The purpose of a job interview is not only to see if you line up with the skill requirements in the job description, but also to see if you are a cultural fit. For many employers, when they look at you they are thinking “will this person deliver results?” but also, and possibly more important: “will I like them in the hallways on my way to the coffee pot?”.
A brief History:
The prior historical emphasis on skillset over cultural fit was necessary in the early 20th
century when the majority of industries were tied to physical labor. Management theorist developed creative ways to drive productivity back then. Frederick Taylor wrote volumes of white papers on how to drive labor and eliminate lack of efficiencies in factories. He called his body of work “scientific management”. Taylor would time people on minute tasks with a clock and re-design workflows in order to make sure that manual labor was as efficient as possible.
As industries began to automate, mid century and beyond, the job market was in greater demand for people with strong soft-qualities such as communication abilities, interpersonal knack, team orientation, agreeableness, intelligence, and integrity. The days are gone when one could compete on skillset alone. The competition in the job market is stacked with candidates that have hard skills but lack the soft skills.
As a recruiting manager it was shocking to see top candidates with very niche backgrounds interview with great companies and get rejected at final stages. Some of the common feedback on these candidates were:
“She seemed knowledgeable about the role, butt she was very low energy”, “he was overly talkative and I had difficulty jumping in”, “he looked a little defensive”, “she mentioned that one of her weaknesses was ‘laziness’”, and “he knew almost nothing about the company or role that he was interviewing for”.
This modern emphasis on communication style, body language, and general likeability is the new definition of professionalism. The good news is that these traits can be learned, they aren’t hardwired at all.
Now that we have established what hiring managers are looking for, here are the best tips to nail an interview:
- Prior to an initial phone-screen, do research on the company’s website. Use flash cards to write down details about the company’s history, mission statement, vision statement, products, market share, competitors, and the job description.
- 20 minutes before your phone interview or in-person interview, review the flash cards -say them out loud in your car or where ever you are. This will harden the facts in your mind. It will also keep your knowledge fresh and easily retrievable.
- Work on developing “presence”. One of the top causes of getting rejected after an interview is that the candidate is so nervous that they over-talk the hiring manager. Focus on being patient, be in the moment -not somewhere distant due to nervousness. When you are “present” you answer questions and pause long enough to let the interviewer in. You have to be self-aware enough to know when you are going on an unstoppable verbal treadmill or when you might be laughing too much out of sheer nervousness. Slow it down a little and control your expressions.
- Make sure that your body language is open and inviting. Body language makes up 70%+ of all communication. We actually understand very little from verbal communication alone. So a person who has their arms crossed or someone who doesn’t smile might be sending the wrong signals. Make an effort to sit upright, with your hands on you lap -fingers interlaced. This little twist of body composure sends a resounding signal of “I’m serious about this job”.
- Make an effort towards the end of the interview to make a personal connection. It is actually very difficult to find something that you do not have in common with either the company or the hiring managers. And if you can’t find similarities with yourself and the companies brand, people, end-customers, mission, or other things, then it might not be the right cultural fit for you. Talk about the office art, the hiring managers wedding ring, the picture of kids taken in a location you’ve traveled to -whatever you can connect to. This is a last stand for you as you walk out the door and it appeals to primitive anthropological tendencies like kinship selection -the preference for family, friends, and people like you.
- Last, think of 3 professional strengths and only 2 weaknesses in case a hiring manager asks. It is easier to think of weaknesses over strengths because it is human nature to weight our mistakes over our successes. For weakness, do not offer out the first thing that comes to mind. Often, candidates blurt out something that really doesn’t speak accurately to their professional weaknesses. Always pause and think before you answer these types of questions. A weakness, should be something that isn’t a deal breaker for a company.
Deal breakers and interview-killers are statements like: “I’m too lazy”, “I wait to the last minute to finish projects” or “I have A.D.D and often make accounting errors”. Always lead with something that can be improved, like “I take on too many projects and I need to pace myself better” or “I do not like to give up on anything I start, and sometimes you have to, such as in cases where a mid-course corrections is needed or when it is better to get feedback that might require abandoning the original plan”.
These 5 tips, if practiced can lend immediate value to your interview efforts. They are tried, tested, and true. For companies that are hiring for culture fit, the candidate that connects better wins the day.