Is a candidate a pure seller in an interview exchange, or are they also a buyer? While some might raise their eyebrows at the obviousness of the question, you would be surprised how many people struggle with the question. And I am not just talking about junior people but very senior people as well. And they pay a big price for it.
Many candidates approach an interview is an audition in which they are given a specific period of time to show their stuff before the next performer steps up. As result they view the interview as a one-way exchange in which questions are tossed and answers offered up. Best answers win.
But candidates are also buyers, of jobs and companies, and in my business the best candidates are often those who ask the best questions, not those that simply give the best answers. I cannot tell you how many times clients have told us, “We liked the candidate, but when we gave him the opportunity to ask us questions, he posed few. How is it possible that he has no questions? How will he know if we are for him?” When we debrief with the candidates and ask about their silence, they invariably respond that they elected to wait until the company selects them as a second round or finalist candidate before formulating their own questions. Unwittingly, their strategy, or in some instances laissez faire attitude, has reduced that likelihood.
Though stressful times render the best of us into pure and indiscriminate sellers of labor, job seekers must always keep in mind that wearing a buyer’s hat is important. The motivation to find the right job and company alone should drive job seekers to research potential employers, their industry, reputation, culture, and key people. It should also prompt them to ask questions about each in the course of an interview.
Second, candidates should remember that most hiring managers are poor interviewers. They do not know which questions will unlock the keys to selecting the best candidate nor do they know how to evaluate the ensuing answers. Thus, they look for other windows into each candidate, other clues as to which one is best suited. This may include indications of motivation, drive, enthusiasm, proactivity and preparation. Candidates help their cause immensely when they are prepared and have done their homework. Insightful questions are also indications of analytical ability and intellect. The right questions give evidence that the candidate understands the company, gets the issues, sees the problems, and in some instances, perhaps can solve them. As we have seen slam-dunk candidates destroy their candidacy through silence or lackluster due diligence we have also seen many long-shot candidates catapult themselves into the lead position by impressing the client with both the depth of their research and the insightfulness of their probing.
Notwithstanding market conditions, job seekers will make better decisions and increase the likelihood of better outcomes if they remember to be both sellers and buyers.
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.