As I’m sure most of you would agree, interviews are essentially conversations, albeit slightly more one-sided. And conversations are regarded by many to be an artform in itself. For a conversation to succeed, both parties must be aware of, and creatively respond to, countless verbal and bodily cues. Most of these still matter during an interview. Mastering it can help anyone land a good job or, if they’re already on the hiring side, select the best colleagues.
My training and experience as a Limbic Leadership Coach has taught me that most of what people do, they do subconsciously. Rather than being in control at all times, the conscious mind is actually continuously pushed “from behind” by subconscious drives (e.g., beliefs and values) that coalesce by the time we’re 6-7 years old and remain largely unchanged ever after. Not having any direct access to these drives, however, the conscious mind simply observes what you’re already doing and comes up with a somewhat (or even totally) false, yet plausible narrative: “I did that because X”.
With that in mind, it should be clear that posing straightforward questions during an interview, and taking your interlocutor’s self-report as reliable, simply won’t do. The better approach is to ask them to give you 2-3 challenges they had to face at work in the past and might have to face in your company – actions really do speak louder than words.
For this to be valuable, though, you have to really dig into that problem and, more importantly, the way in which the interviewee approaches problem-solving. Two of the key questions that I rely heavily on are:
- “And then what did you do?”; and
- “Why did you do it that way?”
Given enough time, variations of these two, as well as other, questions (e.g., “What was the result?”, “What do you think you did well?”, “What would you do differently next time?”) can give you a fairly distinct outline of how someone approaches problem solving in general. In other words, their personal style of problem solving. No value judgment should be involved at this stage – the interviewee isn’t wrong to be solving problems in this or that way. After all, someone’s personal style is part of who they are as a person, and no one is the wrong kind of person. By this I mean that when a judgment is finally made, it relates only to whether the person fits the company’s needs – leaving their very humanity intact.
Interview-by-problem-solving can also yield a good sense of the interviewee’s capacity for self-reflection. Now, the ability to self-reflect is important here for at least two reasons:
- Knowing oneself implies knowing one’s values and goals, and having a (more or less) coherent view of the world. Apart from being of general value, this can make it much easier to determine if a candidate is the right one.
- As you can probably imagine, greater awareness of one’s own thought patterns and ability to roll with the punches, so to speak, are both highly sought-after qualities in pretty much any type of employee. Job-specific competencies can always be learned, whereas the power of self-reflection takes more sustained practice to properly master.
As you go deeper and deeper into the interview, people will react quite differently. Some will be willing to go along with the process and reflect on their own ways. Others will just plainly state what they did, as if that’s the only conceivable way of solving that particular problem. Yet others may even get angry with you (“What’s with the mind games? Is this some kind of trick!?”).
The important thing is to always be open and honest about what you’re doing. You want to get a picture of who the interviewee is as a person, beyond their skills and professional qualifications. As I’ve suggested, awareness of one’s own thought process, ability to take on varied perspectives (and, I would add here – the desire for growth) are ultimately more important than a strict competence fit.
The last thing I’ll mention is this. I often have the manager listen to the interview. This is because it’s usually easier to think about the person being interviewed in a broader sense when you’re not the one asking the questions. There may be some things that I’ve simply missed. Or some connection that I failed to make at the moment. So it’s always good to have someone detached from the interview process who can provide some fresh insights.
And that’ll do it for this article. Hopefully, this gives you at least some idea of how to come prepared for an interview with us. Aside from retracing your steps through a practical challenge or two, and giving some thought to how that unfolded, I suggest you, as it were, “come as you are”. I love talking to people, so honesty and openness will go a long way!
I look forward to hearing from you!