I’m in the midst of hiring right now for a Community Manager to join our team at Radian6 (I’m the Director of Community, and we’ve got several people on our growing team).
I’ve also worked in the nonprofit fund development arena and in marketing communications, and have hired people in both of those roles.
Interviewing is a key part of the job quest and getting it right is important. But for someone that’s hiring, the interview is the means, not the end. Lots of folks focus on the interview itself and the act of answering every question with perfection, with poise, with professionalism. Speaking for myself though (and maybe some of you others out there), I’m looking far beyond your answers and doing my best to diagnose whether you’d actually be a strong member of the team.
Be Personable, But Be Yourself.
This seems so obvious, yet I wish I had a dime for every wooden, impersonal interview I’ve been part of. We’re a team of humans with personalities, senses of humor, and a dynamic amongst us that’s very important to our success.
Part – actually much – of what we’re evaluating is whether you’d be a fit for the culture of our team. You can learn skills, be taught certain sets of expertise, but your personality is something that’s much harder to change. Don’t fake it. Be who you are. We can tell when you’re faking it for an interview and in the long run, those kinds of round-peg-square-hole relationships never work out for the best. Plus, you should be interviewing the company, too. If the personalities and characters on the team you’ll be working with aren’t comfortable to you, you’re going to be unhappy and feel out of place.
Show us that we’d like working with you and why. Finding what fits is important.
Don’t Read Your Resume.
One of the reasons you send your resume in advance is to prove table stakes. That means demonstrating that you have – at least on paper – the makings of the experience that the job needs and requires.
If you’ve landed the interview, you’ve shown your potential well enough to get that far and we like what we see on paper. What you want to show next is how that relates to the role you’re after, and what you can bring to the table. Assume that the information in the resume is a given (personally, I never interview with a resume in front of me). When you’re answering questions about your experience, expand on special projects you were part of or highlight how you overcame interesting challenges you were faced with. The stuff on paper we’ve already read. Now we’re looking for context, depth, and the details around your experience that make it really shine.
The interview isn’t just for us to get to know you, it works in reverse. Demonstrate that you understand or have researched the company, industry, and role by asking some relevant questions. Honest questions, not just the kind they teach you to ask in business school (most of us who’ve been working for a while can pick those out in an instant, and it’s a turnoff).
Be curious about the culture of the company. Who else this role would work with. What the team’s goals are. Whether they have company gatherings and what they’re like. What challenges they’re facing, what they love best about working there, how they plan, divvy up workload, what their management style is. The list is really endless but the key here is that it’s not feigned interest. You need to want the answers to these questions and when you’re done with the interview, process the answers. What impression or idea does it leave you with overall? Are you more excited, or less so?
Talk About Failures.
No one’s work history is devoid of failures, challenges, mistakes. We as hiring folks know this. And someone you want to work for would never expect you to have a body of experience that didn’t include speedbumps.
What we want to hear is how you dealt with them. How they made you feel, and then how you moved past them and forward. Roadblocks are part of life and work experience, but it’s perseverance that really counts in a crunch. We want to know that when we come upon a challenge with you on the team, you’re going to help us get over, through, and past it. Share your experience about how you’ve done that before and we’ll see more than one dimension to your work (which is a good thing). A positive attitude is one of those things you can’t teach but is a massive asset to anyone, anytime.
Never EVER Disparage People or Employers.
It’s unfortunate that I have to point this out. But.
If you’re leaving a current job, we can probably guess that there’s a reason you want a new gig. Whether it’s simply that you want a new challenge, a higher salary, or you don’t like your boss, we know there’s a reason. What we don’t want to hear is the gory details.
It’s unprofessional to dive into a saga about how your current employer, company, or boss has done you wrong or failed to realize your potential. All that does is make us question whether you’d do the same to us when and if you leave.
And personally, I’ve only got one side of the story: yours. The only person that looks bad in that scenario is you, and that’s not the impression you want to leave with someone you want to work with. Always, always exit jobs with grace and by traveling the high road, no matter what. We’ve all had unfortunate experiences in our careers. Your future depends on handling them well, and your professional reputation will thank you.
Seriously, Read The Job Description.
I’m going to assume for a moment that the job description is well-written, and really does give a feel for the job. I know that doesn’t always happen, but asking those questions can help you figure that out.
Have you read it? I mean, really read it? Most of us that write job descriptions really mean what we say in there. If we say that the role requires you to work well with minimal supervision, that’s probably true. And if you don’t work well that way, being self aware enough to recognize that is going to be critical to your success. It can be hard to not tick down a job description and say “of COURSE I can do all of that.” But remember that most job descriptions are written to the ideal, and we know that we’ll likely have to make compromises when we hire. But people really interested in finding the right fit for a position will write the job description deliberately.
If there are parts of it that you have questions about, ask them. If there are elements of the job that you think you might need help with, or have less experience in, first admit that to yourself and then discuss it candidly with the employer. No one has it all. They should be able to talk with you about what areas of the role are must-haves, and which they recognize can be built up or learned on the job.
Yes, indeed, your interview is a chance to showcase your experience and knowledge.
But bragging on how many Twitter followers you have (which is a unique quandary in the social media world and one that fills me with bemusement), or how many times you got promoted, or how many awards you won? That all sounds like ego, not accomplishment. How you frame your achievements is every bit as important as what you achieved. A savvy manager can spot a keen balance of sharing a success while giving credit to others, celebrating a strong collaboration, or acknowledging that business achievements are often collective, not individual.
We want to know that you’re going to be comfortable being part of a team, not just in the game for personal glory. We’ve all worked with one of those at some point in the past, and if you’ve experienced it, you’ll do your best to avoid it for the sake of yourself and the people you work with.
The Afterword: Be Patient.
Follow up can be good. It’s more than fine to follow up to be sure a resume was received or to thank someone after an interview for their time and interest. Those are good manners.
There’s a fine line, though, before that bleeds into over-zealousness. If you’ve submitted your resume, you have to trust that you’ll be contacted if you’re of interest for an interview (and if you’re not, six emails aren’t going to change our mind). Craftily trying to skirt the process – by, say, sending your resume to a name you found online instead of the contact listed on the job posting – can be seen as ambition, or sometimes just blatant disregard for process. Tread wisely.
Yes, I understand that good candidates sometimes don’t make it to the interview round and feel slighted or overlooked. That’s life, unfortunately, and part of the struggle of the talent market. Your resume might rock or it might not. If you’re not making it to the interview round, it might be time to give your pregame approach a bit of a once-over. But sometimes, it’s just the nature of the beast.
Once you’ve completed the interview, hang tight. If you’ve stood out among the applicants you’ll get another call. Scrambling for attention or feedback every 24 hours can smack of desperation, and most folks hiring will wonder why you’re in such a hurry to either leave your current job or land a new one.
If you’re currently unemployed, we understand that you feel a sense of urgency. If you’re currently employed, the fact that you’re interviewing means we know you’d like to make a change. But you’ve got to sit tight and let the process take its course, even if it feels maddeningly slow to you. Every company has to work on the timeline that fits them and if it’s too long for you, you should feel free to focus your sights elsewhere.
What Would You Add?
I’d like to hear from those of you that hire, and whether you’d agree or argue with me on these. And those of you on the job hunt, do any of these resonate? Did they help, or do you feel like you do all of these things and still struggle?
I’m obviously just one person with my own hiring methods, and I know that these standards can vary based on the individual, company culture, and lots of other things. I also know that there are lousy HR departments, crappy hiring processes, and all that stuff. If all those things are true, perhaps that’s not a company you want to work for to start with.
This is my take. What’s yours?