1) It’s all about your
In all our years of recruiting we have probably followed up on close
to 10,000 interviews. On successful interviews that usually lead
to an offer, there is almost always one common comment made by the
hiring manager. It inevitably revolves around the candidate’s
attitude. Words like “enthusiastic”, “passionate”,
“positive”, “excited”, etc. are normally
what we hear. In fact, during the debriefing session with the hiring
manager, if the first thing they say has something to do with technical
skills or ability, it normally doesn’t progress to an offer. However,
If they start off saying something about the candidate’s positive
attitude, it normally will lead to a second interview.
This leads us to an apparent contradiction. While our profession
tends to be more of a technical profession, and initial decisions
on which candidates to interview also tend to focus on the candidate’s
technical skills, rarely are the technical skills the most important
reason for hiring a candidate. Our theory on this is that your technical
skills get you in the door, but your people skills and attitude get
The good news is that you are 100% in control of your attitude.
Only you can decide if you will walk into that interview positive
and upbeat, or tentative and subdued. Our suggestion is that you
walk into the interview assuming that it will be an opportunity about
which you will be very interested. Be positive and enthusiastic from
the start, and then let the interview play out and see what happens.
In contrast, some candidates go in with a “what’s
in it for me” attitude, laying low and being reserved until
they are convinced later in the interview that this really is a good
opportunity for them. Then they try to “turn it on” in
the last 10 minutes of the interview to convince the hiring manager
that they are the right person for the job. Unfortunately, their
lack of enthusiasm in the early and middle stages of the interview
usually assures that they won’t be called back for a second
Think about it for a minute. If you were the hiring manager, what
kind of person would you rather hire? It may not seem natural, but
if you can get out of the “what’s in it for me”
mindset and get into the “what can I do for them” mindset,
you will have a much better interview.
While we’re on the subject of enthusiasm and positive attitude,
we’d like to offer a few additional points. Experts say that
up to 70% of our communication is non-verbal communication. A great
deal of your attitude is conveyed by body language. Therefore, please
keep these thoughts in mind:
- All good meetings start with a good handshake. If you don’t
have one, you should practice developing one soon. Ask a trusted
friend for their candid thoughts on your handshake and work to improve
yours. Not too tight a grip, not too loose, and don’t just grab
their fingers, etc. Work on it until you get it right every time.
- Eye contact is very important. A lack of eye contact implies
a lack of interest, a lack of confidence, intent to deceive, or other
things that do not benefit you in an interview. This isn’t
a stare-down “let’s see who blinks first contest”,
but you should be maintaining eye contact for a very high percentage
of the time, perhaps 90% or so.
- Smile periodically or laugh when appropriate. It’s human
nature to warm up to someone who smiles at you. Don’t sit there
like a stone statue – smile once in a while! It also helps
break some of the early interview tension.
- Use hand gestures if they come naturally to you. Don’t
go overboard here, but the use of hand gestures shows that you are
engaged in the conversation, and they are a powerful non-verbal communication
- Maintain a good posture in your seat. You don’t have to
sit completely erect like a retail store mannequin, but you do want
to maintain a professional posture. We’ve had some people slumping
so badly in their chair that they appeared close to falling out of
the chair or about to fall asleep. Let’s not get “too”
relaxed here – you are in an interview! Conversely, don’t
be so aggressive that you are leaning half way across the desk at
the interviewer. You may be excited about the opportunity, but you
need to respect the personal space of the interviewer.
2) The important question you must ask early
on in the interview.
Hopefully you were able to get a position description from the hiring
manager or the recruiter. But don’t assume that the position
description is 100% accurate in terms of the hiring manager’s
perspective. The description might be five years old. Or the hiring
manager’s predecessor may have written it. Or there may have
been a major reorganization since the description was written and
now it is only about 50% accurate. The bottom line is, don’t
assume anything. If you are meeting with the hiring manager, you
must ask that person early on in the interview to spend several minutes
reviewing the position with you. It could go something like this:
“Mr. Smith, before we really get into the heart of the interview,
could you spend a few minutes describing the position to me in your
own words and what you perceive to be the essential skills required
to perform well in this role? Also, could you give me an estimate
of how many hours per week I will be working on the major duties
of the position?”
