To the chagrin of management consultants and HR departments everywhere, most managers are woefully unprepared to interview you. They are running into your interview without having looked at your resume or having even really considered what it is that they’re looking for. Sometimes, they really are that busy. Sometimes, they are interviewing you for someone else and aren’t too concerned about getting the right fit. Sometimes, they are just unprepared or unskilled. If you want to make a real impression, be prepared to lead the interview yourself by understanding these four types of interviewers.
I’ve got this!
These managers are prepared. They know what they want for the position. They’ve read your resume and crafted specific questions about how your experience relates to the job. They work to put you at ease so that you can give them the best possible answers. They start by giving you a very clear description of the job and key skills. They may even ask if you have questions to start.
If you are lucky enough to find one of these people, take advantage of the opportunity by listening as well as you speak. Make sure you understand their questions. Restate the question if necessary, or ask how the question relates to the job. Check that you answered effectively. Ask “did I answer your question” or “is this what you’re looking for”. When they ask for your questions at the end of the interview, ask for real feedback. “Where do you think my skills line up with the needs of this position? Where do you have concerns?” Make sure you address concerns. Reiterate and clarify your strengths in your post-interview thank-you note.
It’s all about me
This type of interviewer will talk more than they listen, mostly about their own background. Try to stay interested (and awake) but don’t expect to impress them. The only way to prepare for this one is to look them up online in advance or find someone who knows them. Find some common ground to connect with them on, a hobby or school that you share, questions about one of the pictures in their office of them on vacation.
Eventually, they will likely say something that hints at what they think the job is about. Grab that chance to say “great observation! Here’s something similar from my background and what I did about it”. Don’t over-explain though. The faster you get back to talking about them and being impressed with them, the better impression you’ll make.
If you can’t find common ground and connect with them personally, you really don’t have any chance with this kind of person. Just listen attentively, try to remain interested in whatever they want to talk about. Your questions for them should focus on advice type inquiries: “what would you think I should accomplish in the first few weeks” or “how would you handle learning this organization as a new employee”. These managers like to be seen as important and intelligent. Try to play to their need for importance without obviously pandering.
I just do what HR tells me
Unfortunately, well-meaning HR departments are sometimes an interviewee’s worst nightmare. They’ve successfully convinced the organization that finding the right person means following the script. Based on limited understanding of the job, they prepare big packets of questions that sound like “tell me about a time when you…”. They provide a few days of training to managers who won’t use the skills for months, managers who don’t interview people often enough to learn any better, and generally create an environment where the manager feels less accountable for the hiring process than they should.
Now, I do believe that there’s a place for this kind of behavioral interviewing. Knowing how to ask these questions can help an interviewer get good examples and understand what it will be like to work with you. Especially for inexperienced managers, the process can be comforting and a great place to start. But too many managers get complacent and a little lazy. They literally read the question and take copious notes. They are more interested in grading how you answered the question (did you provide a situation, action, and result) than in deciding if your answer applies well to the job (did that answer exhibit the skill we need).
Your best option here is to carefully list each part of your answer. Label it for them so they, and you, know you hit all the points. You should sound like “I had this situation…, I did this thing about it…, and I got this result…”. If you get stuck, ask what skill they are looking for and tailor your answer to that skill instead of the specific question.
Why don’t you just run the interview
Surprisingly, many managers are perfectly happy to let you run the interview. While many interviewers will start with the “tell me about yourself” question, these interviewers stop there. They take enough notes that they can spend the rest of the interview digging into the comments you give in that initial answer. Or they may not listen to your answer at all, using that question only to buy time to read your resume so they can dig into areas they’re skeptical or curious about. Then they’ll ask if there’s anything else you think is important for them to know, they’ll answer your questions, and the interview will be over.
This interviewing type is the hardest because you’re doing all the work, but also the biggest opportunity because you get to control the conversation. The process for the “tell me about yourself” question is the same regardless of the interviewer type. Done right, you should have a 3-5 minute synopsis of your career, with the most important skills and examples highlighted. Try to focus on no more than 3 key skills, the ones you believe will be most critical in this position. Try to get the interviewer to highlight the key skills for you and tailor the story to use their verbiage.
- Before the interview, find out everything you can about the company and position. (You did this anyway, right?)
- Look for experiences and projects in your past that directly show why you are capable of the job.
- Now build your story and practice it until you can say it easily. Go chronologically through your career, building up the proof of why you are the best one for this job. The story will probably sound something like: “I started at Company Alpha. That was a great experience where I got to do ___ project. That project really taught me how to ___. Then I moved to Company Beta where I accomplished ___ and learned to ___.”