What an interview is really about

Most of the people I’ve coached over the years had a less than perfect understanding of what an interview is really about.

How do I know this? One easy way is to take a look at the kind of questions that they ask:

  • What if I’m not qualified?
  • What if I can’t answer their questions?
  • What if they don’t like me?
  • etc…

These questions show that the candidates, generally, have quite a bit of uncertainty about the actual interview process. My belief is that this comes from a lack of understanding about the hiring process from the manager’s point of view.

To help deal with this fear of the unknown, let’s go over what a typical hire looks like from the point of view of the person actually doing the hiring:

Gather resumes

This can be from several sources including: recruitment firms, recommendations from employees and online job boards. The number of resumes can easily be in the hundreds especially if using job boards. At this point, the person doing the gathering is using some pretty low level filters to exclude people as quickly as possible.

Review Resumes

This is usually done by the hiring manager alone or includes both the manager and the team that will be working alongside the candidate if they are hired.

At this point, the resumes are getting much more individual attention. One of the key things to note here is that there may be broad spectrum of opinions on each resume. For example, current employees with many years of experience may give more weight to experienced candidates and vice versa.

The main take away is that this is often a very subjective exercise. The overall goal though is to find someone who, on paper, appears to be qualified for the position based on what they have put on their resume.


Ah, the part that makes people the most nervous!

The hiring manager has a couple questions they want answered by the end of the interview:

1. Does the candidate match their resume?
2. Can the candidate answer questions in such a way that they demonstrate that they can handle the day-to-day work environment?
3. Does the candidate fit in with the rest of the team?

Believe it or not, question #1 is rarely an automatic yes. Candidates put all kinds of exaggerations on resumes that lead hiring managers to ask themselves: “Is this the same person??” It happens so often, in fact, that managers are incredibly distrustful of resumes which in turn is why they put such a premium on in person interviews. They need to verify that the candidate matches the resume. One highlight of this, if your resume accurately matches your experience and skills, you can consider yourself golden!

Question #2 is really the meat of the interview from the manager’s perspective. Every within the same industry, every company operates in their own idiosyncratic manner. While a candidate may have worked in the same industry before, the manager still wants to verify that the candidate can handle the types of situations and questions might face working on the manager’s team. Each manager/team does this differently and it depends heavily on the type of job. For example, jobs involving lots of troubleshooting and analysis result in interviews that are very question/scenario based. On the other hand, sales positions have a completely different process. For an excellent recount of a sales interview, I highly recommend this post from Ben Horowitz.

As a potential candidate yourself, the main take away is to remember to “know your audience”. The questions you receive during the interview should give you an excellent insight into what your interviewers are looking for. In fact, being able to identify what the interviewers are looking for may be part of their plan. This is especially true in fields like consulting where understanding what the customer wants even when they don’t is highly valued.

Assuming that questions 1 and 2 have been answered, the final stage of the interview is to see the “fit” of the candidate. As already mentioned, every team is different. Some enjoy very little day to day “banter” while working whereas others may enjoy joking/teasing constantly. While many of my past clients have expressed some concern over this part of the process I usually give them this advice: fit goes both ways. While it is obviously important to the hiring firm that you fit in with them, it is even more important that the company fit YOU.

Speaking from personal experience, I once took a job where, based on the fit portion of the interview, I had strong doubts about how I would like the work environment. I ended up taking the job due to several other strong positives (salary, commute, etc) but I ended up leaving 18 months later primarily because the “fit” was no good. Specifically, I prefer a gregarious, dynamic and outgoing workplace whereas this firm was oriented more towards a quiet and structured work atmosphere.

The best way to measure fit is to ask questions. In the interview, ask the people interviewing you about themselves e.g. where did they work before, why do they work there etc. It’s a lot like dating that way.

In closing, hopefully this post has helped calm some concerns by giving you an insider’s view of what an interview is really about.

If you found the above interesting and would like to hear more about how you and I could work together to help you get what you want when it comes to your career, you should check out my career coaching service.

I offer everything from mock interviews to salary negotiation coaching.

Check it out and we can get started on helping you get a better career.

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