The news media these days is full of articles about the skills a job seeker must develop in order to get hired. Most of them aren’t worth the 2 minutes they take to read, and the vast majority rehash the same key points: job seekers should revise their resume, network relentlessly, and practice interviewing.
These are all good pieces of advice, but they fall short of offering helpful solutions for job seekers because they fail to give action steps that are detailed enough to make a difference. Nowhere is this more true than in the area of interview skills.
Learning to ace an interview requires preparation about how to answer questions that will likely be asked, how to ask the right questions of your own, and how to walk, dress, and shake hands like the candidate everyone wants to hire so that your nonverbal communication is as impressive as anything you say. If you want to get a job fast, you’d better interview well.
What many would-be bloggers and advice columnists forget to include in their job search advice as they’re churning out one article after another is that candidates must specifically prepare for a behavioral interview. Any company today with an HR staff that’s worth its pay has adopted the evidence-based practice of asking questions about candidates’ previous workplace behaviors. That’s because employers know the greatest predictor of success in anything is previous success in that same area. If you want to hire an employee who is good at resolving conflict with coworkers, you must ask them how they’ve handled conflict with coworkers in the past. Then, you simply hire the candidate who identifies a previous conflict with a coworker, and talks clearly about how he or she resolved it.
While HR departments have gotten the hang of this style of questioning, candidates have not. In my own recent experience as a hiring manager, I’ve asked behavioral questions and hear 60% of candidates answer in vague generalities, rather than based on specific personal experience, even when it was clear the candidate had the experience!
If you want to guarantee that you’re in the top half of the candidate pool, simply answer these questions the way they’re worded. Give a specific example. You might be asked to describe how you’ve resolved a customer complaint in the past. The interviewer in this case wants to know if you have experience in this area. You must be able to give an honest, detailed example from your past. For example, say “In the past, I received a written complaint and chose to contact the customer directly. I knew the customer would be very pleased to receive a phone call from the supervisor, and in fact I was able to resolve the person’s complaint in less than 5 minutes”). Similar questions an interviewer might as are:
• “Describe a time you had to work with someone you didn’t like.”
• “Tell me about a time when you had to stick by a decision you had made, even though it made you very unpopular.”
• “Give us an example of something particularly innovative that you have done that made a difference in the workplace.”
• “How would you handle an employee who’s consistently late?”
Write down your answers to some of these questions and practice delivering the answer to a potential employer. You’re sure to have better interviews as a result!