Many of you may not know this about me, but I have interviewed many times in my life, from telecom jobs to sitting in front of an Air Force pilot board I have been involved in many many interviews. It’s funny how little I knew at the time about how to interview, what questions to ask, and what to look for in an organization during an interview. Sometimes gut instinct worked, but most of the time, being prepared ahead of my interview made the biggest difference. Let me share some stories with you to highlight some best practices.
During one interview earlier in my career, I walked in to the office (was actually being shown around by the Director) and I immediately felt tension and stress. The office staff was not friendly, and everyone kind of just ignored my presence. This should have been a major RED FLAG. However, I have always been someone who learns by hitting my head and then say “I shouldn’t have done that”, so I hit my head… and learned an important life lesson. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
During another interview I met with this fantastic older gentleman (okay, he was probably in his fifties, but at that time, he was old) so I was getting excited about the opportunity. The next interview I was supposed to meet with him again, however this time he didn’t show. Another person conducted the interview who seemed annoyed I was even there. When I asked about him she said “he has decided to pursue another opportunity” I responded “so he was let go” she fired back with an annoying tone “here at XYZ company we say, he is looking at other opportunities”. Interview over! I had no desire to work for someone who can’t be honest with me at our first meeting. Lesson learned!
Oh boy, it’s a little embarrassing to share this one with you, but here goes… I was thrilled to be having my second interview with a big name in the pharma industry. My first interview went really well, so I thought I had the inside track. I still remember sitting outside the interview room in a large open room filled with lounge chairs, I was the only person around. The door flung open and the female Director was laughing and smiling with the candidate. They were referring to each other by first names and obviously had known each other for some time based upon the conversation. I was still dumb and naive at the time (my wife would argue I still am) so I didn’t realize I had ZERO chance of getting this job. The Director put on a good show, asked me a bunch of questions, but kept it short. Now the embarrassing part, I ended up running into the Director again down in the lobby by the front desk, she was asking about getting a cab. I volunteered to drive her to the airport hoping she would get to know me better and be impressed. I should have taken the hint when she politely said no, I insisted several times and ended up driving her to the airport and having an uncomfortable and awkward conversation. Bottom line, I didn’t get the offer. Should have known better, and let her grab that cab.
Okay… I actually have many more stories but where am I going with all of this? If you are interviewing, be prepared to ask good questions. You should have your radar on and be aware of the environment, is it open and friendly, or like my first example stressful and tense? Next, always be prepared with some questions about the hiring managers priorities and urgency to hire. Are they just testing the waters or are they serious about getting someone onboard asap. If you can, try to talk with someone who works in that department, are they happy there? Do they feel challenged? Do they enjoy the work? Also, if you are comfortable, ask them for a little tour of the office, you will be surprised how much you can learn about a company by just doing a little walk around. Does the hiring manager introduce you to people, or just ignore his/her employees. How do other employees react to that manager can also provide you with some insight.
Your goal should be to learn as much as you can, while also putting your best foot forward. Be curious (like George) and get the hiring manager to open up with more information about what problems they are trying to solve, then apply your background and experience to let them know that you have solved similar problems in the past. It’s not good enough that you have the technical skills and understand how to run certain tools. What they want to know is…. do you understand how that impacts the business, can you articulate those facts, have you configured the tool to run better, produce different results, used your technical skills to improve upon something, do you go the extra mile, or just far enough?
Last, make sure the business is a good fit for you… Be mindful of the work environment, pay attention to how the HM interacts with other employees and remember… A great boss will challenge and support you. Bad bosses don’t (I actually had a boss call our group bottom feeders once). Great bosses lift others up and don’t self promote. Leaders lead by example, not with ra ra speeches (although Herb Brooks miracle speech was fantastic!) Great leaders inspire by helping, encouraging, listening and acting. Look for those qualities in your future boss, it can be the difference between your future success or failure.
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