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How to Get the Interviewer to Ask You the Right Questions

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Caution is urged – these tips won’t help you get a job you don’t deserve, but they will help you get one you do.

For the past 20+ years, I’ve been providing advice to recruiters and hiring managers on how to interview candidates. It takes discipline to follow this approach and most interviewers you’ll encounter haven’t been trained at all. A few have taken behavioral interview training but this approach has some huge flaws. So don’t take it personally when you don’t get a job you feel you deserve. It’s usually due to a weak interviewer, not a weak candidate. Despite this, you don’t need to leave your future totally in someone else’s hands. There are things you can do to increase your odds of being accurately assessed.

How to Reengineer the Five Big Mistakes Interviewers Constantly Make

Mistake 1: Not knowing real job needs. Most hiring managers haven’t fully clarified job expectations when they open up a new job. This is why they overvalue generic competencies like assertiveness and affability, and emphasize skills and experience during the interview. To get around this, all you need to do is ask the interviewer to describe some of the challenges of the job and what it would take for a person to be considered successful. Then describe something you’ve accomplished that’s most comparable. Here’s how to format your responses, but the key is to give specific examples with lots of details.

Mistake 2: Making decisions in the first 2-3 minutes based on first impressions. Candidates who make good first impressions get asked easier questions and get more job offers, even if they’re not fully competent. Those who are quiet, lack confidence or don’t look the part have a rougher go of it. I suggest interviewers wait 30 minutes before making any yes or no decision to increase their objectivity. Most won’t. So if you’re a candidate who doesn’t have a great interviewing presence or are prone to getting nervous, there are some things you can do to improve your odds. One, ask to be phone screened before meeting the hiring manager. This will instantly neutralize the typical first impression reaction when you meet in person. Another, ask some relevant questions when you first meet. It’s hard for an interviewer not to answer a question like, “Would you mind giving me a quick overview of the job before we start the interview? This way I can frame my responses appropriately.” This will give you a chance to calm your nerves.

Mistake 3: Overvaluing technical brilliance. From a practical matter, once a technical person passes some threshold of ability, other aspects of the job become important. These factors include solving job-related technical problems, collaborating with other functions, meeting deadlines, and handing projects that require extra effort. I suggest that whenever a candidate is undergoing a technical grilling he or she needs to get the interviewer to shift gears. One way to do this is to ask how the technical skill will be used on the job or about a specific problem the person taking the job is likely to face using the skill. Your answer then needs to describe something you’ve accomplished that’s most related. Just asking the question will brand you as assertive. A good answer could get you the job.

Mistake 4: Focusing too much on direct experience. Managers by nature are conservative. That’s why they want people with lots of experience and are heavy on skills. What really matters, though, is the intensity of the experience, not the quantity of it. So if you fall short on years of identical experience you’ll need to offset that with some comparable experience or great performance given little experience. Again, asking the interviewer to describe real job needs in terms of performance is the critical first step. You’ll then need to describe the biggest things you’ve accomplished with minimal experience. Working harder and learning new skills rapidly needs to be the theme of your story if you expect it to be convincing.

Mistake 5: Making assessments about team skills on factors that don’t predict team skills. Being enthusiastic, outgoing and communicative doesn’t mean you can influence or collaborate with others. If you’ve been assigned to important project teams, advised senior leaders on critical business decisions or worked successfully on multi-functional teams, you have the necessary team skills companies are seeking. Make sure you ask forced-choice questions (e.g., “Will this person be working on cross-functional projects?”) to ensure you’re assessed correctly on this critical factor.

Most interviewers haven’t been trained properly. Worse, most make major decisions about who should be hired based on factors that don’t predict on-the-job performance. Just knowing this gives candidates more control of the interview than they think they have, yet few take full advantage of it. It starts by asking relevant questions about real job needs and giving answers that describe your best comparable work. While you won’t get every job you deserve this way, you’ll certainly improve your odds. This is certainly better than hoping, which rarely works.


Lou Adler (@LouA) is the CEO of The Adler Group, a consulting and training firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring. He’s also a regular columnist for Inc. Magazine and BusinessInsider. His latest book, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013), provides hands-on advice for job-seekers, hiring managers and recruiters on how to find the best job and hire the best people. You can continue the conversation on LinkedIn’s Essential Guide for Hiring Discussion Group.

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