October 12, 2020
The concept of the job interview is as old as work itself. Someone is seeking a person to work for them, they interview a number of qualified candidates and pick one for the job. Sounds simple, but the amount of preparation and energy that goes into an interview by both the interviewer and the interviewee can be enormous, and could end up a complete waste of time for one, or all of the people involved. This blog will look at the interview from the candidate’s perspective, while Part 2 will examine the role of the interviewer.
An interview can take many characteristics, from a formal interview panel, more common in the public service sector, to an informal chat at the local coffee shop, which is more likely should you be interviewing at a startup. But the most common type of interview is between the hiring manager at a company, and a person interested in the job that is available. Let’s assume that this is the situation, and that you are the person that has been asked to attend an interview.
What should you do to prepare? A couple of fundamental things that should never be overlooked. Firstly, NEVER arrive late for an interview; plan your journey time to allow for all possibilities. Second, dress appropriately for the company for which you hope to work. This needs a little research on the culture of the company. If you are interviewing at an investment bank in the City of London or Wall Street, then formal business attire is appropriate, whereas an interview for a software engineer in Silicon Valley would require something much more casual, but even at such an interview, jeans and a hoodie may be a bit too casual. Even if you are feeling nervous, don’t forget to smile and make eye contact when you are greeted. In pre-Covid days, a firm handshake was recommended. Let’s see how socially acceptable that will be in the future.
Even before you arrive at the interview location, communication with the hiring company will set the tone for the interview, and research will likely have been done on you without your knowledge. By the time you arrive, the hiring manager will have received your application and/or resume, so will have an idea of who you are. But more importantly, your social media presence will tell that person a lot about you. Nowadays, it’s imperative to have a credible and up to date LinkedIn profile, preferably with a good number of recommendations and endorsements. List your accomplishments proudly, including any voluntary or philanthropic work that you do. While LinkedIn has become the professional platform, part of researching a candidate will now include your Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts, plus any others that you may have. The company is not stalking you if your profiles are public, and anything that you post about yourself, your friends, your lifestyle and activities, could weigh heavily in your favour, or go badly against you.
In your own preparation, one of the first rules is to identify the need of the company. Try to find out a little bit about the position that is open, which can influence the hiring process significantly, or at least the timing. If the department in which the job is located is expanding and you will be part of that increased workforce, then there may not be an immediate urgency to fill the role. But if you are potentially replacing someone that left the job unexpectedly and things are falling behind, then there will likely be a swift decision.
Assuming that you are technically qualified for the job that is open, expect to be questioned on various aspects of your experience. Answer the questions confidently and positively, give examples as to how you gained your experience, solved problems and have made positive contributions, and try to end a few of those with a related question back to the interviewer, which illustrates that you are more engaged than simply answering questions. The more you can turn the interview into a two-way dialogue, rather than a Q&A session, the more the interviewer will be interested in you and hopefully impressed.
Find out everything you can about the company, read news reports, and do not be afraid to ask tough questions. If you think it’s a great company with a bright future, but it’s struggling to be profitable, or has had recent negative press, be sure to challenge the interviewer on those issues. Come prepared with other questions about the position, the department and the company in general. Two questions that I always ask an interviewer are “Tell me about the company’s culture” and “If the perfect candidate were to walk through the door, what would that person look like?” The purpose of the first question is obvious, but the second question will force the interviewer to describe in a few sentences, exactly what they are looking for, and you will know whether or not you are a good match. And the final question from you, if it has not already been offered is “What are the next steps?”
I will close with some real examples of my best and worst situations as an interviewee. One of the worst was with a large, well established technology company in Silicon Valley and I was applying for the position of International Treasury Manager. Early in the interview, the hiring manager said that the position really required an MBA and pointed out that I did not have an MBA. I then wasted a huge amount of energy, trying to convince her that my work experience more than qualified me for the job and that I could bring a level of practical application that would bring much more to the role, than the theory learned on an MBA course. Unfortunately, she was fixated on this aspect and the interview went nowhere except for me to feel demoralised at the end. Maybe I should have recognised this earlier, thanked her for meeting with me and ended the interview early? Actually, that would have been the wrong thing to do. Even though the tone was negative for me and I left feeling disappointed, every interview gives you experience and makes you better at presenting yourself and being prepared for difficult situations.
One of my best interviews was with a regional bank, in which the hiring manager, who was also new to his role at the time, told me honestly “I’m not going to sugarcoat it, this place is really screwed up. My problem is that I don’t know how screwed up it is, which is why I need someone like you to help me figure it out.” Immediately I knew that I wanted the job and wanted to work for that person. I did get the job.
If you are the interviewee, regardless of the level of job for which you are applying, remember to not just ask yourself if you are good enough or qualified enough; also ask yourself if the job is good enough for you.
Hi, I’m David. I’m from London, but after living in New York and Amsterdam, I settled in Silicon Valley, California where I’ve lived since 1994. From the relatively safe life of working for a global bank like Barclays, I became fascinated by startup companies, innovation and ways in which the world could be changed for the better. So I opened my mind, became a risk taker and a life-long learner.
As founding CFO of PayPal, Treasurer at Silicon Valley Bank and Director at Blue Run Ventures, I’ve been recognised by the global Fintech community as a pioneer in the payments industry. I have served on the boards of public and private companies as well as a couple of non-profit organisations.
But what about me? Well, I like running, skiing and mountain climbing in my free time; plus, I love to travel and see the world. I have two adult children, a wonderful wife, some cats and a harrier puppy.
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