When I was looking at interviewing for my first job out of university I read every article on “The Top 10 Interview Tips” that has ever been written and none of them gave me the advice that ultimately won me the job. That tip came from my cousin who works as a political staffer and does a lot of interviewing for various government positions. He also went through a period where finding work was tough, so he has been to a substantial number of interviews on both sides of the table. My cousin is a very bright guy, so I trusted his analysis completely and here is what he said that will forever change the way I look at job interviews:
“They are not looking to hire the most qualified candidate for the job. They are not looking to hire the person whose resume adds up to the highest point total, or whose GPA was higher by a tenth. The vast majority of jobs are given to the person that the interviewers believe thinks the most like them, and will make their lives the easiest. If you can convince the people that are doing the hiring that they will enjoy working with you, and that you will help solve their problems, as opposed to being “high maintenance,” then you are 75% of the way home.”
No One Wants To Hire A High Maintenance Staff Member
The more I thought about it the more it made a lot of sense. The only time I can see it not working quite as well is when you have an HR professional hiring on behalf of a huge company, and even then I think it has value. In terms of my own situation, where I was being interviewed by principals and head teachers of schools that I hoped to teach at, this advice was directly responsible for me getting a job in a terrible jobs market. I’m not saying that having qualifications isn’t important – obviously you need a basic level of them in order to get your resume to the top of the pile and get the interview in the first place. Once you start dealing with real human beings however, GPA numbers and the amount of bullet points you have don’t make you stand out very much.
Ultimately I’ve found that people follow the past of least resistance. If administration believes that someone would be really good at their job, but they would require a lot of extra work or attention from the management side of things, they rarely get the job. You need to make a personal connection with the people that are interviewing yourself, and make them realize that you are very competent, and will require as little attention from management as possible in order to accomplish your job.
Read and React!
So how do you do this? Well believe it or not, my cousin has found that the most underutilized part of a job interview is the 5-10 minutes that start when you enter the room, but end before the first official question is asked. There are so many ways to have canned answers for interview questions, that the real work gets done during the unscripted parts of the interview. I found it useful to do as much pre-reading as possible on the potential individuals that I felt might be interviewing me. I know this might sound creepy and stalker-ish, but a quick Google check of someone’s name might reveal they are a successful football coach, or a former top piano player. This is great information to make reference to and relate to when asked to cite examples of various situations in interviews. Then, use the first few minutes to get your interviewers talking as much as possible, and PAY ATTENTION. If you want to give a few jot notes about yourself that’s fine, but remember the idea is to try to get a handle on what kind of person they are, and what makes them tick so that you can try and use this to your advantage later on. The more information you can pick up on how they view the industry, or what they think about the latest news of the day, can be very useful in determining how to best slant your answers going forward.
Stand Out By Getting The Personal Connection
The old interview clichés and adages might have worked in job markets where there was always a high demand for basic, qualified candidates. These days however, being qualified is just a prerequisite, what you really need to seal the deal is a way to stand out. Bolding a certain part of your resume (related: Resume Tips) is mildly important, but it can only take you so far. When you internalize the fact that being the highest achiever isn’t the primary goal, being the best candidate in the specific mind of your interviewer/the person in charge of giving you a pay check is, then the interview process starts to look a lot more simple. Think about who you would choose if you were sitting on the other side of the table and had talked to 89 people that day? Keep in mind that making the personal connection (you want the interviewer to believe that not only are you smart, but that you think like them) and being low maintenance is key, and you’ll do just fine out there.