How You Answer and Ask Questions Will Determine if You Get the Job
Over the past few weeks I’ve interviewed about 20 people for a VP-level position.
…. candidates aren’t judged on how well they do their jobs; they’re judged on how well they describe how they do their jobs.
Not one of these candidates applied for the job. I found them all through LinkedIn or via a referral. Nonetheless, I was dumbfounded that many of these people weren’t great interviewees, yet I suspect they were all remarkable people doing their jobs. Unfortunately, candidates aren’t judged on how well they do their jobs; they’re judged on how well they describe how they do their jobs. When hiring someone, it would be better if the person could go through an actual tryout, similar to how athletes are evaluated. But that will never happen, at least for candidates who are being aggressively wooed. So instead we’re left with judging potential employees via the one-on-one interview. Recognize that if you’re a candidate looking for a job, even a passive candidate, how you present yourself matters. With this in mind, here are some ideas on how to best present yourself.
First, understand that all interviewers are attempting to evaluate the following:
- How skilled you are and how you applied these skills on the job
- If what you’ve accomplished is comparable to what needs to be accomplished
- How you’d fit with the team, work well with the hiring manager, and fit with the company “culture”
- Your level of drive, initiative, and motivation
- Your upside potential
While all of these factors are important, how they’re measured is pretty unscientific. Techies overvalue the depth of a person’s technical brilliance. Just about all non-techies overvalue the candidate’s first impression, appearance, warmth, and friendliness. Most managers overvalue their intuition and gut feel. Just about everyone has their own pet questions and private techniques they swear by to decide yay or nay. And right or wrong, everyone makes their assessment on all of these things based on how well you communicate your answers. Given this state of affairs, here’s some advice on how to not blow the interview. It starts by communicating better.
Talk in paragraphs, not sentences
The big idea is to talk for 2-3 minutes in response to any question. Short one or two sentence answers are deal-breakers. In these cases, the interviewer has to work too hard to pry the information out of the candidate, and since they don’t know what information they need pry out, it will likely be wrong. So talk more than less, but no more than 2-3 minutes per answer, otherwise you’re considered boring, ego-centric, and insensitive.
You should practice the multi-paragraph response approach using the SAFW structure below. Then use the SMARTTe or STAR acronym to clarify the example.
- SAFW – just Say A Few Words. To format your basic answers start by making a general opening Statement, Amplify or clarify this opening with a few sentences, then provide a Few examples to prove your opening point. End your answer with a summary Wrap-up and some hooks to get the interviewer to ask a logical follow-up question. Add depth to the example by using SMARTTe or STAR to paint in the important details.
- Give SMARTTe Examples. For the example chosen, describe the Specific task; throw in some Metrics to add color, scope, and scale; add Action verbs describing what you Actually did; define the Result as a deliverable; put a Timeframe around the task, describing when it took place and how long it took; describe the Team involved; and then describe the environment including the pace, the resources available, the challenges involved, and role your boss played.
- Use STAR. This is an alternative approach for interviewers asking behavioral questions. When they ask you to give an example of when you used some behavior, skill, or competency, they’ll follow up by asking about the Situation, Task, Action taken, and the Result achieved. You can beat them to the punch by framing your responses the STAR way.
- End with a Hook. Don’t spill everything out at once. You only have 2-3 minutes, so leave a few key details unanswered. This will prompt the interviewer to follow up with some logical questions. A forced hook is something like, “Is this type of project relevant to what you need done?”
- Remember the Big E for Example. If you forget all of this, don’t forget to give lots of examples of actual accomplishments to prove every strength and neutralize every weakness.
Interviewers really like it when they don’t have to work too hard to figure out if you’re any good. Well-constructed answers provide insight into your intelligence and potential, your enthusiasm and motivation, your ability to deal with people, and of course how competent you are. Most important of all: your ability to influence others to make important decisions starts by influencing them to hire you.
Note: if you don’t want to wait for more job-seeker advice on this blog, I’ve put a video series together that covers job-seeking from A-Z. There’s also a bunch of job-seeker secrets hidden in plain sight in The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired. This post, Learn to Dance and Other Job-Hunting Secrets, provides a non-traditional approach to finding a job and getting interviewed.
Lou Adler (@LouA) is the CEO of The Adler Group, a consulting and search firm helping companies implement advanced hiring programs. He’s also a regular columnist for Inc. Magazine and BusinessInsider. His latest book, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013), provides hands-on advice for job-seekers, hiring managers and recruiters on how to find the best job and hire the best people. For more hiring advice join Lou’s LinkedIn group or follow his Wisdom at Work series on Facebook.