The job market can be a terrifying place, particularly if you didn’t choose to be there. With the stress of unemployment building and the anxiety to find a job before the emergency funds run out, it’s no surprise that navigating this often-secretive and sometimes-biased monster of job hunting is so challenging even for people with the best credentials. There is so much conflicting advice from “experts” in the field, from career coaches, hiring managers, and from other recruiters. All of them are bringing a different perspective with different personal preferences and opinions about how to conquer job searching. One thing to remember with all of this unsolicited advice, is that there is no right answer. Every job, every company is different, and because humans are far more complex that what we can fully evaluate on paper, interviews become a staple in the job hunt.
Even after you do all the work on the front end: writing and reviewing your resume, researching, and applying for jobs, there is still a minefield to work your way through: the interview process. Interviewing and hiring looks different for every company. Most often, the first step to get an interview is to get through HR or a recruiter. This is arguably the hardest step. Recruiters weed out a minimum of 50% of applicants for every job before they even call. If you are consistently applying to jobs but never get a call, then at this stage, there is something missing from your application. Some common issues I see when reviewing applications that I reject is simply that there is nothing stated in your resume that makes this job relevant to you. This happens so often with one-touch applies that recruiters will often take a glance and then immediately send it to the rejection pile. If you are intentionally applying for a job that is outside of your background, you need to at least have a sentence or two in your Objective section stating that you are making a career change. Do not let the recruiter assume anything, because often, it is not in your favor.
Interviews vary in type, but the ones that I see the most are Human Resources (HR) screens, technical interviews, and culture interviews. Each interview is examining you, the applicant, a little differently. Think of HR as the bodyguards to the hiring manager. When we are screening candidates, we are only sending the most qualified applicants on. Hiring managers are busy. While a recruiter’s core function is to talk to you, this is just another extra task the hiring manager has to carve out time for. With that said, the best way to pass an HR screen is to absolutely show why you are the best fit for the job. Be forthcoming about your background, your career goals, ask questions and be honest when you are asked questions in return. If you wow your recruiter, they will fight for you in the interview process. If you impress us, we are now your champions. Show us why we need you.
Interviews with hiring managers are most often about the technical aspects of the role itself. HR might have asked you about your background when you first spoke to them, but while a recruiter is often particularly good at weeding out non-qualified candidates, we are not an expert in your field. The hiring manager knows all of these nuances and will dig into specifics of your experience. If you are a project manager, they are evaluating your skills as a PM. If you are an engineer, don’t be alarmed when they start asking you specific technical questions about your background. Making it past the technical interviews sends you right into another beast to master: Culture Interviews. Culture Interviews are tricky for even the best public speaker. With a team collaboration culture growing in popularity, it is rare that you will find jobs that have no interaction with others. Your audience is there to gauge if they can work with you day-to-day, and vice versa. It is completely normal to be nervous. These style interviews are hard, and we know it. Just remain positive and remember that you are really interviewing these people as well.
While it’s true that we are looking at different areas in each interview, one thing that is the same across every interview is the need to prepare. Most recruiters won’t hold it against you if you do not know much about the company for the screen, as often we are contacting you with little warning. However, the hiring manager expects that you know what you are interviewing for; take at least thirty minutes to read up on the company, go over the job description, and research common interview questions. Before scheduling an interview, ask your recruiter if there is anything you can prepare for; they know the process best and can give you forewarning about potential hard questions. That said, when you are asked a question you didn’t come with a ready-made answer for, take your time to formulate your response. There is nothing wrong with saying “That’s a great question, I’ll have to think about it” before you give your answer.
Most people think that the most important thing about interviewing is having the skillset to do the job. And while it is true that having the right credentials will give you a leg-up in the interview process, that is absolutely not all that a hiring team looks for in interviews. By the time you get in front of more people than the hiring manager and recruiter, we’ve already decided you can do the job. Now, we’re looking at intangibles; primarily, your attitude. To put it simply, negativity will not get you far in an interview process. Interviews can be stressful and cumbersome, and while almost everyone involved in the interview knows this and is sympathetic to it, presenting yourself negatively will do you no favors. Just remember, you may only get one chance to make an impression on the people you are speaking with.
Keeping yourself honest and constantly evaluating your own processes, whether it be questions you ask, or how you explain yourself, is critical in landing the role you want. Sometimes companies provide feedback when they “go in another direction,” and sometimes they don’t. This is why self-evaluation is critical for success. There is no shame in asking family members or friends to mock interview you or review your resume. As awkward as it feels, practicing in front of a mirror allows you to be cognizant of your facial expressions when you interview. Write your questions down, and even better, write the answers you get to your questions down too, so that when you make your decision on which offer to choose, you can reflect on what your observed from your interviews.
Interviewing truly goes both ways. I understand that when you are in a difficult position, it feels like you have to take whatever you can get first, but I encourage you to really think about what kind of company you want to work for. Write it down. Let it marinate in your mind. Then ask those questions of the people who are interviewing you. If a company’s culture is important to you, ask how each interviewer would describe it. Ask what their favorite thing about working there is. If it’s the benefits that will be the deciding factor, ask about them. The worst that can happen is they give you bad answers and then you know that you don’t want to work for them. You can spend your time looking for a better opportunity rather than jumping through the interviewing hoops. Overall, conquering the interview process takes practice that we don’t often get, but understanding what each of your interviewers are looking for, preparing for their questions, and evaluating your own success is perhaps the best advice I can give on how to navigate a largely unknown territory. It only has to be daunting if you allow it to be.
I hope this article gave you some perspective on interviewing; let me know what questions I can answer for you in the comments. I am happy to provide any insight that I can give to help you land your next job!