For the last three years I have been running BrainGain, an international recruitment agency aimed at helping people find international job opportunities.
Throughout that time I’ve been witness to hundreds of interviews and seen from both sides of the table what went right or wrong.
I’ve already written at length about questions you should ask in your interview, but I feel that only captures one small part of the equation.
Aside from this I’ve noticed patterns in what gets people through to the later stages of the interview process. While these are not full-proof, I do believe that these techniques will help you to stand out amongst the crowd.
Before you get started in the interview, take control over the conversation by asking questions. If you can be the first one to get the ball rolling, you flip the power dynamic so that YOU are interviewing THEM, rather than vice versa.
An easy way to do this is to ask for clarification about the job you are interviewing for. Many times the JD’s that we read online are vague. It’s hard to get a feel for what the daily responsibilities will be.
I also like to ask “What problem is your business currently experiencing, and how is this role going to help solve that problem?”
By doing this you are getting a deeper understanding of WHAT THEY EXPECT YOU TO DO. You can then frame all of your answers to their questions in the context of how your previous experience applies to what will be needed from you if you are to take on this role.
Even more importantly, you are discovering if YOU ACTUALLY LIKE THE ROLE! I’ve seen so many hours wasted because the interviewer takes the initiative and makes you spend 30 minutes qualifying yourself for a role that you’re not even interested in in the first place!
Take the initiative to take control over the conversation and get the information you need in order to present yourself in the best light or walk away entirely.
A common mistake that I see people make is spending too much time talking about responsibilities, rather than results. They discuss their day to day activities.
“I was responsible for generating leads and managing conversations, focusing on driving them through the sales funnel and optimizing conversions”
“I was responsible for generating leads and managing conversations, focusing on driving them through the sales funnel and optimizing conversions. I averaged 4 deals/month with an average deal size of $x. It usually took me speaking with x number of clients to reach these results, so my conversion rates were about z%”
In this 2nd approach we focus on WHAT DID YOU DELIVER?
When you’re coming into a job you are looking to either grow the business, or help them save money. All of your answers to all of the interview questions need to be focused on what results you have had at your previous positions. How those results helped grow the business you worked for, or saved them time/money.
This goes back to the questions from part 1 – If you can ask them “What problems are you experiencing”, you can frame your answers in the context of “At my previous position I faced a similar problem, here’s the approach that I took to solving it, and here were the results of my initiative.”
Now you’re framing why you’re a good fit – you’ve already faced the problems they are looking to solve, and you have results executing on those problems.
This doesn’t apply to just sales either. Let’s say you’re a data analyst. You can say how your insights lead to a new campaign that generated $x in revenue. You can say how your insights found where you weren’t effectively spending money, and you reduced unnecessary spend.
If you’re a process optimization person you can say how you’re improvements led to increased worker efficiency, time saved, increased revenue, and so on.
Answering in this way it tells me a lot about your mindset. It shows me that you are RESULTS ORIENTED. You have a mindset that is focused on delivering results and helping my business grow. It exemplifies that you are hungry to prove yourself and DELIVER VALUE, rather than just collecting a paycheck for fulfilling your “responsibilities.”
Another important attribute of successful interviewers is that they had a clear vision of where they want to be in the future. They have career goals, and can contextualize WHY they are applying for this position within the context of how it will help them reach their goals.
“Here is what I have done in the past, this is where I currently am, and here is where I want to be in the future. Right now I am missing the skills I need to get to where I want to be in the future. This position will help me build the skills and experience necessary to bridge that gap.”
This helps to contextualize the WHY of your application. It creates transparency into your intentions. Helps the company understand your long term goals on an individual basis so that you can create alignment.
A long term vision for yourself also shows that you’re motivated. You have goals and you want to tackle them. You’re on a mission and this job is a stepping stone to help you get to the next level of your personal and professional development.
Long term vision creates alignment as to whether or not this position is a good fit for you. If the role doesn’t get you to go to where you want to be in the future, then you have context for opting out of the interview process. If the role DOES help you get there, you can provide additional context as to why that makes you a good fit.
I find that people often don’t ask enough questions in their interviews. They are so keen to make a good impression that they want to get in and get out before they make a mistake.
