In my 20 years as a full-time executive recruiter, I've prepped more than 3,000 candidates on how to do a better job of interviewing. I discovered that those who actually applied these techniques got significantly higher rankings from the hiring managers than those who didn't. Here are the points that stand out year after year as the most important.
1. Take Control of the Interview Early
Most interviewers are not as prepared as they should be, nor as competent. Yet they all have a vote on who gets hired. Some ask overly technical questions, some make instant decisions, or bounce around asking questions that are irrelevant.
In these situations, candidates must take matters into their own hands by forcing the types of questions that are asked. For example, if you're a strong project manager and the interviewer is asking irrelevant questions, take control by asking something like, "Based on what you've said, it seems like there's a lot of system implementation work involved in this position. Is this true?" Wait for the reply, and if the interviewer agrees, describe something you've done that's comparable, including a detailed example.
Asking these types of forced-choice questions will ensure you're assessed properly.
2. Give Two Paragraph Answers
Assessing verbal communication skills is a big part of the interview, so how you answer questions is as important as the answers themselves. Forget the short 20 to 30 second answers. Interviewers get aggravated if they need to pry information out of the candidate.
Instead, most of your answers should be about one to two minutes long. Start with some type of general opening statement, then provide specific details, including dates, your role, the challenges faced, and what you accomplished. Add a hook at the end to keep the conversation going. A hook is a question like, "Is that what you were looking for regarding [topic]?"
Here's a video with more details on how to practice answering questions this way:
3. Prove Every Strength With a Specific Example
General statements about strengths, like "I'm a real problem-solver" or "I'm a strong team player," are meaningless and quickly forgotten.
However, you'll receive a different reaction entirely when you prove these statements with an actual example of an accomplishment that best demonstrates the strength. Hiring managers remember the accomplishment and, based on the details provided, conclude on their own if the candidate possesses the ability they're seeking.
Come up with an example to prove each of your strengths, then practice answering "The Most Important Interview Question of All Time" before your next interview.
4. Convert "Having" Into "Doing" to Frame Your Answers
When opening a new job requisition, I suggest recruiters ask hiring managers to describe how the specific skills listed are used on the job. For example, 10 years of advanced high speed servo control design experience converts to: "Lead the field testing of reusable rocket engine systems."
Candidates can ask the same question when the interviewer seems to be posing generic, technical questions. Of course, you still have to prove you can do the work required, but at least by determining the actual need, the proof is relevant.
This type of approach also helps the candidate better understand what the work is all about and if he or she even wants to do it.
5. Ask Meaningful Questions to Demonstrate Your Insight and Company Knowledge
The best questions are developed by being prepared.
As part of this, review the LinkedIn profiles of everyone you'll be meeting, review the other jobs the company has posted, and read as much as you can about the company, its strategy, and how the job you're interviewing for fits in. This will give you a great foundation for asking meaningful business-oriented questions and demonstrating the depth of your preparation. Both are essential if you want to stand out as a special candidate.
6. Use a Trial Close to Determine if You're in the Game
If you're not sure how the interview is going, ask another forced-choice question like, "Based on what we've discussed, are there any areas where you're unsure if I have the skills or experience to handle this job?" This is called discovery, and this type of question will not only demonstrate your confidence but also your ability.
Getting an interview is tough enough. Don't assume you'll be properly assessedonce there. Instead, take the default position that you'll need to take matters into your own hands by practicing and mastering the tips above. While they won't help you get a job you don't deserve, they will help you get one you do.
Whether you're interviewing for a staff or executive-level position, or hoping to become the next POTUS, you can take some interviewing lessons from Carly Fiorina on how to do it right.
A year or so ago I wrote a post suggesting that the short formula for leadership is the combination of a clear vision for the role and a track record of comparable results. This is what I came up with for the longer version:
The Longer Formula for Assessing Leadership = 1) Identify the Problem and 2) Find a Solution and 3) Develop a Workable Plan and 4) Inspire Others and 5) Deliver the Results.
All of the steps are required.
It's actually pretty easy to assess a candidate's leadership ability (LQ) by using the Anchor and Visualize questioning pattern embedded in the Performance-based Interview I advocate. Here's how.
1. Use the Visualize question to assess depth of understanding and the ability to create a realistic plan.
The Visualize question involves getting into a back-and-forth discussion about a realistic job-related issue or challenge. This uncovers thinking and problem-solving skills, strategic and tactical planning, and upside potential. Assessing the process the candidate uses to figure out the problem is more important than the answer to the problem. The best people are able to fully understand the problem by asking appropriate questions and can offer a vision of how they would solve the problem.
During the junior varsity presidential debate and in subsequent interviews, Carly Fiorina demonstrated an unusual depth of understanding of the issues facing the president. Whether you like her vision of where she would take the country is a different issue, but you clearly know what her vision is. In addition, you have a sense of how she would solve any unanticipated problem she'd face in the role. This is a great demonstration of leadership.
Carly Fiorina Interviewing Tip 1: Don't give glib or vague responses. Ask questions to understand the biggest challenges in the new job and based on this present a reasonable plan of how you'd implement a solution. You can use this interview template to prepare. (I wouldn't be surprised if Carly actually used this.)
2. Use the Anchor question to determine the ability to deliver the vision.
Sometimes less than competent people can talk a good game, so while acing the Visualize question is important, it's not sufficient. The Anchor or Most Significant Accomplishment (MSA) question separates the good talkers from the real doers. The MSA question involves getting into specific details about major job-related accomplishments. The trend of these accomplishments over time is as important as the accomplishments themselves.
Carly is going to have to deal with her tenure as CEO of HP but her track record leading up to this role is incomparable. From an assessment standpoint the hiring team needs to compare a candidate's major accomplishments from a scope, scale, and complexity standpoint with actual job needs.
Carly Fiorina Interviewing Tip 2: Prepare a detailed list of your accomplishments with facts, details, dates, and list of results before the interview. Then practice describing them in one-minute sound bites.
3. Anticipate the tough questions.
You know you're going to be asked about weaknesses so don't be evasive or belligerent. If you have some real problems, proactively bring them up. The goal is to minimize their negative impact. Chris Matthews failed to demean Carly's character right after the debate by asking a purposefully misleading question. Carly reframed his question to neutralize the generalization and gave specific details to defend her position. Attacking the interviewer is not an effective strategy.
Carly Fiorina Interviewing Tip 3: Don't evade the tough questions. Use them as opportunities to shine. If needed, reframe any tough question to be sure it's understood. The reframing demonstrates confidence and a detailed answer with facts and examples demonstrates competence.
4. Don't wing it.
Over the past 40 years I've arranged somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 interviews and debriefed the hiring managers after every one. The candidates who gave vague and generic answers didn't fare too well. The hiring managers gave the highest marks to those who provided detailed examples of comparable accomplishments and asked insightful job-related questions. Listen to Carly's responses to just about every question asked--they're filled with details. Whether you like her or not is not the point; being prepared for anything is.
Carly Fiorina Interviewing Tip 4: Be prepared. Practice, practice, practice. And practice getting nervous.
I thought Carly's debate night performance was masterful, and if I ever get a big enough CEO search I'd like to see if she'd consider it. Until then, everyone can benchmark her approach for acing the interview: Anticipate. Prepare. Anchor. Visualize.