I usually say that I have taken part in hundreds of interviews. With all honesty, however, I have no idea how many.
What I know for sure is that I have sat in on too many recruitment, promotion, and other interviews to switch careers from one focus or regional specialisation to another. After crossing a certain threshold of interviews for the same purpose, it becomes somewhat easier to decide who is a good fit, who do you expect to succeed, and who may not have done the right things yet but has potential.
With time and more interviews, this data - accumulated naturally in one’s head because of the continuous exposure to hundreds of candidates - enables interviewers to finetune the analysis and assessment from one cycle of interviews to the next. I share here experiences and lessons from those many interviews.
No matter how smart you are, or think you are, do not walk in with a baseball cap
There was this one candidate who came in wearing the country’s traditional outfit and a baseball cap to go with it. Because of that baseball cap, the candidate was a “no” the second he walked in.
We anyway did engage in a conversation for the benefit of the doubt, and perhaps advise the candidate to not walk into interviews with baseball caps. The candidate was still persona non grata at the end of the interview, for both lack of content and lack of cultural understanding.
Do not put on your résumé what you cannot discuss
It first felt like the candidate was the interviewer and us the interviewees from the candidate’s posture and the way the candidate was engaging with the panel. Being cool and accommodating, we still tried to engage in a conversation.
The tipping point was when the candidate was asked to talk about an 8,000-word thesis, and the candidate would not. Members of the interview panel tried to reword and rephrase the question in three different ways, and the answer was basically that we would not have understood it even if the candidate attempted to explain, which the candidate was not willing to do, nonetheless.
Do not tell us where you are going to be in 5-10 years if we did not ask
There was one candidate who asked for the top job as soon as they walked in. Confidence is great, but overconfidence can be problematic. There are questions in any decently structured interview that will eventually bring you closer to answering the long-term plan and what one is aiming to achieve.
That specific interview went downhill, not because of the big announcement at its beginning, but because there was no content to support it, nor potential to signal hope.
A non-stationary chair is a trap, and so is the table with nothing but water on it
If you place your phone on the table, then you are telling everyone in the interview that you would either be somewhere else, or that you are waiting for a call or a message that is more important than the interview. Moving the chair around, or shifting your position non-stop in the chair can be perceived as lack of interest and focus.
Since this does not apply to everyone, we tend to advise candidates against it if they tick all of the other boxes required to pass the interview.
Do not be a certificate collector
This, I believe, is the hardest to explain in an interview. There are always candidates who have done a couple of master’s and have moved quite a lot between jobs. Such jobs, at times, do not even show an overall clear trend of specialisation, rather random picks that come with higher pay and benefits.
To interviewers, this shows that there is no commitment to one organisation, or at least to one’s own career path and area of interest.
In a nutshell, there are no set rules on how to go about an interview and what are the key steps to ensure success in one. Yet, interviewees can improve their chances by not saying or doing things that may be misunderstood by interviewers.
Overconfidence is surely a killer, more so if not backed up by content and clear-cut specialisation. Finally, it is important to show interest and motivation by avoiding cues that would be culturally unacceptable in an interview.
The last thought that I want to leave you with: Can the result of an interview be decided in the first 30 seconds?