Friday, December 15, 2006

Interview myths

One important reason people fail at interviews is because of several
misconceptions, or myths, about what really happens during the
course of an interview. All of us know that the purpose of interviews
is for an interviewer to hire someone who will perform well in a
particular job, but beyond that few people fully grasp how interviews
really work and what makes one candidate stand out more than
another. This lack of understanding represents a major obstacle to
maximising performance when sitting before an interviewer and
trying to give your best answers. Interviews are no different to other
endeavors in life: the better you understand how they work (or don’t
work), the higher the probability of tackling them successfully. An
understanding of the underlying dynamics inherent in most
interviews is an important start to improving your interview
Myth no. 1: The best person for the job gets it
Sometimes this is true—especially in a situation where everyone
knows everyone else, such as when a company is recruiting internally.
However, this is often not the case. In order for the best person for
the job to win it, a number of very important things need to be in
place (and even then, there’s no guarantee). These include:
• The interviewer knows what questions to ask and how to search
for the truthfulness in answers. These two things may sound
simple enough, but I can assure you that a large proportion of
people conducting interviews have received no training, lack
interview experience and often do not even go to the trouble of
preparing for the interview.
• The interviewer is not taken in by the charm, good looks, great
humour or any other aspect of the interviewee. This can be a
difficult obstacle, even for experienced interviewers.
• The interviewee has learned how to clearly articulate their skills,
key achievements and how they can add value to the organisation.
• There is no personality clash between interviewer and interviewee.
• Neither party is having a bad day.
Some employers—usually the ones who have been badly burnt
by hiring the wrong people in the past—go to great lengths to set
up professional hiring procedures designed to minimise hiring
mistakes. Whilst some of these procedures are effective in improving
candidate selection, they do not guarantee that the best person for
the job will actually win it. In the final analysis, choosing someone
for a job involves at least one human being making a decision about
another, and no matter what we do to eliminate subjectivity, as
human beings it is impossible to put aside our predispositions,
predilections and personal preferences—no matter how much we
may try to.
In an ideal world, the best person for the job would always win it;
however, the reality is that it is often the person who performs best
at the interview who wins the prize. The important lessons here are:
• Don’t automatically pull out of applying for a job if you know
someone better suited for the job is also applying for it. If you
go to the trouble of preparing properly for the interview, there’s
a good chance that you may be seen as the preferred candidate—
especially if the other person takes the interview for granted and
fails to prepare.
• If you happen to know that you’re the best person for the job,
avoid taking the interview for granted. Behave as though you’re
competing against formidable rivals. Take the time to prepare
properly. Just because you’ve got a lot of experience does not
mean you know how to convey this message at an interview.
Myth no. 2: Interviews are like school exams—
the more you say, the better you’ll do
Yes, interviews are a bit like exams in so far as that you’re asked a
number of questions to which you need to respond intelligently,
but there the similarities end. Unlike exams, where lots of accurate
detail is important, interviews are more about interacting and rapport
building whilst simultaneously articulating smart answers. And a
smart answer is often not the most detailed. In fact, long and overly
detailed answers can drive interviewers to distraction, despite their
technical accuracy. Knowing when to stop talking is a skill all
successful interviewees have.
Also unlike many exams, there are often no right or wrong
answers in interviews. We’re all different and come to interviews
from different backgrounds and business sitations. What is important
at an interview is to justify your actions and talk about your
achievements in a confident manner.
Myth no. 3: Interviewers know what they’re doing
Some interviewers are very good at what they do, especially full-
time professionals (provided they’re not suffering from interview
fatigue). However, many managers and owners of small businesses
often flounder because interviewing is not something they do on a
regular basis. Some sure signs of a bad interviewer are:
• They do most of the talking.
• They sound as though they’ve made up their mind about you
in the first five minutes.
• They seem to pluck their questions randomly out of the ether.
• Their phone keeps ringing and they answer it.
• They sound like very sharp and less-than-honest salespeople
when it comes to selling the job.
Some sure signs of a good interviewer are:
• They have their questions carefully prepared in advance.
• They want to know what you’ve done and how you’ve done it,
including specific examples.
• They let you do most of the talking.
• They may want to interview you more than once.
• They will try to make you feel at ease.
• They are genuinely interested in your accomplishments, skills
and the type of person you are.
