Interviewing secrets (and handling silly questions)

I’ve now recruited for a few hundred positions, and have done 5-10 interviews per position… which adds up to something between 1000 and 2000 interviews in my career.

I do tend to approach interviewing quite differently now than when I first started – to make it more of a conversation, by providing context about the position at the beginning, and inviting the candidate to ask their questions up front, before we transition into the questions I want to ask. (Hiring is an assessment process that goes in both directions, after all.)

But I remember how many interviews I used to do on a daily basis (probably five on average), with maybe a 30 minute break in between, and feeling the pressure to fill all the roles I was working on… yesterday. That created a situation where I felt the need to control the conversation as much as possible, with less room for real dialogue, and more focus on sticking to my questions.

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That’s where a lot of recruiters and HR people will be coming from – so it can help to have some empathy for what they’re facing. And, it’s worth noting that a lot of people doing recruiting have come through the school of thought about HR that is very focused on following the rules – for example, asking the exact same interview questions of every candidate.

There isn’t actually a law requiring them to do this – but rather a fear that if they stray from the script, they will get sued because they treated candidates differently.

And, underlying all of this, the recruiter still needs to know who you are and what you bring to the table, so they can effectively evaluate you for the position.

While you as the candidate can’t be in control of the flow of the conversation (definitely don’t try to do that!), there are things you can do to get across what’s important about you.

Interview Tips

  • Find a list of typical interview questions online, and write out or practice your answers to each. Look for the ways you can turn these basic questions around to get at what they really want to know. For each question, find a way to communicate one related nugget about an accomplishment, a similar situation, a summary of how you think about things. You can still answer their questions, but make sure you are also clearly communicating something you bring.
  • Brainstorm some clarifying questions. If they ask you something that seems too vague to answer well, or something you’re not sure about, just ask a question or two back – “I want to make sure I understand your question. Could you rephrase that?” (Sometimes my questions meander and are too long to be clear! I’m always happy to clarify what I’m really asking.)
  • Prepare with elements from your résumé – including those that may not have made the final cut, so you have a whole set of possible answers. Be able to talk in-depth about each bullet point you listed, with specific examples to back them up.
  • When you are asked about your strengths, don’t just list a few adjectives, but think about a specific story that demonstrates several of your strengths. Give context to what you’ve done – that way, you won’t just be sharing empty words.
  • When you are asked about weaknesses, or a time you made a mistake, the most important things they’ll be looking for are: 1) do you have genuine self-awareness?; and 2) do you learn from mistakes or challenges and improve? Again, use a story as a way to get these things across.

In an ideal world, recruiters and candidates would always have authentic conversations. At this point in the process, it may feel more one-sided, especially as you share more than just a basic answer to these questions.

Remember that this is part of the process of finding the right fit. If authenticity is one of your values, for example, and the organization’s recruitment process is really dry and superficial, that tells you something important about whether there’s a cultural fit.

What do you think?

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