Job interviews are getting tougher and tougher; here’s how to prepare for them

Job interviews are getting tougher and tougher; here’s how to prepare for them

Every hiring company’s No. 1 fear is making a bad hire. It’s expensive, hurts morale, sheds a poor light on the hiring manager and much more.

It’s time to share a few job interview “war stories” sent in by my readers. These are not only real, but they are really tough.

Jenna Elkins, a media relations coordinator for TechnologyAdvice, offered this:

“I’ve been reading your articles on The Business Journals, and I’ve truly enjoyed the content you produce. One of your articles I especially enjoyed reading was “ 3 Ways to Attract Super-Star Job Candidates.” I recently had the opportunity to move to Nashville and search for a new job, and I was blown away by what companies are doing to make sure they land super-star candidates. For example:

“Company A had me do a phone interview, brought me in for a grueling in-person interview, and then gave me an IQ test to finish in one hour — right after the in-person interview.

“Company B had me go to its office for an in-person interview where they explained their whole process of how they did business. They then sent me home with a large project that I had to complete in four days. I worked on it all four days, all day long.

“The company I am with now, TechnologyAdvice, had me do a phone interview, gave me a project to complete where I spent all weekend on it, and then brought me in for an in-person interview. Once I passed all those rounds — they brought me in for a “test-drive” to make sure I could do the work and then challenged me to a game of pingpong! Apparently they have a 13-step process for applicants — I haven’t quite figured out all those steps yet!”

The rationale for thorough job interviews

For “the other side of the story,” I asked Heather Neisen, HR manager at TechnologyAdvice, why the company has such a thorough interview process.

She said, “Our culture is defined by growth and success. So everything we do is about protecting that culture. For us, a robust interview process is the only way to ensure that we’re going to protect our culture.”

There are various hiring strategies out there: “Hire fast, fire fast” is one. I wanted to know TechnologyAdvice’s strategy.

“For us, it is NOT about getting people into seats,” Neisen said. “We need to find out if the new person is going to integrate well. That way, when they start, everyone around knows they have been through a tough interview process.”

OK, all that sounds like a sound strategy and good intent. But, let’s make it real: I asked Neisen for examples of specific things candidates are doing to either get passed over or hired at TechnologyAdvice. She provided the following:

Passed over: “From the résumé, we knew the candidate was out of a job for two months. We understand that. So, on the phone, we asked what he had done during that time. We wanted to hear what he did do to grow himself. We were hoping to hear things like volunteered, took a part-time job, did some on-line training, etc. Instead, he said he felt like he worked really hard for many years and since he was let go, he felt like he deserved the time off. Uh-oh.”

Passed over: She calls them “talkers, not walkers.” Recently she was interviewing for a social media position. She said, “One candidate’s résumé was perfect. But when I asked her about the ‘success’ piece, she hadn’t done a lot with analytics and couldn’t provide evidence of success in the position. Our culture needs to see how you are successful. We were so bummed since she looked so good on paper.”

Won the job: When a recent hire was asked about her prior position, the candidate replied, “I didn’t have enough to do in my job, so I took classes at the local community college.” If she was willing to do that in her personal life, then she has the drive to help the company, stated Neisen.

Won the job: A young man applied for a marketing strategies internship at TechnologyAdvice. “During the phone interview we learned that, while in college, he loved the analytics class so much, he asked the teacher if he could be a teacher’s assistant,” she said. “Also, with his prior internships, he figured out what he was passionate about. The more we talked to him, the more things came out. It was a no-brainer for us. We even hired him full-time instead of the internship he applied for.”

Neisen shared why her company is comfortable being somewhat tougher than other companies.

“Not everyone is cut out for our culture,” she said. “The ones who didn’t get the final job may not have been happy in our company.”

Candidates need to understand that companies are becoming more thorough for a variety of reasons:

  • They don’t want to waste time and money on hiring a bad employee.
  • They are changing their game since they have made bad hires in the recent past — too many to just continue with the same interview process.
  • They want more checks and balances, more tests on the skills required, and more probing on the cultural fit.

How can you prepare for your next tough interview?

Block plenty of time to prepare. Yes, it’s particularly challenging for those with full-time jobs, kids and busy lives. However, any hour here and there you can find is very important in order to ace the tough interviews. This is NOT the time to stint on preparation!

Have some tricks or rules to help you handle just about anything you’re asked. Some examples:

  • “Dana’s Law of Threes:” Any question you get handed, simply answer with three short bullet-pointed phrases, then stop talking. Repeat: Three short answers, then zip it!
  • A framework for situational or behavioral questions: “Tell me about a time when you…” or “Can you describe an experience when…” Your first sentence is a description of a situation, the second sentence is about what you did, the final sentence is the result. Again, keep it short and simple.
  • The dreaded “Tell me about yourself” question — the one that most people blow. The first short sentence summarizes your education, the second summarizes your experience, the third brings it right back to your audience. Tell them why you are excited about the position for which you are interviewing. Notice a pattern?

You can do this! Candidates ARE winning jobs in this very competitive environment and with these tougher interview practices. There is no reason you can’t pass with flying colors.