Many people preparing for an interview will ask, “Can you give me a list of questions I can expect?” That’s tricky question: You can’t really anticipate what you will be asked because every interviewer has a different approach.
The solution is to focus on the goal of the interview — especially when it comes to knowing the basic difference between screening and hiring interviews.
There are no real, good lists of questions
One time I spent three hours of coaching with someone who really wanted a specific job in London. We thought she was as prepared as possible. When she called afterwards, she said they asked her “Why are manhole covers round?” We both laughed! There is no way I would have thought to tell her to Google that question and find the Web site that gives some answers. The question was a way to determine how well she could think on her feet. (She got the job.)
There are real, distinct approaches
Instead of trying to predict the unpredictable, a better approach is to understand why specific questions are asked in specific interviews. That way, you can prepare for the situation instead of rehearsing for questions you probably won’t be asked anyway.
There are two types of interview criteria. There is a big difference between an interview intended to determine if you can do the job and one designed to identify whether you are the best person to do the job.
- Screening interviews are an assessment of your ability.
- Hiring interviews are an assessment of your fit.
The screening interview
Objective facts include things like education, certifications, years of industry experience and technical skills. These are written into job postings and represent one way to assess your background. Don’t screen yourself out unnecessarily. If the posting says “MBA required,” a computer probably will screen you out, but a person might not. It is a real reason why it is important to bypass screening criteria through personal contacts and move to the next step.
You will be screened by both a computer and a human.
Information may be gathered by an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), software used to manage a high volume of incoming resumes. Keywords are extremely important for your resume and will definitely be included by your resume writer. The software can only consider yes/no questions. You either do or don’t meet these criteria by computer screening. For example:
- Do you have an MBA?
- Do you have 10+ years experience?
- Do you have experience with Peoplesoft or Oracle?
An internal recruiter will take it a step further. Questions might include:
- You have managed up to 20 people. Tell me about who they were, where they were based and what you had to do. This is a question to determine the scope of your responsibility. Onsite? In a territory? Within a global, matrix team?
- You say you are bilingual in Spanish. Tell me the most complicated project you worked on that required both bilingual and bicultural skills.This is to understand if you can do business in both English and Spanish. Just saying you are bilingual does not give a full picture, even if a computer can find the keyword.
- You have had four jobs in 10 years. Why? The computer will look at the dates, but only a person can understand your reasons.
The hiring interview
As you move to second or third interviews, hiring criteria will inspire most questions. After all, when a pool of candidates has been reduced to a small number, the decision becomes, “Who is the best person to hire?”
Thus, the questions will now focus increasingly on the human element. What will you add to the executive team? Will you have credibility with clients? Will you understand and support the corporate culture? Questions might include:
- You were responsible for an ERP conversion. Tell me about it. This is screening for technical and management proficiency as an executive and business leader. You will be assessed both on what you say and how you say it.
- What were your responsibilities for a smooth transition as your company acquired your biggest competitor? If you just describe your responsibilities, the answer will not have as much impact. You want to convey the real results of your work and how it enhanced your company’s bottom line.
- You say you were instrumental in the turnaround of your business unit. How did you assess what needed to be done? What type of strategic plan did you put together? What did and didn’t work? This will assess your ability to address significant problems. It may also assess your discretion in talking about your previous employer.
The differences between these two types of interviews mean you need a distinct approach to each. You don’t want to prove your fit in the screening interview and tout your capability in the hiring interview. (You now know to do the opposite.) After all, if you make it past the first interview, relax a bit! They have already determined that you can do the job.
You don’t have to “sell yourself” on your ability to meet the job requirements. This is particularly true if you go to meet an interview panel or sequential interviews throughout a day. They will not take on the real expense of involving multiple people just to determine your basic qualifications.
Your goal for each interview is just to move yourself along the hiring process until the company or you decide it is not a good fit. The process will move from the more objective information to a more subjective inquiry. So, when you are preparing, you must remember the purpose of that particular interview.
Then you can be prepared for a wide range of questions, because you understand the dynamics of what the interviewer is looking for. Take each line on your resume. What is an objective answer? What is more subjective?
An interview is a two-way conversation. Pay attention to where you are in the interview process. You must prepare to answer if you are the best person to do the job, not just whether you can do it.