There are three specific things that every interviewer is concerned about in an interview, regardless of what sector, company, or role for which they are hiring. You can nail every other question, but miss these three and you won’t be moving on to the next round or get an offer.
The most important question: Would I want to work with this person?
When conducting an interview, nothing matters more to an employer than determining whether they would enjoy working with you. Period. This is the most important question by far – even more important than having the skills to do the job. So, how do you convey likability?
Build rapport. I often reflect on how I navigated my investment banking interviews to get a job on Wall Street almost 15 years ago. Coming from Texas A&M, I knew that I’d never sufficiently differentiate myself in the eyes of the Wall Street investment banking executives based solely on my academic ability or financial skills, so I developed a strategy to turn every interview into a fun, casual conversation, keeping them off their interview script as much as possible. While other candidates got grilled with finance questions, in a full day of interviews I only got asked one finance question. While I got the job, most of my friends who had nailed repeated finance questions didn’t.
Show interest in the interviewer. Research them in advance, if possible. Ask questions about them, their work, and their role. Find something you share in common and chat a little about it. Show that you would be a great organizational fit. Employers are assessing your answers and overall demeanor in an effort to determine if you adequately fit the organizational culture.
Show interest in the team. Ask to speak with other team members to better understand their role and their responsibilities. This is a good time to make your own assessment of the organization and to ask your burning questions. Often times when job seekers feel desperate for a job, they lose sight of the fact that a job interview is the optimal opportunity to evaluate how well an organization fits their own needs. Remember your values and make sure the position is well-aligned with how you envision the direction of your professional career.
Show interest in the cause. In the education sector, it’s essential to demonstrate that you care deeply about the cause that your organization is serving. Arrive at your interview with a basic understanding of the organization’s mission, the population it serves, and the progress that has resulted from the organization’s efforts. Be prepared to share why you personally are passionate about the cause.
Say thank you. Be sure to follow-up this initial interview with a personal thank you email to the interviewer and anyone with whom you spoke within 24 hours. This shows that you’re both personable and respectful.
The second most important question: Can this person do the job?
After passing the “would I want to work with this person” test, employers of course want to know that you’re capable of managing the responsibilities and requirements of the job. So, how do you build credibility?
Exemplify the ideal candidate. In other words, how close to their ideal candidate are you? Start by thinking about what the ideal candidate for the job role would be like and how you can best match this person at every step of the process.
Tailor your resume. Your resume should be tailored to the specific job for which you’re applying. It’s important to provide both concrete and measurable examples of your successes i.e. At my last job, I developed and executed a three-part volunteer recruitment plan which resulted in an additional 32 new community volunteers to our organization. Answer the question “What have you done?”, rather than “What were you responsible for?” Focus on past achievements rather than responsibilities.
Create a work sample. I once was interviewing candidates for a fundraising role. After learning more about the role through the initial interview, one of the candidates emailed me a thank you note and attached a high-level work plan showing how they would approach achieving our fundraising goal if they were to receive the role. Not only was I truly impressed with the quality of the work, but it also showed incredible initiative, passion, and work ethic. There was no way this candidate wasn’t going to get a second round interview after blowing me away like that!
The third most important question: How risky is this person?
Making a hire is a risky endeavor. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, yearly turnovers cost billions. Turnover also places a high burden on the team, increasing the likelihood others decide to leave. Likewise, hiring the wrong person can waste organizational time and resources that could have otherwise been spent more strategically.
For these reasons and others, most hiring managers don’t enjoy the hiring process. They would rather have a steady team that performs well. Thus, hiring managers aim to minimize risk when they bring on an employee. A risky candidate might be someone with very little experience, someone who changes jobs frequently, or someone applying without any references or recommendations. So, how do you exude reliability?
Leverage your network. Before the first interview, think through your network and whether you might know someone who either knows the employer or has a connection with the organization at which you’re applying. Leverage your relationships and have them put in a good word for you. A credible connection dispels doubt that may have previously existed surrounding your application and positions you for success in the first round.
Show commitment to the role. In addition to demonstrating your genuine interest in the organization and the role during the interview, be sure to put the employer’s mind at ease about your desired length of employment. One great way to do this is to share how this particular role fits into the trajectory of your professional career and why you’re committed to the position being offered.
In summary, ditch your memorized answers and begin every job interview with a game plan to address these three essential questions and you’ll be far more likely to leave with a second-round interview – or even an offer. Too often when applying for jobs, we rely entirely on our technical skills and knowledge without recognizing the power of human connection, relationship-building, and authenticity.