What experience has taught us

Written by Leonie Pentz; VP EMEA AIMS International, Managing Partner AIMS South Africa & Grégoire Depeursinge; EVP EMEA AIMS International, Managing Partner AIMS Switzerland

In our practice as Executive Search and HR Consultants, we are confronted daily with candidates, their history, their approach, their beliefs – right or wrong, their attitudes and tactics and are privileged observers of their interaction with recruiters and line managers. This is an attempt to share the lessons learnt and give some practical tips as to how to improve your chances in the market. Some of the things listed will seem obvious, but you’d be surprised by how often we see even seasoned managers make mistakes they could easily avoid.

The format chosen is that of a weekly series of 6 short articles. Today is the last episode in the series and advises what to do and not to do during the job interview:

Episode 6 – Acing the interview – click HERE to watch the video

At the risk of sounding boring and repeating myself, I will say it anyway; do not wing your way through the meeting, ensure you have prepared and then prepare again.  How many job interviews will you go to in your life?  For most of us, I am sure not many, therefore it is a major event – treat it as such!  Now that you have done all your preparation (see previous article: Preparing for the interview), the day has finally arrived:

  1. Arrive on time. It goes without saying that you should never arrive late for a job interview, however arriving too early is just as bad. Ten minutes before is the earliest you should arrive in the reception area or office where you will be interviewed.  In some instances, like at power plants, it could take 30 minutes to get through the safety and security procedure – in this case, make sure you are prepared for this and work it into your travel time.  If you arrive right in front of the office building entrance where you will be interviewed an hour before the allotted time, go for coffee or sit in your car until ten minutes before.  Do not go inside and sit staring at the receptionist for an hour. Everybody will panic and check their schedules to make sure they did not muddle up the time…not a great way to start.
  2. Stay cool. Some companies seem to like very high temperatures in their board rooms.  I have not quite worked out if this has anything to do with intimidation tactics, saving the world or whether they all simply enjoy a tropical climate.  A note on the climate aspect – stay cool by wearing natural fibers and layers that you could remove and still look professional, if need be.  Most interviewees would not mind if you take your jacket off while asking; ‘would you mind if I remove my jacket?’, once you have turned up looking all smart in your three-piece suit.  Very importantly, this advice also relates to your emotions.  Sometimes (luckily not often) interviewers can get a kick out of making the interviewee uncomfortable.  Throwing difficult curve balls and sometimes even pointedly pushing you into a corner to see how you would react under pressure or to see if you could think on your feet or how you would react in a potentially controversial debate.  Always stay calm, act professionally and play your political and religious cards close to your chest. This does not mean you should not be authentic, but if the culture does not suit you, best you are the one to decide that and not them.  Do not shoot from the hip, but rather ask more questions to try and get behind the real meaning of a possibly ambiguous question, before committing to an answer in this situation.
  3. Be genuinely interested: Acting as if you are not really interested is the worst negotiation tactic. Employers want to feel that you take a genuine interest in the role, the company and them as people. You can always withdraw from the process if the position or the package do not suit you, but acting in this way will only come across as arrogant. Rather be yourself, open up in order to elicit the same response from the interviewer, be genuine and honest, confident and professional but not arrogant.
  4. Keep your communication concise. They have a time deadline. You want them to (not fall asleep! and) ask you to come back for another meeting.  Therefore, you answer in the short version.  More words will not make the answer more intelligent.  In this case, less is more.  Think – answer – keep quiet.  Often candidates get nervous and, when not getting an immediate response after their initial answer, keep going, and going, and going. Mostly the interviewers will be taking notes, therefore it might take a few seconds before the next question.  Silence is your friend; you do not need to fill it with warbling!
  5. Take some (controlled) risks: Be prepared to take some risks and commit when you answer questions. There is of course a chance that your answer may not be the “right” one, but the worst would be if nobody remembered you 5 minutes after the interview ended because you only supplied the interviewers with catch-all answers.
  6. Careful with behavioral or repetitive questions: If the interviewer asks you a behavioral question (“give us an example of…”, “tell us about a situation where…”), they want to ascertain that you have the right behavior and learn about your personality. Be sure to answer with clear and concrete examples and don’t be vague. Also if an interviewer keeps reformulating the same question or ask about the same topic, it means you are not supplying the expected answer (they are actually trying to help you by asking again). Rather than panic and lose control, you should state that you are not getting the point they are hinting at and ask them directly.
  7. Do not offer unsolicited advice. Not under any circumstances. Do not start telling them how to run their business. This will make you come across as the ‘know it all’; no-one wants to employ those. Answer questions as directly and as honestly as you can, without ever telling them they are stupid or missing the point or using terms like ‘let me tell you how it works…’. Instead, rather ask them whether they have considered another way, perhaps hinting at your ’great idea’ to first test the waters.  Chances are, they already have and there is an obvious reason why it will not work and then you might start wishing the tropical boardroom climate will grow a carnivorous plant that can swallow you whole.
  8. Do not criticize: Anybody, ever. And especially not your former employer. If there were disagreements, say so in a neutral way (“we had different views on the strategy” or “we did not get along so well on a personal level”) and try to move along.
  9. Do not ask about compensation and benefits before they broach the subject. This creates a very bad impression and the feeling that you are more interested in money and holidays than the actual job. If you came through an executive search consultant, the company will already be aware of your expectations.
  10. Interviewing is a two-way street. Often clients forget this; you are as much there to check out the company, culture and management.  Use this time smartly to ask the right questions – the ones you have been preparing for the last week and noted down on your tablet or notebook! This will also give you some control to set the tone of the meeting.  You do not need to wait till the end to start asking questions. Instead, interact during the meeting by asking questions as the topics arise. During the meeting is a great time to also throw a few intelligent and informed questions at the interviewers.  Showing them that you have considered their business and show a keen interest in what they do and how they do it is sure to come across very positively.
  11. Careful with thank you notes and follow-ups: Most people counsel to write a thank you note after the interview. This can be a good idea but could just as easily backfire and ruin a positive impression. Be careful with the formulation, be sincere and stay professional and concise. The same rule applies to follow-ups: not too often and not too quickly. On the other hand, make sure that you give quick and accurate feedback by phone or email to your Executive Search Consultant so that he/she can negotiate the next steps on your behalf when the client calls them.  You now should have a much better idea of the role, what it would take to make a success of it and if it is a fit for you.  If you are not sure and need more information to be able to make an informed decision, ask for it.  If the company is interested in you, this is the best time to make sure you get all the information before going to the next step.

Written by Leonie Pentz; VP EMEA AIMS International, Managing Partner AIMS South Africa & Grégoire Depeursinge; EVP EMEA AIMS International, Managing Partner AIMS Switzerland

Do not miss out on the next episode (and in case you missed the previous episodes):

  1. The value of a good network
  2. Social media: your image to the outside world
  3. Preparing your CV: your sales brochure
  4. Recruiters: how they work and think
  5. Preparing for the interview
  6. Acing the interview