Five things to get right in interviews
Interview to Darren Flaherty by Albert team - the invoicing app which lets you send beautiful invoices straight from your mobile.
Interview situations catch many of us “by surprise” regardless of how much time we’ve taken to prepare for them. We spoke with Darren Flaherty, an independent consultant in talent management, who has observed and conducted thousands of interviews. He told us about avoiding specific pitfalls when interviewing for contracting, permanent or freelance roles.
"INTERVIEW SITUATIONS CATCH MANY OF US BY SURPRISE"
All of us have had good interviews and less happy memories of ones that didn’t quite hit the mark. Getting ready for interviews is essential, and this applies equally well for short gigs, longer contracting roles and permanent positions. Darren explained that there are generally five common things that potential candidates often stumble on.
"EMPLOYERS ARE KEEN TO FIND THOSE CANDIDATES WHO GET THINGS RIGHT IN A CHANGING ENVIRONMENT".
“It surprises me that candidates often fail to clarify their experience and the value they can bring to a business in five key areas. And these often apply to all levels of jobs or assignments – director, manager, consultancy roles, etc.”, says Darren and continues, “You can pretty much take it for granted that you are going into a behavioural interview, as this style of interviewing will help assess how you’ve worked before and how you react in specific situations. I’ll give some examples of typical questions for each of the five key areas to highlight this.”
Point 1: Initiative.
Let’s face it, companies mainly hire consultants, contractors, freelancers and full time employees to solve problems a business or a team is confronted with. “The more time-critical these challenges are – such as introduction of new features, products or entering new markets – the more emphasis interviewers will place on your ability to show that you can keep the pace and fix problems. Constant flux and ambiguity are rife in today’s businesses, and employers are keen to find those candidates who get things right in a changing environment”, explains Darren.
“Don’t get caught up in complying with the bullet point list of requirements, think outside the box. Give examples of problems you’ve solved (or even opportunities you’ve spotted) for previous businesses or teams you’ve worked for. Be factual and crisp, and highlight how you cracked a problem, how much time you used to work through the challenge and the outcome to the bottom line (or cost savings or other clear measure). Most interviewees get caught up thinking of an example, they lose sight of what the interviewer is trying to understand which is your behaviours. They’ll also want to know if what you’re describing is truly “innovative” or simply part of your daily work”, clarifies Darren.
Tell me about a situation where you proactively addressed a problem before it became a major issue?
- What was the situation?
- How did you identify the problem?
- What information did you consider?
- What was the result?
Point 2: Smart.
The world moves fast, influences come and go – change is prevalent. Doing the right things in a smart way is what really counts. “Showing that you are clever, and going beyond your remit of completing a project, is important. I mean things like explaining who influences you, how you share knowledge with others, how you validate your thinking and what your network of contacts is like. It is helpful to clarify in your mind what makes you unique and stand out from the crowd before an interview situation.”
Describe a time you had to quickly brush up your knowledge of an area that was new to you:
- Why was it important for you to research this?
- What methods did you use?
- How did you use this information in your team, or to support your colleagues?
- What made you confident in your approach?
- What insights did you gain?
Point 3: Disciplined.
Businesses are becoming increasingly project-driven and fast-moving. Besides coping with ambiguity and thinking on the run, your ability to manage your own time and workload can make or break a project or a team goal. Darren explains this well, “Being smart and creative is great, but you also need to show how you put this into practice. When explaining a successful project, it’s useful to think of situations where you’ve not only completed the project on target (and on time), but also managed to turn things around in a clever way, by collecting information and data to convince others.”
It is only human to sometimes make mistakes, and the way of working through them shows how disciplined you are. “The interviewer is not interested in the mistake you made but more so in what you did about it, what you learnt from the experience, how you used this situation to educate others or stopped it from happening again”, explains Darren.
Talk me through a time when you identified a mistake you made and how you resolved this:
- What was the situation? How did you identify this?
- What actions did you take?
- What was the outcome?
- What did you learn?
Point 4: Awareness.
Cultural fit is the next point that every interviewer will draw his or her attention to when meeting potential employees and contractors. “It’s respectful to know a bit about the person (and the company) you are interviewing for. You’ll stick out like a sore thumb if you missed out on the opportunity to shine by referring to recent news or asking relevant questions about company developments”, says Darren.
Moreover, it is useful to think of how you have collaborated with other departments and peers in past projects. “Your awareness of others, communications style and how you’ve managed conflict or overcome opposing views from colleagues at work are things interviewers will look for. This will determine how well you would fit into a project or a team. It is worthwhile collecting your thoughts and preparing examples of your interpersonal skills for interview situations.”
Could you give and example of a time when you had to make a difficult decision at work:
- What did you want to achieve?
- How did you get your team/colleagues on your side?
- How did you reassure your colleagues? How did you overcome the problem?
- What challenges did you face? What was the outcome?
Point 5: Self-starter.
Understanding your own motivations will help you clarify what is important for you, and what you’d like from a role or project. “Your passion and personal motivation are a perfect way of clarifying how you can support a business. A self-starter not only knows what he or she wants, but they also know how to relate this back to how they would make a positive difference in a role or a project”, says Darren.
How do you contribute to the success of a team or business?
- What makes you wake up in the morning and go to work?
- What would you do in the first 30 / 60 / 90 days?
- How have you done this before? What were the targets? How did you track success? What was the outcome?
Body language speaks louder than words.
Darren’s final piece of advice is to pay attention also to your body language when being interviewed. It’s not always obvious what you’re telling the person opposite to you with non-verbal signs. “Before you come to an interview meeting, take the time to pause, stretch out, breath deeply, smile and think positively. Even if your interview is on the phone, the person on the other side can hear from your voice if you are smiling. Sounds crazy, but it’s true. A firm handshake, eye contact and the energy in your voice projects confidence”, Darren explains.
You can also help move interviews along, if they get stuck in the rut. “Sometimes less experienced interviewers can get a bit ahead of themselves and you might end up sitting and waiting to get a word in. It’s not great. But it happens. The best thing to do is to sit back and remain silent, do not feel as though you need jump in to get your point across. If it continues you can always nod your head (which is like saying “I hear you, carry on”). Silence should alert your interviewer to you, and draw his or her attention back to you.”
Darren started his career in technology recruitment, and he worked agency side for well over three years. Once he made the transition in-house, he saw many opportunities to improve companies’ recruitment processes. After another three years as an in-house recruiter, he decided to set up shop as an independent consultant in talent management. Darren offers a variety of talent management services through his consultancy business including e.g. searching and qualifying candidates for customers, streamlining recruitment process, identifying new recruitment tools and talent management systems, onboarding and training of in-house recruiters, building talent pipelines, and helping improve employer brands and overall talent attraction. Darren can be reached via LinkedIn: Darren Flaherty