You need to ask this question to solidify your understanding of
the position. This will let you bring out the things in your background
that are going to be most relevant to the hiring manager. If skills
A, B, and C are most important to him or her, then you want to spend
your time talking about those specific skills. Many times we have
followed up with a hiring manager who has said they will not be inviting
a candidate back for a second interview because they talked about
X, Y, and Z almost the entire interview and never really focused
on A, B, and C. Imagine how frustrated you would be if you knew you
were really skilled at A, B, and C but never discussed them in the
interview because you didn’t think they were that important?
As they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
That’s why it’s so important that you ask this question
up front and get it right the first time through.
3) The two hats you must wear in the interview.
An interview is a unique situation because it is essentially a double-sided
sales transaction. Most of the time in life, we are either a buyer
or a seller. An interview is one of those rare instances where
you really need to wear two hats.
3 (a) As a Seller.
You must be prepared to answer questions about your product –
you! As mentioned earlier, make sure you review your resume in detail
so you can answer any questions that are asked about the information
that appears on your resume.
In addition, we recommend you spend a little time up front to prepare
a “features” list about yourself. This should be a list
of 10-20 features or attributes that make you marketable –
these are your “selling points”. As you write these down
in one column, put an example or accomplishment in the next column
that will support that feature.
It is important for you to put together this list and become familiar
with it, just as you are familiar with the information on your resume.
It helps keep you organized about your product (you), and by doing
so, you will appear more reflexive and natural when answering questions
in the interview. Plus, by having an example or accomplishment to
support the feature, you gain credibility and can really drive home
the point. Since you are better prepared going into the interview,
there will be fewer times that you will have to pause and reflect
on a question before you answer it. There will always be a few questions
that you have to pause and think about before you answer, but you
don’t want to have too many of them. This will help minimize
that “down time”, and make you more confident and organized
in your answers.
As a seller, you need to be prepared to answer perhaps dozens of
questions about not only your accounting and finance skills but also
other intangible or “soft” skills. There have probably
been 1,000 books written on interviewing and what questions to expect
and how to answer them. If you feel you could use a little help with
your interviewing skills, then it probably makes sense for you to
read one of the many good books out there. If you have a specific
question or two that seems to give you trouble in interviews, call
us and we will be happy to work through it with you. We don’t
have the space to cover dozens of questions here, but let’s
cover three of the big questions that seem to stump some people:
1. The “why are you looking to make a change?” question.
Let’s face it - this is a biggie. If you can’t answer
this one you might as well not show up for the interview. Most people
don’t change jobs when they should. They don’t like change
and although they may not like their current job/boss/compensation
or whatever, they stick it out until they are nearly at the breaking
point. That’s not good. But what’s worse is when you
are asked this question in an interview and then you let loose on
the hiring manager about how terrible your job is and why you need
to get out of there as soon as possible. Again, as we said earlier,
put yourself in their shoes. Do you think they really want to hear
all of that? This isn’t a session with a psychologist where
you just “let it all hang out”. You want to keep it professional
and strictly business here. You don’t want to spend five minutes
on this question – but more like one minute, and then move
on. You might be bored to tears with your job, but you’re better
off not going into the whole sob story. Just say something such as “I’ve
pretty much learned all there is for me to learn in my current role,
and unfortunately there is not much opportunity for me to take on
new responsibilities. So rather than stagnate in my career I thought
it would be best if I moved on to another position where I could
learn more and grow professionally.”
Just to clarify, we’re not recommending that you lie or
make up an answer here. It’s more about how you couch what
you say. Keep it professional and keep it short. You want to spend
more time talking about what you can do for the client’s company,
vs. outlining the disappointments of your previous position. There
are also certain sensitive situations that may be better off not
being divulged. In our twenty plus years of recruiting we have heard
some pretty wild tales. Even though they may be true, the bottom
line is that some things are better left unsaid. If in doubt, call us
and run it by us and we will give you our candid assessment.
2. The “strengths and weaknesses” question.
Most people don’t struggle too much with the “strengths”
part of this question, especially if they’ve prepared the personal
“selling points” list we discussed earlier. The only
point worth mentioning here is that you want to try to tailor your
strengths as much as possible to the hiring manager’s needs.
