After weeks, maybe months on the hunt for a job, you’ve finally managed to touchdown on an interview date. Congratulations. But the race is not over yet.
You’re going to be on time, have that business casual attire pressed, be conscious of a firm handshake when you greet the manager and have multiple copies of your resume handy.
You did the best you could at the interview, but a couple of days later, you got the dreaded “Thank you for your interest in this position. However……”
You probably made one of the following 5 mistakes at the interview and didn’t even know it. It takes more than a checklist of prep tasks to ace an interview these days.
#1 You’re telling instead of selling
When questions related to the job are being asked, you respond with a mediocre, high level, very common and therefore very boring answer.
For example, when we ask the question “What do you think is the most important aspect of this job?”, the most boring response we get is “You need someone who has great customer service skills”, and they leave it at that.
Follow up your response with a short customer service story. Give a specific example, because no other candidate will share your stories.
“You need someone with great customer service skills, and in the past, customers I have dealt with showed their appreciation by emailing my manager. There was a time when I……”
Stories sell! Just be aware not to ramble into an epic tale. Stick to 60-90 second answers.
Can you pull these stories out of your hat at any time? Unlikely! This is where your prep work comes in. You must be prepared with relevant stories like this in advance and select the appropriate ones during the course of the interview.
#2 We’re not having a conversation
An interview that is one-sided will easily be forgotten by the hiring manager.
When an interview is conversational, it is naturally going to be more memorable. You will also get a better feel for each other’s personalities which is important to everyone in the room.
When you answer questions, please don’t ramble on and be conscious of the length of your answers. Remember from the previous section, no epic tales. Stick to the S.T.A.R. principle of answering your interview questions, and if you’ve prepared them in advance you should be able to have a conversation.
For example, at the end of your customer service story in the previous section, you can conclude with a question of your own to move the conversation along. “Does that example sound like something that could occur in this environment?” or “So that’s an example from my experience, what unique customer service challengers does your department face?” Answers from these questions you ask are gems of information for you because when you know the specific problems they are facing, you can start to select more appropriate stories going forward.
On the flip side, unskilled interviewers will also ramble on and not let you speak. This actually works against you, because they are not giving you a chance to show your personality. Don’t be afraid to counter this by taking control of the conversation by asking permission to narrate a story.
For example, if the interviewer starts talking about every intricate detail of the company – “We sell this, and we also sell that, and we made 1M dollars in profit last year….”, you can swoop in and say “Sorry to interrupt but that was an interesting point you made. 1M dollars in Sales? What contributed to that growth?” After you get your answer, you can offer your story. “That’s pretty interesting. I had a similar experience I’d like to share on that, would that be appropriate?”
#3 You get defensive
At some point, you’ll be asked a question that has some negative vibe to it – “Tell me about your weakness”, “Tell me about a time when you made a mistake”, “Tell me about a time when you didn’t agree with your boss”.
These types of questions are certainly uncomfortable, but they should not derail you from being honest and upfront. The biggest mistake we see people making is that they try to use stories where the mistake or disagreement was not entirely their fault.
Select a story where you were completely at fault. Select an actual weakness that you know you have. Select a time when you and your boss were not aligned on a decision. To pretend these stories don’t exist works against you. The purpose of these types of questions is not to call you out. The interviewer understands that we are all humans and we make mistakes.
The purpose of these questions is to assess your honesty and to discover how you admitted, recovered and learned from that mistake or disagreement.
When you narrate these stories, outline the scenario – “There was a time I completely missed the deadline for the report, even though I knew it was due in advance”. Then talk about the fallout from your mistake, don’t hold back – “My manager was upset because his management did not get the numbers on time, and we had to work late at night to make up for the time.”
Finally, the most important part of the story, is articulating your understanding of why you made the mistake, and what changes did you put in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again = “I realized that I missed the deadline because I took on additional non-priority tasks from other teams. Going forward, I learned to re-prioritize tasks and say ‘No’ to tasks that compromised on higher priority activities. An email reminder to myself helped as well.”
#4 Too much “me” and not enough “you”
We notice a lot of interviewers talk about themselves and past accomplishments that mattered to them the most.
The healthiest mindset to be in when you walk into an interview is to ask yourself “How am I going to solve this manager’s problem?” If every story and response you give has this theme at the core of your conversation, you’re well on your way to getting that offer letter.
Unfortunately, a lot of interviewees don’t see it this way. They remain in their comfort zone and narrate topics about themselves that have no relevance or interest to the hiring manager. This also comes off as being unprepared for this role, because you clearly did not read the job description and what is being asked for it.
For example, if you were asked the age-old “Why should we hired you?” question. You may be tempted to dive into a pool of credentials and self-praise – “Well I’m certified in this and that, and I have strong communication skills, and I’ve completed several large projects in the past related to……”
Instead, get into the problem-solving mode. Research on challenges faced in the job you are applying for will help. You can always Google “Challenges faced by a ….. role” if you don’t have experience in this role. Then, your answer will sound like this – “If you’re facing a challenge with quality content that will drive website traffic to your site, my skills in content marketing will be the most valued asset to your team. In the past, I ran a project in …. that boosted traffic flow by 25% in 3 months. Is this something that could be of value to you?” (Hey look, you’re having a conversation again)
Count the number of “I”s and “You”s in the previous two answers. You get the idea.
We’re not saying your past experience or credentials are not important. But remember that every company and every job is different. Not every single aspect of your past will be applicable to this new role. There will be new challenges to face.
And this is why the conversation from #2 is important. You will not know what these challenges are unless you ask smart questions to uncover them, and then you can pick out the right stories from your arsenal to speak to them.
#5 You did not check LinkedIn
Finally, did you do your homework on the interviewer? In my personal last interview for a new role, I asked the manager about his opinion on the department’s culture in relation to his past experience at a major bank. He tilted his head and raised his eyebrows, clearly impressed that I was aware of his previous job.
You are sitting across the desk from someone you will be spending 40 hours a week with, so of course, the hiring manager is keeping an eye out for your likability. (as should you!)
Having that personal knowledge of their past will help you score browny points in that regard. Don’t worry if LinkedIn exposes that you’ve checked their profile beforehand. Social media profiles are public knowledge and they accept and appreciate the fact that you came prepared.
Time to change things up
There is enough social media content out there about tardiness, punctuality, resume preparation and company reviews. By now, if a candidate has not covered these basic elements of the interview, they aren’t ready for the job search race and need to step up their game.
For the rest, the above 5 points are not stressed enough and can be unintentionally missed, and we’d hate to see the best candidate for the job slipping through the cracks because of it.
Be mindful of the above points before your next interview and you should start to see things turning around for you very soon.