What An Interviewer Is Really Looking For
The effectiveness with which today’s job candidates communicate examples of their own on-the-job behaviors can determine whether the door to a new position stays open or is shut in their faces, says Mary Anne Kennedy, a human resources director at Bristol-Myers Squibb.
The way human resource professionals elicit these behaviors is through a technique called behavior-based interviewing, which is based on facts and not gut feelings. Be aware of the distinction between a judgment and a behavior. “There are three components to behavior, says Kennedy. “It is observable, specific, and fact-based. Completing the budget ahead of schedule, for example, is an observable behavior. The statement “I am a team player” is a judgment. “When you go with the facts, you make better decisions.”
Ask for examples. Hit candidates with the following: “Tell me about a time when you were in a situation and people didn’t get along. Give me the situation, what actions you took, and what was the result.”
Or try, “Tell me about a problem you have solved in a unique manner and what the outcome was.” Or even: “What has been your experience in technology? What kind of software do you use? Can you give me examples of how you did an implementation of specific software?”
A smart candidate would be wise to prepare good answers.
Probe. Take the question “Describe a recent creative idea that you brought to your work team.” Kennedy suggests a series of follow-up questions: “How did you do that? Who was involved? What did they think about your idea? What was the result?”
Keep questions work-related. In the United States it is against the law to ask personal questions during a job interview, and of course these are not behaviors. Kennedy advises staying entirely away from areas like marital status, children, interest in golf, religion — not only are they illegal but they shouldn’t have any relevance to the job.
Within the framework of behavior-based interviewing, Kennedy also has some advice for job candidates:
Look for a position and a company that match your values. Make sure you are not one of those of people who are just looking for a job. The human resource person will immediately spot you as a drone if you ask questions like, “When does my vacation start?” or, “What will my benefits package look like?”
Build a resume based on your values, skill sets, and experience. “A resume should be bulleted with quantifiable information and good key words,” Kennedy says. In large organizations a resume is dumped into a tracking system before humans even see it; and resumes are handled similarly on websites like monster.com. If a department is looking for an expert on the SAP software package and your resume does not say it, you will not get an interview.
Do your research. Come to the interview with questions that prove you have done some legwork. If Kennedy asks a potential candidate, “What do you know about Bristol-Myers Squibb?” and the answer is “Not much,” that’s a tip off that the candidate has been throwing resumes everywhere. “I am only interested in people who have done their homework,” she says.
Learn to schmooze. “Go to every networking event possible,” advises Kennedy, “and when you get someone’s business card, ask for 15 minutes with them.” Then when you talk to them, don’t ask for a job but rather for two more people you should talk to. “We believe your next opportunity is two degrees of separation away not six,” she says.
Prepare examples relevant to the job you are applying for. “You may end up finding a person interviewing you who has no idea how to interview,” says Kennedy. “If you come prepared, you can provide the interviewer with specific examples that they don’t even have to ask of you.” You might say, for example, “Let me give examples of my leadership capabilities, or of the last team or project I led.”
Just answer the question. People get nervous and start thinking they haven’t provided enough information. It’s important to know when to stop talking.
So what have you been up to? Kennedy urges people who are not currently working to get involved in associations and organizations that give them a chance to build leadership and competencies. Saying “I have five children who I get to daycare on time every day” won’t get you too far, says Kennedy, because it’s not relevant to most jobs.
“If you are out of work and going in for interviews, they want to know what you have been doing for the last six months or a year,” Kennedy says. “It’s okay that you have been out of work, but don’t tell them you have been traveling around the world and now you’re focusing on getting a job. They want to hear you have volunteered, taken a class, given back to society.”
Say thanks. Once a candidate lands a job it’s important to thank anyone who has helped out, including people who were part of your networking process. And then after you get a job, you need to give back, and give another person a leg up in the job search process.
Excerpted from the April 30, 2008, issue of U.S. 1.