A manager is interviewing for a senior-level position at their dream company. She has prepared for weeks and is ready to answer every question.
The hiring manager asks her a question about her accomplishments. Wanting to appear modest, the interviewee shares a few examples of her past successes in general terms.
Next the candidate is given a problem to solve. She provides a step-by-step plan to solving the problem but doesn’t articulate a holistic and strategic plan.
Finally, the candidate takes out the three questions she has pre-prepared to ask the company at the end of the interview. She could answer all her questions by perusing the company’s website but doesn’t want to put them off by appearing too hard-hitting.
A week later, the company lets the interviewee know they aren’t moving forward with her candidacy. What went wrong with her interview?
Unfortunately, this interviewee made three cardinal mistakes: she held back on sharing her accomplishments in hard numbers, failed to demonstrate her strategic thinking skills, and finally, didn’t ask questions that demonstrated her enthusiasm for the position and company.
Why are these such significant mistakes, and how can interviewees avoid them?
The Importance of Sharing Specific, Quantifiable Achievements
A significant failing in job interviews is when candidates don’t talk about their achievements in hard numbers. Most people have these specific, quantifiable achievements – like how many new clients they converted, or how much money they earned – noted on their resumes, so the interview is the perfect time to reiterate these successes in specific terms.
The problem may not be that candidates don’t mention these numbers, though that could also be a concern, it’s that they don’t contextualize them.
The interview is the chance to help your interviewer understand the significance of your figures in context. For instance, if you earned a dollar amount at a company in the Midwest but are interviewing for a position on the West Coast, you could contextualize that figure based on industry averages in your previous city.
Alternately, you could mention the number of employees in past companies, the average number of clients at the company, or other context that gives the interviewer an entry point to how successful your hard numbers really are.
Why Interviewees Must Demonstrate Strategic Thinking in Interviews
According to Harvard Business Review, 97 percent of executives are looking for strategic thinkers when rounding out their leadership teams. If they had to choose only one quality that would predict the longevity of their companies, that was what they chose.
HBR recommends hiring managers give candidates a problem to solve or ask them to identify issues with an existing strategic plan. Red flags in answering these questions include focusing on piecemeal steps to solving a problem, rather than providing a strategic overview, or an inability to identify most or all of the problems with the strategic plan.
Even if a hiring manager doesn’t ask you a question that asks you to address strategic planning specifically, it’s a good idea to work in higher-level planning and foresight into your answer.
The Significance of Preparing Thoughtful Questions to Ask an Interviewer
When you’re asked to ask the interviewer questions at the end of your time together, you’re not just asking questions for yourself (though it is important to use these questions to make your own decision about moving forward). Instead, you should use this time to convey three things:
- Your interest in the position.
- Your knowledge about the company.
- Your intelligence and savvy.
That’s why it’s important to ask questions based on both what you want to know and what you want to convey about yourself. After all, this is your last opportunity to make an impression.
A few categories that can help you craft more sophisticated, thoughtful questions are:
- Questions about the expectations they have for someone in this role.
- Question about company culture and norms.
- Questions about the company, typically based on significant recent news.
- Questions about who you’ll be working with and leading.
It’s also important to modify your questions based on what is discussed in the interview. A rule of thumb is to jot notes as you progress through the interview, keeping track of what has and hasn’t been said.
Senior-Level Interviews Are a New Ballgame
Your preparation for a senior-level interview won’t be the same as for other positions. You need to be able to both describe your past leadership, as well as prove that you have the strategic thinking skills necessary for a management team. What’s more, you want to make sure your thoughtfully-considered questions demonstrate you’re seeking a leadership role at this company, not any company that will have you.
Understanding what hiring managers expect will help you be more confident, comprehensive, and authentic in your job interview.
Read more about how to come across as confident in an interview.