Interviews: What You See is What You Get (Usually)
Partner & Director of Operations
Interviews allow us to determine how well a candidate fits our company. They help us get to know a potential colleague better and receive useful information that can affect our final decision.
When it comes to an interview, it is my belief that what you see is what you get. Everything a candidate does is crucial. Every word chosen, every tone of voice, every head scratch means something. There are others that say people are nervous, or not themselves, or “you can’t judge a book by its cover”. With almost 1,000 interviews under my belt over the course of 8 years, in my experience, it’s almost always the former.
Here are 3 vital perspectives I have found to matter most when interviewing a candidate:
1. Composture and Stability
The candidate’s overall composure and stability is the most important thing I focus on when interviewing. If a candidate appears stable, standing with both feet on the ground – figuratively speaking – this is the best possible sign to observe. This means that the candidate is responding in a calm and concise manner, and with clarity. It also means that there are no rash reactions, comments, or gestures.
I read this kind of behavior as a sign that the candidate is at peace with their overall current situation, confident and stable to take on a new opportunity, and satisfied to be interviewing with us. This kind of candidate certainly then has the ability to enter our environment with a clear mind, pick up a lot of what we have to offer during the initial training phase, and perform well across all responsibilities.
You might think at first that it is easy to present composure and stability just for the sake of the interview – this is what I thought might often happen, prior to going through so many interviews. But I can tell you that it’s not easy to do that at all, especially when sitting across from an experienced interviewer.
If you are not feeling calm and stable, that will show in your interview, no matter how hard you try to present the opposite.
2. Attitude > Skills
If you read most job ads, it becomes evident that skills are valued highly when recruiting a candidate. However, I have come to find that most skills can be learned if people have the right attitude. If I have two candidates and one has stronger skills while the other exhibits a better attitude, I have found that attitude is far more important. Of course, both are important, but in a ‘pick one’ situation, I’d always choose attitude.
Someone with a great attitude can learn the skills necessary to perform. Someone with great skills but a poor attitude will render those skills useless – due to the attitude, they will not be willing or able to use the skills to their own and the company’s benefit.
Plus, people with great attitudes share the skills they learned proactively and company-wide, thus further contributing to growth. And, with today’s abundance of online learning resources, I believe that attitude takes even more precedence over skills than before.
I enjoy working with teammates who think differently than me – who value skills over attitude. The difference helps with forming a better picture of the candidate. They push to evaluate skills first, while I evaluate attitude. Those teammates are great interviewers, and we make a perfect combination when conducting an interview together because we complete each other.
3. Interviewing is Not a Perfect Science
While the above are good general rules to follow, it’s also important to remember that as an interviewer, you will never get it right 100% of the time and there are exceptions to every rule.
Working with people is never a perfect science so I’d go as far as to say that anyone who hasn’t made a mistake when choosing or skipping a great candidate likely doesn’t have much recruiting experience.
Sometimes, a candidate can have a stellar resume and present themselves well throughout the recruiting process, and yet the working relationship with that candidate can be a very short one. We are in a niche industry, so first, the candidate might not like the job once they start as much as they expected they would (for many possible reasons). Second, we might not like how the candidate fits in our niche environment, in terms of both task completion and culture.
On the other hand, sometimes candidates who do not shine throughout the recruiting process perform amazingly well! Here’s an example I remember well: we held a candidate on a waitlist for 6 months, while we hired many others during that 6-month period. When we did finally hire that candidate, they immediately had an outstanding performance at the entry-level position and promptly got promoted to a managerial one. The reality is – you uncover ‘hidden gems’ mostly when you are in high-growth periods and need to fill a lot of positions. This is when you take a shot with some candidates, some of whom impress and some don’t.
While HR knowledge and experience help minimize hiring errors, they can never entirely remove the risk that you’ll hire someone who doesn’t fit or overlook someone who may have been tremendous.
Experience is the Best Teacher
Gaining interviewing experience comes with time – and candidates, of course. Over the years, I have learned that mistakes and failure are unavoidable, but they give the most valuable lessons. No one is perfect, and no recruiter or hiring manager is flawless when choosing the right candidate for a specific job position.
When you fail, you learn the most, truly. And – for all those with internal motivations – this is natural. When you fail, you do not want to repeat the same mistake. You do not want to get burnt again. You want to achieve results, grow, and feel successful. And this mix of positive and negative drives as a result of failure will send you on a path of learning and make you better at interviews over time.
The main point here is this: learn from your experience (and the advice of experienced interviewers) and make sure that sometimes that experience comes from taking risks. Don’t be afraid to hire a person that doesn’t tick all the ‘skills’ boxes. Maybe give someone a chance that otherwise seems like a tremendous candidate but comes across as nervous.
Interviewing, to a large extent, IS a science but when dealing with people, there are no rules that apply ALL of the time.
Follow these guidelines as a starting point. As you learn through the experience, you can start trusting your gut. It will set you on a great path.