Hiring processes are an oft unpredictable dog’s breakfast of science, art and even alchemy. For candidates seeking to enhance their chances of success in such contests, it is important that they differentiate what they can and cannot control. It is even more important that they act on what they can. In at least one area, most candidates don’t act, and pay a huge price.
Candidates have limited control in an interview. They cannot control the questions they will be asked nor can they control the manner by which employers will rank and weigh their responses. They cannot control interviewer bias. They cannot control their ages, gender or the decisions they have made in their careers to date. They can however control other things. Their level of self awareness, their career plan, their commitment to self development, how they frame their career narratives in line with their plan, their attitude, their attire, hygiene factors and on and on are all under the control of the candidate.
One relatively simple endeavor that is totally under the control of the candidate, yet ignored or undertaken half-heartedly by most, is preparatory homework. By this I mean undertaking research on the company one will be interviewing with, its ownership, products, industry, competitors, trends, reputation, leadership team etc.. Such research is vital and pays dividends in so many ways. It helps the candidate coalesce a view on the quality of company and opportunity they are considering as well as concerns, level of interest and fit. This alone contributes to better decision-making for that candidate. Research also demonstrates proactivity, interest, initiative, thoroughness, and perhaps even creativity on behalf of the candidate. It leads to richer discussions by which the parties can gauge each other. And lastly, depending on the ensuing questions that the candidate asks as a result of said homework, it gives insight into their level of intellect and abstract and even strategic thinking. Oftentimes it is the candidate who asks the best, most probing questions that proves successful, not the person who simply answers them.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of candidates do not pursue such diligence. They may peruse the company’s web site but they do little more. Perhaps they are too busy, or they calculate that if they make it to a second round of interviews they will then undertake a ‘deep dive’. Some candidates simply believe that it is their job to answer questions not ask them. Notwithstanding the reasons, most candidates don’t do their homework….and unfortunately, hiring companies often notice.
Our clients will debrief with us after they interview a candidate and say, ‘the candidate certainly seemed capable and qualified, but I was struck but how little they knew about us. I had to educate them on our industry’. Or they will say, ‘I enjoyed the interview, and I believe the person could certainly do the job but they asked very few questions at all. That was strange. Are they uninterested or what do I read into that’? Or, the client will say ‘the candidate asked very surface level industry questions during the interview. Not very impressive actually’. Such comments, disappointing as they are, are even more disappointing when you consider that we actively advise candidate to prepare. We do this not to ‘game’ the system, but because we want the candidate, as much as the client, to make a well-informed decision.
While homework alone will not make or break a candidacy, I have seen it make a difference on many, many occasions. I have seen dozens of candidates vault above a group of seemingly equally candidates because of their preparation alone. I have seen candidates wow clients with their research. And I have seen countless qualified candidates underwhelm clients and get passed over for jobs simply because they couldn’t be bothered or did a surface level job of doing their homework before their interviews. Unfortunately, when I say countless, I do mean countless….
About the Author
Robert Hebert is the founder and Managing Partner of StoneWood Group Inc., a leading executive search firm in Canada. Since 1981, he has helped firms across a wide range of sectors address their senior recruiting, assessment and leadership development requirements.