Three of the most stressful events almost every person eventually faces besides death and divorce are getting married, moving and changing jobs. In almost all of these situations, the position of power, choice, control and decision-making is in the hands of those completely invested in the process. All, except one. When you are in a job search, the process of decision-making and power of choice rests almost completely in the hands of the company and their hiring manager(s). Your destiny can very much rest with the person sitting across from you who has spent less than half a day getting to know you. What did they learn about you?
Interviewing is stressful, unpredictable, and anxiety provoking. There are under-qualified people who are born interviewers that know exactly what to say, how to say it, and can overcome almost any obstacle in the process. Interviewing is, for lack of a better term, a game...of sorts. When you consider that your image is going to count for more than 15% of the overall impression a hiring manager has of you, and another 15% or more is directly related to how well you communicate both verbally and physically, the only two things left to tip the scales in your favor are hard skills (50%) and gut instinct...though, not your gut instincts.
The fact that each of the meetings set up in the interview process is called a "round", immediately conjuring up the image of a golf club or a gun, it's no wonder you're anxious. The word "game" pretty much describes how the interview process can feel to some people. In a best-case scenario, you may experience an interview process like a wonderful day out on the course with three of your newest friends. In the worst-case, it feels like target practice. Except you are on the bad end of the gun. To have been called for the interview in the first place is a lot like winning the lottery, so the comparison to a game is not far-fetched.
Lets start by considering that your job search begins with a resume patiently and perfectly crafted to reflect years of professional experience and personal investment. It is then transported through the miracle of technology into a massive database of other perfectly crafted resumes to rest patiently for the fateful moment when a company's HR person happens to key in the exact sequence of search terms that then return a result including your resume...along with 300 others. The fact that the phone rings at all seems like a scratch-ticket moment.
Resume screening and selection is an almost completely data-driven, fact-finding process. Using complex key search terms, functional titles, industry jargon, and geographic indications, the human resources department is able to weed through hundreds or thousands of applicants to find the most data-relevant resumes in their database. Even in companies where resume gathering and selection is done less with technology and more traditionally, the same methodology applies. Find the best matches based on the hiring manager's specific criteria...and it's almost always data-driven/fact-based indicators. Overall years of experience, career progression over a specific time period, title, industry, zip code and salary.
This is wonderfully effective most of the time because it helps the hiring manager to stay focused on precisely the background and skills demonstrated by the candidate in order for them to be successful in the role. It offers the hiring manager supporting evidence and essential proof points to demonstrate the due diligence applied and utilized to make a final candidate selection. And sometimes they have a first, second and third candidate choice. Well done!
But did you know that often the final decision is made solely on one completely immeasurable, proof-less, and sometimes unjustifiable notion? It's gut instinct. That little bit of nagging doubt on the part of the interviewer that, for whatever reason, prevents him/her from finalizing the offer letter. There is the irony that always seems to strike from a distance. A highly data-driven, fact-based methodology can be completely undone by one inexplicable feeling.
And that's the beauty of the interview process. And, that's why you should take every interview, every meeting, every opportunity to meet a potential hiring manager. Because you just never know who you and your resume will resonate with, and where the best fit for you might be found.
In addition to learning about a company's mission, its culture, the position itself and the overall opportunity, you can also make an indelible impression on a hiring manager who may have more than one position to fill. Or, will remember you the next time an opening develops in his/her group. The personal take-away is the opportunity to develop, practice or enhance your interviewing skills. This can be invaluable for those who have not interviewed in many years, or are natural introverts and have difficulty connecting with complete strangers. Becoming a strong interviewer requires a strong sense of your own personal strengths, an awareness of your presence and interpersonal skills, and the ability to handle rejection with dignity and grace. Practicing gratitude and mindfulness when receiving feedback will also demonstrate maturity and ability to handle a challenging situation.
In terms of interviewing, practice makes perfect. As with any game, the more you play the better you become. Though you may spend more time on the bench at first, use that time to prepare for the field. Read and research interview techniques, target lists of interesting companies, and work on developing a confident presence. Ask a trusted friend or former colleague to run you through a mock interview...and ask them to give you fair and complete feedback. The right opportunity will not require you to be someone else, but learning how to bring your best self to the table takes practice. This not only means overcoming the anxiety and stress of the interview process, but developing the confidence to connect with a virtual stranger on both the professional and personal level. Have patience with yourself and keep playing the game.