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The Interview Process

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.

Interviews are an essential part of management: conducting them and also being interviewed from time-to-time, for promotions or a new job.

Interviewing others

Finding people’s faults is an easy task, and one most interviewers take to with relish. It serves little purpose, however, since we all have plenty of them.  The primary purpose of a job interview is to find their talents, skills, expertise, motivation, enthusiasm…

These are what makes it worth considering someone for employment. Only then should you be evaluating whether any shortcomings raise the risk of employing that person too high.

Pocketblog covered the topic of interviewing in some depth in our three-part series: ‘The New Manager’s Guide to Interviewing’.  It covered:

  1. Preparing the Ground
    Increase your chances of success well before the interview.
    It covers how to:

    1. Think about the job requirements
    2. Handle the advertising and admin
    3. Review applications
    4. Prepare for the interview
  2. Getting it Right
    Hints and advice for conducting and effective interviews.
    It looks at:

    1. Questioning
    2. Social skills
    3. Responding to candidates’ answers
    4. Inviting questions
  3. Polishing your Process
    Tips and tricks of the trade, such as:

    1. Fact checking
    2. The ‘horns and halo effect’
    3. Psychology
    4. Data protection

Being Interviewed

If there were only one tip that I could give to any interview candidate it would be this one:

Fundamentally, when you go for a job or promotion interview, your interviewer only wants to know one thing. All of their questions are just variants on one question – different ways to get at one answer.

And if you know what that question is and make sure that you answer it every time, by giving a different part of your answer to that one question with every answer you give, then you will have taken every opportunity the interviewer has given you.

The Question

So, what is that one question your interviewer wants answered?

‘Why should I recommend you for hiring or promotion?’

And how do you answer that? Simple. You have to tell them the benefit they, or their team or department, or their organisation will get from making that choice. And that boils down to the most fundamental question that humans ask: ‘what’s in it for me?’

Interview question and answers

That then begs the question: what do they want? To optimise your answers you have not only to show that you can deliver what they want, but you must also do your preparation and find out what they want. Six things are particularly common:

  1. Safety and Security
    Employers – and interviewers – often want to avoid mistakes. Can you show that you are a safe choice; that you meet all of their fundamental requirements and have a track record to back that up?
  2. Performance
    What evidence can you give to show that your performance will be exceptional? Some employers want stars.
  3. Quality
    If the organisation puts a strong focus on quality in its materials, then so should you in your answers. Demonstrate your attention to detail and drive for perfection. Your written materials and personal appearance must reinforce this message.
  4. Ease of Transition
    In some circumstances, an employer is looking for an easy life. They are under pressure and don’t want to work hard to get a new staff member trained and ready. Like a good convenience meal, you need to show how you can deliver to the standard required with the minimum of preparation.
  5. Cost
    Beware of employers looking to minimise cost. If you do find one offering an attractive role, prepare your negotiating options in advance. Trial periods can make sense. But emphasise the difference between remuneration and employment costs and identify how employing you can be cheaper than a less experienced and less ‘expensive’ candidate.
  6. Staying Power
    One of the biggest costs of employment is the recruitment process. If your prospective employer is looking for someone who will commit to their organisation for a long time and you have changed jobs every 18 months, you will need to prepare a very fine answer to that challenge.

More on being Interviewed

Our earlier blog, ‘Seven ways to Interview well’ has… seven more great tips.

Further Reading

The Interviewer’s Pocketbook

Succeeding at Interviews Pocketbook

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Seven Ways to Interview Well

Going for a new job?

Maybe it’s the next step in your career ladder: maybe it’s the first.

Maybe you’ve chosen to shop around: maybe circumstances have forced you into the job market.

Whatever your circumstances, the ‘job interview’ is going to be an important stage in the process.  For some it is feared, while for others it is a chance to show off.  However you feel about job interviews, you will need to use it to your advantage and do it really well.


1. Homework is not just for school

There may have been an excuse for not knowing all about your potential employer before you arrived at the interview twenty years ago, when a trip to the library and a review of the papers came up blank; but no more.  If you have not reviewed their website, checked out key people on LinkedIn, and searched for relevant press coverage, you are just preparing yourself to be tripped up at interview.

Don’t just focus your interview practice on yourself and how you will respond: learn about the people who may be interviewing you.

2. Look good – Feel good

Interview dressing is not about being fashionable or elegant, it is about showing that you know how to present yourself appropriately in the business environment of your prospective employer.  This will be different if you want to work in a retail chain, an architect, a fashion house or a law firm.

My top tip is to hang out opposite the entrance to where you want to work, or their local branch, or one of their top competitors.  Watch the people going in and out, to get a sense of the prevailing dress code.  If in doubt, when you call to confirm your interview, ask about dress code.

3. First Impression

Nothing conveys your qualities as quickly as your very first encounter with your interviewer/s.  A good posture, eye contact, a pleasant smile and a good handshake will say: ‘I am confident and looking forward to our meeting.’ On the other hand, slouching, evasive eyes, a frown or grimace and a limp handshake will say ‘I am fearful and I don’t want to be here.’

It’s all obvious stuff, but you’d be surprised how many people fail at this step.

