career, interviewing, job search

Interview Myths: One by One

Recently, a Forbes article about the top 10 interview myths caught my eye.

the_right_candidate_interview questions

The Forbes writer and I differ on a number of them. I’ll take them one by one here and add my own POV:

  1. The interviewer is prepared. The answer to that is, “It depends”. I think some hiring managers are much better than others at ensuring the interview team they select really understand the position and what makes a great hire. Good organizations educate their hiring managers on how they need to own and drive this.
  2. The interviewer asks good questions. I think the answer to this is, “It depends on company size”. Most larger organizations will give interviewers training and in some cases predefined interview questions. Small companies/startups won’t have these types of resources as often, and interviewers may shoot from the hip more frequently as a result.
  3. They want you to accept their offer of refreshment. Forbes suggests the answer to this is ‘no’. My answer: That question should have been asked–and the answer acted upon–prior to the interview starting.
  4. The interviewer wants additional materials like references. Forbes says the answer is no; I say in most cases no–unless the job requires it. Interviewers don’t know what to do with additional materials and often it isn’t their job to manage them. They’ll just be handed over to HR after the interview. My advice: Don’t waste your paper.
  5. There’s a right answer to an interviewer’s question. Forbes contends an interviewer is most interested in how you get to the answer rather than a specific right answer. I think that is more true for non-technical questions; for technical questions interviewers are looking for you to come to an answer that solves the problem and in many cases have an idea in their heads of how they would solve the problem against which they are benchmarking your answer. However, in that scenario they are also looking to see how you architect your solution verbally/on a white board.
  6.  You should keep your answers short. I disagree with Forbes on this. The article states that an interviewer is happy to have you rattle on if you’re saying something that is relevant to the question asked, because it keeps them from having to come up with another question. I think there are always opportunities to be more concise in interviews. Being able to craft a fully formed answer (problem–solution–outcome–learning) in a concise way shows both your knowledge of a specific subject as well as your ability to effectively convey information. I regularly see interviewers mark candidates down for being too long-winded or restating the same information more than once.
  7. Hiring managers value skills over physical attractiveness. My reply: “Most of the time this is true.” In most positions, what you know and how you can apply it is far more important than physical appearance. However, I think that in certain fields, physical appearance does come into play (even if it shouldn’t). I’ve never seen an auto show model, male or female, that wasn’t both physically fit and attractive; somehow I think the candidate evaluation process might include certain selection criteria that aren’t written down anywhere…
  8. When they ask where you want to be in five years, they want you to demonstrate ambition. Agreed–they are really looking for someone who isn’t a job hopper. It costs money and time to backfill.
  9. If you’re invited to an interview, the job is still open. Forbes contends that managers often interview even if an internal candidate has been selected. I think this is partially true, and very much depends on the organization. Some organizations have requirements around how long a position must be posted, whether qualified external candidates must be considered, etc. In that scenario it’s possible that, even with a talented internal candidate who has applied, they may interview externals as well. However, let me present an alternate scenario: I once worked for an organization that required temporary employees to interview for the full time version of their position (instead of just converting them to a full time employee). The temporary employee interviewed with the interview panel, treating it like it was just a box that had to be checked–a terribly unimpressive interview. That was followed immediately by a phenomenal external candidate. The interview panel was then faced with an unenviable choice–hired the external candidate at the cost of the current employee’s job–and made it. Imagine how shocked the current (temporary) employee was to hear he hadn’t been hired for his own job. Never assume that you don’t have a chance.
  10. The most qualified person gets the job. Agree–this isn’t always the case. Often it’s a combination of technical skills and ability–can they do the job? With effectiveness skills and cultural fit–will they do the job and will they work well with the people they need to get their job done?


4 thoughts on “Interview Myths: One by One

  1. On keeping your answers short, I agree with you, Jon! Say what you need to say and use the detail that’s necessary to get your point across, but don’t repeat yourself. It’s just as frustrating as an interviewer to deal with a candidate who doesn’t know how to wrap up a thought as one who can’t expound on a point.

    On physical attractiveness, I would say that we are only human and that, while it shouldn’t, how you look plays into how a person judges you. Candidates should do their best to come across as professional, and look their best. Don’t wear something really gaudy or distracting (even if you like it) because the interviewer will be unable to separate what you say from the wildly colored scarf that they see every time they look at you.

    On demonstrating ambition, I would agree that interviewers want to know you’re planning to stick around. However, they may not want you to aspire to moving up the corporate ladder. If you’re interviewing for a data entry clerk position and are perfectly happy at that level, that’s not necessarily a mark against you. It could work in your favor, especially for a manager who is tired of continually having to backfill that position as others have used it as a stepping stool to something else.

    Great article!

    Posted by cynditefft | October 14, 2013, 5:02 pm
    • Thanks Cyndi.

      I think the “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” question is one that could have a number of different desired answers. I think the best answer is to demonstrate you have a goal & a plan to achieve your goal.

      Posted by Jon J-B | October 15, 2013, 8:42 am
  2. I’d be interested in how you define cultural fit. As an older worker, I think this may be my greatest weakness?

    Posted by Alice hanson | October 15, 2013, 3:54 am
    • Alice, I think it is obviously dependent on the company and how teams work there. For instance, Amazon tends to be a culture where people need to be comfortable speaking up and being very direct; someone who is not comfortable acting that way–or cannot quickly flex into that type of culture–may not be a strong fit. I think using resources like Glassdoor or talking with current employees @ that company who are in your network about the culture will help you determine if you think it will be a comfortable fit for you.

      Posted by Jon J-B | October 15, 2013, 8:38 am

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