Notes on 1000 interviews

During my ten years managing people I have interviewed more than 1000 potential hires. Now, this “napkin math” is rather raw but it is directionally correct. Having met that many people across three continents and within sales, operations and service, I have a story or two to tell. As one might guess, I am certainly not short on humorous anecdotes of over-sharing or over-asking, but truly more interesting are the collective observations from this interviewing marathon.

The question to frame today’s notes is very simple: Are more career options better than fewer options? For all but the most decision-averse individuals, this is an easy answer, “I would you like more choices.”, Yet actions frequently defy words. Time and again I observe talented people limit their options by making a couple of easily avoided errors in interviews..

1) Over-thinking a not-yet-offered offer

A candidate who over-thinks the scenario of whether or not to accept an offer well before it is realized asks overly gritty and tactical interview questions. This tendency comes to light in the candidate question time at the end of interview. Questions are around benefits offered, logistics of the hiring process and “a day in the life” at the company instead of being focused on what is needed for the company/team/role to be successful.   As an interviewer and, more specifically, an executive focused on building a business, the conversation becomes uninteresting and starts to plant seeds of doubt in my mind. Does the candidate want to contribute to my team or get his teeth cleaned?

This line of questioning by a candidate occurs for entirely rational reasons; clarification on what exactly he or she may be signing up for, like relocation, may keep someone from wasting time seeking an offer they don’t intend to accept. The relocation example is particularly acute. Naturally, I advise against interviewing for a role in another location if you are not willing to consider moving. But if you are overly focused on moving house, you run the risk of exhausting the interviewer with your personal situation before the offer is even in your hand and miss the opportunity to have an employer decide to allow a top candidate (i.e. you) to work remotely.

Make no mistake, the question time is the most telling part of the interview. My advice to you is not to be distracted by what might be, instead focus on the questions and answers that will help the interviewer and you determine if this is a match. You can deal with the high-class problem of turning down offers later.

2) Inability to articulate the opportunities being sought

Let’s cut to the chase – anyone that is selected to be part of an interviewing team for an important position is:

  1. a top performer or a culture carrier at the company and, therefore, proud of the company
  2. of the mind that the role is a fantastic opportunity and candidates should be jumping at the chance to be part of their team

Given this, a candidate is well advised to be crystal clear on the opportunities (not jobs) he or she is pursuing, including in the interview at hand, and be persuasive that the position in question embodies many of the desired attributes. The simple question that trips a candidate up is “what other companies and opportunities are interesting to you?”

A candidate will often then take me through a stream of conscience of different roles being considered, most with little or no correlation with the position at hand. This is a complete deal killer for me.

Even if you are still at a stage of determining exactly the path you should take with the rest of your life, it is always best in interview situations to be clear on why the company is attractive to you and the best fitting attributes of the particular role as they pertain to your career path. This can be done by carefully combing the job description for the aspects of the role that excite you. Focus your comments there when broadly describing the opportunities you are seeking. A candidate who is simply looking for the position or seeking to develop an undefined set of new skills will appear directionless or desperate.

The good news is that both of these errors can be avoided. Practicing helps. As does spending time researching the company and industry. But finding mentors and advisors to help you navigate new career opportunities will make all the difference. During this time you need truth-tellers to keep you focused on the right answer: Having more options.

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