What I Look for in a Job Interview

The questions I look to answer when conducting a job interview go beyond the questions that I’m asking. When I ask a candidate, for example, to tell me about themselves, I’m not just looking for information about who they are and what their experience is, I’m also looking to see if they’re a good fit. It’s kind of an open secret that hiring managers are looking to ascertain far more than the answers to the questions they ask you. Those questions, of course, are vital for providing necessary information, but they are also carefully constructed to answer several big questions without directly asking them: 

Will You Add Value to the Company?

For a lot of people, the number one thing they look for is “can you do the job.” But I don’t think that question delves far enough to reveal anything of value. Chances are if they’re being brought in for an interview, they “can” do the job. But being capable of the job doesn’t mean they’re going to excel, and it doesn’t mean that they’re going to be worth bringing aboard – not just because we would be likely to end up paying them more than the value they’re bringing in, but because someone who really would excel will find the position occupied. Instead, I focus on determining if you will add value to the company. This is sort of a catch-all for determining many crucial things about you. You have to, for example, be capable of doing the job in the first place in order to add value to the company, but you also have to do it well. Typically, I also look for ways in which your unique skills and experiences could add to the company – adding value in a completely different way. The fact is, if I didn’t think you could do the job, we’re not likely to get to the interview in the first place. Within the interview, I want to know what special something you’ll bring to the table. What flash of innovation, what uncommon passion, what value you are capable of adding to the company. 

Are You Prepared?

When I’m looking to discern if you are prepared, I’m not just looking to see if you are prepared for the job at hand. I want to know if you are a person who prepares. Being qualified for the job is the bare minimum. Odds are, you aren’t walking in the door for the interview if you aren’t prepared for the job. What I’m talking about is preparation as an intrinsic virtue. Are your responses quick and well thought out? Have you researched the company for which you are interviewing? Have you come prepared with all relevant documents/samples etc.? These sorts of things don’t just signal to your interviewer that you’re prepared for the interview itself, they also help to show that you may possess the virtue of preparation. Someone who is on time, ready to go, quick, collected, and well-informed is who I’m hoping walks through the door when I’m conducting interviews.

Are You Quick and Resourceful?

Of course, there are many things for which you can’t fully prepare. The fact of the matter is that you simply can’t predict every single question that is going to be asked in an interview, just like you can’t predict every single difficulty that may come up in the workplace. So I’m also incredibly interested in finding out how quick and resourceful you are. Thinking on your feet in an interview if you come up against a curveball question, or simply one you haven’t rehearsed ahead of time, can often be just as impressive, if not more impressive, than a response to a question that you have clearly anticipated. It’s all about balance. I’m looking for someone who has done their homework but who also can think on their feet. Too much of either virtue at the expense of the other isn’t going to fly. You can dazzle your way through every question, but if you clam up just because you didn’t anticipate the question, that’s going to signal to me that you aren’t quick or resourceful enough to be a good fit. Of course, interviews are stressful situations. It’s more than okay to request a second to think about a question or something like that, rather than flailing through an incomplete answer, but I do need you to be able to come up with a well-crafted answer even when it isn’t crafted ahead of time. 

Are You Willing to Learn and Adapt?

Preparation is all of the work you do to make yourself ready beforehand. Being able to think on your feet is your ability to make up the difference between what you have prepared for and the unexpected challenges you come up against. Being willing to learn and adapt is how willing you are to, essentially, continually prepare after you have the job, and to fill in any gaps in knowledge or skills that you might find along the way. Essentially, are you capable of avoiding falling into the trap of thinking you are “finished” learning and growing? I see this a lot. People come in seemingly prepared for anything, but, as the work changes and grows, as new technologies are introduced and utilized, as new processes are adopted and refined, those people tend to be the ones who fall behind first. Being willing to learn and adapt is one thing, but being able to is a skill on its own. It takes constant practice, and the further you get behind, the more difficult it is to catch back up. So I’m constantly on the lookout for candidates who are not only prepared, not only quick on their feet, but who strive to learn and grow and adapt.

Are You Passionate About the Job? (And About Joining Our Team in Particular)

One thing that I’m wary of is candidates who come off as a bit too desperate. It’s a fine line between being willing to tackle the responsibilities of the position and being willing to do anything. This might not exactly sound like a bad thing until you realize that these candidates aren’t on the hunt for this job. They’re on the hunt for any job. Ideally, the person sitting across from me in an interview is one who is not just qualified to do the job, but who wants to do the job. Especially someone who wants to do the job here. It would, of course, be naive of hiring managers to expect that every candidate for every position is looking to land their dream job at their dream company – I’m not expecting that. What I am expecting are candidates who want to do this particular job, and who have at least looked into the company ahead of time and found something about it they like or connect with. While the salary is, let’s be honest here, a big reason one might be after the position, I don’t want it to be the only reason. I want the candidate to be passionate about the work and, ideally, about the company. People who are only interested in the salary aren’t going to put their best foot forward, they aren’t going to take pride in the work, they aren’t going to be loyal to the company, and they’re going to get burnt out fast. On the other hand, people who are passionate about the position and excited to work for the company will strive to produce quality work.  

Are You a Good Fit?

Once I’ve determined that a candidate has what it takes to deliver on an individual level, I still need to figure out if they’ll be a good fit for the company and any teams they will be a part of. You could, for example, be a brilliant guitar player, but you aren’t going to make it in the band if you clash with the bassist. This doesn’t mean I’m out there looking for clones of people who already work here. On the contrary, workplaces thrive on diversity. If I have a couple of detail-focused people working on a project, the last thing that I want is yet another detail-focused person to join them. Instead, in this example, a big-picture person might be a better fit. More than that, candidates need to be able to mesh with the corporate culture. Being a good fit goes well beyond whether or not your resume lines up with the experience we need and whether or not your skills line up with the responsibilities of the position. We also have to consider company values. If a company values innovation and creativity the candidate will need to possess those values as well. Candidates also need to be able to work within the management and leadership styles employed at the company. The problem for interviewees is that you can’t necessarily make yourself into a candidate who would be a good fit, nor is it often even possible to ascertain from the outset what a good fit for a given company would even be. Instead, focus on honesty. You can, of course, glean a bit about the company culture and leadership style in a lot of situations while researching the company, but if the company culture or leadership style clashes with who you are and how you work it isn’t worth it for you to try to squeeze and contort yourself to fit what the company is looking for. Likewise, businesses don’t want to hire someone who is merely pretending to be a good fit (and we’re pretty good at sniffing that out) because that will inevitably reveal itself in the long run.