In doing this, they miss out on valuable information that will help them make an informed decision on whether or not this is the right job for them.
I like to dig into the company and get granular details. I like to know if the company is successful. Are they making money? Profitable? Growing? At what rate?
I don’t want to work for a company that is spinning their tires in the mud and has a product they are struggling to sell. I want to work for a company that is growing and needs me to help accelerate that growth. Questions are the only way to uncover this information.
Here are some examples of questions that often go overlooked:
Who will I be working with on a daily basis?
What is the size of my team?
Will I be interviewing with any of those people who I will be reporting to?
(If a sales role) – How many deals/month does the average salesperson make?
What is their average deal size?
How many clients do they need to speak with to reach these numbers?
How long are your sales cycles?
What is your long term vision for the company?
How long does the average employee stay with your company? (great for understanding company culture – if they churn through people this is a very bad sign).
What are my opportunities for growth within your organization?
How can I better understand a trajectory for promotions?
All of these questions will paint a clearer picture of what the role will entail and what you can expect. It creates alignment and transparency.
Remember, YOU are interviewing THEM equally as much to see if this is the RIGHT opportunity for you. You’re not looking for any job, you want the RIGHT one. It’s important that you grill them to obtain the necessary information to see if this is a good fit for you.
Asking questions also helps you to uncover any red flags that could manifest once you have accepted the job.
I’ve seen this toooooooo many times where someone forgot to ask a question about managers or team dynamics only to discover that they were walking into a nightmare of mismanagement and bad company culture. Don’t fall into this trap.
Lastly, when you ask a lot of questions you demonstrate that you’re not over-eager.
If you’re a woman, have you ever been hit on by a guy at the club who is showing too much interest? The super needy guy who is too transparent that he is in love with you? The guy who you can tell hasn’t been laid in months and is desperate for anything that comes his way?
If you’ve experienced this, you know how unattractive it is. No one wants to be with someone who is that needy and desperate.
Unfortunately, many people make this mistake in the interview. They are so hungry to find a job that they come across as desperate.
They become the needy guy at the club, instead of the dude with swagger who says “who are you and why should I be interested?”
Be the dude with swagger. Make the company qualify themselves to you. Make THEM sell YOU, rather than the typical trap of selling yourself. You can do this by asking lots of good questions.
I’m a very big fan in asking for an opportunity to prove what you can do. Asking for a small challenge that will exemplify your ability to deliver results and give them an opportunity to evaluate the quality of your work.
People can talk their way into a job, and then perform poorly. On the other hand, some people who maybe didn’t perform well in the interview could be amazing on the job.
Interviews are deceptive and don’t give an accurate representation of how you will perform once given the job.
Tell the company this exact statement, and ask for a small homework assignment to show what you can do.
This shows initiative, a desire to prove yourself, and a low-risk way for the company to see if they like your quality of work. Most people also DON’T ask for this, so it helps you to stand out from the crowd.
This also works very well if you notice that there is a gap in the skills that they desire and the experience that you have in those skills. Sometimes it’s ok to say that you’re under qualified for the role, but you’re eager to prove yourself.
It’s perfectly fine to ask for an opportunity. Say to the company that you might not have the necessary skills or experience, but you want to learn. Ask for a challenge to show the quality of work that you can deliver.
Let your quality of work be the barometer of your fitment for the position, rather than the arbitrary metric of how well you spoke in the interview.
An interviewer wants to get an understanding of HOW YOU THINK more than anything else. These principles above exemplify the thinking and mindset of an individual. There are patterns here.
1) I don’t want A job, I want the RIGHT job
2) I’m results oriented
3) I have a vision for myself
4) I’m a detailed thinker
5) I want to prove myself
Doing these things in an interview embody the qualities of what the company wants to see. If you have 5 people who all have the right skill set, but one person has done all of these things, they are the one who is going to get the job. Be the person who stands out.
Hopefully these tips will help move the needle in your interview process and get you farther along. In the end though, I’ve seen time and time again that the ability to develop a genuine connection and rapport with the interviewer is what matters most. When people say “cultural fit”, this is what they mean. Sometimes what matters most is “could I see myself hanging out with this person?”, and that’s all.