My interview went great!
Did it, really? How can you be so sure?
In fact, we find- time and again- that candidates are completely surprised following an interview they felt went well, when the company informs them they have decided to select a different candidate. So how does it happen that what we thought went so right was not received the same way from the other side of the table?
One of the most common reasons candidates find themselves in this type of circumstance is that they said something, or did something, at some point during their visit to the company that caused them to be eliminated from consideration. It does not matter that 95% of your interview with the company went great. If you eliminated yourself because of one particular aspect, the end result is the same as if you seriously flubbed the entire process.
That brings us to the key message in this post: it is just as important to focus on not getting excluded in the interview process as it is to excel in your responses to interview questions. There are “landmines” all through the interview process just waiting for you to step on them, and your objective needs to be to avoid them all. There are some obvious ones- the way you dress, the eye contact you make, and the need for a firm introductory handshake- but there are many others that are not quite as obvious, such as those described below.
One of the first landmines you face can sneak up on you even before the formal interview starts. When you visit a company for an interview, sometimes you are so focused on how you are going to answer the specific questions that you forget to take account of your surroundings. For example, when driving into the company’s parking lot, did you make sure that you parked in an appropriate parking space (usually a visitor’s space), or did you perhaps park in someone’s assigned spot? When checking in with the receptionist, were you friendly and conversational, or did you miss responding to a polite greeting because you were absorbed in checking your phone? It is important to realize that your interview starts as you approach the company, and does not end until you have completely left the setting. And every contact you make while you are on the prospect company’s campus needs to be nourished- even those made during a stop to the restroom!
Okay, so let’s say you handled yourself just fine through those unstructured portions of the visit. What else might happen to cause you to be eliminated from contention? Perhaps it was not the response to any particular question, but an unaddressed perception of the interviewer. For example, suppose your home is on the north side of the city, and the employer’s location is on the south side, a 45 – 60 minute commute from home. The company may end up excluding you from consideration because they are concerned you will not stay with them long-term, due to the long commute.
In such a situation, you want to deal with the issue head-on so that a prospective employer does not have the opportunity to draw an incorrect conclusion from your silence. In these cases, you should raise the issue to the appropriate individual (most likely the Human Resources professional who interviews you) along the lines that follow: “You may have noticed that your location is 45 minutes from my home, and you wonder whether that will affect my commitment to the company, longer term. What you may not know is that I commuted 60 minutes every day from home to college during my junior and senior years, and I found that time a good way to get ready for the day’s activities in the morning and reflect on the day’s accomplishments in the evening. My commutes actually became an integral part of my college experience.” You would of course have your own explanation for any such circumstance, but the point is that if you do not offer a credible reason why a seemingly negative aspect (to the company) is truly not a negative to you, they may draw their own conclusion without your input. Better that they have your direct, proactive input on which to base their decision.
It’s also worth discussing another, often unaddressed matter- the issue of compensation. Much has been written about handling questions related to your desired compensation, and most experts suggest that delaying such conversations until late in the recruiting process is in your best interests. Keep in mind, however, that there is an exception to every rule. And, here is one exception to the common advice around discussing compensation during an interview: if the company has good reason to believe that your compensation aspirations are well above the range for their position, then they might eliminate you out of hand, and at any time during the recruiting process.
As with the example of a long commute, it is up to you to raise the issue and provide a plausible explanation for why they should continue to spend their time and effort considering you, despite your historically higher earnings rate. If you are potentially willing to place company culture, career opportunity or some other aspect above your compensation requirement, then you need to clearly say so. Or, if you believe you offer some unusual value that may impact on the level of compensation they might be willing to consider, you should put that on the table, right up front in the process. The key is not to be excluded due to an incorrect perception or a missed opportunity.
In summary, a successful visit with a prospective employer is more than just being prepared to give great answers to interview questions. It is also about managing all aspects of the visit so that you do not get eliminated from consideration due to stepping on a hidden landmine, or leaving an important issue unaddressed. Doing so will make it much less likely that you will find yourself asking: “What happened? I thought the interview went so well.”