Pieces of a dream: If you think about it, that's what job interviews
are. And the better your candidates perform, the more likely your dreams
will come true.
Unfortunately, there's no industry standard for interview preparation. A
hands-off approach saves time, but produces an ill-informed and
potentially toxic candidate. On the other hand, a hyper-prepped
candidate requires a huge investment in time and might come across as
slick, canned or phony.
As in most aspects of recruiting, it's best to strike a balance between
two extremes and keep things quick, simple and easy to remember. After
all, your goal is to give your candidates guidance without wallpapering
over their soulsor their spontaneity.
Here are five essential points to discuss:
1. Presentation. First impressions are important, so make sure
your candidates' wardrobe, hygiene and accessories (including resumes
and/or samples of their work) are appropriate for the interview. If you
can't meet with your candidates in person, run through a checklist the
night before the sendout.
2. Self-confidence. A resume or referral got them in the door, but their
ability to sell themselves will get them the job. If your candidates
don't believe they have what it takes to succeed, the employer won't,
3. Critical skills. Most jobs have a single piece of work that takes
priority over everything else. During the interview, your candidates
will need to find outor confirmwhat's most important to the employer and
explain how they can solve the problem. If the employer can't visualize
a candidate as the solution, the person probably won't get hired.
4. Demeanor. Employers are quick to hire candidates who are upbeat,
engaged and enthusiastic. But they're just as quick to take a pass on
those who are dour, detached and listless. Remind your candidates that
people are hired and fired for reasons other than their skills, so an
attitude adjustment may be necessary prior to the interview.
5. Empathy. Understanding how others feelwithout criticizing or passing
judgmentis the single most important "soft skill" in business. And in
the context of a job interview, an expression of empathy will help your
candidates sidestep a multitude of common landmines.
For example, if your candidate has been treated unfairly by a former
boss, he can either fall into a familiar trap and criticize his boss and
vent his frustration (which is a mistake); or he can take the high road
by shrugging off the abusive behavior as a result of all the pressure
his manager must be feeling in order to turn a profit. If you were the
interviewer, who would you rather hire: a disgruntled candidate or a
candidate who looks at his situation in a mature and thoughtful way?
Heres another example. An empathetic candidates will downplay his own
salary needs during the interview and focus instead on how he can help
the new employer achieve his companys goals. See how the candidate
sidesteps the issue of money? All things being equal, the greater a
candidate's demonstration of empathy, the greater the odds of being
hired, particularly when being considered for a management role.
Two Tiers of Interview Prep
I spent the early part of my recruiting career placing low- to mid-level
engineering candidates. Later on, as I began to place director-level and
C-level candidates, I found their interview preparation needs to be very
Generally speaking, the lower the level of candidate, the more guidance
they need with respect to basic interviewing technique and how to answer
specific questions related to their technical skills. In other words,
the more junior the candidate, the narrower their focus on the job
during the interview.
As candidates are promoted into broader levels of responsibility, their
field of vision broadens as well. As a result, managerial candidates
don't need to be coached on their interviewing technique or on how to
solve specific technical problems. Instead, they need hard information
about the prospective employer's market position, strategic vision and
I've often noticed a peculiar similarity between parenting and
recruiting. Those in your care need to feel safe and have the resources
to succeed. As a parent or a recruiter, that's your responsibility to
your children or your candidates. But at a certain point you need to let
go, keep your fingers crossedand hope their dreams come true.