Without a doubt, being interviewed was, honestly, one of the most frustrating & yes, humiliating experiences of my entire life!
Trying to convince a total stranger that you’re the right person for the job is, without a doubt, quite the daunting task.
And for me, personally, with over 30 years leadership experience in financial services, back-office operations & customer service, I often found it both humbling & embarrassing.
Had a few interviews where I felt that I was teaching the interviewer about their own business. Or having a counseling session with a junior member of my organization.
No, I’m not trying to be haughty or boastful, but I just knew that I had so much to offer them…many things of which they haven’t even heard…and they were the ones “judging me”!
I remember the hundreds of interviews that I’ve conducted over the years & boy, the methodology surely changed & developed.
The big thing for the past 20, 30 years (while I was still working in ’13) was to ask the candidate situational questions…
“Tell me about a time when you felt that you weren’t properly prepared for an assignment…”
“Discuss ways in which you handle the ‘difficult employee’…”
“You’re facing an incredibly-tight deadline, but your…”
They don’t necessarily want you repeating what they’re already able to read on your resume, but rather, want to learn how you would apply (or have already applied) your skills & abilities to handle a particularly-challenging situation.
They wanna hear you “prove your worth” by “demonstrating” what you’re capable of doing. I’m sure some day, they’ll be virtual reality applications that’ll be utilized to “actually put you in those situations”, but for now, you’ll have to demonstrate how you’ve been able to navigate these situations in the past.
(Yes, I now fully realize that even that approach has changed as well as the whole “What is a resume really supposed to look like?” arena.)
And being the one who would always be asking the candidates these questions, I really felt so sorry for them.
How the hell do you look back over your career & the millions of different things you’ve done & instantly recall the perfect example that exactly matches their request???
Then I remember coming up with a method that I was happy to see was adopted by many others…come prepared with your answers!
“But, Mike, how can you already have answers prepared when you can be asked hundreds upon hundreds of different situational questions?”
It first became quite apparent to me when I would receive “instant answers & examples” back from the candidate to the different HR-mandated questions I asked.
(Note: You would receive a list of 100+ questions, in all various categories, from which you’d choose those that would be most relevant to the position in question.)
I would always have 4-5 “stories” (prior experiences from my career) that clearly demonstrated extraordinary skill & ability in different, challenging situations
The unexpected request from a senior manager with an unreasonable deadline to meet.
The time you turned a potentially-explosive situation into a positive & rewarding experience for all involved.
When you encountered a pretty-difficult hurdle (time, funding, cooperation, acceptance, change, etc.) in trying to accomplish something & how you were able to succeed despite it.
How you handle a “somewhat-unpopular” topic, but we’re able to rally your people around it.
Situations like these can often be used as “answers, example” to dozens & dozens of different situational questions that are being posed to you.
They’re able to demonstrate your proficiency in so many different areas that are necessary ingredients for a successful team member & leader.
I just recently read that this approach is referred to as the STAR method: a Situation &/or Task, Action and Result in relation to the question you’re being asked.
Trying to think of the “perfect answer”, to a specific question, off the top of your head…when you’re already nervous as hell & sweating buckets…is simply not gonna work!
But if you’re already prepared with 4, 5 different scenarios and have THOROUGHLY rehearsed them, over & over & over again, then you’ll be ready to take on just about any request.
Yes, there may be times when you’re asked a totally, off-the-wall question that doesn’t fit any of your prepared examples…just do your best!
Oh, another observation on interviews…
I’m totally convinced that the most important element in how “well you do” will be determined by your specific interviewer’s personal preferences & tastes.
Totally, 1000% convinced. I don’t care what anyone says to the contrary.
“Eager & driven” to one person is “aggressive & overbearing” to another.
Are you “confident” or “boastful”?
“Laid back” or “lazy”?
Not everyone likes the same food or drives a red car.
I’ve sat on so many group interviewing panels where I would simply shake my head (no, not visibly) afterwards at what the other people thought of a particular candidate.
And under no circumstances will I even attempt to go through the pyschogymnastics involved in trying to figure someone out.
I remember one particular interview I had with Assurant down in Georgia. They specialize in various risk management products & “secondary insurance”, similar to Aflac (the duck company).
I’m interviewing with the hiring VP & the head of HR.
They didn’t use any situational questioning techniques at all.
Simply requested that I walk them through my resume…all 3 pages worth! (BTW, that commonly-held theory” about “nothing longer than a single page” is absolute & utter nonsense. I had 30 years of experience, with dozens of different responsibilities. Many people say, “5-10 years experience per page”.)
I stopped several times during the interview & said, “I feel like I’m doing all the talking here. Do you have any questions or can I ask a few about Assurant?”
“Oh, no, just keep going!”
This went on for an hour.
I repeatedly asked if they wanted me to explain stuff further, if they had any questions, etc..
After it was done, I felt I did pretty well…under the circumstances. I had previously met with the 3 other area heads who would be my eventual peers (hopefully) & those individual sessions went tremendously & I hit it off really well with each & every one of them.
Didn’t get the job. (I could have done the hiring manager’s job with my eyes closed!)
The headhunter provided me with feedback.
“They said that you did nothing but talk about yourself!”
I explained to her exactly what happened & how I even told them how uncomfortable I felt just talking about the stuff on my resume.
Oh, and I didn’t take full credit for all the accomplishments & achievements listed on my resume.
Yes, as a leader, I was often the driving force behind many of the initiatives, but always gave credit to the incredible people I had to champion different causes & help turn ideas, dreams & goals into solid, tangible business results & performance improvements.
