I'm often asked about candidate experience and how Talent Scouts can best prepare candidates for interviews. I view it as a very simple equation:
Talent Scout Prep Candidate Prep = Informed, Productive and Hopefully Very Successful Interview.
As Talent Scouts, we know what we need to do to execute on our piece of this equation. However, it raises the question: What can candidates do to ensure they are truly prepared before an interview?
Here are five things candidates can do ahead of an interview and dramatically increase chances of landing the role they seek.
- Demonstrate depth around self-awareness: Come prepared with examples not just of your successes, but of times you failed as well. By admitting to one or two of your past mistakes and being able to articulate both what you learned, how you've adapted to move forward in your career, you achieve immediate credibility. Think deeply – missing a deadline, for example, although not something to characterize as a win, demonstrates no depth. Think about behaviors, actions, values you lost focus on and resulted in under-performance versus something you were accountable for. Think about the HOW and reflect on it. The point: We all have career missteps. Interviewers want to know you can take accountability for them, your resilience and how you learned from them.
- Ask About and Understand The Behaviors The Company Values. Ask how things get done in this organization when it's at its best. How does it act when under pressure? What are the core behaviors the company expects of you as a leader? As an individual contributor? Ask about how they celebrate wins, communicate and handle disagreements? Seek to understand, and then ask yourself how these behaviors align with what you know about places/environments you have been successful - and not so successful in. Be honest with yourself (see #5)
- Create A Strong Set of Questions to Ask Your Interviews. Ask the things you truly want to know about. The team, the management style of your potential boss, the future plans for the company. Be mindful about your questions. For example, don't ask, “What keeps you up at night” to anyone, EVER: What keeps most people up at night is paying the bills, their spouses and children, their health… Of course work is often top of mind for any committed employee, but it typically prioritizes after personal life “stuff” so avoid questions like this. If you want to understand about challenges such as potential missed goals, resource needs, and gaps in plans just ask. However, remember to ask the questions thoughtfully. While you might be seeking information, a poorly worded question could offend your interviewer. Getting an impact answer is less likely to come from the question “What has been screwed up” versus “Tell me about the goals that your team and this role are accountable for. Would love to hear your perspective around what is going well and potential areas of opportunity that might impact my work in this role”.
- Be Prepared To Acknowledge You Are A Work In Progress. Nobody likes a know-it-all, but leaders especially don't like a candidate who comes off like they think they are. It's important to highlight your strengths, but the top employees who deliver the best work tend to be hyper aware of gaps and learning opportunities. Employers want to know you are a high aptitude person with a proven track record, but also understands the importance of continuous learning. In almost every interview I've done with a high aptitude, get it done type people, the candidate has spoken at length about what skills they want to continue to develop, and the proactive steps they are taking to master them. They nail the interview almost every time. You want to be one of these people.
- And Finally, Be Honest. I'm not referring to egregious lies like claiming to be a director when you were really a manager; that's an integrity issue. Being honest means being candid about your career priorities and goals are, your current and expected compensation expectations, what types of environments you thrive in, etc. These are invaluable experiences you've gathered, which when all added together define your optimal working situation. By sharing these insights and adding color to them, both you AND the interviewers will build an understanding about whether the company and role are in alignment with you and your priorities…all moving you to more quickly determine if this is in fact the IDEAL role for you. This takes courage, you might lose an opportunity due to misalignment, but be honest and you will ultimately end up in the role that suits you best.
These suggestions are done in conjunction with all the standard prep: Take the time to research the company and it's products. Has the company in the press lately, why? Who are the their competitors? Don't feel the pressure to understand each and every nuance but you do want to come prepared with a grasp of the basics. In addition, research the LinkedIn profiles of those you are interviewing with – where did they go to school? What has their career track been like? Any similarities to you? Does their profile offer an insight around the type of manager or partner they might be? There's insightful information out there, you just need to take the time to look.
Now go get ‘em.