Why smart people fail in interviews

The year just finished continued a strong hiring market in the analog space. Companies are extremely active in their search for talented professionals. Analog Solutions has seen record levels of assignments in 2005 and I expect this trend to continue in 2006! The market has been strong in all functional areas from the Executive ranks through design, marketing/sales, and support specialists.

Despite the strong job market, we have seen a discouraging trend involving a extremely high interview failure rate, even among the most highly talented professionals! The immediate focus of this column will be to identify the sources of this failure and providing strategies to correct the problem. The causes of interview failure occur with both candidates and employers alike. I will devote a future column on the employer side of the problem.

We have come out of a period, from 2001-2004, where companies downsized, shutdown, or were in a holding pattern. In some cases, candidates were laid off for the first time in their careers. On the other hand, companies were required to “make do” with limited staffs and resources. This caused part of the interviewee dilemma: with everyone working longer and harder, there is limited time for candidates to prepare adequately for the interviewing process. Interviewing is an art and requires proper planning to be effective.

The source of candidate failure seems to center primarily on the inability of the candidate to describe in detail his/her specific accomplishments and results in both current and previous jobs. The old adage of “out of sight, out of mind” seems to be appropriate statement. Obviously, in the case of the current position, a candidate may not be able to discuss specifics of his present job without infringing on divulging proprietary information.

Most employers recognize this and accept it. Most also feel that past positions and information posted on a resume are open for detailed discussions. With this in mind, it is vitally important for a candidate to prepare properly and be taught a strategy for interviewing success. A properly prepared candidate can dramatically benefit himself, as well as the potential employer.

Prior preparation starts with a detailed review of each position held, inclusive of responsibilities, accomplishments and the results gained by those accomplishments. A candidate’s sole mission in an interview is to generate a job offer, so as to be in the enviable position of having a choice! The two prime goals are to sell his/her candidacy, and to determine the magnitude of the opportunity. Once a candidate has thoroughly reviewed his skills and accomplishments, one can now set sights on a communication strategy for success.

As a candidate, you want to start each interview with a question to the interviewer to help determine what is really needed and important in a potential candidate. Very few interviewers would take offense to a question of this nature, because it gives the interviewer an opportunity to sum up the qualifications and results that are needed from any perspective hire. It then puts you in the position to highlight your skills and accomplishments which directly match the employer’s needs.

At the completion of each session, it is especially important to get the last question. You must determine if the interviewer has any concerns about your ability to deliver the intended results. Concerns come in only two types: perceived or real. Most perceived concerns can be overcome with additional information, or a clarification of discussed information. Real objections pose a more difficult challenge. You can try to use a compensating asset, but the better solution is to bring up the concern, counter-sell the compensating asset to actual hiring manager, and let him or her make their own determination on its relative importance.

The second phase of interviewing strategy involves determining the magnitude of the potential opportunity. Prepare a detailed list of questions prior to the interview that would give you the proper information to make an intelligent decision. Areas of focus should be: the company’s short-long range plans, company’s strengths and weaknesses, company culture, financial situation, greatest challenges, and similar factors. The information you obtain can then not only help you in selling your candidacy, but also keep you from making a bad career decision.

Recognize that there are only four different types of questions you could be asked:

(1) Questions about your background, skills, accomplishments, education, and related specifics. You need to answer these types of questions with detailed information, but include the accomplishments and subsequent results for your previous employers.
(2) Personality questions, which attempt to determine if you have the qualities sought, and your fit within the company culture. “What kind of manager are you?” “Are you creative?” Answer these questions in terms of the obvious answer, supported by past or present experiences as proof of your claim.

(3) Motive questions are asked to determine if you would enjoy the job. “Describe your ideal job.” “Would you prefer to work for a large or small company?” “What did you like most/least about your last job?” Answer these questions following the question-answering rule; be specific and emphatic.
(4) Finally, money-related questions to determine what it will ultimately cost them to hire you. It is important to negotiate from a position of strength; therefore, you should avoid answering money questions with the exception of your current compensation and housing situation. If the employer persists in trying to get a comment on an acceptable offer, you should stress that he/she is in the best position to judge your worth to the organization. You can then follow with the statement “Make me the best offer you can and I will consider it”. You can then simply state that your decision will be based on the total opportunity, of which money is only one component. Compensation issues should be held until you have fully sold your candidacy. It is unfair for these questions to be asked of you early in an interview process.

Although interviewing may well be an infrequent event in your long-term career, it must be taken very seriously. Your long-term career benefits will be based on your ability to develop solid interviewing techniques.

Do not rely on previous colleagues and co-workers who are familiar with your abilities to introduce you to all of your future job opportunities. While it may require less interviewing skill to obtain job offers from these known entities, it will not benefit you in the long run. Your offers will be stronger, and you will generate more offers despite your level of experience (whether you are a CEO or entry level engineer), if you can develop these skills. Go to Analog Solutions,, under the “Candidate” section, for a complete outline and review of the interviewing techniques.

About the Author

Gary Fowler is President and Founder of Analog Solutions, a Professional Recruiting firm, devoted to the Analog and Mixed Signal space. He has over 25 years of experience as an Executive Recruiter. His clients over the years have included several Fortune 500 companies as well as many emerging, well funded startups. In addition, he has relationships with several leading Venture Capitalists and Investment Bankers, who serve the analog semiconductor industry. He holds a BS in Human Resources Management from NYU, and MS in Management Science from SUNY Binghamton.

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