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The Best Interview Advice You’ll Ever Read

As a HR professional, I get inundated with questions about interviews. Most of their questions are pretty standard ones and fall along these lines:

  • How do I answer the “Greatest strength/weakness” question? (Be honest, focus on a non-critical weakness and spin the positive on it)
  • What kinds of questions should I be prepared for? (Who knows? There are literally thousands of permutations that can be asked)
  • How can I feel more prepared for the interview? (If you don’t feel prepared to interview, how do you feel prepared to take the job?)

That last one is funny because I received an e-mail from a reader an hour before his interview. He was freaking out because he was unprepared for his interview. You can’t get prepared for an interview you aren’t ready for in a week, much less an hour.

Now this is on top of general advice like having a strong handshake, great eye contact, a properly formatted resume, don’t ramble, sit up straight, speak confidently and all of that minutia. Some who sell career advice may advocate doing some sexier things like start by interviewing them, err on the side of cockiness rather than confidence and so on.

Bad Advice Hurts Good People

All of this is well and good but it won’t get you a job. In fact, you could follow this advice to the letter and you may not get a job for months in this economy. And if you do land a job after reading this sort of advice, it won’t be because of it. In fact, I would argue it would be in spite of it. If it were as easy as a handshake to get a job, business wouldn’t be suffering, it would be failing.

The only advice you need to follow is:

Answer their ultimate question at every point possible: how do you uniquely fill their need and meet/beat their expectations for the position?

This isn’t earth shattering stuff. The world will continue to rotate after reading this advice. The best advice isn’t complicated or brilliant. It is easily understood, followed and successful. Peddlers of boring, unsuccessful career advice may deride it as simplistic, stupid or even (if they’re really foolish) completely incorrect.

My career advice? Don’t listen to them. These people want to sell you on handshakes, eye contact and a confident voice. Guess what? I had that at 12 years old but I wasn’t getting any jobs because of it. People who sell handshakes want to make you feel good about yourself while being unemployed or unhappy in your current role. How else will they sell their stuff to you?

Interviewers Are Looking For The Win/Win

Here’s a little secret: people on the other side from the interview table lack the confidence (and often times, the ability) to pick the right person. They know hiring is an inexact science. They’ve been burned. They’ve had to tell their prize hire that they are going away and never coming back. This is one of (if not the greatest) failings of managers. And at every turn they want to be reassured:

  • This person is right for the job
  • This person will make me look smart
  • I am confident with this decision

So those questions about your greatest weakness, your past experience and how you would handle a typical workplace situation? Forget about them. The only question they are asking is “Will you fill the need and meet/beat expectations?” They are just phrasing it 30 different ways.

Want To Get Started?

  1. Understand your unique value. What do you bring to the table? If you can’t answer this if I interrupted your nap, you don’t understand it well enough.
  2. Tweak your thinking. It is subtle change to understand what interviewers want. Just continue to reinforce it at every question.
  3. Adjust your resume and interviewing appropriately. Now that you know the ultimate question, everything should be crafted around that.
  4. Do all of that other stuff (handshakes etc…). Now you know why you really need to do it. It is about setting the correct expectation and feeling confident in you.

A Final Note — Honesty

You have to answer the ultimate question honestly. If you are having a hard time doing that or if your answer isn’t passing the sniff test, you really have to wonder when you (or them) are going to figure out that the position isn’t the right one for you. Is it going to be before the first interview? During the final interview? After you’ve been hired on?

When you manipulate yourself into a position, it hurts your career. That is, if you can even pull off answering the question successfully in the first place.

By Lance Haun

Strategy for The Starr Conspiracy. Former HR pro. Portland guy (Go Blazers!) and WSU alum (Go Cougs!). I get to write about what I want here.

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