen if you were coached through the first date (think Will Smith in Hitched), with no regard to the truth or to the reality of your life? When they ask “ABC?” it’s as easy as spitting out your memorized “XYZ!”

You practice and you role play and you get it right. "Why did your last relationship end?" Truth: "She caught me with her sister." Cleaned up date answer: “I love to spoil a woman. I found that I was giving, and giving, and giving; and eventually I had to face up to the fact that the balance of reciprocation was just not, uh, balanced.”

“What do you do in your spare time?” Truth: “I watch a lot of reality TV, I chew my nails, I surf porn.” New and improved first date answer: “I research cancer cures and I read Tolstoy when not preparing for my next triathlon.”

I don’t think I need to spell out how destructive it is to start a relationship based on deceit or even half-truths or white lies.

Well, guess what? Employment is a relationship, and the same principle applies!

As an HR person in charge of both recruitment and retention, I want to know if you’re the right person for the job, not just the interview. An interview is only one step in the process, and I’m well aware that the skills you use every day on the job don’t necessarily correspond to acing a job interview. Would you believe that I have hired applicants who committed one or more of gaffes?

1. Arrived late.
2. Forgot to bring their resume
3. Weren’t wearing a suit. (Hired a lot of those.)
4. Stumbled over an answer.
5. Totally blew a question.
6. Didn’t submit a cover letter even though I expressly asked for one.
7. Had two or more spelling or grammatical errors on application materials.
8. Were a little socially awkward.
9. Hadn’t researched the company.
10. Didn’t send a thank you letter.

I’m not saying you should fail to prepare or that you should flout convention, I am just saying that I see our interview as a conversation, not a contest. You don’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to make stuff up in order to work for me. Not only have I hired people who made the above ‘mistakes,’ but some of them turned out to be pretty darn good employees!

It’s easy to forget the big picture in the current job market, but the truth remains: you need to be the right person for the position, not just the interview.


Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this posting for all of the obvious reasons, but I will still state them:

-On Point

The operative word in Human Resources is "Human" which we all are. If we remember that, we can have a lot more subtantive working relationships. Good posting!

Ben Eubanks said...

After practicing answers and preparing for my interviews as much as possible, I find that the times I do best is when I'm "myself." A bit of laughing, some discussion of major issues, and maybe even a suggestion or two from my end.

I say toss out the stereotypical interview and go for something that works.