Ideas & Debate

The character of candidate who finally gets hired

A job interview. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Some of the best interview candidates I have seen do a lot of research on the organisation before attending the interview. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Last week I summarised a few past experiences as a job interview panellist, ranging from simply utter frustration to the more extreme stab-my-neck-with-a-blunt-fork boredom.

The common denominator in all those experiences was a stark lack of self-awareness among many of the unsuccessful candidates, some of which can be cured by undertaking interview rehearsals with a trusted person while being filmed with a smart phone. Today, I want to share the attributes of some of the best interview candidates I have seen.

Susan walked into the room shortly after lunch for a c-suite interview. The panellists were interview-weary, having seen at least seven candidates before that, none of whom had engendered confidence. She was smartly dressed in a calf length dress and jacket, hair neatly tied back and wearing muted jewellery. She had a quiet disposition to her and sat with her back ramrod straight during the entire interview.

Every time a question was put to her, she would write it down and then carefully reflect for a few heartbeats before answering softly yet supremely confidently. She knew her subject matter extremely well and peppered her answers with instances of when she had experienced the item under discussion in her career.

Susan knocked the ball out of the park, and when we re-grouped as a panel once she had left the room, we all unanimously agreed that we knew she had the job within the first five minutes of the interview.

What’s interesting about Susan was that her whole demeanour was counter-intuitive to what panellists look for in a c-suite executive. She didn’t command attention as soon as she walked into the room, neither did she speak loudly and assertively to establish her place.

However, Susan had an unconscious personal mastery of self. Even though she was soft spoken, she looked all the panellists in the eye and took a moment to reflect on her answers before she began to speak.

She knew her subject matter well and established her credentials with the panellists by drawing on actual experiences rather than postulating theorems. By the end of the interview I wanted Susan to be my neurosurgeon if I ever had a cranial surgery or my cardiologist if I ever need a coronary stent.

John was interviewing for a c-suite role a few years ago. He walked into the room sharply dressed, giving all the panellists a firm handshake before he sat down. He said all the right things that we needed to hear and he knew the business well.

We all noted one thing though: John was a little bit too cocky and much too smooth. But he was the best interview candidate on the technical score and so he was awarded the role as the other candidates came nowhere near that score.

When the rubber met the road, it wasn’t long before we realised that John’s suavely delivered technical knowledge was all hat and no cattle when it came to execution. He knew what needed to be done but couldn’t get out of the office to light a fire under the troops even if he was hit with a rocket propelled grenade.

This experience, I must admit, has stayed with me and imprinted a negative bias during subsequent interviews which have smooth talking, cocky candidates: will they stand the test of time when they get past the interview post?

Hence the benefit of an interview panel, especially one with seasoned panellists including a human resource practitioner who can challenge each other on visibly demonstrated bias.

Some of the best interview candidates I have seen do a lot of research on the organisation before attending the interview. They know who the organisation’s key stakeholders are, be it clients, suppliers, regulators, shareholders and competitors.

They’ve googled what are the hot items bothering the organisation or its industry in the media and are careful to maintain neutrality of opinion as they discuss the issue.

They are willing to admit when they don’t know the answer to a question posted but assure the panellists that they could possibly find out the answer if given an opportunity to.

They are confident, without necessarily being loud and they are knowledgeable about their subject matter without being condescending. Finally, but most importantly, they are self-aware.