Inexperienced interviewers generally don’t ask the right questions
and can easily be swayed by factors that have little to do with your
ability to perform in the job. So if you are being interviewed by an
inexperienced interviewer, don’t wait to be asked a good question—
one that will allow you to talk about all your wonderful skills and
qualities. Rather, take the initiative in as unobtrusive a way as possible
and talk about the things you feel the interviewer might really want
to know. Unfortunately, this may not always be possible—especially
if you’re being interviewed by a forceful personality who loves the
sound of their own voice. If ever you find yourself in such a situation,
don’t panic. Remind yourself that interviews are just as much about
rapport-building as they are about answering questions. So nod your
head, smile and make all the right noises—talkative interviewers
love people who agree with them.
Myth no. 4: Never say ‘I don’t know’
Interviews are about making a positive impression by answering
questions intelligently and building rapport with the interviewer.
To this end, many interviewees feel that they have to provide the
perfect answer to every question put to them, irrespective of whether
or not they actually know the answer. Clearly, a great interview is
one in which you can answer all the questions (and you should be
able to do so if you take the time to prepare correctly); however, if
you don’t know the answer to something, it is better to admit to it
rather than pretend to know and start waffling. Most interviewers
can pick waffling a mile away and they don’t like it for a couple of
very important reasons: first, it is likely to make you sound dishonest;
and second, it will make you sound considerably less than intelligent.
You may as well not attend the interview if you give the impression
that you’re neither honest nor bright.
Trying to answer a question that you have little idea about could
undermine an otherwise great interview. This does not mean that you
cannot attempt answers that you are unsure of. There’s nothing wrong
with having a go, as long as you make your uncertainty clear to the
interviewer at the outset. Here’s what an answer may sound like:
I have to be honest and say that this is not an area I’m familiar
with, though I am very interested in it. If you like, I’m happy
to have a go at trying to address the issue, as long as you’re
not expecting the perfect answer.
I’d love to answer that question, but I need to be honest
upfront and say that this is not an area that I’m overly familiar
with, though I’m very interested in increasing my knowledge
about it.
Myth no. 5: Good-looking people get the job
I suppose if the job was for a drop-dead gorgeous femme fatale type
in a movie, then good looks would certainly help, but for most other
jobs the way you look is not as big a deal as many people make out.
As we’ve already discussed, there will always be an inexperienced
employer who will hire on the basis of superficial factors, but most
employers are smarter than that. The claim that good-looking people
get the job over plain-looking people makes one seriously flawed
assumption—that employers make a habit of putting someone’s
good looks before the interests of their livelihood. All my experience
has taught me the contrary. Most businesses find themselves in
highly competitive environments and employers are only too keenly
aware that a poor hiring decision can prove very costly.
This is not to say that appearance and a bright personality are
not important factors at an interview. It is very important that you
dress appropriately and try your best to demonstrate all your friendly
qualities. Good looks are certainly overrated in interviews, but an
appropriate appearance and a friendly personality are not.
Myth no. 6: If you answer the questions better than
the others, you’ll get the job
Being able to articulate good answers in an interview is very important,
and failure to do so will almost certainly mean you don’t get the
job. However, interviews—as we’ve already seen—are much more
than just giving good answers. They’re also about convincing the
interviewer that you will be a nice person to work with. To put it
another way, it doesn’t matter how good your answers are technically,
if the interviewer doesn’t like you there’s not much chance you’ll
get the job (unless your talents are unique, extremely difficult to
find or the interviewer is desperate).
So avoid thinking about interviews just in terms of answering
questions correctly. Interviews are also about establishing rapport
and trust, and whilst there is no fail-safe method in doing this, there
are things you can do (and things you should not do) that will go
a long way towards improving your skills in this all-important area
of interviewing.
Myth no. 7: You should try to give the perfect answer
I’ve heard too many people stumble over their words, repeat
themselves and talk in circles because they’re trying to articulate
the perfect answer—or what they think constitutes the perfect answer.
Some people are so obsessed with delivering the perfect answer that
they don’t stop until they produce what in their opinion is a word-
perfect response.
Because we can never be entirely sure of what the interviewer
wants to hear, some of us will keep on talking in the hope that we’ll
cover all bases. The problem with this approach is that we end up
talking too much, leading to the interviewer losing concentration—
which, of course, is the last thing you need at an interview. The
reality is that in most cases there is no such thing as the perfect
answer. The lesson here is: it makes a lot of sense to settle for a good
answer that gets to the point rather than meander all over the place
searching for the elusive perfect answer.