You don’t want to lie and you don’t want to stretch things,
but if some of your strengths match up well to the hiring manager’s
needs, then now is the time to “toot your own horn” a
It’s the “weaknesses” side of the question that
gets people in trouble. Candidates often ask us how to answer this
question. This is another one of those questions that you want to
answer quickly and then move on to more productive areas of the interview.
Usually this is a “no win” question – it can hurt
you but not likely help you. It’s certainly not the time to
“spill your guts” to the hiring manager. You want to
be honest -- but not go overboard. The textbook answer to this question
is to either give a weakness that isn’t germane to the job,
or give a prior weakness that you have since overcome. For example,
you might say, “If you would have asked me that question a
year ago, I would have said my Excel skills were a little deficient.
I recognized that and signed up for a continuing education course
that lasted six weeks. Over the next several months I volunteered
to do any assignment in the office where I could apply the knowledge
I learned in the course. Now I would have to say that I am viewed
as the Excel expert in the office.”
3. The dreaded “money” question.
When we ask people what question they hate the most in an interview,
the “money” question is usually the answer given. It’s
understandable that this question causes a little anxiety. On one
hand, you don’t want to leave any money on the table by asking
for a salary that is too low. On the other hand, you don’t
want to appear too greedy or come across as too money-motivated by
asking for a high salary. The bottom line is this – what you
ask for in salary has little to do with what will be offered to you.
The way to get the highest offer is to have a great interview and
convince the hiring manager that you are the solution to their staffing
problem. The better you are able to do that, the higher the offer
is likely to be.
It’s really not fair for the hiring manager to ask you this
question on the first interview, because most likely you haven’t
even talked about benefits at all and they can be an important component
of your compensation package. For example, it’s unlikely that
a bonus plan was discussed. And you may not have a good feel for
how much overtime is involved or whether or not the company pays
for overtime hours worked. All of these factors can have a significant
impact on what you are willing to accept for a salary.
The reality is that you’re probably not in a position to
state exactly what you will consider for a salary until you get some
additional information. And the hiring manager is not in a position
to quantify what they would offer you until they have met a reasonable
number of other candidates to compare to you.
So our recommendation is that you try to answer the question in
non-monetary terms. Say something such as “While money is certainly
part of the package I’m looking at when considering other job
opportunities, it is by no means the most important thing to me.
I am really looking for an opportunity that will continue to develop
me professionally and personally, hopefully with advancement opportunities,
and money is really secondary to those goals”. Then just be
quiet and leave it at that. Chances are good that they will move
on to the next question and that you will be through dealing with
the money question for now.
If the hiring manager does come back to you and presses you further,
you can say something like “I am currently at “X”
amount of dollars and would consider any reasonable increase over
my current compensation.” Whatever you do, don’t lie
about your current salary, bonus, the date of your last raise, etc.
Besides being wrong, more often than not it will come back to bite
you. We’ve seen that happen dozens of times.
Finally, if you feel your current salary may be on the high end
of market rates and you realize that it has been hurting you in other
interviews, you can say something such as, “I know that my
current salary is actually a little bit above market. I want to assure
you that I am more than willing to take a lower salary for a good
career opportunity. Money is not the most important thing to me.
I want to be challenged and I want to enjoy my work – that
is my number one priority”.
3 (b) As a Buyer.
Okay, you’ve probably had enough of the selling side of the
interview and are thinking to yourself, “When do I get to do
some buying”? So let’s talk about that for a little bit.
Think about how you go about making any major purchase –
a home, a car, a new home theater system, or whatever. What do you
do? Well, if you’re like most of us, you ask a lot of questions
and do a lot of research. It’s the same way when you are going
on a job interview.
You started off by looking at the company’s website and reviewing
the position description. Maybe you’ve talked with some friends
to see what they know of the company. Hopefully you’ve done
some research on the internet to see what articles have been written
recently on your prospective employer. From your research, you should
be prepared with a list of questions when you arrive for your interview.
