There are numerous articles online on the subject of interview preparation. The majority are well worth reading, since they are based on tried-and-true methods of properly representing oneself in an interview.
These articles will instruct you to research the position and company beforehand, arrive a little early, and have questions prepared that will make the interview more conversational. They will tell you to dress conservatively, make eye contact, lean forward and be as positive and engaged as possible. They’ll inform you of frequently-asked interview questions that you can most likely expect and should prepare thoughtful answers for. They will also suggest that you ask “closing” questions at the end of the interview and follow up with a Thank You letter or email that reiterates your interest and suitability for the position. All of this is good advice that should be taken to heart.
However, let’s assume that you have the technical skills to perform the position at a high level. Let’s also assume that you have interviewed well, according to the best practices summarized above. Let’s also assume that you are competing against several candidates that are at least equal to you in technical skill, who also interviewed according to the aforementioned best practices. How do you differentiate yourself in that situation and gain an advantage over the competition?
Throughout over ten years of executive recruiting in a variety of industries, I have experienced countless situations where the candidate who looked best for the position “on paper” did not get the offer. There have also been countless situations when the candidate who did not seem to have the strongest resume walked into an interview and got an immediate offer. Most seasoned recruiters would probably confirm that they’ve had similar experiences. Something subjective and unquantifiable is at work here, and this “something” is usually the deciding factor of hireability.
As it happens, these observations have been confirmed by research. The study “Hiring as Cultural Matching: The Case of Elite Professional Service Firms,” published in the December 2012 issue of the American Sociological Review, was conducted by Northwestern University Management and Organizations Professor Lauren Rivera. By speaking with representatives from 120 prestigious companies within a variety of industries, Rivera found that most hiring managers are looking for a good “cultural fit.” In other words, they want to find people with similar profiles to themselves outside of work. In fact, more than half of the study’s participants rated “fit” as the most important hiring criteria – even more important than job-related and communications skills.
So how can you determine if you are a good fit for a hiring manager’s particular personality and company culture? Perhaps the more important question is: how can you convince the hiring manager that you are a good fit?
As always, the answer lies in the question. Or, more specifically, in open-ended questions. Similar to when you are selling your job-related skills to an employer, you don’t want to divulge too much until you know what the interviewer’s “hot buttons” are. Once you’ve determined what the hiring manager is looking for, you can then tailor the discussion of your experience to the manager’s requirements. In sales, there’s a saying for this: “Find out what they want, then give them what you’ve got.”
What is the Hiring Manager Looking for?
Ask open-ended questions to get more information about company culture, the position, and the hiring manager’s personal preferences. Some examples of useful open-ended questions are:
- “Who has been in this position previously? What did you like about them? Is there anything you wish they had that they didn’t have? Anything you wish they did that they didn’t do?”
- “What kind of people seem to have the most success in this department? In this company?”
- “How would you describe your work style? Your management style?”
- “What are some of your favorite pursuits outside of work?” (This is a question that should only be asked if the hiring manager has initiated the subject or has moved the conversation toward non-work related interests. Otherwise, it may be perceived as inappropriate or unprofessional).
These kinds of open-ended questions will not only differentiate you from other candidates by conveying that you are thoughtful and engaged – they will also make the hiring manager reveal his or her “hot buttons,” giving you invaluable information that you can use to tailor your own responses and discussion points throughout the interview.
Remember – the interview doesn’t begin when you sit down in front of the hiring manager. The interview starts the moment you arrive on company property. You can learn a lot as you travel to the interview site, wait in the office before the interview, and walk through the office on the way to the interview. All of these pre-interview moments are opportunities for you to observe the work environment unguarded in its authentic, candid state. Keep your eyes and ears open for what may be telltale indicators of company or departmental culture that can help inform your interviewing presence and style.
In order to interview ahead of the competition, you’ll need to convince the interviewer that you are a cultural fit, the kind of person the hiring manager can relate to. Start building your arsenal of strategically open-ended interview questions, and position yourself for interview success.
Post by Miro Reverby, Senior Technical Recruiter at Bridge
Miro possesses a variety of recruiting experience, having worked for a leading staffing firm in New York City, an IT staffing provider in Providence, RI, and Therapy Resources Management, LLC in Fall River, MA. Miro is a graduate of Darmouth College.