What’s the difference between the X Factor and your next job interview? Answer – very little. The whole interview process – especially if you’re an experienced and fairly senior professional is actually about 3 very simple things:
Q1. Firstly, do I like you?
Unless a robot is going to be interviewing you then human behaviour is going to be behind all those those superficial formalities of the interview process. The first thing to understand is that the interviewer – or interview panel will be making their mind up about you just as soon as you walk in the room.
If you watch ‘The X Factor’ on television then you'll know what I mean. As we look at the next nervous hopeful walk out onto the stage most of us are thinking – ‘OMG! not a chance’ or ‘this should be funny’ or alternatively, he/she looks interesting, or whatever. In other words we are making an initial impression based entirely upon our own perceptions and sense of ‘fit’. Of course all the HR gurus would throw their arms in the air and say all this is totally unfair but what the hell, the interview panel don’t have to say what they’re really thinking so no one is going to know. So, if they just don’t happen to like your nose ring, tongue stud or tattoos – then fair or not, it’s just tough.
If you simply don’t fit the interviewer’s criteria, their prejudice, expectations, or whatever, you’ve already got one cross in the ‘No Box’. That’s exactly why that other TV talent show ‘The Voice’ uses that blind audition technique. It's specifically so the judges can’t be influenced by your looks, size, body shape, dress sense, age, sex etc. Their initial selection is based upon potential only - so think of your CV as being your very own blind audition. It needs to be outstanding – not bland, lifeless and the same as everyone else’s. Ask yourself, on the basis of your CV would you hire you? If not, rewrite it.
OK, now we're sat down and we're into it. At this stage the clock is running very fast. In the next 2 minutes they are going to be deciding if they ‘like’ you - or not. That’s going to be all about your body language, confidence, voice, eye contact, engagement and how 'natural' you seem (we can all spot the actor in seconds).
Much of this is subconscious thought in the mind of the interviewer – but it’s seriously steering the selection process. Again, there is not a lot you can do about this apart from being your usual charming self. Remember what your Mother told you - don’t try and be someone you're clearly not since as soon as you come under any pressure the 'real you' will come through loud and clear. Gotcha!
Being likable is by far the most important attribute you can display in an interview. Demonstrate your personality. Don’t be wooden. Don’t feel you have to agree with every comment being made and don’t be a pussy. Push back where appropriate and show that you actually have a spine. Don't position yourself as a ‘yes man/woman’. Ensure you make it a conversation – not just a series of questions for you to answer. Engage with everyone, not just the big cheese sitting opposite, express opinions, provide examples, stories etc. Don’t be defensive. Bat some questions back across the table. There, see, already I’m starting to like you. Remember, once you've left the room the first question is going to be 'well what did you think, did we like him?"
Q2. Do you understand our business?
How many times have I interviewed people for a position when within just a few sentences it’s abundantly clear that they have no bloody idea what we do, what our challenges are, what our strategy is, where we’re positioned in the market etc. Indeed, sometimes you wonder if they've come to the right building.
Please don’t think that a quick scan of the company website will give you enough. If you really want the job then you’re going to have to demonstrate more than the most basic superficial knowledge. Do your research. They won’t expect you to have an insider’s knowledge, but they will be impressed if you have some understanding of what’s been going on in the last six months and what may be just around the corner. Tip: – make contact with the media department and just ask questions – always useful. They won’t tell you any secrets but you’ll get a good understanding of what’s happening right now.
Q3. Do you bring something that the other candidates have yet to demonstrate? (that would be differential)
No magic bullets here, you either have it or you don’t, but give yourself a break and give it some thought before you’re ‘hotted’ with that question in the interview. Also remember if that particular question does not come up, find an opportunity to work it into your answers. No point in cursing all the way home that they never asked you about how you saved that big project from disaster.
Remember, a great many candidates will have just memorized the requirements specified in the job advert and prepared their answers to hit those specific buttons. Don’t follow the same road map. Those basic criteria will be answered in any event - so think big picture. What are the challenges ahead and how can you bring skills, experience, ambition to the role to meet those challenges - and then go the extra mile.
The interviewer is not looking for Superman but they are looking for potential, drive, and perhaps above all, energy, enthusiasm and passion. If you bring those to the interview you will already be ahead of the pack. That way, once you’ve left the room the only words you want them to say will be:
‘It’s a yes from me - he's through to the next round'.