Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

The Interview Prep Cheat Sheet: What Hiring Managers Really Want To Know

Part of my work as a consultant to creative organizations is what’s known as “executive search” (I prefer “executive find” myself – not that either phrase sounds very sexy). Companies hire me to go out and locate a leader who can help push their ideas out into the world. Among other things, this job involves interviewing… lots and lots of interviewing. So what have I learned in all these interrogations?

Despite the fact that people switch jobs more than ever these days, the interview is still somewhat of a specter. It’s a lot of pressure to represent yourself over the course of an hour or two and be judged one way or the other.

Don’t sweat it. You can greatly enhance your chances of getting to round 2 (or 3) by understanding what the hiring manager is really looking for. (Hint: it’s usually not your technical kung fu.) While the skills and experience of any job can vary to extremes, what the person hiring needs right now is confidence in you.When you prepare for the interview, think hard about how the experiences you’ve acquired might demonstrate some big picture traits. Here’s what you should show to your interviewer to instill confidence, no matter the role:

Your cross-disciplinary self.

Most of us aren’t one-trick ponies. All of our past experiences have required some intermingling. We just forget to show it. Are you a marketing expert with the ability to synthesize data? A designer who speaks developer-ese? Or just about any discipline who can recognize the business implications in his or her own parcel of work. Being great at one discipline probably got you to the party, proving your breadth will keep you there.

While the skills and experience of any job can vary to extremes, what the person hiring needs right now is confidence in you.

How you navigate ambiguity.

A huge buzz-phrase of hiring managers (do they all read the same magazines?), “navigating ambiguity” refers to the ability to make decisions and move a project forward without a lot of information. Since organizations are changing at the speed of tech, it’s important to feel comfortable with not-knowing, to see the challenges as they’re presented to you and make quick, confident (mostly correct) decisions.

Your power of influence to get things accomplished.

Many organizations have done away with a traditional business hierarchy for ever-mutating project teams and a flat organization design. Therefore, the skill of persuasion is as important as ever.

Your drive and initiative.

It’s the 99% perspiration factor: the ability to come up with ideas and work to execute them. What are the things you’ve done that prove you’ve got energy and vision?

Be sure to articulate your experiences through clear examples. In preparing for an interview, take an inventory of the things you’ve accomplished and be able to discuss them in detail. The story of your career is marked by signposts, subplots that demonstrate something about you.

Try not to talk about what you would do if given the opportunity. Talk about the stuff you’ve already done. That’s what really demonstrates what you’re all about.


What’s Your Experience?

What’s worked for you in interviews?

More insights on: Career Development, Hiring

Scott McDowell

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Scott McDowell is a strategy consultant and a coach to new managers & first-time leaders. He wrote New Manager Handbook to help leaders in transition panic less. He also hosts a radio show called The Long Rally on WFMU.
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