Much is being written on “The Art of the Interview” and it seems as if there are as many new protocols as there are positions. While there are some practices such as the “case interview” that have become more widely used in recent years, there is still a wide variation in how interviews are conducted.
Trying to absorb and synthesize all the literature can be exhausting and confusing. The purpose of this post is to provide a simple but highly effective strategy to use in most conventional interviews, at any level and for any position.
Years of experience have confirmed my opinion that the key to successful interviewing lies in changing the context of an interview from the past to the future.
Regardless of what other questions or problems are presented in an interview, the convention is that at some point, the interview will consist of the interviewer asking to be walked through the interviewee’s resume – recounting projects, problems, and situations. Frequently, this is done early in the process so the interviewer can get to know the candidate.
More often than not, however, this format means that candidates are presenting themselves absent specific context of what the interviewer is really seeking to know. It is a bit like throwing darts at a dart board with a blindfold. While the candidate may have a clue about the direction of the target, s/he is not clear about the target, itself.
The pitfalls of this approach are that the dialogue lacking specific context, can miss the mark and be irrelevant. Even worse, it can become rambling or incoherent.
To circumvent this counterproductive exercise, I suggest “reframing the interview” and moving it from the past to the future. This will allow the candidate to be more directed in presenting significant and more relevant projects, skills and experiences based on the needs of the employer moving forward.
Either the interviewer or the interviewee can easily take the lead on the re-frame. In an ideal world, the interviewer does this at the outset by adding more “color” to the Position Description in terms of what s/he is seeking, e.g. some background about the current business situation, and some expectation of what s/he would like to see this new person provide. But in the event that this does not occur, the candidate can also take the lead and it might go something like this – once you’ve all gotten through the preliminary introductions, at an appropriate point, the candidate says “I have read the job description, but it would be great to know your take on the role, your current situation, any immediate problems you are looking to solve or key projects you need to accomplish. Then I might highlight my more appropriate skills and experience.” The interview now begins with both people having a common understanding where the organization or team is and what is needed. Each has their eyes on the target and now the candidate can speak about his or her experience and skills in context; focusing on those aspects that are most applicable to the job.
The interview often turns into more of a conversation. As the position is explained, candidates can relate similar situations from their past and how they approached or resolved them. Perhaps ask questions showing an understanding of what might need to accomplished. It’s an opportunity to speak specifically about experiences and skills that are relevant to the current company’s situation. From this point there may well be an opportunity to discuss the pain points, how are they prioritized and so forth, which then provides an opening for how one might approach crafting a solution. This further allows candidates to share where and how they can add value to the team.
Ultimately, it can feel more like a planning meeting where both parties are collaborating about how to approach the role and the situation. For each involved, the dialogue is usually more generative and informative than it would have otherwise been. And in the process, both are better able to assess if there is a real “fit”.