Friday, October 16, 2009

Top 5 Things Hiring Managers Look for in an Interview and Common Pitfalls Candidates Should Avoid

It is no secret that the current economic climate has led to a labor market that is one of the most challenging we have ever seen. There is no shortage of information, tips, strategies and advice out there designed to help candidates find jobs in this extremely candidate rich and competitive market.

The question becomes, how does one make sense of all the available information and how can they use it to truly differentiate themselves from the extremely deep candidate pool?
While it may be true that many hires come down to who you know and the personality fit, there are certain things a candidate must to do to ensure they are the candidate of choice and not the one that falls off the hiring manager’s radar completely. Below are 5 tips from Hiring Managers about what they are really looking for when they interview a candidate and what candidates often do (or don’t do) that removes them from consideration altogether.

5 Things Hiring Managers Look For:
1. A resume that reads NOT like a job description but like a visual portfolio of successes, accomplishments, awards and value-added contributions. Candidates frequently populate their resume with bullet points of duties and tasks assigned to them by their supervisors and they simply list them all out. They do not take the time (or perhaps don’t understand how) to project their documented value of solving pain areas for their employer, customers and clients. For example, if you are an Accountant, Sales Rep or Computer Programmer chances are good the hiring manager already knows “what” you do anyway. They want to know the “How”, “Why” and “Outcome” of the work you do. Otherwise they have nothing to base your ability to do the job at hand and ultimately does not distinguish you from any another candidate.

2.For a candidate to answer a direct question…..”directly” . When asked, hiring managers will almost always cite lack of direct and concise responses to their questions as one of the biggest pet peeves during an interview. A candidate needs to give specific and give demonstrative examples of how they personally have responded in the past and how they will perform if selected for the job in question. Being specific and offering real life and quantifiable examples is the key to helping the hiring manager visualize the candidate in the role. There is nothing more frustrating for a hiring manager than a candidate that just rambles on or gets philosophical about a topic, but does not truly answer the question succinctly. Without real life examples or bottom line results being presented as part of the candidate’s answers, it may give the interviewer the impression the candidate was not as personally involved or solely responsible for the task being discussed. It also conveys a lack of preparation, in some cases, on behalf of the candidate.

3.A candidate who exudes confidence and expertise without ego, arrogance or nervousness. Hiring managers are simply looking for qualified and expert candidates to not only fill an open seat, but to help fill a major problem area within the organization. There are 3 reasons a job becomes available. The opening was created either by a need to back fill a vacated role, new business growth or to replace an underperforming incumbent. No matter which scenario has caused the opening, the vacancy causes pain for the organization. Therefore the interviewer needs to clearly witness and believe the candidate is an expert in their own functional area and that they can apply it to the role in a beneficial way for the organization. They can see right through a high ego, a disgruntled employee or a candidate who is so nervous they look like a deer in headlights. It’s increasingly common in today’s job market to have candidates who are very desperate for any job. No matter how urgently you may need a job offer, you must present yourself as a problem solver and the most competent candidate they will meet in order to rise to the top of selected candidates. Of course, it goes without saying but do not speak negatively of a former employer. This is one of the most common interview tips, yet the number of candidates who do not understand this basic concept is truly daunting. It causes the candidate to come across as difficult and arrogant and immediately be relegated to the bottom of the pile of candidates.

4. Candidates who actively engage with the interviewer by demonstrating a deep knowledge of the entire industry, not just the job. It is imperative that a candidate illustrate how knowledgeable they are about the entire industry and trends that may effect the role or the company. It’s not enough to just be comfortable speaking about the job description. A desired candidate not only has the required skill sets but understands how their skills apply to the industry and the potential employer. Most candidates ask questions related to compensation, reporting structure or other items that are not actually crucial to the overall success in the role. Hiring managers are trying to understand whether the candidate has not only done their homework on the company but the industry, trends and opportunities. They look for an engaging interaction where they candidate asks questions that demonstrate critical thinking and business related skills. This tells the interviewer that the candidate has the motivation and acumen to start the job on Day 1 and solve the specific business problems presented.

5.Whether the candidate effectively closes down the interviewer. What do I mean exactly by “close down” the interview? When asked how an interview went candidates will often say “I think it went well.” My first thought as a career coach is “how do you know it went well? How do you measure that?” Hiring managers are often trained to be very polite during the process because you essentially a visitor to their offices. They may have realized in the first 5 minutes you are not a fit but proceed with the interview out of courtesy. Behaviorally trained hiring managers look to see whether a candidate will end the interview by asking a line of questions o the interviewer to determine if there are any questions, concerns or doubts about their background or fit for the role. Most candidates feel it is a hard sell or presumptive to actually ask the interviewer “where do you see me as a candidate for hire for this role?” Think of it this way, would you spend an hour in a meeting with a boss or colleague and end the meeting without either a list of action items, next steps or to arrange a follow up meeting? It is the same with an interview. You can ask the hiring manager where you stack up against other candidates of interest and what would it take to for him/her to see you as a top candidate. Their responses will help them step out of the courtesy-mode and give you a more tangible and honest answer. The hiring manager will always remember the candidate that closes them down versus those that just smile and answer questions. By “closing down” an interviewer, you not only give yourself one last opportunity to sell yourself but also to project confidence in your abilities to be considered as “the candidate of choice.”

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