Myth no. 8: You must ask questions to demonstrate
your interest and intelligence
Many interviewees are under the mistaken belief that they must ask
questions at the end of the interview. There seems to be a common
belief amongst many interviewees that this makes them sound more
intelligent as well as more interested in the job. This is not true.
Asking questions simply for the sake of doing so won’t improve
your chances of getting a job. It could even make you sound a little
dull—especially if you ask questions about matters that were already
covered during the course of the interview.
Only ask a question if you have a genuine query. Acceptable
questions include those relating directly to the job you’re applying
for, as well as working conditions and company policies on such
things as on pay, leave, and so on. Interviewers never mind answering
questions about such matters, but they do mind answering questions
they perceive to be irrelevant. If you have no questions to ask, simply
say something like: ‘Thankyou, but I have no questions. You’ve been
very thorough during the course of the interview and have covered
all the important matters regarding the job.’ There’s nothing wrong
with including a compliment to the interviewer about their
thoroughness and professionalism—provided it doesn’t go over the
top or sound like grovelling.
Two further points need to be made about asking questions. First,
avoid asking too many questions. On the whole, interviewers do
not enjoy role reversals. Second, never ask potentially embarrassing
questions. These can include:
• a question relating to a negative incident;
• something that’s not supposed to be in the public domain;
• a difficult question that may stump the interviewer.
The rule of thumb is: if you think a question may cause
embarrassment, err on the side of caution and avoid it.
Myth no. 9: Relax and just be yourself
Whilst it is important to be relaxed and show your better side, it is
also very important to understand that interviews are not social
engagements. Most interviews are highly formalised events in which
otherwise innocuous behaviours are deemed unacceptable. In short,
being your usual self could spell disaster (as contradictory as that
may sound). For example, if being yourself means leaning back on
your chair, dressing somewhat shabbily and making jokes, you might
find yourself attending an inordinate number of interviews. Whilst
interviewers like people to be relaxed, they also have definite
expectations about what behaviours are appropriate for an interview—
and you violate these expectations at your peril!
Myth no. 10: Interviewers are looking for flaws
The danger with this myth is that it can easily lead to interviewees
adopting a defensive, perhaps even distrustful, attitude during the
interview. If you believe that the interviewer is assiduously searching
for your flaws, it will more than likely undermine your attempts to
establish that all-important rapport and trust. It may also prevent you
from opening up and giving really good answers. Rest assured that
most interviewers do not prepare their interview questions with a view
to uncovering your flaws. Questions are mostly prepared with a view
to giving the interviewer an overall or holistic insight into what you
have to offer the company. A good interviewer will indeed uncover
areas in which you are not strong, but that is a far cry from thinking
that the interviewer is hell bent on uncovering only your flaws.
It is very important to treat every question as an opportunity to
excel rather than being unnecessarily guarded. It is only by answering
the questions that you can demonstrate how good you are. To treat
questions as objects of suspicion makes no sense at all.
Understanding the myths surrounding interviews gives you a great
start for success. Remember, interviews are no different to other
endeavors in life: the better you understand their underlying nature
the higher the probability you’ll tackle them successfully. An insight
into common interview myths will arm you with the information
you need to prevent you from falling into those disheartening traps.
Just as importantly, a clearer picture of the true nature of interviews
better informs the rest of your preparation and will contribute to
your confidence and performance.
Summary of key points
• The best person for the job does not necessarily win it—often it’s
the person who gives the best interview.
• Interviews are more than just giving technically correct answers.
They’re also very much about building rapport.
• Not all interviewers know what they’re doing; your job is to know
how to handle the good and bad interviewer.
• It’s better to be honest and admit ignorance than try to pretend you
know an answer and come across as disingenuous and less than bright.
• Good looking people win jobs—maybe in Hollywood movies, but
on the whole, employers are keen to hire talent over superficial factors.
• Striving to give the perfect answer can get you into trouble. It’s better

perfection; besides, often there’s no such thing as the perfect answer.
• Do not ask questions for the sake of it. Only ask a question if you
have a genuine query that has not been covered.
• Interviews are formal occasions requiring relatively formal behaviours.
Interviewers will expect this and may react negatively if they don’t
see it.
• Interviewers do not spend all their time looking for your flaws. They’re
more interested in getting an overall picture of who you are. Avoid
answering questions defensively. It’s much better to see every question
as an opportunity to highlight your best points.

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