You would be surprised at the number of interviews I have listened to in my lifetime, and I could probably count on one hand the number of so called professionals who did it well. Let’s face it, interviewing is not a skill set you go to school for, often don’t prepare for, and often don’t do very well. Most of us will have at minimum 20 to 30 interviews in our lifetime. Let’s assume, for the sake of this exercise that you really, really want this job you are interviewing for…. So how should I prepare myself for the interview?
First the obvious, you should do research on the company you are about to meet with, this doesn’t have to be a deep dive into memorizing every employees name, but you should have a firm understanding of their products/services, who they key market is, and what they are known for. You should also show up a little early, dress appropriately, and be respectful of everyone you meet that day. Those are the obvious, now let’s talk about the not so obvious.
Every interview boils down to two basic concerns the interviewer has… #1 Can this person do the job, do they have the background and experience needed to accomplish goals, fix problems, or make/save them money. #2 Are you a good culture fit for the group, division, or company?
Let’s discuss #1 They assess your technical experience by asking questions about your past experience, how you handled situations, and asking technical questions to assess your knowledge. So far da… right? But this is a key area where many professionals slip up…. Even when they have the right background and experience, they end up talking themselves right out of a job offer… How? By going off on some tangent, not understanding the question, or by assuming they know what the person is asking. I have heard this play out time and time again, and so I am writing this to help. Normally an interview starts like this – “Hey Jimmy, we are a Fortune 500 organization in bla bla bla and we are building out our IAM capabilities. So, I see you worked at XYZ corporation as an IAM specialist, what did you do for them? STOP! DO NOT ANSWER THE QUESTION!!!!! This is not the time to start telling the world about how great and smart you are. At this point you don’t know enough about their problems and could start going down a path that does not fix their problems or address their concerns. At this point YOU need to start asking a few clarifying questions to make sure your answers are appropriate and on target. A great way to do this is to say… “I am really excited about this opportunity, but before I elaborate on my background and experience and to make sure my answers are on target, can you tell me a little bit more about why you are implementing an IAM solution, and where you are at in that process?” BOOM! What you have just done is set yourself apart from the other 10 people they will be talking to that week/month about this opportunity because you just asked a reasonable, well thought out question that clarifies an issue. It also provides you with specific information about their situation/problem/concern so you can highlight your specific experience to address their unique situation. 9 times out of 10 the hiring manager at this point will provide you with what exactly they are trying to accomplish, what hurdles they have run into, and why they are implementing the solution from a business perspective. How powerful is it to have that information early in the interview so that you can address those specific concerns from beginning to end. Can you see how powerful a well placed question can be?
Now let’s discuss #2 Culture fit – The biggest concern of a hiring manager when hiring a new person, is will that person gel with my existing team? You might have all the technical ability in the world, but if you can’t or won’t play nice in the sandbox, you will not get offered the job. Bottom line, the hiring manager has probably spent years building their team, and they want to avoid adding a cancer who might destroy what they have spent a lot of time and energy building. This isn’t as black and white as let’s say our technical abilities, this is more of a nuance thing. Do you talk over other people? DON’T! Do you tell people you are a team player, don’t just say it, have an example of how you have been a team player in the past. Do you listen carefully to hear people out, or do you jump in to finish their sentences by cutting them off? Are you conceded, arrogant, or difficult to work with? All of this comes out during an interview. I have a good friend who is a police officer, he told me one of the interview questions a lot of recruits and even current officers (from other departments) fail on is “have you ever made a mistake” and “what did you do to fix it” or “what did you learn from it”. My friend told me several officers freeze when they get asked that question, and often reply “I can’t think of any”. That is a major red flag, as it shows they lack emotional intelligence and self-critiquing skills that are important in any mature professional. This is an instant disqualification to work for his department. So culture fit is extremely important and is something that you should not overlook. Practice interviewing with a friend or a spouse. Have them critique your answers and ask them for advice. If they are in a professional field, they probably will be able to help you fine tune your responses so that you look and sound professional.
Most interviews are a one and done deal so doing it right the first time is very important to your career. Interviewing well vs poorly can have an impact on where you work, your income, and your brand in the marketplace. I strongly suggest you prepare for your interview and practice, practice, practice. Just like anything you do, the more you do it, the better you become.
Al Lerberg is the owner and president of cyber security recruiters, has over a decade of experience in recruiting and hiring, and has written several articles and blogs on interviewing and hiring best practices.
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