Paul Butler: Interview skills

Paul Butler

We moved here 14 years ago this month to start our own business, and since then, many of my professional associates have told me: “You’re a great networker.”

In the midst of the run for the elections, it dawned on me the politicians are applying for a job. As I write, one party is interviewing candidates to become their chosen one. S/he will then be interviewed by the people to challenge the incumbent who already has the job. So, it really is about their interview skills and their ability to convince the party and then the people they’re the best person for the job.

As an employee for about 20 years prior to starting our own company, I’ve been interviewed a few times. As I progressed in my career, I’ve been an interviewer many more times. I’ve interviewed people one-to-one; in-person or video conference at various places around the world. I’ve interviewed candidates as part of a panel of people who then pool their observations to arrive at a group decision. I believe, therefore, I can offer an opinion on effective interviewing skills.

What I noticed over time was that interview questions can be grouped into three categories — “can,” “will” and “fit.” Of course, interviews are not linear — the interviewer doesn’t announce the type of question they’re going to be asking by these categories, but if you pay careful attention, these categories are ever-present.

Follow-on questions from the interviewer essentially boil down to, “Tell me more.” They’ll likely dig down two to three layers to find they’ve either struck gold (an indicator this could be the best candidate), or they’ve struck baloney — fool’s gold.

In the “will” category, interviewers are drilling into the motivating factors. Would this be a good move for you? Is it more of a lateral rather than an upward move? Is the commute manageable? Have you done this work years earlier and so you might get bored quickly? Is there concern you may take the job to jump ship when a better offer becomes available, leaving the employer in the lurch to find a replacement? It’s expensive to hire and replace people.

Finally, in the “fit” category, interviewers are asking questions to see if you’re a good “fit” with their organization. Specifically, they’re wondering whether they can envision you working on a project they have in mind. Can they see you working well with people already on the team? When they consider their organizational values, do they think your personal brand aligns with their organizational brand?

To switch roles for a moment, as an interviewee it’s very useful to be able to spot these questions coming toward you. When asked a “can” question, explain how you can do, by explaining what you have done. When asked a “will” question, explain why you will do the job if offered it. You wouldn’t have applied for the job and taken the time to be interviewed if you weren’t willing to do it, but sometimes interviewers need to be reminded: You’re not kicking the tires with them when you’re thinking about jumping into someone else’s car.

When asked a “fit” question, tell the interviewer why you believe you’ll fit right in — give examples of where you’ve worked on similar projects; with similar people and reiterate your personal values are similar to theirs.
So just like the politicians are doing right now — be able to explain why you can do the job; that you will do the job and how you’re the best fit for the job.

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