Anyone who has ever gone through job search will likely be able to tell you about at least one interview they aced, only to find that the company “went in another direction” when it came time to select their new employee.
This phenomenon is quite common – dark horse candidates get chosen all the time – but those who get the short straw in this situation nevertheless continue to be amazed and bewildered by the experience.
“Why did they hire him??? I’m far more qualified than he is!”
Evidently, the manager saw him as a better fit for their organization.
“But I’ve got everything they asked for in the job posting! The other guy doesn’t!”
There’s more to it than that.
“He doesn’t have the industry experience that I have, either! I don’t get it!”
It isn’t that simple.
It doesn’t need to be so perplexing. If you clearly understand the various phases of the interview process and their corresponding focus, you can close the deal successfully. With each phase you mis-read, on the other hand, the likelihood increases of your ultimately being rejected.
Overview of the Process:
Many job seekers grasp the fact that the interview is in fact a sales pitch. For any sales meeting to end successfully, the salesman must know intimately all the features and functions of the product he is selling. In this case, you are both the salesman and the product. Simply stated, then, you must be able to articulate your value as an employee.
Of course, it doesn’t stop there. No matter how good it is, the customer isn’t going to buy your product if they don’t need it. That means that you must also know the needs of the buyer (in this case, the hiring manager). Research, then (via the company website, web searches, networking connections, etc), is invaluable. Anything which gives insight into identifying pain points for the company can provide you with an opportunity to sell a solution.
The final step is to connect the dots. Show the interviewer how your skills match with their needs. Don’t make them work to see the connection, but spell it out for them through an impactful and compelling narrative. That’s when the buyer will be motivated to make the purchase (or to hire you).
“But I did all of that!”
Wait, that’s just the overview. You may not have done this as effectively as you think. There are distinctly different phases to this process.
Phase I – Qualifications:
In order for you to get the interview in the first place, you had to convince the pre-screener that you possess the skills for the job. You likely spent significant time working on your resume, crafting engaging accomplishment stories to highlight the moments in your work history when you really made a difference. No doubt your networking conversations also highlighted these skills.
In most cases, the opening phase of the interview process will similarly be focused on these same qualifications. That means that the interviewer’s questions are likely going to deal with your education, work experience and hard skills.
In simple terms, they want to know that you can do the job. The better you can demonstrate your abilities, the more impressed the hiring manager will be. This is where all the work you did on those accomplishment stories will pay off: the details (and especially the measurable results you achieved) are critically important, so share them confidently.
“You’re preaching to the choir. I did that, and did it very well. Why didn’t I get the job?”
Because that was only phase I.
Phase II – Passion:
The hiring manager wants more than your abilities; they want your passion, too. If all you want is a paycheck, you’re not likely to inspire confidence that you’ll be truly engaged and productive on the job. Thus, the interviewer is looking for assurances that you love what you do.
The manager wants an employee who wants to work for their company, so you can expect a change in the type of questions you’ll be asked. You’ll hear things like “Why did you get into this line of work?”, “Why do you want to work for our company?”, “What do you like most about your job?” and so on.
Did you notice the change in focus reflected in those questions?
When asked about your passion, if you answer by citing your skillset, education and work experience, you may miss the mark completely. Although you could still be quite diligent in connecting conversational dots, you’re likely not connecting the right ones. Another great accomplishment story here isn’t going to impress if it doesn’t address the question which was posed to you.
“Oh. So if I make sure that I sell my passion, I’ll get the job?”
It’s a step in the right direction, but we’re not quite there yet. There’s still one phase left.
Phase III – Cultural Fit:
No matter how qualified and passionate you are, you won’t get hired if you don’t fit in with the team. Someone who’s disruptive to departmental cohesion isn’t worth bringing into the fold, even if he’s excellent at his job.
“No problem. I’m a nice guy. This should be easy.”
Hang on. We’re not talking about something so simple as whether or not you’re a jerk. Team chemistry is more complex than that. People who are otherwise good employees often “just don’t fit in” to a particular departmental or company culture. And there could just as easily be friction between your style and your manager’s, too. No one is necessarily the bad guy when that happens; it’s just not a good match.
The manager will want to know that you’ll be a good complement to the team before making the decision to hire you, so selling the fit is critically important. Most managers have experienced, first hand, what happens when a disruptive employee is brought on board, and they’re accordingly cautious about avoiding a repeat of the experience.
Before you can sell a good fit, though, you’ll first need to identify whether or not one exists. That means engaging in a dialogue about the manager’s style and the departmental culture. Asking the manager questions like “How do things get done around here?”, “What soft skills are valued?”, “How would you describe your leadership style?” and “Can you describe a typical day and how you and I would interact?” will help to uncover elements of fit. Once the chemistry is thus clearly defined, showing genuine enthusiasm for the team culture is a great way to convince the manager that you’d be a great addition.
See the Big Picture: In order to truly ace the interview, you must be sensitive to the change in focus as reflected in the type of questions you’ll be asked. Be alert to whether you’re being asked about your qualifications, your passion or the matter of fit, and target your responses accordingly.
It all boils down to this: the hiring manager wants to know that you can do the job, but he also needs to be able to picture himself having coffee with you on Monday morning. He’s going to be spending 40 or more hours with you each week, and he doesn’t want to do that with someone he doesn’t like. Qualifications, then, are what will get you the interview, but it’s rapport that will get you hired.