Your questions should revolve around three main themes:
1) The company
2) The position
3) The long-term opportunity
If you leave the interview with a pretty good idea on these three
areas, then you probably had a good interview from the “buying”
It’s important that you invest some time up front before
the interview preparing your questions. You will probably have additional
questions that you will think of during the interview, but it helps
to walk in with some good questions to ask. You are judged not only
on the questions that you answer, but also on the questions that
you ask. So you want to ask intelligent questions and your questions
should generally be phrased in an “open-ended” format
as opposed to a “close-ended” format. For example, ask
“What do you like most about working here at ABC Company?”
as opposed to “Do you enjoy working at ABC Company?”
Open-ended questions tend to be more conversational by nature and
so they result in more information being given than just a simple
“yes” or “no” answer. The more information
you get, the more you will be able to make a totally informed decision.
A quick note – the first interview is not the time to be
asking about benefits, vacation time, sick days, education reimbursement,
or things of that nature. Stick to fundamental questions about the
company, the position, and the long-term opportunity. A very high
percentage of your decision-making process will be based on the essence
of the position and the culture of the company. There will be time
later to ask about benefits. Besides, nothing turns off a hiring
manager more than a candidate asking all types of “what’s
in it for me” questions during the first interview. Do that
and chances are good that there won’t be a second interview.
In terms of the long-term opportunity issue, you need to walk a
fine line when asking questions relating to promotions. You definitely
want to get a feel for promotion opportunities, but you don’t
want to come across as being consumed with getting promoted before
you’re even hired. That’s a sure fire way not to get
On the flip side, you should know that the hiring manager is gauging
your ability to be promoted down the road as well. A manager of a
well-run department typically won’t hire someone just because
they can step in and perform the role that is currently open. They
want to feel comfortable that you will be ready for a promotion in
the next eighteen months to two years. Why? They realize that if you
don’t have the horsepower to make it to the next level, you
will then become bored and disgruntled in your position and could
potentially become a problem within the department.
So to summarize the promotion factor, you want to present yourself
as someone who is motivated and who wants to take on new assignments,
but tempered with the reality that you must “pay your dues”
and be ready when opportunity knocks.
4) The all important closing of the interview.
Many people are simply not prepared for the conclusion of the interview.
That’s a shame, because this is also a very important part
of the interview process. First of all, people tend to remember most
what they heard last. So this is your opportunity to reinforce some
of your strengths and leave a good final impression.
There are five key components of the “closing” portion
of the interview, and you should be prepared to touch on each one
of these before leaving. This typically doesn’t take more than
two or three minutes if you are prepared in advance. So when you
start to get verbal or body language signals that the interview is
about to end, jump into action with these five points:
1) Thank the hiring manager for the time they spent with you and
let them know how much you appreciated them making the time to meet.
2) Ask them if they have any additional questions or areas they
would like for you to clarify. Often during a good interview with
a lot of exchange, the hiring manager will forget to ask a question
or two that they normally would remember to ask. Unfortunately, if
you leave without getting a chance to answer their question, what
tends to get remembered is that you didn’t have those particular
skills or experience and not that they forgot to ask the question.
3) Ask if they have any concerns about your ability to step into
the role and perform at a high level. If you do get an objection,
don’t panic. This is your opportunity to offer some additional
or new information that can overcome or at least mitigate their objection.
4) Assuming that you are interested in the position, tell them
directly that you are interested, along with some solid business
reasons as to why you are so interested in the role. Hopefully this
isn’t a revelation to them, because all during the interview
you’ve been giving verbal and/or non-verbal cues, demonstrating
your level of interest. But don’t assume anything – tell
them directly that you are interested! As recruiters, often we will
follow up with a candidate after an interview and they will tell
us how much they loved the position. However, when we ask them if
they told the hiring manager they were interested, they’ll
say something like “Well, no I didn’t, but who wouldn’t
be interested in that position – it’s a great position”!
The funny thing is that we’ll then get a call from the hiring
manager and they will say “I think the interview went pretty
well, but I honestly don’t know if the candidate was interested
in the position”.
5) End the interview with a good handshake (you’ve been
practicing, right?) and leave them with some sort of positive, assumptive/forward-looking
statement such as, “I will very much look forward to meeting
with you and the other team members soon”.