Sunday, 19 August 2007

5 Why's Interview Tips

Here is something that is reasonably topical for me at the moment, Interviewing! What is the best way to go about it? How about some simple tips or advice in regards to how to handle yourself? As I am asking these questions myself I thought I would share with you some of the answers I have found of late.

To provide this information I am going to draw upon a number of resources ranging form through to TSI (Targeted Selection Interview) and my own personal experience and observations. The point is the tips here are non-specific to any one circumstance. In fact the tips here can be used by both the Interviewer and Interviewee.

That is if you are the interviewer the tips below may give you some perspectives on questions you could ask or the approach to take. Alternatively the tips could help you to identify a way to challenge the norm and really stretch your candidates. For the Interviewee the advice will be quite straight forward.

So what are the key points to an interview that you should be aware of?

Be Prepared. This will involve everything from looking at the company website, annual reports through to chasing context specific Knowledge. In reality the website will give you the public face of the organisation - that is press releases, vision statement, community involvement etc. This public face gives you the opportunity to cast your research a little further afield; a given press release may indicate partnerships or supply relationships that may be of interest and relevant to you depending upon the nature of the role you are going for.

In addition to this there is one source of information that you should never overlook. Your network!! Based upon what you have learnt during your research of the company, check for links to your personal network. Interestingly, and not that I have done it yet this may be where sites such as linked in may come into their own. Go an meet with your contact, openly tell them what you are up to and you will most probably be pleasantly surprised. It goes without saying it pays to pick up the bill in such encounters.

Finally on preparation - don't be overly prepared, or obsessive about it. Going in and showing of your knowledge of the annual reports or any other obscure data isn't really going to help you with your interview. If anything you may cause some concern in your interviewers.

Think of the first 100 days. The first 100 days is when all of your peers form their opinion of you, you'll identify all of the key stake-holders, opinion makers and allies, as well as start to identify your workload. So what has that got to do with the interview? Quite a lot really. Basically you should behave in the interview as you would in the first 100 days. Finding answers to above questions by asking your own:
  • Who are your stake-holders?
  • What relationships are important to the role? How are those relationships running today?
  • Down to detail of the nature of the work and how it is currently carried out?
Interestingly this is a really easy way of breaking the ice. As Dale Carnegie, of "How to win friends and influence people" fame suggests "Talk in terms of the other person's interests". This in fact will put you into a consultative frame with the interviewer and make you both more relaxed.

A word of warning though - don't try to solve their problems during the interview. This will in fact get your interviewer on the back foot and a bit defensive. If you find an interviewer is being a little evasive or unclear, now is not the time to go for the real answer. This is definitely one time you do not want to put the 5 Why's technique to work.

Success Stories. Have them at hand, Martha Heller who inspired this particular post suggests at-least five, each supported by three bullet points. I think this is a good idea, but what should the points be? I suggest aligning your success stories to best fit the job description, and then the three supporting points to align with strengths or requirements identified in the advertisement or as advised by the person who has organised the introduction.

The final step in your preparation is having a clear and constructive answer to one of the most often asked questions in an interview, although it can take many forms. "Why are you interested in working here at company BLAH?". Interestingly, having a great answer to this particular sort of question will allow you to fend off other questions such as "Why do you want to leave your current employer?", "Why did you leave?", "How come your not currently working".

So now that you are prepared, what other things should you think about? What type of interview is it going to be? Is it a free flowing interview, a Targeted Interview or even a technical interview?

Free flowing interviews are most probably the hardest to have a prescriptive response to. They are normally quite a good indicator of how the organisation or individual interviewer operates, and they do offer you an opportunity to lead the way and get your value onto the table. The difficulty is that a good amount of objectivity on the interviewers behalf may be lacking. Therefore make sure you are very attentive to the conversation.

Targeted Selection Interviews (TSI). Personally this approach to interviewing is great, both as the interviewer and interviewee. The questions in a TSI interview traditionally revolve around experience or scenario's. e.g. "Tell me about a time when...." or "If you were to find yourself in... what would you do?". This is where your preparation above starts to become an asset.

The key suggestion here is that the interviewer is looking for detail & insights into your experience and persona. If the interviewer is having to dig to find out the intricacies of a project or scenario you have been involved in, you may come across as vague or evasive. Also do not give text book answers to scenario questions. e.g. "Tell me about the time...?" Well first I would.... You're wasting your time. Give them specifics, talk in the first person, tell them the process you used and finish by indicating the outcome you achieved.

Technical interviews - Conceptually easier as you are not dealing with any of that vague management scenario type stuff. Problem is they may ask you to do things you have not done in a long time. This can be particularly stressful if you have not done your homework and identified the technology or products the company uses. There is nothing more frustrating than being handed a page of code and asked "Tell me what this does".

Of course the Alpha Geek of the office has been at it, selecting the most difficult obscure code they could find and removing any type of descriptive variables etc. Of course we all know this is not how you normally write or read code. In short, if you are applying for a job in a technical role or company, ask your recruiter (or the person introducing you) to provide you with some insight on what to expect. Then go freshen up on the technology or approaches as required.

Finally you've done your preparation, you know the interview style that is going to be used and no-one has ever answered the "work here" question as well as you have planned. What else do you need to know? Two more things!

On completion of the meeting don't go for the Close. You could ask the what next question. I definitely wouldn't go for anything stronger than that. Don't ask how many others are going for the job? who you are up against? how you compare? etc.. Confidently thank the interviewer for their time, let them know that you enjoyed the interview (if you did) and look forward to meeting them again (if you do) in the future. You're job is now done, go and relax.

Finally, remember until you've got the job offer, you've got nothing. Going out with a swagger and declaring success to all your mates can have some painful repercussions down the line. The team at Manager-Tools state this quite clearly in their video "Horstmans first law of interviewing". They make a really good point at reminding you why you've read this post in the first place.

I hope you've found this information useful and good luck with your next interview.



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