Believe it or not, hiring managers want every interview to go quickly and smoothly. And yet, they rarely do. The process usually drags on because of a combination of unrealistic expectations — desiring skill sets that are too broad and offering target salaries that are too low — and an initial unwillingness on both parties to make trade-offs, even though they usually do after fatigue and reality sets in. Combine all of that with an interviewer who’s inexperienced or ill-prepared, and it’s a wonder anyone gets hired.
These are the job interview strategies that get top candidates hired, time after time
The best job candidates — and by that we mean the best prepared — are skilled at sizing up each and every hiring manager that they meet. They know what’s going on by asking questions early and by paying attention to clues dropped by the interviewer throughout the process.
Ease the Way
As it turns out, most hiring managers dislike job interviews almost as much as job seekers do, because they likely haven’t devoted the time or energy necessary to developing their interviewing skills. Plus, fewer and fewer companies are investing in training managers to become better at interviewing (even though they should). And unlike their counterparts in HR who do it for a living, hiring managers rarely perceive any direct incentive to improving their interviewing skills. Their cluelessness is your first big break.
Interview the interviewer (but don’t let them know it)
Have tons of questions you can toss out throughout the interview. Don’t hold your questions back for the end. Do that and you’ve already lost the battle.
Get into a conversation early
Be smart and natural about it. Nobody wants to feel like they’re being grilled. If you’re the person who can loosen them up, you’ll be looked upon fondly.
Mimic their tempo
Pay attention to the rhythm the hiring manager speaks in.If they speak fast, and you speak slowly, you’ll torture them. On the flip side, if they take a slow and thoughtful approach and you try to finish their sentences, you’ll only annoy them.
Avoid ping-pong at all costs
We’ve all been there: an interviewer lobs a question at you. You answer. Instead of starting a conversation, you just wait for the next question to get fired back at you. If this happens more than three times without you changing it up, you’re done.
It’s Not All About You
Those who interview well also keep the hiring manager’s schedule in mind. You may be completely focused on the interview, but the hiring manager probably isn’t. Don’t forget that they’ve got their own work to do on top of interviewing you.
If a hiring manager walks into your interview late or seems generally frazzled or distracted, assume that there’s a crisis somewhere in the office and they have bigger issues on hand than hiring you.
If a hiring manager walks into your interview late or seems generally frazzled or distracted, assume that there’s a crisis somewhere in the office and they have bigger issues on hand than hiring you. This doesn’t mean you have no shot at the job. Instead, it means that your interview will be shorter than expected, so be prepared to manage your time wisely. It also means that they most likely haven’t read your resume, that they won’t remember what’s on the job description (this can work to your advantage), and that they definitely have not thought about what to ask you (your biggest break yet).
Given this, you’re guaranteed to be served up the dreaded question: So, tell me about yourself? Here’s the twist: at the end of your three-to-five minute soliloquy, immediately toss a question back at the interview along the lines of: “That’s a top line overview of my background. I could go on with more specifics, but I want to be mindful of our time together. Could you tell me more about the role and the attributes of who you think might succeed in it?”
This does two things: 1) most hiring managers are happy to talk about their challenges and 2) what they say will give you a jumping-off point for the rest of the interview. From this point on, forget the written job description. Listen closely and don’t bring up stuff that isn’t relevant to the role as described by the person sitting in front of you.
There’s also the likelihood that, on the day of your big interview, the hiring manager will groan about five seconds before you walk in the door. That’s because they’re really not ready for you. In the week since your interview got set up, a dozen fires have flared up, and he or she has been putting them out.
Keep this in mind as you walk in the door, because whatever was on the old job description is now clouded by the biggest fire he or she is fighting at the moment. In short, you need to be ready for unexpected questions. This is where doing your back-channel research and even reading the company’s press page on the day of the interview will keep you at the ready. One way to suss out the pain points is to ask a very simple question: “What’s keeping you up at night and how can I fix that for you?”
As discussed, most new jobs open up because a hiring manager has been under significant stress long before the job got posted. Your job as a candidate is to offer solutions to alleviate that stress throughout the interview. If you don’t ,you’ll be passed over for another person who can address it.
You Probably Aren’t the First
If you’re interviewing to replace someone who was fired for underperformance, the hiring manager is sure to be licking their wounds. That means they’ll also be putting a lot of weight on that employee’s deficiencies when sizing you up for the job. They’re also likely to be looking for that person’s polar opposite. A great question to ask here is: “Tell me about the last person in the job. If there’s any one trait that you could change about that person, what would it have been? What did you like about their approach to this role? Has the job description for this role changed since the last hire?”
On the other hand, a top performer may have quit. In these cases, the hiring manager will be looking to clone that person. This may also mean that the hiring manager will have unrealistic expectations of any and all candidates, especially in their initial rounds of interviews. Get to the bottom of this by asking a variation on the question above: “Tell me about the last person in this role. What made that person a star? What attributes did they have that you’re looking to retain in a new hire?”
A Word About Job Descriptions
Once you’re in an interview, put the job description as far out of your mind as possible. Companies hire people, not words. Get a hiring manager to fall in love with you as a candidate and almost everything is negotiable, from title and compensation to responsibilities and oversight.
Almost no job description makes it through an interviewing process without massive doctoring. Well-prepared candidates know this. While they may not check every box going in, they know how to convince a hiring manager to flex a role in his or her favor. They do this by consistently highlighting how their skill set and their unique ideas can benefit both the company and the person sitting right in front of them.
You’re only one half of the interview. The other half is a busy person who is working you into their very hectic schedule. Be mindful of their time. Treat it less like an interrogation and more like a conversation. Help the hiring manager out by asking smart questions, and always keep their needs at the forefront of the conversation. Show your value at every opportunity and draw connections between your skills and their problems. Remember, the hiring manager wants to feel a connection with you. When they do, the short list awaits.
Good interviewing starts with good storytelling. We’ll teach you how to weave a great narrative in your next interview.
28 Days to a New Job is a month-long Hired Guns course designed to help you maximize your competitiveness in the current job market. Learn the secrets to getting a job from hiring managers, recruiters, negotiation experts and more. Read our our introductory post here. Or Subscribe Now to receive 28 Days to a New Job as a daily email.