18 Sep Interview Tips from the Field – Grant Thornton
Heather Stickle, CPHR September 15, 2017
Fall is upon us, and with it brings crisp morning air, the smell of newly sharpened pencils and the general idea that it’s time to ‘Bet Back Down to Business’. After spending years in the education system where September = New Start, it’s not unusual to feel like it is time to re-boot your career or personal goals now. If a new job prospect on the horizon, be sure to consider 5 key thoughts to prepare for an awesome interview:
Aside from your clearly outlined eye-catching resume, savvy company culture research and your sharp new haircut, there is very little that is more important than authenticity. The temptation to show up “on” to an interview, giving canned answers (that your highly educated brain knows employers want to hear) may get you in the door; it may even get you a job, but it likely won’t satisfy your soul. If you spend your time and energy trying to show up as the ‘perfect’ interpretation of what an employer has targeted in a posting, you are going to end up exhausted and like a pull in a wool sweater, the façade will unravel eventually. Life is too short to show up to work every day as someone else. Great company cultures are not made by companies, they are made by the diverse and passionate people that live and breathe within them. It is the uniqueness of you that we want to hire. We can teach skills and technology, we can even teach leadership approaches, but we cannot light up the spark within you. Only you can do that. So please, ensure that the person (nervous or otherwise) that shows up for the interview is actually you. Funny, giggly, irreverent or pensive – be you. The light you bring is what is contagious, valuable and lets a recruiter truly know if you are a great fit for the culture you are applying for. Honour yourself by bringing the best of YOU to the table. Check out Caroline McHugh’s TED talk on The Art of Being Yourself. https://youtu.be/veEQQ-N9xWU
Listen before you speak. Resist the temptation to think ahead to your answer instead of fully listening to the question. Be 100% in the moment. Great recruiters are deft at seemingly innocuous conversation, and setting interviewees at ease. They want you to feel at home and really allow you to drop your nerves at the door. The best of them ensure that the questions they ask allow for insight into you, if you listen to the entire question. You’ve probably spent hours rehearsing the answers to ‘What do your consider your greatest opportunity’ or ‘Where do you see yourself in 5 years?’ and you should know the answers to those questions of course, but what about answers that you aren’t prepared for? What about the answers that cut into what you are passionate about, how you would describe your own values, what you would change in a situation you used earlier to exemplify your capability? Be careful
not to miss out on the opportunity to enter a dialogue with the recruiter that helps them understand
you best. Try to let distractions that creep into your brain about what you should have said in that last
answer leave your brain too – be in the moment with the interviewer. Listen for opportunities to show
your capacity to learn, for self-reflection and to express what you are most passionate about. Tips on
how to have a great conversation: See Celeste Headlee’s awesome TED talk
This one can be tricky. We all know that a few minutes of power posing can boost your confidence (thank you Amy Cuddy https://ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are) and it is important to show up to any interview knowing that you are capable and deserve to be there. Confidence and resilience is attractive to all employers. It is vital too, that you curate the language to voice what you can bring to the table – what are your secret super powers that make you unique? How can you describe them? Equally as vital is the ability to recognize you are fallible. The ability to answer the question string that gets at mistakes and regrets is critical. ‘Tell me about a time where things went wrong with a client/customer’ or ‘Tell me about a conflict with a colleague at work/school’ is really a call for self-awareness. Do you know how to recognize conflict or drama when you see it? Are you capable of taking responsibility for a situation you didn’t create? Do you have the wherewithal to acknowledge your own contribution to misunderstandings? Trust me, recruiters have heard every variety of customer service horror story, and only want to know how you handled it (and what you wish you had done instead). Hundreds of times I have been disappointed with the “I get along with everyone” and “I really haven’t experienced an unhappy customer before” answers and my heart sinks. You missed the boat. It’s either a lack of awareness or a lack of humility – both of which are team-work deal breakers. Don’t avoid the tough questions that speak to your humanity. We all have flaws, we all make mistakes and we all know it. Own it. Share what you have learned from it.
Nervousness can overtake everyone from time to time, which can lead us to over-talking or nervous babbling. One of humankind’s most under-developed conversational skill is the ability to be comfortable sitting in silence with another person. If a recruiter asks a question that you are feeling thrown by – unprepared for or need time to consider – do just that. Take the time. Breathe. Collect your thoughts and then speak. Silence is not a failure, it often creates the space for insight and beauty. It’s alright to say, ‘Wow, great question! Let me think about that for a minute.’ Sit in silence, breathe, smile and then answer as best you can. Never forget it is just a conversation. The misconception that instills panic is that there are somehow right and wrong answers during an interview. If you can, channel your inner Yogi, breathe and remember that great conversations are really just an exchange of perspectives. Do that and you will both impress and survive the toughest interview. Tips on cuddling your inner silence seeker from Susan Cain: https://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts
I reference this not in the book-smarts kind of way, but in the #excited#happy kind of way. The interview is the instant where every recruiter knows that this is the best there are likely to ever get from you. If you show up in sweatpants three minutes late and proceed to fold yourself up into your chair without making eye contact during the interview, there is zero expectation that you will rise to another level of professionalism or performance on any other day. First impressions are important, and so the classics of eye contact, being on time and looking the part are significant. Remember that first point about being yourself? Please remember that BEING yourself is the key. Expressing your style is completely different. Many workplaces are more conservative than mainstream fashion or pop culture. While your epic pink halter sweater or super cute skinnies help you express your style, they may not fit into the corporate world you are applying for, and knowing your audience is key to strong first impressions. Smile, engage, and show the energy you plan to bring to the table every day (even if it’s a two-coffee morning to get you there). Happiness is an advantage in every situation. Here it from Shawn Achor as he talks about it: https://ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work
Be you: present, humble, calm & bright. Show the best distillation of who you are. Interviews are often as nerve wracking and intimidating as your level of excitement around the job itself. The correlation of nerves to desire of getting the job are high. It’s a good sign if you’re nervous. It’s a great sign if you are excited. If you are neither, perhaps you aren’t stretching yourself far enough, setting your sights on what you really want, or you may not have found the environment that lights you up. Keep looking – it’s out there!