Views from the Talent Pool: Stuff Interviewers Say
Interview settings can present challenging communication dynamics, even for the most experienced candidates. At times, it may seem like the interviewer is speaking in code. Unlike the phenomenon on YouTube, it is rarely hilarious and often confusing.
The first thing to know is this: hiring managers and interviewers aren’t trying to trick you. There are aspects of the interview structure that limit how and what an interviewer can say. Interviewers are squeezed in by the desire to present the organization in the best possible light, the heightened professionalism of the interview setting, and employment laws that dictate what questions can and can’t be asked. The result is a sometimes awkward, overly formal interaction with no candor. In this scenario, it can feel like the person across the table from you is talking in code.
To help navigate through these nuanced conversations, here are few things you might hear, as well as suggestions for how to best prepare yourself to respond.
They say: “We need someone who is going to roll up their sleeves.”
They mean: There are going to be hands-on, administrative aspects of the job that are in no way sexy or strategic. If anyone says these responsibilities are beneath them, they are not right for this job. We’re not looking for visionary leaders with expertise in delegating. We need a leader who is also an implementer and can flat out get stuff done.
Your response: Give an example of a time when you’ve been the leader *and* the implementer. No need to go overboard describing every time you’ve licked an envelope or swept up the office. Describe one project that you led from start to finish, highlighting the strategic design elements as well as the implementation steps.
They say: “I need someone who can lead through influence.”
They mean: In this job, you’re going to have to get things done across departments, with people you don’t manage, at different levels of the org chart. Many of them may not agree with you or want anything to do with your projects. At times, you are going to need to whip some people into shape, and because you are not their manager, you’re not going to have the traditional carrots or sticks to motivate them.
Your response: Provide an example of when you’ve led in this way. The type of example that works well is talking about implementing a new process when you had to identify champions or early-adopters as well as the nay-sayers early on. Describe what you did to work with and motivate each group, such as celebrating the contributions of the champions and making them thought-partners, while working side-by-side in the trenches with the naysayers in order to establish yourself as a peer.
They say: “I know this is probably too many skills to ask for in one person, but we’re willing to wait for the needle in a haystack person.”
They mean: Yes, this role is demanding and it may seem nearly impossible to find someone who can do this list of responsibilities. However, we think we can find the person. And we think there are some things on this list that you don’t currently have.
Your response: With a high level of self-awareness, acknowledge the importance of the various aspects of the role, and pinpoint the areas where you may not have as much experience. Then, give example so how you would go about learning on the job, gaining the skills you don’t have and ramping up knowledge in order to surpass expectations.
They say: “Do you really want this job?”
They mean: We are only going to be excited about somebody for whom this is their dream job and dream organization. You have the skill set we’re looking for, but we have a line of people that are more excited and beating down our door for a chance at this.
Your response: Be enthusiastic and specific. You don’t have to be disingenuous or uncomfortably effusive, but tell your interviewer what drew you to the organization, why you are inspired by their work, and what sparked your interest in this area of work. This is your chance to show how excited you are about the opportunity, as well as demonstrate your knowledge of the organization and understanding of the role. Be honest. If there’s more you need to learn about the role in order to be more excited about it, let them know what questions you have and what information would help you better understand how this could be a dream job for you.
As the examples above illustrate, the best way to answer interview curveballs is to be prepared. Come to every interview with examples – your best stories – of times you’ve demonstrated commonly sought after skills, such as leadership, flexibility, and teamwork. Write these stories down, practice them, think about ways they can be applicable to different questions or ways they demonstrate a range of competencies. Show that you’re self-aware, and that you recognize the ways you match up perfectly with the job, but there’s also aspects that will be challenging for you and you’ll need to learn in order to exceed expectations. Be honest and open. If you feel like the interviewer is talking in code, you can say, “I want to make sure I’m answering your question in the most direct way,” and rephrase the question for the interviewer to ensure you understand what they’re looking for. If you’re honest and direct, you can turn the interview from a game of decoding hidden messages, into an engaging, candid conversation.