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Authenticity and interviews: why it’s important

Anyone who really knows me will tell you that I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. (This saddens many who come to my house for dinner only to find I forgot to make dessert.)

So I was surprised today when I was buying a bottle of water at the airport and found myself suddenly craving a Snickers.

As I was considering this purchase, I noted that there was a candy bar much like a Snickers but was all-natural, organic, etc. My ego and id had a quick summit meeting and decided that if I was to give into this temptation, I would get the more expensive but potentially healthier choice.

I just broke into it, and–it’s fine. But it’s not the thing it’s pretending it is: a Snickers. It isn’t authentic.

Authenticity is often easy to achieve in our personal lives. With work, it can be a bit more difficult. I know many people that assume a slightly different persona, a different way of communicating, when they are in a work context.

This extends to interviews as well. Interviews are not scenarios in which we often find ourselves. The interviewer is frequently not trained in how to effectively interview and evaluate talent. The interviewee often feels anxious, nervous, uncertain. In many cases, there is a lot on the line for them if they don’t nail this interview.

This sets the stage for a very inauthentic interaction–especially on the part of the interviewee, who probably doesn’t have as much experience in interviewing as the interviewer.

Unfortunately, perceptive interviewers pick up on the fact that they aren’t seeing the ‘real you’. There is a lot riding on making this hire for them; they need someone they know they and their team can effectively work with. If they can’t see that through the interview, they will hesitate to make an offer.

How can a candidate address this? Practice. Ensure that you work with an interview coach and do mock interviews that are videoed. Watch the video–do you see the real you? Ask for feedback from the mock interviewer; did they feel like you were your genuine self, or did they sense a shift as soon as you moved from breaking the ice to the formal interview questions?

This can be a tough process, but it’s immensely valuable in preparing to be your most authentic self in the interview for your dream job.

Offbeat interview questions: What have you encountered?

It’s widely known that certain companies use nontraditional interview questions. There have been a couple of recent stories that highlight questions used by Amazon, Apple, Zappos, and many others. 

A few of my favorites:

  • Zappos: “What superhero would you be and would you dress up at work given the chance?”
  • Clark Construction Group: “A penguin walks through that door right now wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why is he here?”
  • Bain and Company: “Estimate how many windows are in New York.”
  • Apple: “If you were a pizza delivery man, how would you benefit from scissors?” 

I think these types of questions can help an interviewer evaluate how a candidate articulates their way through solving for an unknown problem (Bain/Apple examples) or whether a candidate is a culture fit (Zappos). But some of the questions (like the penguin question above) just seem ludicrous to me.

Recruiters/Hiring Managers: What are your thoughts on these types of questions? Do you/have you work(ed) for companies that use them as part of their interview process? How were the answers evaluated?

Job seekers: What unusual questions have you been hit with during an interview? How did you respond?

It’s college recruiting season-so why aren’t students getting hired?

As someone who has worked quite a bit in the campus recruiting space, I know what it’s like to live by the academic calendar in Fall and Spring. Those are the two peak times of year for campus recruitment, with Spring semester more focused on intern hiring.

This has been top of mind after reading that a large number of employers are finding new college grads are not prepared for the workforce.

60% of employers surveyed by one study said that new college grads lacked basic “communication and interpersonal skills”- about a 10% increase in the past two years. Another survey by global staffing company Adecco reported that 44% of employers cited soft skills like critical thinking, collaboration, and communication skills as the biggest gap.

Further, a recent survey of 200 employers by the National Assocation of Colleges and Employers (NACE) showed ability to work in teams, think critically, solve problems, and effectively prioritize work as employers’ top priorities in new hires.

How to solve this gap? Obviously, universities need to be studying these results and reviewing how they are integrating collaboration, peer feedback, and other key soft skills into their curriculums.

But the biggest key for any student is to do at least one (if not more) internships during their course of study. Internships are real-world work experience; they provide a realistic preview of what will be expected in the workplace. Internships are also a phenomenal way to build upon their in-class learning in an experiential setting. I used to perform exit interviews with our Summer interns, and almost all of them stated that their work experience had opened their eyes to what would be expected of them. More than a few realized they needed to change their course of study to better prepare themselves for a future job.

In fact, 70% of students who complete paid internships consider themselves ready for the workplace vs. 44% of those who do not. (Having interviewed students from both groups, I can state a large number of the 44% are not as ready as they think.)

So students, if you are reading this: it’s time to seek out an internship. Trust me, both you and your future employer (who, if you do a great job in your internship, could be one and the same) will benefit.

February 2014
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