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Interview Techniques in the Post-COVID Landscape: Part 2, the Applicant’s Perspective

Last week, we published an article written by an experienced headhunter about how recruiters can do their jobs better. They offered three tips:
Tip 1: First-round interviews should always take place online
Tip 2: Learn how to sell
Tip 3: Treat candidates with respect

This week, we asked that same recruiter to turn their focus on recruits, more specifically, what candidates can do to stand out from the pack.

I should start off by saying that there are widespread misconceptions about the current state of the job market. Yes, generally, it is a candidate’s market; there are more jobs available than there are candidates, which means that candidates have a lot of leverage during the entire process. This is true for average positions, but it is not true for the most desirable roles at top companies. Those

Tip 1: Be diplomatic about your current and former employers

High-level candidates seldom throw their current employers under the bus, but I have seen it happen. Instead, candidates should be able to quickly, and respectfully, explain why they are putting their feelers out there. A common tactic that I respect, because it has influenced me a few times, is that they simply say that there is no room for them to grow with their current employer. This can take many forms. Some say it because there is no real way for them to keep moving up within their organisation. They have hit the ceiling, and for motivated people, this can really take the wind out of their sales. The other main form I have seen is when a candidate feels that they do not have much else to learn.

Before you start the recruitment process, you should really examine why you are throwing your hat in the ring at all. Is it more money? More satisfaction? Do you actually hate your current employer? Even if it is all of the above, figure out a way to message that so you do not come off as bitter. This is doubly, perhaps triply true, if you are discussing a former employer that let you go. The more you talk, no matter how justified you are, you are going to come off in a negative light, which leads us to my next tip…

Tip 2: Know when to stop talking

This is a personality flaw of certain candidates, so it is not applicable to everyone. But some people simply do not know when to stop talking. There is a fine line between enthusiasm and desperation. The longer you speak unprompted, the more you risk crossing that line.

In the beginning of the interview, answer the questions, but make sure you are not waxing on for 10 minutes. One candidate once spoke for 22 minutes to answer my first question without taking a break. This is not the time for extended monologues.

As far as showing interest in the company, I have seen a lot of recruiters tell candidates to ask a lot of questions at the end of an interview to demonstrate interest. In my experience, that is bad advice. You should be able to weave that interest – and those company questions – into the discussion throughout the interview. I have had candidates who were shoo-ins for a call-back burn themselves by asking rather asinine questions despite performing decently throughout the interview. Had they asked only one or two (instead of ten), they would have advanced to the next round.

Tip 3: Refine your story

I prefer to start an interview with open-ended questions, such as “tell me about yourself”. The reason I like this sort of question is that it shows how people prioritise and value different periods in their lives. If I am talking to a middle-aged candidate and they immediately start talking about their alma mater, I know that I am going to be bored. The best candidates know their value, and they know how to demonstrate that value succinctly and with emphasis on their accomplishments. If you are in front of me, I have read your CV and I have it in front of me. Do not recite it; tell me what YOU think is important.

The more I think about it, this last tip might be a good bit of life advice as well! Knowing how to sell yourself via your story will always serve you well in the business world.