One small suggestion about your resume…
Don’t spend too much space describing your job responsibilities. Give a quick summary of your title, the name of the area, the position title & “responsible for the day-to-management of the XYZ Department, including…”.
Then, use your bullet points to describe your ACCOMPLISHMENTS, including quantifying the SPECIFIC, TANGIBLE, MEASURABLE benefits to the company: X% decrease in average turnaround time…customer high-satisfaction increased from X% to Y%…% of KPI/Key Performance Indicator standards met/exceeded…% increase of widgets completed with no defects…financial performance vs. previous years… increased productivity from X/hr to Y/hr.
Numbers, numbers, numbers.
They don’t care what your job responsibilities were.
They want EVIDENCE of what you DID.
What you accomplished that distinguished you from others.
How you made a difference, a real difference…for your people, for the organization, for the shareholders & for the customers.
How you added tangible value to the business…and how much.
Demonstrate how you were better than your predecessors, how you were able to tangibly improve performance in different categories.
Show them through your track record that this is what you’re able to do for THEIR organization in the future.
Provide concrete examples of how you stood out from amongst the rest & how much better qualified you will be than other candidates.
But never forget…so much depends on how THAT PARTICULAR INTERVIEWER feels about you.
“That doesn’t exactly sound fair now, Mike, does it?”
Life isn’t fair.
And while I’m a HUGE BELIEVER in gut feelings (remember, the 3 most important body parts for any great leader is their mind, their heart & their gut), that does NOT mean that I believe that most people are “qualified or experienced enough” to actually rely on their gut feelings.
And that goes for interviewers as well.
Personal preference & taste help to develop your gut feel…just as much as knowledge & experience do.
And it’s a powerful tool!
A shovel can be a powerful tool when you’re digging a hole.
It can also be used to bash someone over the head.
Same with power. Responsibility. Position.
When left unchecked, or misused…
On that note, I’ll say good-bye for now! Besides, what the hell do I know about this stuff?
On my first interview w/ Citi back in 1978 (with the infamous Bill Pastore, then head of Credit Operations for the Brooklyn/Staten Island region, who was a crazed maniac, a brilliant thinker, a results-oriented leader & a people person all rolled into one), it lasted about 5 minutes!
“What the $&@?%# are you doin’ in my office?”
“Uh, I have a 9:00 interview with you, Bill.”
“Well, make sure you’re not late on Monday morning! Now get your ass outta here!
“And give my love to your Pop!”
Did I mention that my Dad actually trained Bill many years earlier at the branch on Flatbush & Church Aves & that he spent a few meatless Friday evenings chomping down on my Mom’s eggplant parmigiana, English Muffin pizzas & linguini w/ white clam sauce?
And I was never really interviewed for the CitiPhone Ops Director position out on Long Island…I was just “asked” to do it by my boss’s boss.
Then 5 years later, Joe Redington, our Regional Business Manager, greeted me with “What are doing in my office, Mike? I thought you loved Customer Service!” when I “interviewed” for the One Bank Practices VP job.
“I do & always will, Joe, but I can’t work for that idiot Cruz anymore! He lowered my rating from a ‘1’ to a ‘2’!
“Bob said with a staff as large as mine, it was ‘statistically impossible” that I didn’t have anyone on ‘formal documentation’ (< < fancy speak for ‘in REAL trouble’). We just had the greatest year of any Customer Service business in history & if I ever have any issues whatsoever with anyone, they get nipped right in the bud.
“So I told him, ‘What’s statistically impossible, Bob, is me continuing to work for you!’ So now I’m here.”
We talked about how shocked he was when my rating came across his desk & how disappointed he was with some of his senior people for letting that injustice happen to me.
Then the real interview began.
“You OK, Mike, with coming back to Brooklyn? I know how much you & your wife love living in Long Island!”
“Not a problem, Joe. We’ll get a place in Staten Island & Laurie’ll love being back near our families & friends again!”
“OK, give Cruz your 2 weeks’ notice.”
“But, Joe, you still have several other candidates to interview. In fact, there are two guys waiting outside for you.”
“Hey, who’s the boss around here?!?”
Yes, HR slapped his wrists when he refused to interview the 6 other candidates, all of whom were already VPs (I was still an Asst VP at the time).
So I really know very little from personal experience about the most effective interviewing methodology.
My later in-person interviews with Lehman Brothers & First American went incredibly smooth as I first spoke over the phone AT GREAT LENGTH (2+ hours each) with the hiring managers.
After reviewing all my credentials, going through my resume & discussing ideas I had to improve the business, the in-person interviews were merely meet-and-greet sessions.
Besides, if you’ve lasted this long & read some of my other stories, you already know that I’m just an ol’ bag of wind…
The first 100 times you meet me, you’ll come away convinced that I’m an idiot/pyscho/serial killer/blowhard/Boogey Man.
But then I tend to grow on ya, especially when you finally realize that there is, indeed, a “method to my madness”.
I’m ALL about results. Getting things done. Transforming places. Adding real value.
Show me, don’t tell me.
(And while I’m all about the hard, impersonal numbers, there is NO ONE who loved, appreciated & supported his people more than I did.)
That’s why I hated when my future hung in the balance while I got judged & evaluated by people who didn’t know me from Adam.
And, most probably, have “very different” philosophies & approaches…to business, to leadership, to people, to life…than me.
Oh, well…maybe you can have a few take-aways from this story.
At the very least, I hope you were entertained. Even slightly…I’ll take that!
As always, thank you so much for listening!