4. Short and Sharp

Keep your answers short and sharp – around three minutes will create a good balance between terse and wordy, and will demonstrate you are in control of your thoughts.  Practise answers to obvious questions like:

  • ‘why do you want this job?’
  • ‘why should we hire you?’
  • ‘what are your strengths?’
  • ‘… and your weaknesses?’

A god way to control your answers and show structured thinking is to apply the ‘rule of three’ that make a good speech effectively:

  • ‘There are three reasons I what this job…’
  • ‘I think there are three things that distinguish me from the other able candidates you will be speaking to…’
  • ‘My three greatest strengths are…’
  • ‘The three aspects of my professional skills I’d like to develop most are…’

Then summarise each in around a minute.

5. Telling Tales

Human beings love hearing stories: it is the most powerful rhetorical form.  And if you are wondering how or why they are relevant in a job interview, the answer is simple.  When I conducted interviews, the most important thing for me was to hear evidence for the loose assertions most candidates offer.  I wanted to hear what had really happened and also get an insight into how candidates think and deal with challenges.  Package your experiences into compelling 60-90 second stories.

6. Structured Response

You are bound to get some questions you haven’t prepared for. – despite the presence of books that seem to offer a comprehensive list.  You need to think on your feet and structure your answer to show the rigour of your thinking and the flexibility of your mind.  Try the AREA approach:

  • Give a clear Answer to the question
  • Explain your Reasons for that answer
  • Cite Evidence or Examples to support your answer
  • Reiterate the Answer before you .

7. Show you are a 3G Candidate

Research by Harvard Business School guest lecturer and founder of Peak Learning, Dr Paul Stoltz, employers are really looking for a 3G mindset.  Your job is to figure out what that means for your particular prospective employer and to find ways to demonstrate it in yourself.  A 3G mindset, according to Stoltz, combines:

  1. Global: Able to think about the ‘big picture’ and look above the detail when you need to.  To understand the connectedness between parts of the job role, the organisation and the business/social environment.
  2. Good: The desire to do good, be good and serve.  This is about integrity and sensitivity to others – colleagues, partners and customers.
  3. Grit: The resilience, tenacity, and determination to persevere and see the job through, in the face of adversity.

Some Management Pocketbooks you Might find Helpful

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Put Yourself on Display

Just last month, the CIPD’s People Management magazine reported that one of the big audit firms has resumed its full graduate recruitment programme.  Perhaps this is a sign that the professional and managerial job market is on the move again.

If this is true, we will start to see more work going into running assessment centres.  John Sponton and Stewart Wright identify three purposes for assessment centres in their Managing Assessment Centres Pocketbook:

  1. Recruitment
    Finding the best candidates
  2. Promotion
    Evaluating readiness and skill sets objectively
  3. Restructuring
    When job roles and responsibilities are changing


More than just efficient

If you are designing an assessment centre, you have a big job.  You need to create exercises, schedule activities, secure and brief assessors and do a raft of other tasks.  These are well set out in the Pocketbook.

In all of your focus on efficiency, one thing is easily overlooked: the messages you give the candidates.  A good assessment centre will not only allow you to assess the candidates, it will allow the candidates to assess your organisation and the role you want to fill.  Everything you organise will tell them about your organisation.

So how can you design your assessment centre to fully reflect the values, culture and priorities of your organisation?  This has to be more than a few opening remarks and some posters.  Your exercises and the way that you evaluate them must be linked not just to the job requirements, but to the way you want the successful candidate to act, once in post.  Here are two examples.

School Head Teacher

In recruiting a head teacher, many schools include observations of how candidates interact with pupils in formal and informal settings.  Assessors are looking for a style that accords with their school’s values.  Many will even include pupils in the assessment process and, when they do, they typically find pupils’ comments insightful and often in accord with the far longer observations of the governors.

Management Consultants

Professional services firms take in large numbers of new graduates and all are competing for the brightest.  However, academic talent is only a starting point.  Consultancies look for a complex combination of team and leadership skills, and the ability to follow a lead, whilst also thinking independently.  Consequently they provide complex team activities with multiple observers.


What about Being a Candidate?

Whilst you can expect interviews and formal reasoning tests at many assessment centres, there is often little you can do to prepare for the assessment itself.  The following are important:

  • Practise your interview techniques and think about answers to the obvious questions
  • Make sure you have researched your prospective employer
  • Think about what questions you have for the assessors
  • Get your travel plans right

Sometimes you will be asked to prepare something specific.  If you are, you can be sure that this will be important to the assessors, so don’t leave it to last minute and then rush it.  Remember that this is your chance to really distinguish you from other candidates.

Perhaps what is most important for you is what is most important for the assessment centre.  The organisation wants to show you its values, culture and priorities.  You should aim to show assessors yours.  If they cannot see a fit then, no matter how well qualified you are, you will not get hired.  And if there is no fit, then why would you want the job anyway?  Within months, you would be unhappy.

So, here’s the deal

Assessment centres are good for candidates and good for employers.  When they are well designed, they give employers the best possible insight into candidates’ performance under realistic conditions, and they give candidates the best possible idea of what it would be like to work in the organisation.

Given the cost of recruitment, promotion or redeployment, it is best to invest a little more to get it right.

Other Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

As employer …

As candidate …

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